## 6.29.2009

### The Limited Influence of the Median Voter

Much of the recent discussion over health care and budget legislation has involved discussions of the median congressmember or senator, or maybe the 60th-most-liberal senator, which in turn leads to consideration of the positions of the median voters in these districts and states. Economist/blogger Tyler Cowen described the median voter theorem as his "first-cut account of a lot of what is going on in the newspaper headlines." And see Nate's discussion here, in the context of primary elections.

The median voter theorem has limitations, though, which are essentially quantitative rather than quantitative. I'll give the story, but first the graph:

Here's the positive statement of the median voter theorem. A politician is trying to get elected will probably get more votes (all else equal) if he or she is a centrist rather than far to the left or the right of the majority of the voters. Similarly, if you're trying to push a bill through Congress, to first approximation you can think of the legislators as aligned on a left-right axis, in which case if you can get the median congressmember (and everyone to the left or right of him or her) on your side, you're golden.

Certainly the median congressmember is important: by definition, it's that marginal vote you need to get a majority. But where do the median congressmember's positions come from? Not necessarily from the median voter in his or her district. My research with Jonathan Katz (see the graph above), suggests that being a moderate is worth about 2% of the vote in a congressional election: it ain't nuthin, but it certainly is not a paramount concern for most representatives. (The graph appears in chapter 9 of Red State, Blue State. If you're interested in the median voter theorem and U.S. politics, I recommend that whole chapter, actually.)

I am sympathetic to Cowen's larger point (also made by Matthew Yglesias), however, which is that it might be a mistake to assume that politicians of your political party agree with you, deep down, on the issues, and that they're only voting differently because of expedience, craven political calculation, or whatever. It's worth considering the hypothesis that lots of Democratic politicians do not share the values and policy preferences of lots of Democratic voters, and similarly for the Republicans. Given the diversity of public opinion, this really has to be true on some issues, and it very well might be true all over the place.

This last point, of course, is completely consistent with the idea that the median voter theorem is a "weak force" with much less importance than might be assumed from a casual examination of the political system.

Physics envy should now, I hope, lead us to discover political forces of gravitation, electromagnetism, and the rest. Only the political equivalent of string theory can unify all this. I'm sure it will turn up on the Arxiv soon.

[That last paragraph was a joke.]

### Wyden Not?

I've gotten a few e-mails asking whether I'm going to weigh on on the latest Greg Mankiw - Paul Krugman feud on the public health care option. Suffice it to say that I frequently find Mankiw both disingenuous and somewhat intellectually circumspect, and occasionally even ungentlemanly. Although Mankiw's New York Times column is much better argued than George F. Will's piece was, it pulls Mankiw's typical Unfrozen Caveman Economist trick when it blithely asserts that "We don’t need government-run grocery stores or government-run gas stations to ensure that Americans can buy food and fuel at reasonable prices" when (i) the cost of premiums are not particularly reasonable for working-class families, and (ii) the level of competition is inadequate, with near-monopolies in many states. Krugman is right that Mankiw ought to know better.

With that said, and as strongly as I've argued for the public option, I do ultimately think it's a means to an end, the end being lowering health care costs relative to the quality of service provided. I think the public option would be the best way to achieve this because I don't think the insurance industry is ultimately doing anything to "earn" its profit margins and administrative costs: it's mostly just economic rent resulting from barriers to entry within the industry. But if there are plans that can remove market distortions and lower costs without a public option, those deserve a fair hearing. Namely, this would mean removing the taxpayer subsidy for health care benefits and having some mechanism to induce competition in the market. The Wyden-Bennett bill that Mankiw mentions would do the former, and would hope to accomplish the later through increased transparency and giving consumers a more direct choice of their insurance provider; indeed, it's the only plan on the table that would strive to end the illogical regime of employer-based health care, except for Pete Stark's single payer-ish alternative. (This doesn't mean you'd lose your insurance -- it just means you'd be buying it directly rather than having your employer buy it for you).

But the insurance industry, I'm guessing, doesn't think much of Wyden-Bennett; neither Wyden nor Bennett have received particularly much from health care PACs, nor have many of the bill's co-sponsors -- this is a definite positive indicator. The danger in the health care debate is ending up with something that, while it might accomplish other worthy goals like portability and univerasl(ish) coverage, ultimately entrenches the rents to the private insurance industry. The public option and Wyden-Bennett are different ways to avoid that, and either is likely to be preferable to whatever Max Baucus winds up putting on the table.

### Americans Tightening Belts

A new Harris poll confirms what the Bureau of Economic Analysis, retailers (despite a recent nudge upward), and presumably many readers' personal observations all echo: Americans are tightening their belts.

According to Harris, compared to six months ago we are minding our money and investments more carefully and, when possible, saving more and spending less. We are using our credit cards less frequently. We are less inclined to take out a loan. We are moving monies into safer investment portfolios.

All of which is helping push up the national savings rate, depicted here, courtesy of BEA:

There are some unsurprising generational and income-based differences in the Harris poll's findings. For example, 64 percent say they are less likely to take out some form of loan than they were six months ago, with the self-reported share who are avoiding borrowing higher among those with incomes under \$35K (73 percent) than those with incomes \$75K and above (58 percent). And fully a third of all Americans report pulling out the plastic less than they did six months back.

