Bipartisanship takes two

Just read this Ezra Klein post:

As Democrats learned during the DREAM Act’s first decade in existence, proposing policies that Republicans have previously proposed doesn’t work. Since 2009, Democrats have sought to find middle ground with a health-care plan based around an individual mandate (which Republican Sen. John Chafee first introduced into the Senate in the 1990s), a cap-and-trade plan to reduce carbon emissions (which Republican Senator John McCain introduced into the Senate in 2003), and tax-cut based stimulus plans (which President George W. Bush signed in 2008). No go.

Backing policies that Republicans currently support hasn’t proven much more effective. When Obama put his weight behind legislation to create a bipartisan deficit-reduction commission, a number of the Republicans who supported that bill, including Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, flipped to oppose it.

And, I saw this today on FB, which honestly is not that far from the truth:

And no, both sides aren’t just the same.

Coolest research methodology ever (yes, there’s lots of racist voters out there)

Okay, maybe I’m a little too won over and not being sufficiently critical, but I absolutely love the idea of using data on Google searches via metro area to analyze political questions.  In this case, a Harvard Economics PhD Student, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has looked at the use of the “n” word via metro area to see how those areas voted for Obama versus what we would expect given Kerry’s performance in 2004.  Pretty fascinating.  To wit:

Consider two media markets, Denver and Wheeling (which is a market evenly split between Ohio and West Virginia). Mr. Kerry received roughly 50 percent of the votes in both markets. Based on the large gains for Democrats in 2008, Mr. Obama should have received about 57 percent of votes in both Denver and Wheeling. Denver and Wheeling, though, exhibit different racial attitudes. Denver had the fourth lowest racially charged search rate in the country. Mr. Obama won 57 percent of the vote there, just as predicted. Wheeling had the seventh highest racially charged search rate in the country. Mr. Obama won less than 48 percent of the Wheeling vote.

Wow!  Now, I’m not sure I want to buy the larger conclusion, but it is interesting:

Add up the totals throughout the country, and racial animus cost Mr. Obama three to five percentage points of the popular vote. In other words, racial prejudice gave John McCain the equivalent of a home-state advantage nationally.

Naturally, the first thing I did was head to Google Insights to try this stuff out myself.  Damn is this cool.  I decided to compare my current home of Raleigh-Durham to my former home of Lubbock, Texas.   As Stephens-Davidowitz mentions that “porn” is an even more popular search than “weather,” I did include that among my searches.   Using the google 0-100 metric, Lubbock outdid Raleigh 81 to 47– how’s that for one of the most conservative counties in the country?!  Maybe we could blame it all on Texas Tech.  Do this search on porn, and we get the related search suggestion of “gay porn.”  Surely, Raleigh must outstrip Lubbock there?  Nope.  Here’s the graphic for the last year of “gay porn” searches in Lubbock and Raleigh-Durham.

This really presents a potentially really amazing tool for answering political questions.  I’ve got to figure out how I can do some parenthood and politics research with this.

Photo of the day

Man am I a sucker for these historical NYC photos.  Just love ’em.  This is from another great set compiled by Alan Taylor:

View from Seamen’s Church Institute looking northwest, in Lower Manhattan — Coenties Slip, and the curve of the 2nd-3rd Avenues “El” structure in foreground. Photograph taken in June of 1938. (Courtesy NYC Municipal Archives)

The best wine

Is, of course, one with a fancy label, of that you think was really expensive.  That’s about it and the evidence on this score just keeps growing.  Honestly, with all the studies that keep coming out, at this point I would be embarrassed to consider myself an oenophile (as it is, I’ve always hated the taste of wine).   Anyway, Jonah Lehrer (now blogging at the New Yorker), takes a look at the most recent findings and summarizes the whole history of wine (and your brain):

What can we learn from these tests? First, that tasting wine is really hard, even for experts. Because the sensory differences between different bottles of rotten grape juice are so slight—and the differences get even more muddled after a few sips—there is often wide disagreement about which wines are best. For instance, both the winning red and white wines in the Princeton tasting were ranked by at least one of the judges as the worst.

The perceptual ambiguity of wine helps explain why contextual influences—say, the look of a label, or the price tag on the bottle—can profoundly influence expert judgment. This was nicely demonstrated in a mischievous 2001 experiment led by Frédéric Brochet at the University of Bordeaux. In the first test, Brochet invited fifty-seven wine experts and asked them to give their impressions of what looked like two glasses of red and white wine. The wines were actually the same white wine, one of which had been tinted red with food coloring. But that didn’t stop the experts from describing the “red” wine in language typically used to describe red wines. One expert praised its “jamminess,” while another enjoyed its “crushed red fruit.”…

Last year, the psychologist Richard Wiseman bought a wide variety of bottles at the local supermarket, from a five-dollar Bordeaux to a fifty-dollar champagne, and asked people to say which wine was more expensive. (All of the taste tests were conducted double-blind, with neither the experimenter nor subject aware of the actual price.) According to Wiseman’s data, the five hundred and seventy-eight participants could only pick the more expensive wine fifty-three per cent of the time, which is basically random chance. They actually performed below chance when it came to picking red wines. Bordeaux fared the worst, with a significant majority—sixty-one per cent—picking the cheap plonk as the more expensive selection.

And here’s the key:

We taste everything all at once, in a single gulp of thiswineisMoutonRothschild, or thiswineisfromSouthJersey. As a result, if we think a wine is cheap, then it will taste cheap. And if we think we are tasting a premier cru, then we will taste a premier cru. Our senses are vague in their instructions, and we parse their inputs based upon whatever other knowledge we can summon to the surface. It’s not that those new French oak barrels or carefully pruned vines don’t matter—it’s that the logo on the bottle and price tag often matter more.

So go ahead and buy some wine from New Jersey. But if you really want to maximize the pleasure of your guests, put a fancy French label on it. Those grapes will taste even better.

As for me, I’ll stick with my tasty Diet Coke while everyone else drinks wine.

Public opinion on debt and spending

One of the most annoying ongoing paradoxes about public opinion is that the American government is against deficit spending and in favor of “cutting government.”  It just so happens that they quite strongly against cutting any actual government programs except the (<1% of the budget) foreign aid.  Ugh.  Pew just did a nice piece emphasizing this paradox (which Republicans pretty relentlessly take advantage of).  To wit, here’s what Americans think they think about the budget deficit:

Well, then, all these deficit hawks must have plenty of stuff they want to cut– right?  Ummm, not exactly:

There’s also this:

By a margin of 52% to 39%, the largest in five years, Americans express a preference for smaller government as opposed to a larger government providing more services.

Riiiight.  A smaller government.  Just not one that is actually any smaller.   This really ought to be exhibit A in why not to take public opinion to seriously.   (Exhibit B might be the number of Americans thinking they are in a position to judge the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act).   Pew concludes thusly:

The bottom line appears to be that if the deficit and related entitlement programs are to be addressed, it may well have to be in spite of public opinion, not in response to it.

Well, that’s not exactly easy.  Especially one one party categorically rejects what simply has to be part of the solution (increasing government revenue).  Now, it would be nice if President Obama were more honest on our actual deficit quandary (as the centrist budget hawks to him to task for last week), but that’s really expecting a lot when you are facing a public with such a dysfunctional set of policy views and an opposition party who is breathtakingly dishonest and does all they can to help contribute to the public’s fantasy of curing all our ills through cutting foreign aid and “waste, fraud, and abuse.”

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