At the same time, governing coalitions and traditional parties around Europe are falling fast in the polls, such as the Sarkozy presidency and Brown government, following the Czech government implosion, among many others. The run up to European Parliament elections, as mentioned last week, is featuring shakeups in nearly all of the 8 major coalitions, including several splits, one coalition that will likely cease to exist, and one new coalition, the European Conservatives.
Even as voters continue to support independent thinking, regular change in the political class, and a swinging ideological pendulum, however, it turns out that voting blocs tend to hang together with members exercising great discipline and regularity.
In both the US Congress context and the European Parliament context (as well as national parliaments), legislators have dual identities, first to their geographic constituency – US state/district or EU member state – and second to their ideological constituency, the party or coalition to which they belong. In addition, the individual ambitions and peculiarities of the members themselves complicate a clear mapping of interests. As such, putting together a cohesive voting bloc could easily become a real challenge.
In modern political thinking, a “cohesive” political party is one where a common set of ideas bind the members together, forming a bloc where voting interests are nearly uniform. For example, a party that consisted of U.S. Sens. Coburn, Cornyn and Shelby would be fairly cohesive.
However, a small cohesive party is not a party that can control the majority of a legislative house, and therefore party discipline is needed to bring together a group that can move legislation. These rules, trade-offs, bargains, with a topping of good old-fashioned coercion, make a relatively diverse group of interests work in unison.
Party discipline is particularly important for opposition groups and small coalition members, who maintain their influence by banding together, even if their interests are not particularly unified or cohesive.
Overall, party discipline in in the industrialized democracies is quite robust, even in relatively non-cohesive parties. Looking at the last ten years, discipline in voting by party in the U.S. has rarely fallen below 85 percent- only when the Democrats were at their weakest position in 2003-2004. In the last five years of the European Parliament, the trend has been for more variability in voting, but a still high overall average of between 83 and 90 percent.
While the trends are quite similar in overall voting clarity, one importance difference emerges between the Senate and the EP with regards to discipline. In the U.S. Senate, with two similarly-sized parties, the party in power tends to vote more similarly. Or conversely, the party that votes more similarly tends to be in power. The opposite seems to be true in the EP, with the ruling EPP-DE coalition struggling to match the voting unity of the smaller PES and Green parties. The two more volatile of the coalitions, the EPP-DE and ALDE – both alliances of two smaller pan-European parties – have in some years posted cohesion rates of 10 to 15 points lower than their rivals.
Overall, voting in modern democracies most commonly follow party lines. The ten to fifteen percent that fall outside are on issues where party coercion is not strong enough to maintain unity – often on issues where geographic interests dominate instead. On most contentious ideological issues, however, party identification is usually strong enough to hold the voting blocs together. These contentious or controversial votes are commonly the ones that build and break down parties, and therefore reinforce the importance of voting together.
In a couple of weeks we will see the final ideological reorganization of the European Parliament, as this process of party and coalition re-identification proceeds, quite similar to the way that primaries in the U.S. reorient the Republicans and Democrats. As the EP becomes a more mature body (this year makes 30 years), perhaps we will see a slow increase in voting clarity in the ruling parties as interests coalesce more coherently.
Renard Sexton is FiveThirtyEight's international columnist and is based in Geneva, Switzerland. He can be contacted at email@example.com
In yesterday’s post, I advocated a progressive consumption tax to help pay down growing federal budget deficits. An ancillary effect of adopting this tax would be to stimulate domestic savings, low levels of which helped precipitate the current downturn.
In the comments, many expressed the valid concern that with the economy in the deepest downturn since the Great Depression, the immediate imperative is to increase spending, not reduce it. If we adopt a progressive consumption tax, we should phase it in only after the economy recovers.
Even then, some worry that a progressive consumption tax would dampen the consumption spending often described as the foundation of our economic prosperity. But consumption is not the cause of our prosperity; it is a consequence of it. If the tax were phased in gradually, its main effect would be to shift the composition of spending from consumption to investment. Because it is total spending, not just consumption, that determines output and employment, there would be just as many jobs as before the shift.
More important, by stimulating additional investment, a progressive consumption tax would also cause productivity and incomes to rise faster over time. Consumption would be a smaller fraction of income than before, but because of the higher growth resulting from higher investment, the new absolute consumption trajectory would quickly overtake the earlier one. If you like to consume, and most of us do, shifting from a borrow-and-spend economy to a save-and-invest economy is the best way to boost consumption in the long run.By strategically timing the implementation of a progressive consumption tax, the government could thus promote both short-term stimulus and long-run revenue growth in a single stroke.
Suppose, for example, that the president signed a law this year calling for a progressive consumption tax to take effect the moment the national unemployment rate had again dipped below a threshold level, such as 6 percent. Any family that was contemplating a large purchase in the coming years would then have a powerful incentive to spend that money right away, so as to avoid the consumption levy.
Note the striking contrast between that incentive and the incentives confronting families under traditional stimulus measures, such as temporary income tax rebates. As experience has shown, people who are fearful about losing their jobs are likely to save such rebates or use them to pay down existing debt.
Most economic policy instruments confront us with painful tradeoffs between short- and long-term objectives. A strategically implemented progressive consumption tax is a conspicuous exception. By confronting families with powerful incentives to increase spending right away, it would reduce the demand shortfall that is currently holding the economy back.
Once the economy again reaches full employment and the tax starts being phased in, it would shift the economy’s focus gradually from consumption to investment spending, which would stimulate additional growth in both income and tax revenue. And should another recession occur, a temporary cut in consumption taxes would provide a much more powerful stimulus than the traditional remedy of a temporary cut in income taxes.
