Politics is polarized and nationalized

Nice piece by John Sides summing up some really good PS research by Corwin Smidt (fellow OSU PhD– with the same committee chair, too!) on the ever fewer number of American swing voters:

American voters are becoming more reliably partisan. This is visible in lotsof differentevidence. Now, new research has nicely captured a logical consequence: the decline of the swing voter.

The research — “Polarization and the Decline of the American Floating Voter”— is from Michigan State political scientist Corwin Smidt. “Floating voter” is analogous to what many people mean by “swing voter”: someone who votes consistently but swings back and forth between the two major parties. The graph below compares the fraction of floating voters in consecutive pairs of elections to those who voted in both elections but stuck with the same party (“stand-patters”), who voted only in one of each pair of elections (“surge and decliners”), and those who didn’t vote in either election (“repeat nonvoters”).

As you can see from the circled trend, the percentage of floating voters has declined from a high of 15 percent to 5 percent. Meanwhile, the consistent partisans, or “stand-patters,” have become more prevalent.

What is driving the decline in swing voters? Smidt shows that voters are increasingly cognizant of the sharp differences between the Republican and Democratic parties. In fact, a politically inattentive and unengaged American today is as likely to perceive important differences between the parties as a very engaged American was in 1960… [emphases mine]

In other words, the polarization of the two parties is so apparent that you can basically not follow politics and still perceive it.

Smidt goes on to show that people who think the parties differ tend to have opinions, and more consistent opinions, about the presidential candidates. Taken together, all three of these factors — perceiving the parties as different, having opinions about the candidates, and having consistent opinions — are related to the decline of the swing voter.

In short, there is less reason to “swing” when only one party is attractive to you…

One implication, Smidt notes, is that American voters should be less responsive to election-year forces, like shifts in the economy or other important events. Another is that politicians have less incentive to appeal to swing voters and more incentive to appeal to their loyal supporters.

Chait also does a nice job running with this research:

The polarized stalemate leaves both parties dissatisfied. Republicans — because they are spread more efficiently, have gerrymandered state and national legislative districts, and vote more frequently in non-presidential elections — have a hammerlock on the House of Representatives and dominate state government. Democrats continue to advance their policy goals through executive action emanating from the White House. Democrats and Republicans alike have both strategized to break through the stalemate by strategically targeting constituencies across the trenches.

But every effort to break the stalemate in the age of polarization has failed. Red-state Democrats and blue-state Republicans have tried to create separate, localized identities for their candidates that can allow them to compete in hostile terrain. It doesn’t work because elections at every level have increasingly grown nationalized. The divide between red and blue America is comprehensive…

You can’t pick off opposing voters on social or economic issues when those issues are all wrapped together into totalistic worldviews.

That is why voters used to make individual-based judgments of their candidates for Congress. Now they just vote for the same party all the time….

Republicans can certainly win presidential elections if conditions allow them to dominate among swing voters. But the diminishing number of swing voters makes these swings smaller. Some voters will still move back and forth based on the state of the economy during an election year, or the quality of the candidates, or scandals, and so on. The swings will be smaller with so many voters locked in. Models built on data from the 20th century can’t accurately project how voters will behave in a polarized age. Silver’s 2011 prediction that Obama was a slight underdog relied on the weak economy turning swing voters against the incumbent. He missed the fact that there just weren’t enough of them, because nearly everybody voted for the same party as they had four years before.

Eventually something will happen to break up the current arrangement. Maybe Republicans will one day move to the center, or left-wing activists will push Democrats out of it. (Right now the latter seems more likely than the former.) For the time being, the dominant fact of American politics is that nobody is changing their mind about anything.

Now that I’ve extensively excerpted, I’ll nonetheless say that if you really want to understand what’s going on with partisanship and American politics, you should read both Sides and Chait posts in full.

Photo of the day

From an In Focus gallery of the National Geographic photo contest:

A large cluster of marine life enjoys a massive feeding frenzy below the monolithic Eddystone Rock. The area is about 26 kilometers off Tasmania’s South East Cape and is truly a wild location.

Party and religion

Pew has a new analysis out.  Lots of ways to slice it, but I find this two companion charts particularly interesting:

Religious 'Nones' Now Largest Single Religious Group Among Democrats

Evangelicals Remain Largest Religious Group in GOP Coalition

The study also shows that the growth of the “nones” is having a particularly pronounced impact on the Democratic Party coalition. In fact, religious “nones” are now more numerous among Democrats and Democratic-leaning adults than are Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants or members of the historically black Protestant tradition. The religiously unaffiliated also are growing within the GOP, though not as quickly, and they remain far outnumbered by evangelicals and less numerous than Catholics or mainline Protestants within the Republican coalition.

Quick hits (part II)

1) College campus PC-liberalism amok takes on Halloween.  Prominently at Yale.

2) How Democrats also pass laws that intentionally lead to lower turnout.

3) If we are always short of nurses are we really short of nurses?

