The real incumbency advantage– elevators

If you are not from NC, you might be surprised to learn that our NC Labor Commissioner, Cherie Berrie, is the 4th best-known political office-holder in the state.  If you are from NC, you are well aware that she has been abusing her position for years by taking an increasingly prominent role in our elevators.  The results from the latest Elon Poll via the N&O:

More North Carolinians can identify the state’s “elevator queen” than the legislators setting the agenda on statewide issues.

According to an Elon University Poll, 49 percent of registered voters could match Cherie Berry – whose face is plastered in elevators across the state because of her role in regulating them – with her role as North Carolina commissioner of labor. But a majority of those respondents didn’t identify her by her official title. Rather, they said she was the “Elevator Lady” or the “Elevator Queen.” Voters in urban areas were more likely to recognize Berry than those in rural areas.

“I think it’s pretty good evidence that Cherie Berry’s elevator advertisements work,” said Jason Husser, an assistant professor of political science at Elon University and director of the poll. “If we had gone through other names of people with similar levels of authority at the state, we wouldn’t have seen that level of name recognition.”

When I first moved here back in 2002, I’m pretty sure it was just the signature.  But now it’s a photo, too, and I’m pretty sure it’s become more prominent.  And, yes, she keeps winning statewide even in years when most other Republicans lose.

A couple of political scientists have found, yes, there is a real incumbency advantage here and wrote up their results in the Monkey Cage a couple years ago:

2012 results. These results aren’t as ambiguous. Once again, Berry brought up her total of the vote in counties with a higher concentration of elevators. But this time, Berry performs better than other Republicans running for statewide offices in counties with a higher concentration of elevators per 1,000 people…

What should we take away from this study?

As political scientists have long thought, political advertisements can affect elections — even in the most unorthodox forms. With this kind of advertising, incumbents don’t have to spend campaign funds — but they still come out of the election at a higher floor than when they began.

If they do learn from Berry’s elevator pictures, they may realize that such advertising can help when they try to rise to higher political office. In a May 2013 poll, Berry performed strongest of all Republicans tested against then-Senator Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) for the U.S. Senate seat Hagan was vacating in 2014. While Berry didn’t run for Senate, her picture in North Carolina elevators continue to bring up her political prospects as she seeks a fifth term as labor commissioner in 2016.

And, yes, of course she won in 2016.

And, yes, she’s a good Republican who has used her position to entirely fair the working people of this state.

The most important political identity

Gun ownership.  Okay, really, it’s partisanship.  But damn has gun ownership become an amazing potent political identity.  Great summary of the matter from Vox’s Dylan Matthews:

If only gun owners had voted in the 2016 election, then Donald Trump would have won every single state save Vermont. If only people who don’t own guns had voted, then Hillary Clinton would have won every state, save West Virginia and maybe Wyoming.

SurveyMonkey, which conducted the poll reaching these conclusions, found that the voting divide between gun owners and non-owners was starker than divides between white and nonwhite Americans, between working-class whites and the rest of the nation, and between rural and urban voters. “No other demographic characteristic created such a consistent geographic split,” the New York Times’s Nate Cohn and Kevin Quealy write.

That doesn’t mean that gun ownership is more important in explaining American political behavior than race or class or gender. But it does mean that gun ownership has an extremely strong correlation with conservative, pro-Republican voting. [emphases mine]

Not owning a gun isn’t a particularly powerful identity. But gun ownership is, enough so to drive the gap seen in the map above.

This hasn’t always been the case; gun ownership has not always had such a clear partisan tilt. Indeed, gun control was once embraced by right-wing racists as a tool to disempower black Americans…

Over the course of the past four decades, though, gun ownership has firmly sorted along party lines. In a recent paper, University of Kansas political scientists Mark Joslyn, Don Haider-Markel, Michael Baggs, and Andrew Bilbo found that the impact of owning a gun on presidential vote choice increased markedly from 1972 to 2012.

Gun owner and non-owner voting

But Joslyn and company find that even after you control for gender, race, education, age, rural/urban status, and even party affiliation, gun ownership still correlates strongly with presidential vote choice. Indeed, they find that in their regressions, it “exerts a greater influence on likelihood of voting Republican than gender, education, or rural residence, and rivals age.”

These regressions can’t prove causality — that is, they can’t prove that gun ownership causes people to vote Republican. But they do show that the phenomenon we’re seeing isn’t just an effect of which racial groups or genders are likely to own guns.

Gun ownership on its own appears to matter. Democrats who own guns are likelier to vote for Republican presidential candidates than Democrats who don’t; black Americans who own guns are likelier to vote Republican than black Americans who don’t; women who own guns are likelier to vote Republican than women who don’t, and on and on and on…

The conservative themes that Lacombe alludes to in the gun debate — an individualist spirit, paired with a respect for traditional family values — can be broken down in a couple of ways.

First, there is a divide between an individualist attitude, which places a premium on individual autonomy, and a communitarian attitude, in which the community or nation is in this together and sometimes needs to make individual sacrifices for the greater good.

Second, there’s a divide between a hierarchical worldview, where traditional practices and distinctions between genders, ages, social groups, etc. are viewed as important and justified, and an egalitarian worldview that views such distinctions as fundamentally arbitrary.