Anyway, I'm out--time to go get one of those 99-cent, "breakfast, not brokefast" egg-wrap sandwiches advertised in the Dunkin' Donuts commercial.

### Palin-Romney '12

The 2012 Republican presidential primaries are two-and-a-half years away, but if they were starting today Sarah Palin would enter with the highest net approval ratings among self-described Republicans, according to a recent Pew poll.

According to Pew, the Alaska governor's popularity among Republicans, as measured by her net approval-minus-disapproval ratings, is +56, with former Gov. Mitt Romney and former Speaker Newt Gingrich a bit further back, at +39 and +33 respectively, and Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele trailing far behind that trio with a +14 and 58 percent of Republicans having no opinion or unable to identify him.

Although Palin's approval is high, and sustained compared to earlier Pew-conducted polls, Pew emphasized Romney's steady increase among not just Republicans but the broader public:

Since February 2008, shortly before he abandoned his race for the GOP presidential nomination, opinion of Romney has improved across most political and demographic groups, but the shift has been particularly pronounced among independents. In February 2008, just 29% of independents had a positive impression of Romney while 46% had a negative view. Today, that balance is reversed: 44% view Romney favorably and 25% unfavorably.

Positive opinions among both Democrats and Republicans have increased by eight points since early 2008. Among Republicans, Romney has made identical nine-point gains in favorability among conservative Republicans and moderate and liberal Republicans; currently, 61% of conservative Republicans and 52% of moderate and liberal members of the GOP express positive opinions of Romney.

Given the troubles encountered of late by any number of first- or second-tier GOP presidential contenders, from John Ensign to Mark Sanford to Michael Steele, it may be that Romney is benefitting from a perception of a steady-as-he-goes maturity and scandal- or blunder-free eights months since the 2008 presidential election.

The Pew results reveal strong levels of support for Palin among evangelicals, but overall her support from self-described conservatives actually ebbed a bit from their highs last autumn during the late stages of the presidential contest. Oddly enough, since then her approval actually improved from 18 percent to 24 percent among Democrats, though this may be a result of a sympathetic boost resulting from David Letterman's jokes about Palin and her family earlier this month. (The poll was taken June 10-14, at the height of the national controversy over Letterman's remarks about the governor's daughter.)

In the days immediately following the 2008 presidential election, among Republicans surveyed by Gallup, Palin and Romney led the field. Eight months later, they're still out in front. Perhaps the duo are riding a name-recognition advantage against a pretty weak GOP field to date. And, of course, plenty can change during the 30 months between now and the Republican caucuses in Iowa. (I'd still bet on Gingrich to be the nominee.)

But for now, at least, Palin and Romney remain the frontrunners. Whether or not the GOP in fact nominates for president the person "next in line," a myth Ed recently debunked, Mitt and Sarah are still the king and queen of Republican presidential hopefuls.

### How To Destroy (Almost) Half the Planet for the Low, Low Price of Just 5% of Global GDP

One of the more engaging critics of the Waxman-Markey ("cap-and-trade") bill that the House approved on Friday is Jim Manzi, whose work appears in a bunch of places like The National Review, and The American Scene. The economics of both climate change itself and policy efforts to mitigate it are murky, problematic areas and Manzi deserves credit for trying navigate the waters honestly -- it's nice to be engaged in a debate with a conservative who doesn't seem to think that Al Gore invented global warming.

One of Manzi's central points is that climate change just ain't all that damaging, economically speaking: it will reduce global GDP by "only" 5 percent one hundred years hence, he writes, even arguably pessimistic assumptions by the IPCC about both the magnitude of climate change and its economic impacts. There are a couple of economic points that can be raised against this, the most persuasive of which has to do with the possibility of "fat tail" events like warming of 10-20 degrees C, which appear unlikely based on present knowledge but which cannot entirely be ruled out, and which would effectively destroy the world economy if not civilization itself. There's also the question of what happens after 2110, because if we've reached that point by 2110, it means that things almost certainly will continue to get worse, not better.

Most of all, though, I wonder if GDP is really the right measure at all. This is not a qualitative objection against looking at things through an economic lens: it is, rather, a merely technical one.

The problem with GDP is this: it varies greatly across counties, by a factor of 800 or so on a per-capita basis between Burundi and Luxembourg, or nearly 2,000 if you count Zimbabwe, which effectively does not have an economy. A lot of countries contribute almost nothing to global GDP, even though they may have tens or hundreds of millions of people. You could literally wipe them from the globe and the impact on global GDP would be de minimis.

Why don't we try and do that, in fact? Let's see how much of the world we can destroy before getting to 5% of global GDP. The figures I'll use are IMF estimates of 2008 GDP, for all countries bit Zimbabwe where the IMF did not publish a 2008 estimate and I use 2007 instead.