When the dollar, US treasury bills, and stock prices slumped yesterday because of growing concerns about the U.S. government’s debt rating, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner hastily reassured nervous investors that the Obama administration has clear plans to reduce the country’s massive budget deficits going forward. But as I argued in a recent post, accomplishing that will require significant new sources of revenue. And if new taxes are indeed necessary, by far the best ones are those that discourage harmful activities.
But new taxes on congestion and pollution will not be enough. The president has already proposed to allow the Bush tax cuts for top earners to expire as scheduled in 2010. Many economists caution against even further increases in top marginal income tax rates, which would discourage effort and savings.
Fortunately, there is a compellingly attractive alternative: abandon the income tax in favor of a much more steeply progressive consumption tax. Doing so would generate more than enough revenue to balance the federal budget without requiring painful sacrifices from anyone.
Under a progressive consumption tax, each family would report its income to the IRS and also its annual savings, much as many now document their annual contributions to 401(k) and other similar accounts. A family's income minus its annual savings is its annual consumption, and that amount minus a large standard deduction—say, $30,000 for a family of four—would be its taxable consumption. Rates would start low, perhaps 20 percent, then rise gradually with total consumption. For example, a family that earned $60,000 and saved $10,000 would have annual consumption of $50,000, which, after subtracting the standard deduction, would mean taxable consumption of $20,000. It would owe about $4,000 in tax, about the same as under the current income tax.
With savings tax-exempt, top marginal tax rates on consumption would have to be significantly higher than current top rates on income. But that’s not problematic, because higher top rates would actually encourage saving.
Consider, for instance, how the tax would affect a specific high-end spending decision. The Smiths, a wealthy couple approaching their 25th wedding anniversary, are trying to decide what kind of party to throw. Their close friends, the Joneses, recently spent $2 million to stage a gala celebration of their own silver anniversary. The Smith would prefer not to spend that much, but one of their goals is for their family and friends to share a memorable celebration, and they understand a memorable occasion is an inherently relative concept. So they reluctantly decide to stage a $2 million party of their own.
But their decision would have almost surely played out differently under the incentives inherent in a progressive consumption tax. If the top marginal rate on consumption was, say, 100 percent, the after-tax cost of what would have been a $2 party under the current income tax would instead be $4 million. Facing that extra cost, couples like the Smiths and Joneses would typically scale back, spending perhaps only half as much as they might have. If the pre-tax cost of the party they chose were $1 million, the after-tax cost would be $2 million. The government would get $1 million in additional revenue, which could be used to pay down debt.
By staging a lavish party, a couple typically has no intention to harm its friends and relatives. Yet the bar that defines how much one must spend to mark a special occasion is an inescapably social construct. When some spend more, others must follow suit or be seen as having failed to grasp the magnitude the occasion. The rub is that when all spend more, the occasions seem no more special than before. As in the familiar stadium metaphor, all stand to get a better view, yet no one sees better than if all had remained seated.
Like a tax on congestion or pollution, a progressive consumption tax is thus a tax on harmful activity. The real attraction of all such taxes is that they essentially create real resources out of thin air. They cause people to build less expensive mansions, buy cleaner, lighter vehicles, and stage less costly parties, all of which end up being just as satisfying as the more elaborate versions would have been.Some worry that by discouraging consumption spending, a progressive consumption tax as politically unrealistic. But in a future post, I’ll cite evidence that this tax enjoys support from across the political spectrum.
POLIDATA provides an asterisk in four of these districts because the presidential results are so close, but in all eight Obama's margin was very thin. Those eight, with first Obama's margin and then the share of the vote received by the Republican House winner, are:
- Dan Lungren (CA-3), Obama margin: 0, Lungren share: 50
- Elton Gallegly (CA-24), 3, 58
- Buck McKeon (CA-25), 0, 58
- David Dreier (CA-26), 4, 53
- Ken Calvert (CA-44), 0, 51
- Mary Bono (CA-45), 5, 58
- John Campbell (CA-48), 0, 55
- Brian Bilbray (CA-50), 4, 50
Gallegly, McKeon and Bono look relatively safe, with Campbell to a lesser degree. But the remaining four Republicans all squeaked by. Looking at the split-ticket voting effects here, there are essentially four subgroups of two districts each. You have districts where:
(a) despite Obama's slight margin and presumed coattails, the Republican incumbent is pretty safe anyway (Gallegly, Bono);
(b) Obama's margin and presumed coattails likely brought an otherwise safe winner into some electoral jeopardy (Dreier, Bilbray);
(c) Obama and McCain basically split the district, but the Republican outperformed McCain anyway (McKeon, Campbell); and
(d) Obama and McCain basically split the district, and the Republican House candidate barely got to 50 percent (Lungren, Calvert).
Because the first two groups could not be taken down even with a strong Obama coattail, and in the third the GOP incumbent outperformed McCain despite Obama's strength in the district, the last group offers the most logical targets for 2010.
And 2010 will be the last chance to get them out under the current districts, which were much more favorable earlier in the decade, before demography began to work against these Republicans. "With these gerrymandered districts, it used to be you just needed to turn out your base," former political director of CA's Republican Party told Ron Brownstein and Scott Bland. "For the first time, Calvert, Lungren, and the rest will have to get the swing votes."
The Military Times released the results of a survey showing that members of the armed services planned to vote for John McCain over Barack Obama by a factor of nearly three to one--this at a time when the Democratic nominee was handily beating his Republican rival in almost all national polls. The survey apparently reaffirmed the long-held conventional wisdom that the U.S. military overwhelmingly backs the GOP. . . .
