Category Archives: election

Social capital and disaster recovery

I recently heard a talk by Daniel Aldrich (Purdue).  He has been pursuing a handful of projects over the last 5-6 years looking at how local social capital (at the neighborhood or zip code or prefecture) predicts more resilient disaster recovery. Aldrich points out that people are far more likely to be hit by a disaster in their life than be the victim of a terrorist attack and asserts that the number of disasters is increasing in recent years.

Aldrich has studied 4 different disasters (1923 Tokyo earthquake; 1995 Kobe earthquake; 2005 Katrina disaster; 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami).  I think he is currently doing some work on the recovery from the recent Japanese tsunami (early thoughts by him here).  Aldrich measures social capital with local measures like: voting and participation in rallies (1923 Tokyo); non-profit organizations per capita (1995 Kobe); number of funerals attended in past year (Indian Tsunami); and voter turnout (Katrina). His outcome variables for economic recovery are things like population growth (1923 Tokyo; Kobe) in an area or amount of aid received (Indian Tsunami) or ability to keep FEMA trailers out of an area (Katrina).  [It wasn’t clear to me that this last measure is a measure of disaster recovery as much as NIMBY-ism, a topic that Aldrich has also written about.]

At one level, Aldrich’s findings are not surprising since places with low social capital tend to wait for the state to repair devastation and places with high social capital take more immediate self-action to repair.  This is reflected in Emily Chamlee-Wright’s recent book “The Cultural and Political Economy of Recovery: Social Learning in a post-disaster environment” and Robert Putnam observed this about Italian recovery from earthquakes: in places with high social capital one was unaware there had been an earthquake there several years later, whereas in low social capital places, the results of an earthquake were apparent 30-40 years later and residents were still blaming government for not adequately responding.

Aldrich’s work is very interesting and will appear next year as a U. Chicago press book “Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery”.  [Brief presentation of his work here.] I would find his work even more interesting if he examined whether it is only the more political forms of social capital (like voting or protesting) that help in disaster recovery or whether it extends to “schmoozing” type variables at well (e.g., number of close friends, or knowing neighbors).   He might also be able to use volunteering data gathered by the CPS since 2002 to test that as a predictor or use datasets gathered by Rick Weil on social capital in New Orleans.  He also talks about the various types of social capital (bridging, bonding, linking) but his work doesn’t help sort out whether one type of social capital is more important than another for disaster recovery.  Also, given that social capital always rises after disasters and then most typically rapidly tails off, it would be useful if he tracked local social capital by neighborhood after a disaster since the shape of this drop-off in social capital need not be the same across communities; one might have more of a sustained burst of social capital than another.

His case study work does suggest that social capital is more important in disaster recovery than physical capital, physical infrastructure, or financial capital and more important than the conventional explanations that experts claim predict disaster recovery: amount of aid (positively predicting recovery); governance (stronger governance increases recovery); amount of devastation (less predicts greater recovery); wealth (positively predicting recovery); and population density (negatively predicting recovery).  He controls for these factors in his model and finds consistent and robust effects of social capital on post-disaster recovery.

Aldrich’s colleagues have also done some experiments of paying people to participate in focus groups, of giving people local “scrip” if they volunteer (which can be spent locally at farmers’ markets) and found that these built social capital and helped partially “inoculate” communities from the effects of disasters.  He didn’t present in any detail the methods or the results of these mini experiments.  He also recommends that post-disaster if we need to move survivors, we do them conscious of the clustering in their social networks,  so that they minimize the hit they take to their social capital.

Against this good news for social capital, there are three studies that find negative findings in the short-term, after disasters on outcomes like stress, health, etc. [I should note that Aldrich in his book addresses some negative outcomes of social capital in recoveries, for example, groups blocking certain castes from getting aid, or the Japanese promoting vicious attacks on Koreans after the 1923 Tokyo earthquake or ostracizing mercury victims in Minamata Bay from the late 1950s onward.] Basically the story of these other scholars is either that greater commitment to a community or greater social ties lead to worse ST outcomes, either because you feel it is really costly to leave or you are besieged by social and financial requests from other victims, which puts great strain on you unless you are wealthy.  The Rhodes et. al paper finds over longer term, people with more social capital do better, so this is a short-term finding only.  Weil and Lee, to my knowledge, have not looked at longer-term impacts.

