Are the Dems in SC even crazier?

The result of the South Carolina Democratic primary is actually truly crazy:

COLUMBIA, S.C. — An unemployed military veteran who raised no funds and put up no campaign website shocked South Carolina’s Democratic Party leadership by capturing the nomination Tuesday to face Republican U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint in November.

With nearly all precincts reporting, Alvin Greene, 32, commanded 59 percent of the vote against 41 percent for former four-term state lawmaker Vic Rawl, 64, who had raised about $186,000 and had to abruptly scrap a late-week fundraiser for the fall.

The Post ran a profile of this guy today, and it’s really just astounding:

Indeed, in the course of a rambling, repetitive and frequently inchoate three-hour interview, this jobless military veteran could not name a single specific thing he’d done to campaign for lofty political office. Yet, more than 100,000 South Carolina Democrats voted for Greene on Tuesday, handing him a resounding victory over a well-funded ex-judge who has served four terms in the state legislature.

“I’m the Democratic Party nominee,” he says. “I mean, I mean, the people have spoken. The people of South Carolina have spoken. The people of South Carolina have spoken. We have to be pro-South Carolina. The people of South Carolina have spoken. We have to be pro-South Carolina.”

The Political Scientist in me just has no rational explanation for how this guy wins over an established candidate who actually had some money.  If this had been Alvin Greene vs. Stanislaw Podowevski, or something like that, you could see how just the name mattered in a low-information election, but Vic Rawl is not some crazy name.  My SC correspondent who alerted me to this crazy outcome is somewhat suspicious, “I don’t like conspiracies, but where does an unemployed vet get the$10,000 to file for Senate and then pay $10,000 for bail on his arrest in Nov?”  Good questions, actually.  Certainly will be watching this for more information and some sort of plausible explanation.

Is it any wonder GM went bankrupt?

Apparently the geniuses in GM management have decided that from now on, there should be no “Chevy” only “Chevrolet.” Sure, whey not just ignore a brand nick-name that’s as much a part of Americana as “Coke.”  I’m sure that’s smart.

Bye-bye, indeed, Miss American Pie. If General Motors has its way, you won’t be driving your Chevy to the levee ever again.

On Tuesday, G.M. sent a memo to Chevrolet employees at its Detroit headquarters, promoting the importance of “consistency” for the brand, which was the nation’s best-selling line of cars and trucks for more than half a century after World War II.

And one way to present a consistent brand message, the memo suggested, is to stop saying “Chevy,” though the word is one of the world’s best-known, longest-lived product nicknames.

I don’t have much strong attachment either way, but my Chevy/Geo Prizm was a great car for 8 years before I pulled out in front of somebody (my only accident ever) just before we moved from Lubbock, TX.  It was actually great timing, as we were already planning on upgrading to a minivan when we got to NC.

Feminism and anti-feminism

As mentioned, I’m teaching Gender & Politics this summer.  As every time I teach the class, I had my favorite paper assignment of any classes.  Here’s the assignment:

Informally discuss the meaning of feminism with at least five people. Make sure to ask them if they are a feminist, why or why not, and what do they think of when they hear the term. How did people respond? Why do you think that people reacted as they did? What did these conversations help you learn about perceptions and reality of feminism in America?

These papers are always great fun to read and discuss in class.  Invariably, all sorts of interviewees actually support female equality, but equate feminism with lesbianism, hairy women, and bra-burning.  Thus, in a very timely article for my class, Slate has a really interesting article on feminism and how there’s a long history of “anti-feminist” reclaiming feminism.  Not surprisingly, Sarah Palin is the latest at this:

Sarah Palin made quite the splash recently with her comments to the anti-abortion group the Susan B. Anthony List about conservative women reclaiming feminism, asserting that anti-choicers were “returning the woman’s movement back to its original roots.”…

The invocation of the word feminist at a meeting of anti-abortion women can be confusing, but it shouldn’t be. There’s no real reason to consider Sarah Palin a feminist. She’s just the latest incarnation of a long and noble line of feminist anti-feminists: women who call themselves feminist but also object to the existence of the feminist movement and organize in opposition to it.

Of course, despite the widespread support for women’s equality, the use of the word “feminist” is confusing because so many people associate it (quite wrongly, in my book), with a very narrow band of strident, radical feminism.  Unfortunately, even in many, many people sympathetic to the goals of feminism, the word itself has taken on quite a negative connotation.  As long as that remains the case, feminism has a problem.

“Anti-incumbent” sentiment

Yeah, it’s a bad year for incumbents.  They’ll probably only win re-election to Congress about 90% of the time instead of 95%.   I’m awfully tired of hearing the puditocracy look to interpret everything this way.  Voters do not go to polls thinking, “I’ll vote for this guy, he’s the incumbent.”  They vote for the person who’s name they recognize and the person who they may know have done things for their district.  Far more often than not, that’s the incumbent.  In the same way, it’s highly unlikely voters are saying “I’ll vote against this guy, he’s an incumbent.”  Yes, incumbents are more vulnerable this year for a variety or reasons, but to chalk it all up to some sort of hazy “anti incumbent” sentiment is both wrong and lazy journalism.

UPDATE: Oh, yeah, almost forgot, meant to link to a Monkey Cage post on this.

I’ll plot the percentage from the poll closest to the election against the percentage of House incumbents who were reelected in 1992-2008.


There is a relationship between responses to this item and the reelection rate (and it’s statistically significant, in fact). But the relationship is substantively very small. Perhaps the best evidence is the predicted reelection rate I calculated based on the 1992-2008 data, plugging in the most recent Gallup poll, in which a record 40% declared that their member did not deserve reelection. What is the predicted incumbent reelection rate?