The truth about the military's politics, however, is more complex and all too often obscured by narrowly focused polling. Participants in the Military Times survey, for example, tended to be white, older, and more senior in rank--that is, they were hardly a representative sampling of the armed services. . . .
In a study of the Army that I [Dempsey] conducted in 2004 with my colleague, Professor Robert Shapiro, I tried to get a fuller picture of the social and political attitudes of soldiers, producing the first and only random-sample survey to canvass enlisted personnel and junior officers, as well as their superiors. Broadening the survey yielded results that fly in the face of the conventional view. The Army, it turns out, is hardly a bastion of right-wing thought.
It is true that the upper echelons of the military tilt right. My own [Dempsey's] research confirmed that about two-thirds of majors and higher-ranking officers identify as conservative, as previous studies found. But that tilt becomes far less pronounced when you expand the pool of respondents. That is because only 32 percent of the Army's enlisted soldiers consider themselves conservative, while 23 percent identify as liberal and the remaining 45 percent are self-described moderates. These numbers closely mirror the ideological predilections of the civilian population. . . .
The political differences between officers and enlisted personnel can be partly explained by a demographic divide. Whereas officers are predominantly white, have at least a bachelor's degree, and draw incomes that place them in the middle or upper-middle class, the enlisted ranks have a higher proportion of minorities, make less money than officers, and typically enter service with only a high school diploma. Nevertheless, even when controlling for factors like race and gender, officers are significantly more likely than soldiers to identify as conservative. . . .
In addition to its ideological moderation, the Army is not as partisan as popularly portrayed. Whereas 65 percent of Americans think of themselves as either Republican or Democrat, according to the Annenberg survey, my study shows that only 43 percent of the military identifies with one of the two major political parties. Two out of three officers consider themselves either Republican or Democrat, but only 37 percent of enlisted personnel do so.
Officers tend to be not only more partisan, but also more Republican, with GOP affinity strongest among the highest ranks. While I [Dempsey] was unable to fully parse the reason for this, the evidence strongly suggests the pattern is generational. Today's senior officers entered the Army during the late 1970s and 1980s, a time when the Republican Party had a strong advantage on issues of national defense and the Democratic Party was seen as antiwar if not anti-military. By contrast, junior officers who joined the Army after 2001 are almost as likely to be Democrats as they are Republicans, foreshadowing a possible shift in officer attitudes. . . .
I don't really have anything to add here. There's been lots of discussion of voting by occupation; for example, this graph from our book:
And things get more interesting as you get more specific, as Dempsey did.
The military plays a large role in American life, and so I think studies such as Dempsey's are important for our understanding of politics.
Let's focus on the Democratic opportunities, such as they are, first. To do so, let's go back to 2004 and see how the "Kerry Republicans" of 2004 fared in 2008. Again, 2004 was the post-1944 record low for divided districts at just 59. A mere 8 of these were Kerry Republicans. They are, in alphabetical order by state name:
- Chris Shays, CT-4
- Mike Castle, DE-at large
- Mark Kirk, IL-10
- Heather Wilson, NM-1
- Jim Walsh, NY-25
- Jim Gerlach, PA-6
- Charlie Dent, PA-15
- Dave Reichert, WA-8
Three of the five are already gone, replaced by Democrats: Shays (by Jim Himes); Wilson (by Martin Heinrich); and Walsh (by Dan Maffei). The other five include three that remain atop the list of elusive targets that have frustrated the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in recent cycles: Kirk, Gerlach and perhaps most especially Reichert. (For the record, the share of the 2008 vote for each of these five Republicans was: Castle, 61%; Kirk, 53%; Gerlach, 52%; Dent, 59%; and Reichert, 53%.)
Of course, there are a lot more Obama Republicans (34) than Kerry Republicans (8), and even when you subtract out the five above that survived both 2006 and 2008 despite the Democratic nominees carrying their districts, there are still 29 Obama Republicans left. As I mentioned in the previous post, 16 of these are in just three states: California, Obama's Illinois and Michigan.
I'm gonna do an entire post on the California OR's, so for now let's look a bit closer at MI, given that the state's 15-member delegation has just six Republicans and four of them are in "OR" districts--none of whom were also in KR districts. Along with district number and 2008 vote percentage, that quartet is:
- Dave Camp, MI-4, 62%
- Fred Upton, MI-6, 59%
- Mike Rogers, MI-8, 58%; and
- Thaddeus McCotter, MI-11, 51%.
Because Democrats already hold nine of the delegation's 15 seats, to get the 10th they will either have to knock out McCotter in 2010--or wait around for a post-gerrymandered set of districts in 2012. To do that, however, the Democrats will have to hold the governor's office and flip the state senate, which Republicans control narrowly, 21 to 17. (The Democrats have a comfortable House margin in Lansing.)
As I argued in an earlier post, any serious effort to bring deficits under control must entail finding additional sources of revenue. The prospect of new taxes is never pleasant, of course. But if tax we must, why not kill two birds with one stone by taxing activities that cause harm to others? By eliminating waste, such taxes actually make the economy more productive.
In addition to being urged to tax carbon directly, President Obama has also been urged by the New York Times editorial board and others to adopt steeper taxes on gasoline. In contrast, Matt Yglesias of the Center for American Progress and others argue that a carbon tax (or a carbon cap and trade system) would make higher gasoline taxes redundant. But limiting greenhouse gases is not the only, or even the most important, reason for taxing gasoline more heavily. Gasoline taxes are required not just to discourage carbon emissions, but also to limit many other costs that gasoline consumption imposes on others.