See Jean Rhodes, Christian Chan, Christina Paxson, Cecelia Rouse, Mary C. Waters and Elizabeth Fussell. (2010) “The Impact of Hurricane Katrina on the Mental and Physical Health of Low-Income Parents in New Orleans.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 80(2):233-243. Not sure that their longer-term findings have been published.  See also manuscript from their project by Lowe, S. R., Chan, C. S., & Rhodes, J. E. “Pre-disaster social support protects against psychological distress: A longitudinal analysis of Hurricane Katrina survivors.”

Community Attachment and Negative Affective States in the Context of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster” by Matthew Lee and Troy Blanchard (LSU @ Baton Rouge) American Behavioral Scientist 55(12).  October 3, 2011

Weil, Frederick, Shihadeh, Edward, and Lee, Matthew. “The Burdens of Social Capital: How Socially-Involved People Dealt with Stress after Hurricane Katrina” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, 2006.

See also earlier blog post on disaster recovery from 2011 Japanese tsunami.

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2010 voter turnout up, but not for youth and blacks (UPDATED)

Flickr photo by Dean Terry

Preliminary evidence suggests that voting turnout among all Americans was up in the November 2010 election.  Compared with the last non-presidential election (2006), both voting turnout experts (Curtis Gans and Michael McDonald) agree that turnout among eligible voters rose 1.1-1.2 percentage points (based on preliminary estimates that will obviously change as all ballots are counted and certified). Regardless of whether one likes the outcome in 2010, it is civic good news that more Americans got involved.

Preliminary evidence suggests electoral turnout rose in at least nine states, and significantly in Texas, Florida and Minnesota.  Ohio and Pennsylvania, among other states, seems to have experienced a turnout decline.  [Curtis Gans projects voting turnout at 42 percent of registered voters; Michael McDonald believes that 41.5% of voting-eligible Americans turned out to vote.]  Note: McDonald has now lowered his turnout estimate 1.2 percentage points to 40.3% (VEP Highest Office Turnout, as of 11/8/10).

But the bad news is what voices are being heard or not heard. Voting turnout rates were down among young voters (18-29) and blacks made up a lower percentage of voters in 2010 than in 2008 when Obama’s candidacy excited African-Americans to vote.  For example, blacks made up 12% of voters in 2008 and appeared to make up just 10% of voters in 2010 (based on exit polls).  This drop, if it holds up in more authoritative numbers like the Current Population Survey would  negate this encouraging finding reported in 2008 that the black-white voting gap had disappeared.    [Exit polls suggest that Hispanics maintained their share of the electorate, rising from 7% in 2008 to 8% in 2010, although one would have to compare this rise against their expanding voting-eligible numbers to truly understand whether their political voice was diluted, and if so, how much.]  It wasn’t a simple story of the richest folks’ accounting for more of the votes, since those earning $100,000 or more accounted for 26% of the votes in both 2008 and 2010, but due to the elimination of restrictions on corporate campaign contributions in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United case, the wealthy disproportionately had chances to influence election outcomes even before voters got to their polling places.

[For information on 2008 turnout, click here.]

Social and Civic Mobilizing in Iran

Iranian Protests: Flickr photo by John McNab

Iranian Protests: Flickr photo by John McNab

I commend Thomas Friedman’s Op-Ed today, “The Virtual Mosque”, where he wonders whether Facebook can play the same role for Iranian moderates that the mosque played for more extremist Iranians in mobilizing voters.

Social capital (or social connections) have always played a strong role in politics worldwide.  Experiments in the U.S. show that that face-to-face mobilization is far more effective than phone mobilization, and churches have always played a strong role in political mobilization (especially in black churches, as American Grace, the new book by Robert Putnam and David Campbell will show [among many other interesting findings]).

