If only tenure were this good

Tenure is pretty awesome, though not quite this awesome.  Love this strip (h/t Big Steve):



The ground game

I must say, I especially enjoyed this Atlantic piece on the ground game, as much of it spent in my hometown of Springfield, VA.  Here’s what the Obama campaign is up to:

It’s true that the Obama campaign’s strategy is far more reliant on bringing new voters into the electorate — particularly the young and minority voters who are less likely to register and vote. But if the Democrats can do that, it could make a big difference in a close election.

“If there’s a blowout election, the ground game is nice,” Bird, the Obama field director, said. “But in a state-by-state close contest for electoral votes, where it’s deadlocked going in, if you know you expanded the electorate, and you know who those people are, and you have volunteers trained to turn them out — that’s what the ground game is engineered to do.”

Meanwhile, Ezra focuses on the work of Set Masket that suggests a good ground game may be worth an additional 1% of the vote.  Most years, that hardly makes a difference.  In 2012, that could be key.   Now, this may not be a perfect metric, but it certainly suggests an Obama advantage:

Finally, this Sasha Issenberg piece (I really need to get myself a copy of Victory Lab– my text Campaigns & Elections class will definitely be reading it).  The basic gist is that team Obama is way ahead tactically because they’ve been working with practical-minded social scientists to fine tune their efforts:

In fact, when it comes to the use of voter data and analytics, the two sides appear to be as unmatched as they have ever been on a specific electioneering tactic in the modern campaign era. No party ever has ever had such a durable structural advantage over the other on polling, making television ads, or fundraising, for example. And the reason may be that the most important developments in how to analyze voter behavior has not emerged from within the political profession.

“The left has significantly broadened its perspective on political behavior,” says Adam Schaeffer, who earned graduate degrees in both evolutionary psychology and political behavior before launching a Republican opinion-research firm, Evolving Strategies. “I’m jealous of them.”

Schaeffer attributes the imbalance to the mutual discomfort between academia and conservative political professionals, which has limited Republicans’ ability to modernize campaign methods. The biggest technical and conceptual developments these days are coming from the social sciences, whose more practically-minded scholars regularly collaborate with candidates and interest groups on the left. As a result, the electioneering right is suffering from what amounts to a lost generation; they have simply failed to keep up with advances in voter targeting and communications since Bush’s re-election. The left, meanwhile, has arrived at crucial insights that have upended the conventional wisdom about how you convert citizens to your cause. Right now, only one team is on the field with the tools to most effectively find potential supporters and win their votes.

Who knows how this all comes out, but I suspect that we may look back at this election where an embattled incumbent basically ended up winning largely due to superior organization and tactics.

Photo of the day

Sandy again.  Some of these from the latest In Focus set are downright post-apocalyptic.  Thought this was pretty wild.

A “keep off the dunes” sign, buried Tuesday morning in Cape May, New Jersey, after a storm surge from Sandy pushed the Atlantic Ocean over the beach and into the streets, on October 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Romneyworld and FEMA

In Romney’s world FEMA is an unnecessary, “immoral” extravagance our nation cannot afford.  In mine, it’s a classic example of the reason we actually have government rather than living a life that is nasty, brutish, and short.  Yglesias:

During a 2011 GOP primary debate he said it was “immoral” for the federal government to be spending money on disaster relief when it should be focused on deficit reduction:

First Romney says: “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better. Instead of thinking, in the federal budget, what we should cut, we should ask the opposite question, what should we keep?”

“Including disaster relief, though?” debate moderator John King asked Romney.

His response:

We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all…

Disaster relief, I would argue, is a great federal program precisely because of the debt issue.

If a storm damages basic physical infrastructure (power lines, bridges) and imperils human life it would be the height of penny-wise, pound-foolish thinking to suppose that the afflicted area should wait months or years to repair the damage. Ultimately, anyplace is going to go back to robust wealth creation faster if basic stuff gets fixed up faster. But that requires financing by an entity capable of rapidly financing expensive projects—i.e., the federal government. Left to its own devices a storm-ravaged Delaware or Louisiana is going to be squeezed between balanced budget rules and falling sales tax receipts and be forced into an increasing state of dilapidation.

But, massive cuts to FEMA and every other domestic non-defense program is basically exactly what Mitt Romney proposes to do.

The most important and obvious policy we’re just not taking seriously

If you’ve been paying attention of late, you’ve surely heard something about the most amazing policy we’re not doing nearly enough of– investing quality pre-K programs for at-risk youth.  James Heckman, the guru of all this, suggests that the payoff could be as much as $10 down the road in saved costs on incarceration and welfare and greater revenues from a properly-functioning, working taxpayers for every $1 invested.  Not often you get a pay-off like that.  And let’s say Heckman’s off, and it’s only 5 to 1, that’s still huge.  And let’s say these studies are only on the best pre-schools and with a more average pre-school, it would still only be 2 to 1.  How do you not do that investment?!  Well turns out you may not want to if you are so ideologically opposed to government that all you can see is “socialized” government takeover instead of a phenomenally good win-win investment.  The This American Life story details how Oklahoma (predominantly Republican) legislators were basically tricked into passing universal pre-K because when approached directly, they indeed feared socialism.

This related report from the Planet Money team basically has a wonderfully handy summary of all the great evidence for the long-lasting benefits to the individuals, and society, from investment in pre-K for at-risk youth.   Please listen.   Meanwhile, here in NC, the governor is scrambling to restore funding to our pre-K program which the Republicans cut in their most recent budget.   Given all the available evidence, the shortsightedness of cuts like this is truly breathtaking.  This should not be a partisan issue.  Again, you will find few (any?) public policies which have a larger payoff.  The fact that this is a partisan issue is just depressing.




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.

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