Selling carbon permits and levying higher taxes on gasoline will also generate billions of dollars of additional federal revenue. Unlike the taxes that conservatives bemoan, these taxes will make the economy more efficient, not less. But because they will raise the prices of basic commodities, they will also cause distress for at least some low-income families. The traditional remedy has been to return some or all of the tax revenue by reducing the payroll tax, which falls disproportionately on low-income workers. There is, however, a far more effective way of reducing the burden on the poor. More on that in a moment.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that a CO2 tax of approximately $80 per ton might be necessary by 2030 to reduce emissions by enough to achieve global climate stability by the year 2100. A CO2 tax set at that level would add about 70 cents to the price of a gallon of gasoline. But that tax would attack only one of a long list of external costs associated with additional consumption of gasoline.
Most gasoline is used to power cars and trucks. When people drive more, they cause additional traffic congestion, which imposes costly delays on others; they generate additional urban smog, which causes increased mortality and morbidity; they generate additional noise; they increase the risk that others will die in accidents; they increase the cost of road maintenance; they send money to petro-dictatorships that support terrorists; and they increase the risk of military conflicts to preserve access to foreign oil.
Beyond imposing these direct costs on others, low gasoline prices also contribute to various indirect forms of waste. For example, they foster urban sprawl, which increases all forms of energy use.
Cheap gasoline also encourages consumers to spend in mutually offsetting, wasteful ways. One strategy for reducing one’s risk of dying in a head on collision, for instance, is to buy a heavier vehicle. But when all follow that strategy, everyone’s risk of dying actually rises. Low gasoline prices also encourage wasteful horsepower arms races. Many people like fast cars, but how fast a car must be to provide that satisfaction depends on context. A car that is experienced subjectively as fast is simply one that accelerates more briskly than other cars in the same local environment. So when all purchase cars with more powerful engines, the same car that once seemed fast no longer does.
No one knows exactly how high gasoline taxes would have to be to induce consumers to take full account of such external costs. But trans-national experience suggests that gasoline consumption would remain inefficiently high even if taxes were $2 per gallon higher than current levels. Gas taxes are more than that much higher in Europe, where consumers have responded by buying much lighter and more fuel efficient vehicles than in the United States. There is no evidence that Europeans are less satisfied with their cars than Americans are, or that European tax levels have fully neutralized all the negative externalities associated with gasoline consumption.
When large gasoline tax increases have been proposed in the past, the tradition has been to propose a simultaneous reduction in the payroll tax, thereby to curb the economic hardships imposed by the tax. But such hardships are likely to be smaller than most people expect. And if the aim is to cushion them, there is a much better way to do it.
If the current price of gasoline were $2 per gallon and an additional tax of $2 per gallon were added, how would that affect the typical family? On average, an American family of four currently consumes almost 2,000 gallons of gasoline annually. A family that continued to consume at the same rate after the imposition of the tax would thus pay $4,000 in additional gasoline taxes annually. But if the family was about to replace its aging Ford Explorer, which gets 15 miles per gallon, it could buy Ford’s Edge wagon, which has almost as much cargo capacity as the Explorer and gets more than 30 miles per gallon. If it made the switch, its annual fuel costs would remain the same as before, even if it drove just much as it used to. And if other families adjusted in similar ways, none would feel disadvantaged by driving a smaller vehicle; and none would be at greater risk from dying in a head-on collision.
From the experience of the 1970s, we know that consumers respond to higher gasoline prices not just by buying more efficient cars, but also by taking fewer trips, forming carpools and moving closer to work. If norms shifted in those ways, a family might actually find itself with greater disposable income because of the higher gas tax.
Inevitably, however, some families would be unable adjust their consumption patterns, and these families would pay a price. But trying to compensate them by reducing the payroll tax would be extremely inefficient. For one thing, payroll tax reductions would not help retirees or those who are unemployed. For another, they would transfer money not just to low-income workers, but also to those already earning high incomes. Even more troubling, a payroll tax reduction would quickly become invisible. In contrast, the gasoline tax would remain salient and would continue to draw political fire.
As the political scientist Steve Teles has suggested, a much better approach would be to return some portion of the additional revenue in the form of a yearly rebate check from the IRS issued to every family that files a tax return. Scheduled to arrive in early December, it would provide a vivid reminder of the offset against the additional taxes. The size of the rebate could also be inversely related to the family’s income, the better to target relief for those most in need.
Because gasoline consumption generates many external costs besides global warming, carbon taxes do not eliminate the rationale for imposing additional taxes on gasoline. By encouraging consumers to take account of those external costs, such taxes would make the economy more efficient. Evidence suggests, moreover, that people have wide latitude to escape the burden of higher energy taxes by changing their behavior. The taxes would create far less hardship than many expect, and such hardship as they would create could be easily remedied.
As Alex points out, the coding of the map is kind of goofy: the states with the three lowest values are Louisiana at .801, West Virginia at .800, and Mississippi at .799, but their color scheme makes Mississippi stand out as the only yellow state in a sea of green.
But I'm concerned about more than that. Is Alaska really so developed as all that? And whassup with D.C., which, according to the table, is #4, behind only Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey? I know about gentrification and all that, but can D.C. really be #4 on any Human Development Index worth its name?
Time to look behind the numbers.
The report gives the following information:
The HDI combines three basic dimensions:
* Life expectancy at birth, as an index of population health and longevity
* Knowledge and education, as measured by the adult literacy rate (with two-thirds weighting) and the combined primary, secondary, and tertiary gross enrollment ratio (with one-third weighting).
* Standard of living, as measured by the natural logarithm of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita at purchasing power parity (PPP) in United States dollars.
OK, I think I see what's going on. The 50 states don't vary much by life expectancy, literacy, and school enrollment. Sure, Hawaiians live a few years longer than Mississippians, and there are some differences in who stays in school, but by far the biggest differences between states, from these measures, are in GDP. The average income in Connecticut is twice that of Mississippi.