These facts, in addition to the fact that the Iranian police state has guns (as Friedman points out) and is trying hard, and perhaps effectively to block and filter the internet, make me more skeptical of whether Facebook or Twitter can be as effective a tool in mobilizing Iranian moderates as the F2F connections at the mosque.  But for sure these e-connections are way more useful than not being able to mobilize social networks.   [And mark this as another example of how what appeared to be trivial technologies can be used as pro-democratic forces in repressive countries.] If you’re curious for a live and compelling updating of situation in Iran, see Andrew Sullivan’s blog. Note: the U.S. State Department even asked Twitter to defer maintenance for fear that this might adversely impact the protests!

Moreover, various news pieces have pointed out that the Guardian Council, which previously had maintained their infallability now looks a lot more fallable (after Khamanei initially immediately certified the results and now claims that there should be at least a partial recount).  That’s a hard genie to put back in the bottle.    It’s reminiscent of a conversation with a mother-friend of mine.  When her kids misbehaved, she was constantly counting to five and telling her sons, “you better do it by the time I count to 5, or you’ll be subjected to the wrath of Mom.”  I asked her what happened if her sons didn’t do something by 5 and realized that the consequences weren’t as dangerous as they feared.  She smiled sheepishly and noted, “I’m hoping we don’t get to that point…”  If people believe that the Guardian Council has no clothes, Iranian politics could change dramatically.

See Thomas Friedman’s “The Virtual Mosque” (NYT, 6/17/09)

See also the very interesting “Twitter on the Barricades: Six Lessons Learned” (NYT, 6/21/09, Noam Cohen)

No gap in black-white turnout in 2008 elections; youth gap narrowing

pewturnoutgraph-050109The Pew Research Center, in partnership with CIRCLE released a report showing that Asians, Hispanics and Blacks voted in record numbers in the 2008 election, partially spurred by the magnetic candidacy of Barack Obama.  America’s three biggest minority groups — blacks, Hispanics and Asians — comprised almost a quarter of all voters for president in 2008. The increases in minority voting were driven by increases both in numbers of voters and the rate of election turnout.

The second table shows especially large increases in the turnout rate among blacks, and especially black women (not charted), although all non-white groups showed increases.  [Black turnout rose from 60% in 2004 to 65% in 2008, virtually indistinguishable from the voting rates of whites at 66%.]

68.8% of eligible black female voters voted in 2008 (an increase of 5.1 percentage points, from 63.7% in 2004), so that black women were the highest voting of any racial-gender pairing.

pewturnoutgraph2-050109So the interesting takeaway from all this was that although the voting rate in November (despite all the money spent on the campaign and the telegenic candidacy of Obama) was relatively unchanged, but the composition of the voters definitely did change, with whites continuing to disengage and non-whites becoming more active.

The region of the country that saw the most dramatic increases in black voter turnout rate was in the South.

Obviously the $1,000,000 question is whether these behavioral changes are likely to continue beyond the Obama candidacy.  One piece of good news for those interested in seeing non-white voting rates continue to rise, is the behavior of younger Americans, as youth tend to keep the civic habits they demonstrate in their teens and twenties.  And this was also good news, especially for blacks.

CIRCLE’s analysis revealed that the “youth gap” ( younger Americans voting at lower rates than older Americans) continued to shrink in 2008. [For example, voters 18-29 voted at rates 24 percentage points less than Americans 30 and older in 2000 but this narrowed to a gap of 16 percentage points less in 2008.]  But minorities also saw good news in the turnout of various ethnic groups.  Young black adults’ voting rates (ages 18-29) increased by 17% from 49.5% in 2004 to 58.2% in 2008.  For the first time, the turnout among 18-29 year old blacks was higher than any other racial and ethnic group in 2008.  While white youth voting rates were relatively flat from 2004 to 2008, mixed race youth voting at 55%, almost 10 percentage points higher than in 2004 (perhaps motivated by voting for a mixed-race president).  Latino and Asian turnout rates continued to increase, but they significantly trailed turnout rates of whites, mixed race and black youth voters.  (The only youth group to see a decline in voting rates in 2008 was Native American Non-Hispanics.)

So the increases in youth turnout, if they persist could help change the distortion in our democratic process toward politicians being more responsive to the needs of older voters, and if non-white voters continue to increase their voting turnout rates and white turnout rates continue to decline, this may also start to change the voices heard in the democratic process.