Zimbabwe, indeed, is the first country on the chopping block, whose 11.7 million greedy bastards consume a whole 0.0196 percent of the world's output -- a global low of just \$55 per person. After that, we get to destroy Burundi, The Congo (the larger of the two Congos -- the one that used to be called Zaire), Liberia, Guinea-Bissau, Eretrea, Malawai ... do you really me to go through the whole list? You do? ... Malwai, Ethopia, Sierra Leone, Niger, Afghanistan (big problem solved there), Togo, Guinea, Uganda, Madagascar, the Central African Republic, Nepal, Myanmar, Rwanda, Mozambique, Timor-Leste, the Gambia -- we've only used 0.27 percent of GDP to this point, by the way -- Bangladesh (which has 162 million people), Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Mali, Lesotho, Ghana, Haiti, Tajikistan, Comoros, Cambodia, Laos, Benin, Kenya, Chad, The Soloman Islands and Kyrgyzistan. Next up is India, which, while growing, still consumes only 2 percent of world GDP. Then Nicaragua, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Mauritania, Pakistan (another problem solved), Senegal, SÃ£o TomÃ© and PrÃ­ncipe, CÃ´te d'Ivoire, Zambia, Yemen, Cameroon, Djibouti, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Nigeria (another pretty big country -- we've now got only about 1.4 points of GDP left), Guyana, the Sudan, Bolivia (our first foray into South America), Moldova, Honduras, the Philippines, Sra Lanka, Mongolia, Bhutan and Egypt.

At this point, we've used up 4.4 points of GDP. Indonesia is next on the list of lowest per-capita GDPs. But unfortunately we can't quite fit them into the budget so we'll spare them, opting instead for Vanauatu, Tonga, Paragua, Morocco, Syria, Swaziland, Samoa, Guatemala, Georgia (the country -- not the place where they have Chik-Fil-A), the other Congo, and Iraq. Skipping China, we then get to Armenia, Jordan, Cape Verde, the Maldives -- and another big bunch of skips follows here since we're very low on budget -- Fiji and finally Namibia. Collectively, these countries consume 4.99997 percent of the world's GDP. There's absolutely no budget left for anyone else -- not even St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which would be a great band name, BTW.

So, we'll have to settle for just these 81 countries, which collectively have a mere 2,865,623,000 people, or about 43 percent of the world's population.

Still, that's not too bad for a day's work. We've gotten rid of almost all of Sub-Saharan Africa, destroyed the entire Indian subcontinent, created a big lake in South America, turned El Salvador into an island, and solved a lot of our problems in the Middle East. I suspect we could also have nuked North Korea, by the way, except that the IMF didn't publish information for them.

Coincidentally, or not, a lot of these countries are located in the tropics, where global warming would probably have its most pernicious effects. True, they would probably not be entirely eradicated even under some of the worst-case, fattest-tail climate change assumptions. But if you reduced their GDPs by, say, 40 percent, it would look like mere rounding error on the world scene.

## 6.27.2009

### Statistical Tests and Election Fraud

My final thoughts on those Iran vote analyses:

From Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004 to Mexico City in 2006 to Iran in 2009, tightly contested elections are often accompanied by claims of fraud or serious error: that is, that the election outcome does not match the intentions of the people who voted. Sometimes there is direct evidence of fraud: people voting multiple times, tampering with ballot boxes, etc., and often there is evidence of mistakes, including overvotes (such as a person choosing a candidate and also writing in his name), lost ballots, and technical problems with voting machines.

But the the usual sort of evidence for major problems is a discrepancy between the overall election outcome and what was expected from polls or from extrapolation from other elections. A notorious example is Patrick Buchanan's votes on the "butterfly ballot" in Palm Beach in 2000, which were inconsistent with patterns in other Florida counties in that year.

For the Iran election, the natural step is to compare to previous election returns and look for large changes, as was done by political scientist Walter Mebane. Striking patterns found in such a comparison to not prove fraud but can be useful in giving people a sense of where to focus attention if they want to look further.

Scacco and Beber's analysis is based on the idea that, if there is election fraud, the cheaters are probably acting in a hurry and with various constraints on what numbers they can actually manipulate. As a result, the fake numbers might show some patterns that would be highly unlikely to be seen in tallies of real votes. Again, it is hard for such circumstantial evidence to be entirely convincing on its own, but the patterns they find can support particular theories of how the vote totals came to be.

Another way to calibrate our understanding of such statistical tests is to apply them to a large number of actual elections to see where apparent anomalies appear. Are anomalies happening pretty much at random, as might be expected if one were simply trawling through the data looking for patterns, or do they actually coincide with elections known to be suspicious or fraudulent on other grounds?

Even if statistical tests cannot prove fraud, they can help the news media and observers on the ground to focus their inquiries.

## 6.26.2009

Just got to 218+, per C-SPAN:
`H.R. 2454       YEA    NAY    NVDEMOCRATIC      211     44    1REPUBLICAN        8    168    2INDEPENDENTTOTALS          219    212    3`
Not a lot of room to spare, though. It sort of limped across the finish line, with almost almost all of the votes in the last two minutes or so coming in on the nay side once it had clinched passage.