To check out the relation between HDI and income, I loaded in the tabulated HDI numbers and plotted them vs. some state income numbers (excluding D.C., unfortunately) that I happened to already have on my computer:
Interesting. The pattern in strong but nonlinear. Let's try plotting the ranks:
The pattern seems pretty clear, with most of the states falling right on the 45-degree line. The correlation between the two rankings is 86%. I'm actually surprised the correlation isn't higher--and I'm surprised the first scatterplot above is so nonlinear--but, then again, I'm using state income rather than GDP, so maybe there's something going on there.
(In response to some mathematically-inclined readers: No, the log transformation is not what's doing this, at least not if you're logging income as is stated in the report. Logging stretches out the lower end of the scale a bit but does not change the overall pattern of the plot. The income values don't have enough dynamic range for the log transformation to have much effect.)
Or maybe more is going on with those other components than I realize. If anyone's interested in following up on this, I suggest looking into South Carolina and Kentucky, which are so close in average income and so far apart on the HDI (see the top scatterplot above).
Searching around, I found the aforementioned numbers that range from 0.799 to 0.962, and another set that range from 3.58 to 6.37. The rankings of these two sets are identical; unfortunately I couldn't find the exact formula for either of these. But I did find this report which gives some formulas and also, in its Appendix B, the actual numbers used for the 50 states in preliminary calculations. These rankings do not exactly agree with the ones shown in the map--in the preliminary data, Massachusetts, not Connecticut, is #1, D.C. is in the lower half, and Alaska is second-to-last.
So I'm not completely sure what's happening here. But if you go by the maps that everybody's linking to (having appeared in Catherine Rampell's New York Times blog), you're pretty much just mapping state income and giving it a fancy transformation and a fancy new name.
P.S. To clarify a point made by several people in the discussion: I'm not commenting one way or another on the Human Development Index as used for international comparisons. What I'm criticizing is the application to the U.S. and the implication that the widely-distributed map is doing much more than ranking state incomes with a wacky color scheme.
P.P.S. More here, here, here, and here. (That last link explains, among other things, that "percent" means "divided by 100.")
Overall, those 83 districts are located in a total of 37 states; AK, CT, HI, KS, MA, ME, MT, NV, NH, OR, RI, VT AND WY have none. Of those 37, 21 states have one or more McCain Democrats (hereafter MD or MDs) but no Obama Republicans (OR/ORs); nine feature only ORs but no MDs; and seven have some combination of both.
The assumption is that the OR districts are potential Democratic pickups, because obviously some people voted for the Democratic presidential nominee despite voting for their Republican House candidate. Not all are automatic targets, as we'll discuss in future posts when we examine district-by-district results. In any case, almost half of these districts, 16, are located in just three states: California (eight), Illinois and Michigan (four each). More revealing is the fact that 13 of the 37, more than a third, are located in midwestern states. As everybody knows by now, the Democrats have consolidated their control over northeastern House districts, with all of the 22 districts in the six New England states, plus all but 3 of New York's 29, now that Scott Murphy has held Kirsten Gillibrand's vacated seat. The Midwest is clearly the region where Democrats have yet to maximize their House control. Given that this was the most competitive region in the past three presidential contests, this is hardly a surprise. That the Democratic president hails from the region's largest city doesn't hurt, either.
As for Republican opportunities, of the 49 MDs more than a third (17) are in just five states: PA's five, plus four each in AR, AZ, OH, and TN. Obviously, Arizona is an exceptional case, given McCain's home state advantage there; so the McCain Democrats there may be safer than they appear, particularly Harry Mitchell (AZ5) and Gabby Giffords (AZ8), who are sophomores that elected in 2006 who already won re-election in 2008. Rookie Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ1) might be a different story--had she not won her seat by a wider margin than either Mitchell or Giffords. Notice that, perhaps not coincidentally, the remaining four states all contain parts of the much-discussed Appalachian counties that provided better margins for John Kerry in 2004 than Barack Obama last year. If there is a place for Republicans to start a comeback, it might be those areas where they can build upon general wariness toward Obama.
In the next post I'll look at margins in specific districts and what they tell us about the 2010 House races.
I couldn't agree more, which is why I want to share some preliminary analysis I did back in December for The Democratic Strategist that included thoughts about the likely 2010 battlegrounds for control of redistricting.
Here was my take after a close look at those states where control of redistricting appears to be in play for 2010:
At present, Democrats control the governorship and the legislature in 17 states, while Republicans have complete control in 10 states (22 states have divided party control, and one, Nebraska, has a nonpartisan legislature). If Janet Napolitano is confirmed as US Secretary of Homeland Security [note: this subsequently occurred], Republicans will gain complete control in AZ as well.
In terms of the upcoming redistricting process, there are six states (CA, CT, HI, RI, NV, and MN) where a gubernatorial victory would likely give Democrats complete control of state government, and four (KS, OK, TN, and WY) where the same is true for Republicans. In six states (AL, AZ, FL, GA, ID, UT) a Democratic gubernatorial takeover would disrupt what would otherwise almost certainly be complete Republican control of state government. That’s the case for Republicans in seven states (AR, CO, IL, IA, MD, MA and NM).
There are three states (MI, OH, and PA) where a realistically feasible legislative chamber victory could (if nothing else changes) give Democrats complete control of state government; the same is true for Republicans in two states (AK and IN). Meanwhile, there are four states (AK, ND, OK, TX ) where a feasible Democratic legislative chamber victory could disrupt complete Republican control of state governments, and five states (ME, NH, NY, OR, and WI) where Republicans have the same opportunity.