California’s new primary

California voters passed a ballot initiative for a blanket primary yesterday.   It works like this:

The measure will create a single, open primary in which the top two finishers, regardless of party, advance to the general election runoff, paving the way for Republican-vs.-Democrat, Democrat-vs.-Democrat or Republican-vs.-Republican contests.

The parties are claiming this is disaster.  The backers, most prominently Schwarenegger, claim this is the fix to California’s problems.  Neither are right, but to the extent it weakens political parties, most political parties scholars (including me) would argue that it’s a bad thing.  I love Jonathan Bernstein’s pithy take the best:

Democracy works well when parties are strong (although I’m in a minority of a minority in that I like strong but non-ideological, non-hierarchical parties). The problem with California isn’t strong parties; it’s government by initiatives coupled with a stupid budget system.

Seth Mesket a fine scholar and blogger wrote a nice post before this passed.  Here’s his take home (with which I’m in complete accord):

I’ve popped off on this topic before, but just to recap: I tend to be an advocate of strong parties.  California’s own experience with weak parties under cross-filing (1914-59) was not particularly inspiring — the legislature was corrupt and easily swayed by powerful personalities and moneyed interests, and voters had no idea whom, if anyone, to throw out of office if they were dissatisfied.  But okay, maybe you still want a less polarized legislature.  Fine.  Would a top-two primary get you there?  Not really.  The evidence we have suggests that the effect would be small or negligible.  There turns out to be very little relationship between a state legislature’s partisanship and the openness of its primary elections.  Meanwhile, you’ll end up with many runoff elections between members of the same party, giving voters not of that party a lot less incentive to participate.

So, in sum.  Not really a dramatic difference and the changes there will be will probably not be for the better.

My last objection to adding states is removed

I always wondered how the flag would look with 51 stars– great, apparently.  Slate has a really cool interactive feature where you can see the best looking arrangement for any number of stars/states you want.

Puerto Rico and DC here we come!

It just keeps getting hotter

I was glad to see this Op-Ed on public opinion on global warming from Stanford Political Science/Social Psychology professor Jon Krosnick get so much play in the blogosphere today.  Krosnick used to be at Ohio State, and it was my privilege to actually get to work with him (there’s actually be a Krosnick, Garst, and Greene, if I wasn’t such a slacker).  The guy’s first field is social psychology, yet he knew far more political science than most any PS professor I knew.  In my personal judgement, pretty much the smartest person I’ve ever had the opportunity to interact with.

So, the Op-Ed basically does a nice job straightening out what we really know about public opinion on global warming (a topic I remember him working on 15 years ago), from what we think we know from seriously flawed survey questions.   It’s good work.  Big Steve highlights the value of good social science versus polling firms.  Dan Drezner highlights that Krosnick is, in fact, over-interpreting the public desire for real change (and I think he’s spot-on; Krosnick is brilliant at public opinion, he’s not a policy guy).  I think Kevin Drum’s take home is sadly, the most important conclusion:

So there you have it: the American public believes in global warming and wants the government to do something about it. However, the American public doesn’t want to do anything — carbon taxes or cap-and-trade — that might actually work.

Yglesias thinks Drum is overstating the case, but basically gives in on the larger point:

A frustrated Kevin Drum glosses this as “the American public doesn’t want to do anything — carbon taxes or cap-and-trade — that might actually work.”

But that’s not quite right. In principle you could seriously reduce overall emissions through these kind of regulatory measures. But it would be much, much, much more economically costly than alternative approaches.

So, maybe the public doesn’t actually oppose the policy solutions that would work, just the solutions that would work far and away the most efficiently.  And that’s a real shame.  This is why we don’t have a direct democracy (and why we need more courage from our leaders)– the public can be really stupid on complex policy matters.   And why is the public so foolhardy on these matters.  Yglesias explains why it’s not really they’re fault (long quote, but a really important point):

But the public’s understanding of these kind of issues—and not just in an environmental context—is extremely poor. And I think conservative politicians, conservative pundits, and conservative political institutions deserve a great deal of the blame for this situation. The view that it’s better to achieve policy aims through taxes and fees than through piecemeal subsidies and regulations is a standard consequence of the neoclassical economic model that these people are the strongest proponents of. And in general, taxing undesired externalities is by far the most “free market” way to handle these kind of situations. But the American right offers, in practice, no support for these kinds of market-oriented policies. Instead it’s spent thirty years deeply investing in rabid anti-tax politics that have completely conquered the Republican Party and largely conquered the Democratic Party as well. Now it’s nearly unthinkable to suggest that anyone should ever pay more taxes for any reason. And yet demonizing taxes doesn’t eliminate public demand for policy solutions to broad problems, it simply channels it into less efficient channels.

As a political scientist, the best thing that ever happened to me was being told I had to teach Public Policy against my will in my very first semester at Texas Tech.  Thanks to that, and my ongoing interest and expertise in policy that has developed, I get these things now.  I always tell my students that, normative issues aside, I’m not interested in “liberal” policy or “conservative” but, rather, efficient policy.  Though liberals are far from perfect on this score, it strikes me that liberals are much more interested in good/efficient policy and conservatives are much more interested in policy that fits their pre-conceived notions of how the world works (health care reform is a terrific example of this).  Honestly, its a shame.  If conservatives actually had a genuine interest in a efficient policy (e.g., carbon tax or cap and trade), this country would be a hell of a lot better off.

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