We don't know who the individual nays and yeas are, but it looks like Pelosi and Waxman got 6 of 21 Republican fence-sitters and 25 of 52 Democratic ones. There may also have been a couple of liberal votes against the bill, although some liberals who were contemplating voting against the bill, like Lloyd Doggett of Texas, wound up not doing so.

UPDATED: Here's the roll call. There were at least three liberal no's -- Stark, DeFazio, and Kucinich.

So, how does this bill pass the 60-vote Senate with such a narrow margin in the House? Well, maybe -- probably? -- it won't. But the Senate will be voting on a somewhat different bill, at a somewhat different time in the legislative calendar, and its members have somewhat different prerogatives. Fewer of them are under re-election pressure. And Obama -- wisely, I think -- has conserved a lot of his political muscle for the Senate fight. Then again, who knows how much political muscle he'll have left depending on how health care and the economy go.

Three current Republican Senators -- Snowe, Collins and Mel Martinez -- voted for cloture on the Liberman-Warner climate bill last year (so did four Republican senators who have since left the Senate). Six other surviving Republicans -- Graham, Gregg, McCain, Murkowski, Cornyn, DeMint -- did not vote on cloture. Cornyn and DeMint are staunch conservatives who were probably out of the office that day, but the other four are maybe gettable.

On the other hand, several Democrats voted against cloture, and several others declined to vote. Someone like Mary Landireu of Louisana is not very likely to vote for this bill, certainly, and there will have to be some sausage-rolling to get farm and coal state Democrats like Kent Conrad and Robert Byrd on board.

The point is this: I don't think there are 41 solid 'no's in the Senate -- not yet. There might be 37 or 38 or 39, but not 41. And as long as that's the case, there's some daylight for the White House. But it won't be easy, and if environmental advocates didn't like the version that came out of the House, they aren't liable to be any more pleased with whatever has an opportunity to make it though the Senate.

### Sex scandals, le style FranÃ§ais

The last few weeks have seen several high profile sex scandals among leading politicians -- nothing new, really. Both men whose philandering was revealed were conservative, "family values" Republicans, for whom the revelations have likely begun the slow bleed of political irrelevance. Again, as it has been said many times over, the weakness of the flesh for those in power is not anything new, and frankly, rarely has it much to do with one's ability to effective administer an executive or legislative office.

When I described the Sanford story to several French colleagues, disappearance and all, they looked nonplussed - "is that all?" they asked. The personal lives of French politicians, including fairly juicy sex-related tales, have been common knowledge for generations, they explained, but it rarely becomes serious political fodder.

The past three French Presidents, including current chef d’Ã©tat Sarkozy, have each had one (or more) high profile sex scandals, but of the sort far beyond just run of the mill adultery and prostitutes. Indeed, they have usually been decades-long sagas that simmered beneath the surface of French political culture.

As put by British writer Philip Delves Broughton, however, "being discreet, French and worldly about adultery, unlike the sweaty-palmed Anglo-Saxons," the French political class keeps issues of sex and family scandal below the surface as much as possible, "out of courtesy, [and] respect for a statesman's private life."

Let's begin with former President Jacques Chirac, who led France for twelve years as President from 1995 to 2007, following a twenty year career as Prime Minister, Mayor of Paris, and Minister of Interior. Though once largely ignored by the French press, it is widely known that President Chirac has an illegitimate son, one that was for years supported with funds of the French state while being squirreled away in Japan. At the same time, even his wife has written and spoken publicly about Chirac's both visual and physical appreciation of the fairer sex.

His predecessor, FranÃ§ois Mitterrand, also maintained a second family. While he had maintained many a mistress over the years, the revelation of a secret Parisian daughter named Mazarine in the mid nineties followed nearly twenty years of mum from those in the know. The outcry that followed her discovery by the public was actually related to her being hidden from the country and the cost to national purse, rather than her "illegitimacy". In fact, that Mitterrand’s illness in office was kept secret from the public until his death - he suffered from cancer for years, which eventually ended his life - angered the French people more than any sex-related issue.

The tradition of personal privacy for the French leadership has changed a bit in more recent years, though. In fact, Nicolas Sarkozy has managed to use his personal life to great political advantage in order to attract attention, maintain interest, and divert the public's attention from controversial issues and problems of governance. His high-profile divorce, romance with Carla Bruni, several marriages and multiple children have become political assets, in fact, such that the opposition has tried to play them down. "France doesn't give a damn about heart-broken political leaders. We have too many important things on our plate," declared Arnaud Montebourg, a Socialist party member of Parliament. Indeed, the recent exposÃ© of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn's in-office predilections has sparked amusement more than dismay among the French populice.

The difference in style between the American and French models has often been attributed to religiosity and puritanism, with middle class white Americans often shocked and dismayed at the mere public discussion of sex. It is true, though, as pointed out in our previous discussions here (Nate and myself), that dereliction of duty, perceptions hypocrisy and misspending of public funds associated with scandals of a sexual nature are often the more damning facets of a politician’s fall from grace. Though less sensational, a leader whose sexual escapades interfere with his (or her) ability to govern is likely far more dangerous than a rampant philanderer who manages to do a good job in office (see Kennedy, John Fitzgerald).