Add all this up, and eliminate the single-district states where congressional reapportionment is irrelevant, and the four states (AZ, CA, IA and ME) where the governor and legislature have no direct role in redistricting, and there are fully 29 states (AL, CO, CT, FL, GA, HI, ID, IL, IN, KS, MD, MA, MI, MN, NV, NH, NM, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, UT, VT, and WI) where the election results of 2010 could affect congressional redistricting.
Among these states, TX is expected to gain three U.S. House seats after reapportionment; FL should gain two; GA and UT should gain one. NY and OH are expected to lose two; IL, MI and PA should lose one.
This is a lot to absorb, I know, and that's sort of the point: partisan control of redistricting across the country is a highly complex, dynamic situation that isn't easy to generalize about--but's it's very important nonetheless. Totally aside from the impact on the future shape of the U.S. House of Representatives, state legislatures typically control their own "maps," which can have a big impact on politics and policy at the state level.
Fortunately, Democrats, at least, have a good public resource for keeping up with all these developments: a "Redistricting Update" page at the site of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), an organization that helps identify and target state legislative opportunities around the country. This page also provides news on redistricting process changes, which are almost always complicated and can be crucial in affecting state legislative maps.
The GOP counterpart to DLCC, the Republican State Leadership Committee, has a web site with lots of info on it, but doesn't seem to publicly track the sort of developments relevant to redistricting that could enable readers to keep up.
One of the central weapons in President Obama’s proposed attack on global warming is a carbon cap and trade system. Under cap and trade, the government first sets a limit on how much total carbon can be released into the atmosphere each year (the “cap”). Companies can still employ production processes or sell products that release carbon into the atmosphere, but only if they first purchase a permit for each unit of carbon released (the “trade”). For example, if the cap were set at 5 trillion tons per year, the government would auction off that many tons of annual carbon permits to the highest bidders.
When economists first proposed a similar system of pollution permits for attacking the problem of acid rain during the late 1960s, critics complained that it would “let rich firms pollute to their hearts’ content.” Such statement betrayed a comically naive understanding of the forces that guide corporate behavior.
Firms don’t pollute because they take pleasure in fouling the air and water but because clean production processes cost more than dirty ones. Requiring firms to buy pollution permits gives them an incentive to adopt cleaner processes. To avoid buying expensive permits, firms that have access to relatively cheap, clean alternative production methods will be quick to adopt them. A firm will buy pollution permits and continue polluting only if it lacks such alternatives.
Auctioning pollution rights makes sense because it concentrates the burden of pollution reduction in the hands of those who can accomplish it at the lowest cost. It minimizes the total cost of achieving any given air quality target—an outcome that is clearly in the interest of all citizens, rich and poor alike. The more people learn about the auction method, the less likely they are to oppose it. For instance, although environmental groups once bitterly opposed pollution permit auctions, they now endorse them enthusiastically.
Firms that lack cheap ways of eliminating carbon emissions from their operations would have to charge higher prices to cover the cost to the required permits. The cap and trade system is thus functionally similar to a tax on carbon.
Indeed, in stable world with perfect information, cap and trade would be exactly equivalent to a carbon tax. Of course, we don’t live in such a world. This has led many critics to favor a carbon tax over cap and trade. These critics argue that by setting a fixed tax and sticking with it, government could create the stable incentives that make firms willing to undertake costly investment projects.
But committing to a fixed carbon tax entails risks of its own. Although we have estimates of the amount by which carbon emissions must be reduced to achieve climate stability, we have no idea how high a carbon tax would have to be to achieve those reductions. If the tax were set too low—the more likely outcome politically—it would soon be necessary to raise it, which would invalidate many of the investments that had been made on the basis of the original tax. To avoid such costs, cap and trade advocates favor starting with what we know best—the emissions target—and then letting the “market” (as embodied in the permit auction) reveal the effective tax required to get there.
In short, there are sensible economic reasons for taking either side in the cap and trade vs. carbon tax debate. But the smart money seems to be lining up behind cap and trade for essentially political reasons. A carbon tax is an explicit tax, and Americans are notoriously tax phobic. In contrast, cap and trade levies an implicit tax on carbon. In purely economic terms, it’s a distinction without a difference. But if someone offers you an even-money bet on which system congress will adopt, pick cap and trade.
In any event, the good news is that after years of denying the problem even existed, our political system seems ready to take serious steps to address global warming.
In remarkable research, the sociologist Rebecca Warner and the economist Ebonya Washington have shown that the gender of a person's children seems to influence the attitudes and actions of the parent.
Warner (1991) and Warner and Steel (1999) study American and Canadian mothers and fathers. The authors' key finding is that support for policies designed to address gender equity is greater among parents with daughters. This result emerges particularly strongly for fathers. Because parents invest a significant amount of themselves in their children, the authors argue, the anticipated and actual struggles that offspring face, and the public policies that tackle those, matter to those parents. . . The authors demonstrate that people who parent only daughters are more likely to hold feminist views (for example, to favor affirmative action).
By collecting data on the voting records of US congressmen, Washington (2004) is able to go beyond this. She provides persuasive evidence that congressmen with female children tend to vote liberally on reproductive rights issues such as teen access to contraceptives. In a revision, Washington (2008) argues for a wider result, namely, that the congressmen vote more liberally on a range of issues such as working families flexibility and tax-free education.