See also: No Racial Gap Seen in ’08 Turnout (NYT, 5/1/09)

Watering the Obama grassroots post-election

(photo by MacaStat)

(photo by MacaStat)

The 2008 election really succeeded in engaging new voices into the political process.  Especially Obama (see below), but also Palin’s appeal to white men (some based more on Palin’s looks than her policies), has drew new voices in American politics.

Obama, who has a background in community organizing,  hired some of the best community organizers in the country to build an unparalleled grassroots organization in his presidential quest.    He gave campaign volunteers responsibility and access to crown jewels (like voting lists) when candidates traditionally centralize power much more.  And Obama combined high-tech and high-touch.

As Newsweek’s Howard Fineman reports: “The resulting bottom line is astounding: 3.1 million contributors, 5 million volunteers, 2.2 million supporters on his main Facebook page, 800,000 on his MySpace page and perhaps a million more names on Obama’s own campaign Web site. Even discounting for likely duplicates, Plouffe says he could end up “knowing” almost 7 million voters by Election Day—roughly one in 10 of Obama’s likely total. “These are people who are responsive,” he says. “They want to be respected and to continue to be involved in what we do.”

Now that Obama is elected, how will the Obama administration rate in the care and feeding of this tremendous network?  At our Saguaro conversations back in the late 1990s (in which Barack participated), it became clear that politicians have much more of a natural interest in stoking grassroots networks before elections and tend to neglect them after election victories, when it is often less clear both how to use these networks and “what’s in it for them–the politicians?”

The Deval Patrick Administration shows the potential dangers here.  Patrick, a very bright, young African-American Harvard Law graduate was elected Governor of Massachusetts in 2006, also thanks to the brilliant campaigning of David Axelrod (the campaign strategist for Obama) in a campaign that had stronger grassroots civic engagement than any election Massachusetts had seen for decades. While Patrick announced that civic engagement was going to be one of the three pillars of his administration, his rhetoric has been stronger than his strategy in this regard.  While it is not clear that his grassroots supporters have turned on him, they certainly are far less moored to his Administration than pre-election.

As Fineman notes: “…[I]f you live by viral marketing, you can die by it, too. ‘His supporters have sky-high expectations and expect to be involved,’ says Will Marshall, who studied the Obama organization for the Democratic Leadership Council. ‘They are loyal but not easy to control.’ ”  Fineman observes that this grassroots network could turn against Obama if he puts far more troops in Afghanistan.

But if Obama’s strategists adequately focus on how to best engage these volunteers, and one would hope and trust that his experience in the Saguaro Seminar helped deepen his commitment and his knowledge about civic engagement, this enormous grassroots base could be a galvanizing force against so many of the woes that face us (our economy, our high school dropout epidemic, our need to take action against global warming, our need to mentor those falling through the cracks, etc.).  Especially at a time of great economic need, when government’s purse strings may be limited by the economic bailout, unleashing a civic army of volunteers against our woes could be a doubly willing strategy.

As Marshall notes”If [Obama] wins, he’s going to have a personal following he can use to press his agenda,” says Marshall. “He can use these millions to reach over the heads of the Washington insiders, the Democrats on the Hill. It could be powerful.”

See “What Have We Created: Obama’s supporters have high expectations, and they may expect to have a voice in governing?”

See also A Civic Inflection Point in the U.S.?

Interesting links: Obama 2.0, craigslist for service, trust and voter turnout

(photo by remolacha)

(photo by remolacha)

I previously posted on how the economy depends so heavily on our trust.  Slate’s Anne Applebaum has a recent post on how the fraud of Bernard Madoff threatens to return us more to the creaky workings of the Polish economy c. 1990.

It is amazing the range of sophisticated and prominent investors brought down by Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme, including Stephen Spielberg, Dreamwork’s Jeffrey Katzenberg, ex-Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Elie Wiesel, Mort Zuckerman, and $3 billion invested by the Spanish bank Santander.

Obama 2.0: I was at an interesting roundtable yesterday on the Internet and Democracy where many in the group felt that as dramatic a role that the Internet played in the election of Obama, the potential for the Obama administration to take us to an entirely new level of citizen participation in governance, transparency and accountability is much higher.  One of the participants was Beth Noveck, pioneer of the innovative Peer-to-Patent system, who is on the Technology, Innovation and Government Reform policy working group helping to advise Obama on transparency and accountability.