Perhaps in the end, the French and American models are beginning to coalesce a bit, with the French becoming more tuned into the sensationalism of political smut, and Americans slowly becoming more stoic about the whole thing. If nothing else, being described as "sweaty-palmed" is enough to make me want to change my ways.
---
Renard Sexton is FiveThirtyEight's international columnist and is based in Geneva, Switzerland. He can be contacted at sexton538@gmail.com

Regional considerations tend to loom larger in debates over environmental policy than in other sorts of affairs. Some states consume more energy than others. Some states have more carbon-intensive economies than others. Some states are more or less likely to be negatively impacted by global warming. And some states are better equipped to take advantage of green energy development.

Today, I'm going to focus on the first of those concerns: household energy usage. The goal here is simple: the Congressional Budget Office recently put out an estimate (.pdf) of the costs of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill. The CBO estimated that the average American household would wind up paying a net of \$175 in additional energy costs in the year it benchmarked, which was 2020. But how does that cost translate to individual states?

First, here's the map, and then I'll explain how I arrived at these numbers:

(large version) (color-blind version)

Before I go any further, let me make clear that my objective is to translate the CBO's numbers, using my best interpretation of the CBO's assumptions, to the level of individual states. I don't make any other sort of judgment about the reliability of their numbers. If you don't like the CBO's numbers, you won't like mine.

There are two principal drivers of the differences in costs between different states. One driver is the amount of carbon that residential customers in each state use, and the other is its income distribution. The reason the latter is important is because Waxman-Markey offers a series of direct and indirect subsidies to taxpayers that are intended to offset the increased energy costs, and some of those subsidies are targeted based on the income of the taxpayer.

But first, the more straightforward issue, which is carbon consumption. These numbers are taken from the EPA's most recent (2005) estimates (.pdf) of the amount of CO2 emissions released in each state. The EPA breaks these down into five categories: residential, commercial, industrial, transportation, and electric power. We are concerned with two of those categories: residential and transportation.

Direct, residential use of carbon, such as for home heating fuel, is actually a relatively small part of the carbon picture, accounting for 5-6 percent of domestic carbon consumption. As you can see, the rule here is pretty simple -- it evidently takes more carbon to heat your home than to cool it, and so colder states are associated with more residential carbon usage per capita, with the exception of a few states in the Pacific Northwest.

Most carbon consumption in the transportation sector -- about 60 percent -- is the result of the usage of personal cars, and is therefore paid for directly by taxpayers in the form of gasoline prices. Some states, particularly Southern states, do more driving than others; there are also differences related to fuel efficiency standards, the availability of public transportation (such as in New York) and so forth. A couple of states -- namely Wyoming and Alaska -- are extreme outliers owing to what I believe is the relatively high usage of personal aircraft. Note that transportation constitutes a much bigger piece of the carbon puzzle than do home energy costs -- about 30 percent of all U.S. emissions.

To estimate the amount of residential carbon usage in each state, I take the EPA's CO2 estimate for the residential sector and add it to 60 percent of their estimate for the transportation sector, then divide the result by the number of households in each state. What about the other sources of carbon emissions, like industrial use and electricity production? They are certainly relevant insofar as the regional impacts of Waxman-Markey go, but they are not relevant in terms of interpreting the CBO's estimates, which seek to determine the direct cost to taxpayers in the form of higher energy prices only. For instance, West Virginia is associated with high carbon consumption in its commercial sector because of its production of coal. But much of that coal is exported to other states; the amount of carbon that residential customers in West Virginia consume is not particularly high. That does not mean that West Virginians don't have reason to fret about Waxman-Markey -- it's just a different type of cost than we're trying to get at here. Conversely, some states like Maine which have high residential use of carbon do not have particularly carbon-intensive economies.

The other major factor is the income distribution in each state. Under Waxman-Markey, the CBO estimates, people in the lowest income quintile will get 94 percent of their marginal costs back in the form of direct consumer rebates, whereas people in the top income quintile will get 18 percent back, with the other quintiles scaling accordingly. These types of benefits, in other words, are directly proportionate to carbon consumption. There are also indirect forms of subsidy, in the form of offsets offered to carbon producers that will "trickle down" to the household level. I assume that these indirect subsidies are unrelated to carbon consumption and are solely determined by a state's income distribution.

Let's get a bit more specific. The CBO estimates nationwide costs and benefits from the cap-and-trade program to be as follows:

Now, how do we translate these numbers to individual states? There are four relatively simple steps:

Step 1. Scale the gross costs to each state's income-adjusted carbon usage. Minnesota, which we'll use as our example, uses 15.1 million metric tons of residential carbon per household, which represents 108 percent of the national average. So, do we simply multiply the gross costs in Minnesota by 1.08? Unfortunately, it's not quite that easy, because per the CBO's method, we're trying to estimate the carbon costs for particular income quintiles in each state, and not simply the overall number. Minnesota uses more carbon than average, but it's also wealthier than average, and wealthy people use more carbon, all else being equal. Thus, we have to scale each state's carbon usage to its income distribution to avoid what amounts to double-counting. I won't go into details, but this lowers Minnesota's income-adjusted carbon usage to 104 percent of the national average. Therefore, I multiply the gross costs from the CBO's national estimates by 1.04 to cater them to Minnesota.