Our [Oswald and Powdthavee's] aim in this paper is to argue, with nationally representative random samples of men and women, that these results generalize to voting for entire political parties. We document evidence that having daughters leads people to be more sympathetic to left-wing parties. Giving birth to sons, by contrast, seems to make people more likely to vote for a right-wing party. Our data, which are primarily from Great Britain, are longitudinal. We also report corroborative results for a German panel. Access to longitudinal information gives us the opportunity -- one denied to previous researchers -- to observe people both before and after they have a new child of any particular gender. We can thereby test for political 'switching'. Although
panel data cannot resolve every difficulty of establishing cause-and-effect relationships, they allow sharper testing than can simple cross-section data.
They addressed the concerns about the research I'd expressed earlier.
Just one thing . . .
I have only one request, and I know it's too late because the article is already scheduled to appear in a journal, but I'll ask anyway. The article has lots of graphs and lots of tables--and I'll spare you my detailed thoughts on these, because, again, it's already scheduled to appear.
But one thing that I didn't see graphed is what I would think is the most natural and important thing to graph: the estimated change in the probability of voting for the conservative party, comparing a parent of a boy compared to the parent of a girl. That is, the estimated effect on the vote of having a boy, compared to a girl. I assume this effect varies by sex and age of parent and also by age, number of previous children, past voting patterns, and other factors.
(The graphs that are in the Oswald and Powdthavee article give average numbers of boys and girls for voters of different parties, but that's not quite what I'm looking for. As the authors so clearly explained, the key question is the effect of the sex of the child on parents' attitudes and behavior, and I'd like a graph that would really show this. As it is, I honestly have difficulty figuring out the estimated effect size here. Yes, it's great to see that coefficients are statistically significant--but I want to see what's going on here. I want to see the estimated effect.)
There are only two ways to do that—by cutting government spending and by raising taxes. Cutting wasteful spending would obviously be a good thing. Every president promises to do this. Yet federal spending has continued to grow in every administration, and there are good reasons for believing that spending cuts won’t be the answer this time, either.
Government programs have constituents. On the rare occasions when programs get cut, they are typically not the ones that deliver poor value, but rather those whose constituents have the least power to object. For example, the Bush administration, self-proclaimed enemies of government waste, cut the Energy Department’s program for rounding up poorly guarded nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union, the National Science Foundation’s budget for basic research, rehabilitation programs for injured veterans, and nutritional assistance programs for poor mothers of small children. Each of these programs was delivering good value for the money.
Although it is extremely hard to cut existing programs, it is easier to avoid launching new ones. But much of the new spending proposed by the president is for public investments with high rates of return. Failure to make these investments will actually make us poorer. For instance, if the government borrowed a trillion dollars at 4 percent and invested the money in projects with an annual return of 7 percent, we’d actually be richer each year by $30 billion than if we hadn’t made those investments. And because investment in the public sphere has been neglected for decades, there are thousands of shovel-ready projects with extremely high rates of return.
A specific example: Because a handful of low-clearance bottlenecks currently make it impossible to ship double-decker cargo containers along the northeast rail corridor, these containers must be carried by trucks. The result is bumper-to-bumper truck traffic along I-95, which has diverted a growing volume of truck traffic 200 miles west onto I-81. According to one study, the cost of eliminating the rail bottlenecks would be $6 billion, and the benefits would be more than $12 billion, not even counting the value of reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Failure to make investments like that would not be a smart move.
Of course, there is other wasteful spending that should be cut. But much of that spending occurs because legislators feel pressure to enact programs that benefit campaign contributors. If we really want to attack that kind of waste, we’ll first have to make substantial progress with campaign finance reform. In the meantime, our best bet for curbing deficits is to raise additional revenue.
But proposing new taxes has always been the third rail of American politics. The key to solving that problem lies in shifting the focus of what we tax. Our current system taxes many beneficial activities, such as saving and new job creation. We could raise all the revenue we need by shifting to a system that taxed only harmful activities. I mentioned taxes on congestion in yesterday’s post. I’ll discuss additional examples in future posts.
Anyway, I mentioned that the House districts for this decade were packed in such a way as to produce too few Democratic-leaning districts, mostly because racial gerrymandering and urban density tends to create majority-minority districts that are safer at the expense of strategic gerrymandering. In any case, here is a plot of the 435 PVIs from 2004:
As you can see, the left side for Democrats is a lot steeper than the right side for Republicans. Remember, this is not the margin for the House candidates in those districts, but the presidential performance. So this is not (at least not directly) a function of unbeatable Democrats (or Republicans) running opposed or against a lamb-to-the-slaughter challenger and/or write-in candidates--which is very common in districts represented by racial minorities. Rather, these are lopsided John Kerry or George W. Bush margins in House districts, and one can easily see that there are more such Democratic districts than Republican ones. I do not (yet) have the PVI data in spreadsheet form but hope to soon and can reproduce this chart for the 2008 elections.
Returning to the 2008 results, in April the Journal's Ron Brownstein and Scott Bland wrote up their analysis of the 83 House districts mentioned in my previous post--that is, the 49 where John McCain won a Democrat-carried district and another 34 where Barack Obama won a Republican-carried district. As they point out, this total is up from 2004's 59 such districts, and just below the 86 total in 2000. The 2004 total was the lowest since 1944, and 2008 was second lowest, with 2000 not far behind.
There are any number of measures of growing partisan polarity in the country--from mass measures like attitudes on issues or partisan affiliation, to elite or elected measures like unified state governments or party-line votes in Congress. The fact that recent presidential cycles can be characterized by the smallest number of split districts in the past six decades is just one more piece of evidence.
Write Brownstein and Bland: "One reason for the drop in recent years is the increasing sophistication of redistricting software...The trend has also been fueled by a resurgence in straight-ticket voting as each party's electoral coalition has grown more ideologically homogeneous since the 1960s." (Translation: Republicans cleared out many moderate House Democrats from the South and Plains states while Democrats this decade finally got around to returning the favor, so to speak, by clearing out House Republicans in the Northeast and Midwest.) And this is why the 2010 elections matter so much, because control over map-making is at stake.