– TechPresident also had this interesting post on the reports from the PA Field Director for Obama (Paulette Aniskoff) on feedback that the Obama campaign was hearing from their volunteer troops.

Craigslist for Service:  The Obama campaign has been advocating during the campaign that we need a craigslist for service and it is even in the Obama platform.  Craig Newmark, self-described customer service representative, and founder of craigslist partly says we have it already and it’s called VolunteerMatch, but he also talks about his vision of other ways people can serve.

Voter Turnout:  I previously posted updated turnout figures here, but Michael McDonald of GMU has slightly revised upward his turnout estimate to 61.6% to 131 million.  This still makes it the highest for 40 years, since 1968.   McDonald notes that these “preliminary” numbers could creep slightly higher but are essentially settled.  [See McDonald’s blog post here.]  Curtis Gans, the other major scholar in this field, has not revised his earlier estimates, and McDonald continues to believe that 2008 represented more of an increase in voter turnout than Gans.  By Spring we’ll get Americans’ self-reports of voting on the CPS November supplement.  The Associated Press reports that early voting hit a new high, with about 41 million people, or over 31%, voting before Election Day (vs. 22% in 2004). Voter turnout increased substantially in newly competitive states like Virginia, Indiana and North Carolina, which all went for Obama for the first time in decades and turnout also rose in Republican states with large black populations, such as Mississippi, South Carolina and Georgia.  North Carolina saw the biggest increase in turnout, rising from 57.8% in 2004 to 65.8% in 2008, driven by a large African American population, and competitive elections at the gubernatorial, Senatorial and presidential levels.

Updated 2008 Voter Turnout, Registration and Youth Turnout Figures

(Ironically Paris Hilton neither voted nor died in 2008)

(Ironically Paris Hilton neither voted nor died in 2008)

Voter Turnout:  Despite earlier reports that 2008 election turnout may have exceeded 1964 rates and rivaled 1960, Curtis Gans (an expert at American University’s Center for the Study of the American Electorate) now estimates that the percentage of eligible citizens in the 2008 presidential election was virtually unchanged from 2004 (126.5-128.5 million Americans, or 60.7-61.7%).  [Read Gans report on voter turnout here.]  Michael McDonald at GMU continues to believe turnout numbers will be higher, but thinks the rate will fall in the band that Gans predicts.  McDonald projects turnout to be 130.4 million Americans or 61.2%, a 1.1% increase over 2004, and the highest since 1968.  [See McDonald’s blog post here.] Gans and McDonald differ on the numerator (Americans who voted) and denominator (eligible Americans), and the latter difference focuses on the fact that “voter-eligibility” can be tinkered with state by state, depending on how often the state or localities scrub their voting lists to eliminate people who have died, moved, or are no longer eligible to vote.

Registration:  Curtis Gans estimates that 73.5% of Americans are now registered to vote, breaking the previous record of 72.5% of Americans in 1964.  Estimated registration for the 2008 general election increased by a moderate 2.5 percentage points; Gans believes that registration rates back when women were given the vote in 1920 may have been still higher. [Read Gans registration report.]

Youth Turnout:  CIRCLE projects that a record number of young people (19-29) voted in 2008, in terms of numbers (22.8-23.1 million Americans) and the highest percentage of youth turnout since 1972 (52-53%).   (CIRCLE’s figures are based on exit polling, which can then be compared with what youth report on the Current Population Survey, once it becomes available in the Spring).   [As one would expect, youth turnout and turnout of those over 30 years old was heavier in battleground states.]

As we noted in “Why Republicans Are So Worried“, youth favored Obama by an unprecedented more than 2:1 ratio; as CIRCLE observes “The average age-gap in support for the Democratic candidate from 1976 through 2004 was only 1.8 percentage points, as young voters basically supported the same candidate as older voters in most elections.”

And CIRCLE believes that the increased youth turnout of 18-29 year olds represented 60% of the increase in voting from 2004 to 2008.

To see the whole CIRCLE youth turnout post, click here.

See Pew Research Report on “Young voters in the 2008 election“.