Step 2. Account for rebates. As mentioned previously, I assume that the direct rebates are proportionate to the cost of carbon consumption for each income quintile in each state. Consumers in the lowest income quintile get 94 percent of their costs back, scaling downward to 76 percent, 44 percent, 33 percent and 18 percent as we move up the income pyramid. Conversely, I assume that the indirect subsidies are not proportionate to carbon usage and are the same in each state. In other words, I simply plug in the CBO's numbers for these.

Step 3. Subtract the rebates from the gross costs for each income quintile. This is trivial.

Step 4. Take a weighted average of the net costs for each state based on its income distribution. This is also straightforward. If 30 percent of a state's residents fall into the lowest income quintile (relative to the entire country), we multiply the net cost estimate for the lowest quintile in that state by 30 percent, repeating this process for the other quintiles to create a weighted average.

Here, then, is our estimate of the per-household cost of cap-and-trade for Minnesota:

We estimate that the average cost per household in Minnesota per the CBO's assumptions is \$202, which is slightly higher than the national average of \$175 owing to the state's slightly higher-than-average residential carbon consumption and its slightly higher-than-average incomes.

I realize that those last four or five paragraphs are probably just about the most boring thing you've ever read on FiveThirtyEight but sometimes you have to show your work. In any event, here are our estimates for all 50 states plus the District of Columbia:

And here's that map again:

There is a fair amount of state-to-state variance, although it is exaggerated somewhat by the presence of a couple of outliers: Florida and D.C. on the one side and Wyoming and Alaska, which I think are being punished for the use of personal jet travel, on the other. The key question for the bill's passage might be whether Democrats can pick up some Republican votes in large, coastal states like Florida, California, New York, and North Carolina, each of which appears to be associated with below-average costs to end-users. Conversely, most of the places with the highest direct costs are places where the Democrats weren't likely to pick up many votes anyway, although this does suggest that votes like Mark Begich's in Alaska and Mary Landireu's in Louisiana will be tough ones if this gets to the Senate.

## 6.25.2009

### Sanford: More Resignation Pressure than other Pantsless Pols

Two polls are already out on Mark Sanford's future in South Carolina, both of which were conducted in the wake of his dramatic press conference yesterday. One poll, from SurveyUSA, reports that 60 percent of South Carolinians want Sanford to resign, versus 34 percent who say he should stay in office. The other, from InsiderAdvantage, is somewhat more sympathetic toward Sanford: 50 percent in that poll think he should resign, versus 42 who think he should remain South Carolina's governor.

Sanford appears to face more pressure to resign than most other recent politicians who have been caught with their pants down. In comparison to the 50-60 percent who are calling for Sanford's resignation:

-- Two polls on Eliot Spitzer (one of which was conducted after he had actually left office) found between 70 and 81 percent of New Yorkers, respectively, favoring his resignation.
-- The only poll of Idahoans on Larry Craig found 51 percent opposed to his decision to stay in office, versus 21 percent supporting it and 28 percent undecided.
-- Four polls on former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey, two of which were conducted after he'd quit, found that between 44-53 percent wanted him to resign after it was revealed he'd had an affair with male adviser Golan Cipel.
-- Some 30 polls conducted on Bill Clinton after he admitted on August 17th, 1998 to an "inappropriate relationship" with Monica Lewinsky found varying margins of between 18-40 percent calling for his resignation, with an average of 32 percent.
-- A Mason-Dixon poll conducted earlier this week on John Ensign found that 29 percent of Nevadans want him to resign.
-- Finally, the only poll we could find on David Vitter had just 20 percent of Louisianans calling for his resignation, although this poll was conducted on behalf of a Republican gubernatorial candidate.

All data was compiled from PollingReport.com.

The chart below correlates the politicians with their particular peccadilloes:

It's actually somewhat hard to find any signature patterns here. Eliot Spitzer's affairs involved kinky, high-priced prostitutes, for instance, but so did David Vitter's. Being caught with another man probably makes matters worse, although both McGreevey and Craig had other aggravating circumstances: in McGreevey's case because he had appointed the underqualified Cipel to be his homeland security adviser, and in Craig's because he was arrested for his conduct. In addition to McGreevey, Clinton's and Ensign's affairs also involved their immediate subordinates, but calls for their resignations were relatively low. Being an executive, as opposed to a legislator, might make matters worse; that is one big difference between Spitzer and Vitter.

Still, the reason that I suspect that Sanford's numbers are as high as they are is because of the dereliction of duty it entailed: both his mysterious absence from the state for six days and the flimsy excuses his staff came up with to explain it. The number of people who want you to resign if you "just" have a garden-variety, heterosexual affair seems to be no higher than 20-30 percent, but Sanford's numbers are at least twice that.

