Video of the day

Was talking about conformity to social norms in my Public Opinion class today and one of my students told us about this video.  Truly awesome:

Gerrymandering is not the cause of polarization

I would love it if it were, because than we could have an easy fix.  But it’s not.  There’s been some really solid political science on this out there for a few years now, but it’s having some real trouble penetrating through the broader world of political elites.  We still hear ending gerrymandering as the solution to polarization on a regular basis.  Now, even if it is not a major contributor to polarization, gerrymandering is still and bad thing and we should do away with it.  That said, here’s Nolan McCarty on the issue at hand:

A few years back, two collaborators and I completed a paper titled “Does Gerrymandering Cause Polarization?” …

Our answer was an emphatic (at least by scholarly conventions) “only a little bit, if at all.”Thus, the belief in the pernicious effects of gerrymandering is not confined to the general public and the news media. It is widely accepted by experienced, professional politicians. There are good reasons to oppose the absurdly shaped districts that gerrymandering often produces (more on this later). But before succumbing to the notion that jiggered legislative districts are at the root of America’s gridlock and divisiveness, it is worth considering the proposition that I, my co-authors and the many political scientists who have studied the effect of gerrymandering on polarization are not nuts…

The first and most obvious counterpoint is found in the Senate, which of course is not subject to redistricting. Senators must run statewide, and it’s hard to win without going beyond your party’s base. But the consensus among political scientists is that the House and the Senate have closely tracked each other in terms of polarization over time. Although the Senate may be a bit less partisan than the House, it has become a very polarized body without the aid of any gerrymandering…

But our research suggests that the main cause of political division is the behavior of Democratic and Republican legislators representing similar districts, not how the lines are drawn. In other words, polarization has grown because Democrats and Republicans are representing moderate districts in increasingly extreme ways. So even if the number of safe conservative and liberal seats had not risen, the U.S. House and state legislatures would have become nearly as polarized…

Should Americans stop worrying, then, and learn to love the gerrymander? No. Even if its effects on polarization are as small as I believe them to be, the practice of elected politicians drawing districts for themselves and their political allies is an invitation to overt corruption. A key to any successful democracy is a widespread belief in the fairness and impartiality of elections. Having incumbents participate in designing districts promoting their job security does little to enhance the legitimacy of American democracy. But even if we take the politics out of drawing the maps, we shouldn’t expect the divisiveness and polarization of our current politics to wither away.

Short version: polarization– get used to it.

House effects

Now that I am FB friends with both the director and assistant director of PPP I have been enjoying the absurdly negative commentary that they get that they occassionally share.  There’s a lot of angry Republicans out there who don’t appreciate the results of PPP polls.  Something tells me that the type of person who hashes out an expletive-laden personal attack on a pollster is not about to check Simon Jackman’s great post on house effects among pollsters.  But if they did, they’d find that PPP is just about as right down the middle as you can get.  And, interestingly, Fox News is equally down the middle, but with a right, rather than left, lean:


The pollsters listed here are the more prolific and/or prominent pollsters appearing in the Pollster data base. The reported house effects are for the likely voter polls produced by these pollsters. The house effects are estimated subject to the assumption that the house effects have zero mean across the pollsters in the Pollster data base; that is, averaged across pollsters, the polls “get it right.” That is, the house effects are best thought of as offsets relative to the industry-wide mean. The house effects are re-estimated with every new run of the model (every couple of hours).

Now, this doesn’t mean that PPP and Fox and right and that Gallup and Gravis are wrong.  It’s certainly more likely than not, but it is possible that almost everybody is too pro-Obama.  This only tells us that Fox and PPP are right in the middle of the universe of pollsters.  We’ll only know for sure who is right come November 6.

Sandy and the election

1) F#$%n hurricanes!!  Last three hurricanes to hit US mainland… 1) Irene almost stranded me in Maine for a wedding and necessitated a $250 rental car plus 13 hour drive to avoid 3 extra days stuck in Maine.  2) Isaac canceled my first ever trip to New Orleans.  3) Sandy prevented our annual speaker, this year Tim Noah who was scheduled to come today.   All those things all involved plenty of stress.  Yeah, I know I was lucky to have no flooding, etc., but what are the chances someone living in Raleigh, NC should be so impacted by these last three hurricanes?!

2) My take on the political effects of Sandy.  Obama’s ahead.  Not by a lot, but he’d win if the election were today.  24/7 news coverage on weather is basically stall ball.  Romney needs for the political narrative to change and right now the narrative is completely subverted to weather/disaster stories.  Of course, Obama could have a “heckuva job, Brownie” moment, but since Democrats actually believe in good government I’m pretty confident that Obama has not appointed heads of major disaster agencies whose previous experience was running the International Arabian Horse Association.  So, right now, this is just stall ball, and that’s good for Obama.

Photo of the day

Hurricane Sandy, what else?  From N&O:

A news crew wades through sea foam blown onto Jeanette’s Pier in Nags Head, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012 as wind and rain from Hurricane Sandy move into the area. Governors from North Carolina, where steady rains were whipped by gusting winds Saturday night, to Connecticut declared states of emergency. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities by 8 p.m. Sunday. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

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