While a new Rasmussen Poll shows that 48% of Jersey voters prefer a generic Democrat and only 34% a generic Republican, Corzine, a Democrat, is trailing Chris Christie, a crusading Republican prosecutor by 9 points – 47% to 38%. Latest Rasmussen NJ governor’s poll. Christie, whose pet nickname from George W. Bush is “Big Boy”, has successfully prosecuted and locked up over 130 corrupt New Jersey Republican and Democratic public officials who were busy privately enriching themselves. Christie's prosecutorial past. More below the fold, including Democratic commando attacks behind Republican lines.
In many ways Christie personifies the archetype of the profile that a Republican needs to have to win in New Jersey, a state where only 19.7% of the voters are registered Republicans. But he is still anathema to the right wing of the Republican party there. Conservative Republicans support one of their own, Steve Lonegan, who in the same Rasmussen Poll ran only one point ahead of Corzine, 42% to 41%. Lonegan, the 52-year-old former mayor of Bogota, New Jersey and current state director of Americans for Prosperity, a taxpayer advocacy group, finished fourth in the Republican primary in 2005. In a possible echo of national polling numbers that show almost the same number of people believing America’s on the right track as believe we’re on the wrong track for the first time since 2003 (America’s heading in right direction most recent polling.), Corzine’s approval numbers – while still very low -- have actually rebounded 7% from the abysmal to the merely dismal. Forty percent of Jersey voters now approve of his job performance. Ordinarily that’s still a fatal number for an incumbent. But Republicans have suffered an Atacama Desert-like drought in terms of winning major elections in New Jersey. Christine Todd Whitman was the last Republican victor in New Jersey for any statewide office, winning the governor’s race in 1997.
Democrats are playing in the Republican primary to at least damage Christie, and in a best case scenario, help Lonegan win, since they perceive him to be a weaker general election candidate. The Democratic Governors Association has created 527s which spent several million dollars on independent expenditures slamming the Republican gubernatorial candidates in Kentucky and Washington state in 2007 & 2008. David Halbfinger of the New York Times reports that they’re engaging in New Jersey and are attacking Christie’s strong suit as a corruption fighter head on. How do you attack somebody for locking up lots of corrupt politicians who are looting the public treasury? You don’t, not exactly. You attack him for facilitating the enrichment of his friends, friends who are not very popular in New Jersey. Christie’s past boss in the Justice Department, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, reaped $28-52 million from a Christie-awarded contract to monitor a company that had been accused of paying kickbacks to doctors. Christie also awarded another contract to David M. Kelley who had decided not to prosecute Chris Christie’s brother, Todd Christie, in a stock fraud case while serving as U.S. Attorney in Manhattan. These contracts are no-bid contracts and are awarded exclusively on the discretion of the U.S. Attorney, i.e. Chris Christie.
Corzine was CEO of Goldman Sachs before becoming governor and has a net worth – even after the recent market reversals – in the hundreds of millions. No matter how much of his ample fortune Corzine spends on his re-election campaign, he’s not going to become suddenly popular in New Jersey. But Corzine still has a shot to win if he can become just popular enough and Christie’s negatives can be driven up significantly by a hard-hitting campaign against him. To live in New Jersey is to open a paper or read on a website about some politician or another being indicted or convicted on a weekly if not daily basis. New Jersey voters are properly cynical about their politicians and all the Democrats have to do – although it’s not a small task – is make New Jersey voters think that Christie is just another sleazy politico. In a choice between a Democrat they don’t like (Corzine) and a Republican they don’t like (Christie, if the Democrats’ campaign is successful), New Jersey voters will pick the Democrat.
Democrats would be even happier if Lonegan were somehow to win the Republican primary. Lonegan’s chances shouldn’t be summarily dismissed. The Rasmussen Poll has Christie ahead of Lonegan by 39%-29%, but that’s not as much as one would expect considering that Christie has been the beneficiary of a steady stream of positive publicity over the past several years and Lonegan is still not well known even to much of the Republican Party primary electorate because his previous statewide candidacy was poorly funded. Christie is better known and has the support of the Republican Party establishment in New Jersey. But Lonegan’s supporters are more motivated and primary electorates are notoriously hard to poll because it’s difficult to gauge who will actually vote. Betting against the distinctly more conservative candidate in Republican Party primaries has been anything but a sure path to riches in recent years, even in New Jersey. It’s certainly safe to say that whether Christie or Lonegan wins the primary on June 2, this race will stay hot through November.
[Since New Jersey redistricts both its U.S. House seats and state legislature by means of bipartisan commissions whose members themselves choose an additional person to serve as a tie-breaking vote, the governor’s race victor in November will have no impact on redistricting.]
PVI refers to the House district-level partisan performance of presidential candidates. For example, in 2004 John Kerry carried 179 districts. He also won 19 states plus the
- Of the 435 districts, 352 were carried by the same party as the presidential candidate. Barack Obama and the Democratic candidate won 208 of those, and John McCain and the Republican candidate won the remaining 144.
- That leaves 83 districts with cross-partisan results—what POLIDATA calls McCain Democrats (MD) or Obama Republicans (OR). There were about half again more of the former (49) than the latter (34).
But all else may not be equal. Counting districts simply as “McCain Democrats” or “Obama Republicans” does not indicate either the margin of victory for those incumbents or the opposite party’s presidential candidate. Nor does it consider idiosyncratic factors like state and local politics, and the strength of individual incumbents.
I’ll drill down into that a bit more in subsequent posts.