### The Republican "Next-In-Line" Myth

The meltdown of the supposed presidential ambitions of John Ensign and Mark Sanford this month (plus the apparent sidelining of Jon Huntsman last month) has led to renewed if premature speculation about the 2012 presidential field. And inevitably, we are again hearing one of the most frequently repeated and rarely challenged myths (I use the term in the sense of a widely-held totemic belief, not to suggest it is presumptively wrong) about Republican presidential nominations: in open contests, GOPers always go for the candidate "next-in-line" by dint of earlier candidacies.

This myth was succinctly articulated just the other day by the generally insightful CNN analyst Bill Schneider in a National Journal column:
When it comes time to nominate a candidate for president, Republicans usually nominate whoever is next in line. That often means someone who's unsuccessfully run for president before. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain -- all of them had already tried at least once.

Interestingly, the next-in-line myth seems most likely to come up right now in connection with predictions that Mitt Romney will win the prize, viz. this Mike Potemra June 15 post at National Review's The Corner:
The Republicans always nominate for president the candidate who’s next in line, even if that person is deeply unpopular (e.g., the GOP base’s hatred for John McCain did not prevent him from being nominated; he was the guy who lost to Bush in 2000, ergo…). In 2008, the runner-up was Romney. Add to that frontrunner status the fact that Romney has credibility on economics and budgeting, and he’s the prohibitive favorite.

The next-in-line myth is frequently mixed with various psychological assertions about the nature of Republicans as opposed to Democrats: they are more disciplined, hierarchical, tradition-bound, or cautious, so they never really look at fresh faces.

As some of you may know, this kind of myth-based analysis is like catnip to me (see here and here), so it's worth taking a closer look at this one as well, which I have always suspected of being an oversimplification at best and lacking a lot of predictive value.

The next-in-line myth is generally based on fairly recent precedents (perhaps because it clearly doesn't work for the only two seriously contested nominations between World War II and Vietnam, the 1952 and 1964 cycles). So let's look at the eleven presidential campaigns from 1968 through 2008. For Republicans, five of those (1972, 1976, 1984, 1992 and 2004) involved the renomination of incumbent presidents, so we are really only talking about six. (Right away, one should note that smaller data sets tend to produce more dubious "rules.") In those six campaigns, the "next-in-line" myth is held to have dictated the results in five: Nixon in 1968, Reagan in 1980, G.H.W. Bush in 1988, Dole in 1996 and McCain in 2008. Some might argue that George W. Bush was "next-in-line" in 2000 as the son of a former president, but that idea starts introducing other factors, and in any event, Bush's chief rival, John McCain, hadn't run for president before either, so it's not really relevant.

By way of comparison, Democrats had nine campaigns from 1968 through 2008 that didn't involve the renomination of incumbent presidents, and in five of those nine cycles (1976, 1988, 1992, 2004 and 2008) the winner was someone who had not run for president before. There are, for the record, two marginal cases: George McGovern, who had a brief, convention-based candidacy in 1968 as a holding action for delegates pledged previously to Robert Kennedy, and Fritz Mondale in 1984, who had begun but quickly abandoned a presidential campaign in 1972. Mondale, of course, was on the national ticket in 1976 and served four years as vice-president. But still, whether the number is five or seven, it is clear that Democrats have been more willing since 1968 to nominate someone who hasn't been a credible presidential candidate in the past.

Mondale's case, (and for that matter, Hubert Humphrey's in 1968) however, raises one of the more obvious weaknesses of the next-in-line myth as defined by prior presidential candidacies: presence on a national ticket, particularly a winning ticket, is clearly a stronger credential than a failed second-place presidential campaign. Nobody would go too far out on a limb to argue that Bush 41's status as Ronald Reagan's loyal veep for eight years was less important in 1988 than his 1980 presidential candidacy, and the same holds true for Democrat Al Gore in 2000. Moreover, Bob Dole's presence on the GOP ticket in 1976 gave him a lot more national visibility than his brief and disastrous 1980 presidential run. This is relevant today because Sarah Palin, not Mitt Romney, has served on a national ticket.

So the GOP next-in-line myth already has some holes when it comes to 1988 and 1996, which means that it didn't necessarily hold in three of the five elections at issue.

Now political myths can be questioned not just because empirical data contradict them, but also because other factors are equally important. It's immediately apparent that the next-in-line myth takes for granted assets that tend to come with, but that do not absolutely require, prior presidential candidacies--name ID, grassroots support and money.

In 1968, for example, Richard Nixon had the first and third assets via a career that stretched back to his House service from 1949-51. And in the absence of a conservative challenger (until the too-late Reagan candidacy at the Convention), he inherited much of the Goldwater activist network, particularly in the South. Did his prior presidential campaign help him obtain these assets? Of course. But did it guarantee it? Of course not. I'd say Nixon's promises to Strom Thurmond on the vice-presidency, civil rights, defense, and even textile imports--crucial in keeping the South in line--had more to do with his nomination victory than his next-in-line status.

Two other factors that the next-in-line myth tends to ignore are ideology and "electability," which become obvious if you look at the actual dynamics of actual nominating contests.