4) There’s now some interesting research on how poor people can really benefit by living in mixed income communities.  But now, some research on how it is extra tough for poor teenage boys who live near rich neighborhoods.

5) So tired of prosecutors abusing their discretion– statutory rape edition.

6) Paul Waldman on Ben Carson:

Ben Carson’s ideas about things like the pyramids, combined with what he has said about other more immediate topics, suggest not only that his beliefs are impervious to evidence but also an alarming lack of what we might call epistemological modesty. It isn’t what he doesn’t know that’s the problem, it’s what he doesn’t realize that he doesn’t know. He thinks that all the archeologists who have examined the pyramids just don’t know what they’re talking about, because Joseph had to put all that grain somewhere. He thinks that after reading something about the second law of thermodynamics, he knows more about the solar system than the world’s physicists do. He thinks that after hearing a Glenn Beck rant about the evils of Islam, he knows as much about a 1,400-year-old religion as any theologian and can confidently say why no Muslim who doesn’t renounce his faith could be president.

So what happens when President Carson gets what he thinks is a great idea, and a bunch of “experts” tell him it would actually be a disaster? What’s he going to do?

7) Chait argues that he seems to be more into running a book tour/ brand building exercise than a presidential campaign.

Carson is doing a lot of things that seem puzzling for a presidential campaign, but quite logical for a brand-building exercise. He is taking weeks off the campaign trail to go on a book tour. His campaign itself is structured much more like a scamming venture than a political one. An astronomical 69 percent of his fund-raising totals are spent on more fund-raising. (Bernie Sanders, by contrast, spends just 4 percent of his intake on fund-raising.) In addition to direct mail, Carson seems to have undertaken a massive phone-spamming operation. Spending most of your money to raise more money is not a good way to get elected president, but it is a good way to build a massive list of supporters that can later be monetized.

8) Hillary has a staffer with an arrest for using drugs.  The NY Post thinks you should care.

8b) Meanwhile Bill O’Reilly thinks it is a good idea to just execute all drug offenders.

9) Really enjoyed this Slate piece on Scalia on statutory interpretation in a child pornography case.


10) Why do so many incompetent men become leaders?  Because people mistake confidence for competence.

11) People who insist they need showy public prayer are so annoying.  And when they are HS coaches, they are so wrong.

12) Yglesias makes a strong case for easy debate questions.


13) Some nice perspective on diet and exercise and our environment from someone who recently lost 100 pounds.

14) Seth Masket says don’t count out Jeb just yet.

15) Pretty fascinating profile of a far-right conservative talk radio host and how his crazy listeners keep pushing him further to the right.

16) Math vs. Marco Rubio via Chait:

That means the brunt of Rubio’s fiscal pressure would come to bear on the minority of the federal budget that goes directly to the poor.

This is how Republican budget logic works in general. When you add up fanatical opposition to higher revenue, a political need to protect current retirees and a commitment to higher defense spending, you wind up either blowing up the budget deficit or inflicting massive harm on the poor. There are different ways to handle that problem. One of them is the Paul Ryan–circa-2011 plan of just proposing enormous cuts in anti-poverty programs. Another is the Paul Ryan–circa-2014-to-the-present plan of keeping those cuts in the budget but insisting they’re not your actual ideas.

Then you have the Rubio-Dubya method. The downside of this plan is that you don’t get Ryan-esque praise as a serious budget hawk who’s willing to look America square in the eyeball and tell us hard truths. But liberating yourself from any pretense to obeying the laws of arithmetic provides certain upsides that seem profitable for Rubio.

17) University of Missouri Law School social media policy is nuts!

18) We need too massively decarcerate.

So, the story is straightforward: America has simply created a tremendous capacity to convict and incarcerate its citizens. And, we continue to do so even though violence has declined dramatically. Prosecutors have more beds to fill and they are doing so, and as a result more arrestees find themselves serving prison sentences than ever before. And some of them may be innocent.

19) Really cool story on the emergence of the Coyolf as a new species


20) Say what you will about fast food, but a lot of the companies are taking some important steps towards a less horrible industrial food system.  Most everybody but Yum! foods, that is.  Not coincidentally, I used to love Taco Bell when I was a teenage male, but it’s probably been at least 15 years since I’ve eaten there.

The simplest explanation, however, is that Taco Bell hasn’t followed the industry because it doesn’t have to. Its customers are young, like those of its competitors, but they are predominantly male, which, according to Technomic’s 2015 food trend report, means they’re less likely to care about animal welfare.  They also aren’t quite as affluent as those who frequent other chain’s, which, Tristano points out, likely means they are more price sensitive.

“The lower you get down the price points, the more your consumer has to prefer lower prices to better animal welfare rights,” he said. “So I think it’s also reflection of how Taco Bell’s customers feel.”

21) Nice Vox article from Lee Drutman on the reinforcing feedback loop of inequality and Republican electoral success.  Read it.

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