Dead malls

A couple weeks ago (yes, I’m behind) there was all sorts of discussion about the phenomenon of dead and dying enclosed shopping malls.  At the time, I was on vacation in my childhood home of Springfield, Virigina, which has just re-opened it’s own dead mall– the Springfield Mall (oh, happy days of youth!)– with a more upscale, Springfield Towne Center.  The Times had a big story about how traditional malls are dying while more upscale malls are thriving:

Industry executives freely admit that the mall business has undergone a profound bifurcation since the recession.

“You see the A-rated malls, the flagship malls, performing very well,” said Steven Lowy, co-chief executive of Westfield Corporation, which has its roots in Australia but is now a major global player among mall owners. In the United States, Westfield has shed properties in the Midwest while focusing on the more affluent coasts. In Europe, Mr. Lowy prefers wealthy urban centers like London and Milan.

“Our business is more regional and high-end focused,” he said. “There are gradients of dead or dying or flat, but anything that’s caught in the middle of the market is problematic.”

One obvious trouble for malls– online shopping– is written off as only a small factor:

One factor many shoppers blame for the decline of malls — online shopping — is having only a small effect, experts say. Less than 10 percent of retail sales take place online, and those sales tend to hit big-box stores harder, rather than the fashion chains and other specialty retailers in enclosed malls.

Yet, Yglesias takes a better look at the data and concludes otherwise:

This is a complicated phenomenon, but one important factor is the rise of online shopping. Schwartz dismisses this too quickly with the observation that “less than 10 percent of retail sales take place online.” This is true, but a large share of the Commerce Department’s retail sales series consists of food and car dealerships, which don’t really compete with online retail.

That’s a lot more than 10 percent. It’s not a full explanation for the phenomenon, but it’s a really important part of the story. The shopping mall is a complicated ecosystem, full of implicit subsidies and agglomeration effects, and the ecosystem is being shocked by competition from online that’s growing at an incredibly pace.

Yep.  A great example of why it is worth to dig further into data and not just take statistics at face value.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced this first hand.  In fact, just before writing this post I ordered a pair of pants (I love Dockers Field Khakis) that I would have purchased at the local mall (Cary Towne Center) in times past.   I do love my on-line shopping, but there’s still nothing like hitting the mall.  What will teenagers do without then?!

Why are Democratic presidential candidates always so liberal

In their thorough analyses of the 2012 election, I’ve always been intrigued on how voters perceived Mitt Romney as far closer to the average voter than they did Obama.  In a fair assessment of their actual issue positions, there’s just not a lot to support this, but that is clearly how the voters saw it, as this Sides and Vavreck post from the Monkey Cage demonstrates:

Paul Waldman had a recent post about Jeb Bush in 2016 and the potential downsides of pandering to the conservative base (which seemingly had very little downside for Romney).  Waldman continues to describe research about ideological perceptions that I should have been aware of (or maybe I once was and I forgot):

It’s also vital to remember that when you look at all of them together, the public always perceives the Democratic presidential candidate to be farther to the left than the Republican candidate is to the right when they’re forced to answer the question. This is a phenomenon driven almost entirely by Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, who tend to describe the Democratic candidate as an extreme liberal, almost irrespective of who he actually is. [emphasis mine] The more partisan loyalties harden, the clearer the effect becomes. Here’s an excerpt from a 2003 article I wrote in my former life as an academic, citing NES data:

Republicans always perceive the Democratic candidate as much more liberal than Democrats and independents perceive him to be. Bill Clinton is the clearest case: while Democrats and independents placed him at about the same ideological position as most other Democratic candidates, in 1996 strong Republicans thought Bill Clinton was more liberal than previous strong Republicans had found Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, and even George McGovern.

That’s obviously not a judgment based in some kind of rational assessment of what a candidate stands for.

I knew that Democratic candidates were typically seen as more liberal than Republicans as conservative, but I did not realize the phenomenon was driven almost entirely by Republicans placing them unrealistically to the left (I guess that’s what all that Fox News watching gets you).  Waldman concludes, quite accurately, I think:

The lesson is probably that “ideology,” at least as political junkies understand it, is something that doesn’t matter all that much to most voters.

They aren’t going to say, “Well, I thought he was a 2.4 on the ideology scale, but I’ve concluded that he’s actually a 3.1, so I’m voting against him.” If Jeb Bush can pander and shift about ideologically while still convincing voters he’s a man of principle who can be trusted — no easy task — then if nothing else he’ll have one less thing to worry about. But if he can’t, then he’s much more likely to wind up like Mitt Romney.

Mostly, though, I think it is very useful to realize that when we rely on polling data that suggests a Democrat is particularly liberal, there’s very good reason to be skeptical of it.

Photo of the day

Loved this Smithsonian gallery of photos from Oymyakon in Siberia– the coldest permanently inhabited place on earth.  I don’t usually go for photos of people, but I found this one quite arresting.

Amos Chapple

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