Donald Braman, a professor at George Washington University law school who holds a PhD in anthropology, has, with his Yale colleague Dan Kahan, examined the gun debate through these cultural divisions, using an approach known as the “cultural theory of risk.” Pioneered by the late anthropologist Mary Douglas, the theory holds that people’s cultural environments, particularly the groups of which they’re members, help determine what people view as significant risks: Is the more significant threat “insufficient control of concealed weapons, leaving citizens vulnerable to deliberate or accidental shootings”? Or is it “excessive control, leaving citizens unable to defend themselves from attackers”?

This perception, in turn, colors how people interpret empirical evidence and form conclusions about policy.

Gun ownership is a particularly powerful identity, even starting as early as childhood. “We found that growing up in a household where firearms were present and having a firearm in the home was a strong determinant of how dangerous people thought firearms were,” with people growing up with guns perceiving them to be less dangerous, says Braman. Childhood exposure to guns is also a strong determinant of whether people keep firearms to this day…

People with more hierarchical but simultaneously individualistic worldviews are less likely to support gun control, and people of a communitarian, egalitarian bent are more likely. “With the exception of gender, no other characteristic comes close to the explanatory power of cultural orientations,” they write. “Cultural orientations have an impact on gun control attitudes that is over three times larger than being Catholic, over two times larger than fear of crime, and nearly four times larger than residing in the West.”..

What no one seems to know is how to make the debate less about identity and more about evidence — or if such a move is even possible. It might be that the most we can hope for is an ever-escalating clash of identities that somehow results, against all odds, in sensible policy.

What this means as much as anything is that you really difficult to argue policy with gun owners.  Strong identities mean identity protective cognition which means preserving the value of group identity over the value of actually being accurate and comprehending the reality of the situation.  It doesn’t matter how much data and research you show a gun lover about the inefficacy of our current policies for keeping Americans safe, the need to protect the “more guns = better” identity will outweigh the need to have rational discussion of policy.  Of course, the more non-gun-owner become identity, the even harder it will be to actually have rational, empirically-oriented debate and policy.

Also, somehow I missed a terrific Upshot feature largely around this in October as well.  Check that out, too.

And, lastly, I really want to do some political science with “gun owner” and a social identity scale.

Everyday misleading journalism

So, in what is ostensibly a fairly negative article about Trump— his latest lashing out at Jeff Sessions– there’s still an incredibly-frustrating he said/she said bias that is so corrosive and so pervasive in modern political journalism.  To wit:

The two sides in recent weeks issued dueling memos on the topic. [emphases mine]

The first, from Republicans, said the FBI used information that was ultimately funded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee to obtain the warrant on Page. It said that finding and others amounted to “a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses related to the FISA process,” a reference to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The FBI disputed the accuracy of the Republicans’ statements, and Democrats fired back on Saturday with their own memo saying the bureau had been unfairly maligned.

Page has acknowledged that an FBI wiretap detected suspected Russian spies discussing their attempts to recruit him in 2013, and told congressional investigators that he was interviewed by the FBI and cooperated as they investigated the men, who were ultimately charged with acting as unregistered foreign agents. By the Democrats’ telling, the bureau told the court specific details of where its new information on Page came from.

No, not “by the Democrats’ telling” by actual reality!!  Damn this is such irresponsible journalism.  We’re left with some stupid “Democrats and Republicans disagree” take that leaves the average reader no better informed instead of the far more accurate, “here’s what’s real, and here’s who’s telling you the truth about it.”  There’s your damn media bias in action.

Shocker: Republican tax cuts proving huge benefit to rich people; ordinary people, not so much

Paul Waldman:

When Republicans put together their tax bill last year, it was not much of a surprise to see that its centerpiece was a gigantic corporate tax cut, lowering the statutory corporate rate from 35 percent down to 21 percent. This cut accounted for about $1 trillion of the bill’s total $1.5 trillion cost, but Republicans said it really wasn’t about helping corporations at all.

No, the real target was the workers: Corporations would take the money and use it to create new jobs and raise the wages of those working for them, as trickle-down economics did its magical work.

Democrats, on the other hand, said it was a scam. They charged that workers would see only a fraction of the benefits, and instead corporations would use most of their windfall for things like stock buybacks, which increase share prices and benefit the wealthy people who own the vast majority of stocks. [emphases mine]

And of course, most of the news media treated this argument in the standard he said/she said manner: Republicans say this, Democrats say that, and the truth lies in some secret location we may never actually reach.

Well, it has been only two months since President Trump signed the bill into law, and we’re already learning what anyone with any sense knew at the time: Everything Democrats predicted is turning out to be right. Let’s look at this report in the New York Times, which describes how stock buybacks are reaching record levels…

While the Times does note that some businesses are raising salaries, the piece concludes that “much” of the savings from the tax cuts is going to these buybacks, with this big-picture effect:

Those so-called buybacks are good for shareholders, including the senior executives who tend to be big owners of their companies’ stock. A company purchasing its own shares is a time-tested way to bolster its stock price.

But the purchases can come at the expense of investments in things like hiring, research and development and building new plants — the sort of investments that directly help the overall economy. The buybacks are also most likely to worsen economic inequality because the benefits of stocks purchases flow disproportionately to the richest Americans.

This is exactly what Democrats warned would happen. How could Democrats have been so clairvoyant? Do they own a time machine?

Well, no. They applied logic, looked at data and understood history. Republicans, on the other hand, were spinning out a ludicrous fantasy with no basis whatsoever.

I swear, hard to argue against the proposition that today’s GOP is just one giant con job.  But, hey, Paul Ryan is kicking poor people out of their hammock thereby making their lives better.

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