On the power of ideology, Reagan in 1980 is the obvious example. Yes, Ronald Reagan began his campaign trying to look like the "next in line;" recordings of "Hail to the Chief" greeted him at every appearance. But then he lost to Bush in Iowa, and after firing his campaign manager, remembered that his leadership of the conservative movement was a much bigger political asset that his "inevitability." Reagan ran a highly ideological campaign in New Hampshire and thereafter, and the rest was history.

Similarly, G.H.W. Bush lost to Bob Dole in Iowa, and then got his nomination campaign back on track in New Hampshire by running almost exclusively on a no-tax pledge that Dole wouldn't emulate. Bush ultimately had the support of virtually the entire conservative movement, including the Christian Right.

The only cases since 1968 where it can be persuasively argued that "next-in-line" factors trumped ideology among Republicans were in 1996 and 2008. Dole in 1996 and McCain in 2008, to be clear, had both gone the extra mile in reassuring conservatives on core issues like taxes and abortion. But more importantly, both men benefited from the weaknesses and divisions among their more-conservative opponents. Dole's lucky break was the emergence of Pat Buchanan (theoretically, BTW, the "next in line" as the second-place finisher in 1992) as his main rival on the Right, an solidified, ironically, when Buchanan beat Dole in New Hampshire. Buchanan terrified Republican elites, particularly in the business community, and it was relatively easy for Dole to beat him in later primaries. The other credible candidate, Lamar (!) Alexander, never gained the trust of party conservatives and was also running on an anti-congressional message that was deeply undercut by the Republican landslide of 1994.

A similar dynamic developed in 2008. McCain was not the least conservative candidate for the nomination--that dubious honor belonged to Rudy Giuliani--and his electability credentials based on general election polling were a formidable asset as compared to more conservative rivals like Romney and Huckabee. Recently conservative blogger Alex Knepper, in one of the few challenges to the "next-in-line" myth I've found, nicely summed up McCain's much-less-than-inevitable route to the nomination:
A few thousand votes the other way in New Hampshire or South Carolina and John McCain would have been eliminated. He walked a tightrope to the nomination. Nobody “fell in line” behind John McCain. He never even won a majority of the votes before Super Tuesday. One different move by Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee along the way and McCain could have been denied the nomination. What if McCain had lost South Carolina, perhaps leading to Charlie Crist and Mel Martinez endorsing Rudy Giuliani? What if Mitt Romney had won New Hampshire, leading to a Michigan blowout and a siphoning of votes from McCain in South Carolina, snowballing into a Florida win? To speak of McCain’s win as inevitable is history being rewritten under our noses.

But let's say for the sake of argument that the next-in-line myth is all true. What would it indicate about 2012? Those claiming the myth makes it inevitable that Mitt Romney will win the nomination sometimes appear to forget that Mike Huckabee actually won more delegates than Romney, and stayed in the race longer. Are there reasons that the rich and telegenic Romney might be stronger than Huckabee (a poor fundraiser with some wacky cultural positions deeply mistrusted by Republican business elites)? Yes, but they have nothing to do with the "next-in-line" factor. And Romney's own weaknesses, like those of Sarah Palin, are as attributable to misgivings that arose during his 2008 campaign as to the mesmerizing power that the prior candidacy is supposed to exert.

The more you really look at it, the "next-in-line" myth seems to live on mainly as a way for conservatives to wash their hands of responsibility for a couple of GOP nominees--particularly McCain in 2008--they didn't much like and who went on to perform dismally in the general election. Of course candidates with prior campaign experience have some advantages; that's like one of those double-loaded statistics in sports (e.g., starting pitchers win a lot of games when they last into the late innings) that tell you virtually nothing other than that success breeds success, and winners win. In that spirit, all we really know about the 2012 Republican nominating process is that the future lies ahead.

### The Environmental Indifference Point

Ezra Klein has an interesting catch on the new Washington Post poll, which asked people which asked people whether they'd be willing to pay a certain amount each month in additional electricity costs if it supported a cap-and-trade program that "significant lowered greenhouse gases".

When the monthly cost is \$10, 56 percent supported cap-and-trade and 42 percent opposed it; when the cost is \$25 per month, sentiment shifts to 44 percent in favor and 54 percent against.

Ezra drew a graph on this but let me draw my own, even wonkier one:

The indifference point works out to \$18.75 per month, or \$225 per year; that's when as many Americans apparently oppose cap-and-trade as support it. Meanwhile, the CBO recently estimated that the Waxman-Markey bill under consideration by the House would raise the average household's electricity bill by \$175/year or \$14.58/month as of 2020. That would qualify it as popular, although only barely so, with about 52 percent supporting and 45 percent opposed.

Obviously this is a highly speculative exercise for any number of reasons -- the margin of error in the polling, the margin of error in the CBO estimates (which the same conservatives who loved what the CBO had to say about health care suddenly find ample reason to doubt -- although truth be told, the economics of climate change tend to be pretty fuzzy), and so forth. But the sticker shock on this particular bill doesn't seem too bad, even if Americans aren't willing to dig too deeply into their pockets to tackle climate change overall.

## 6.24.2009

### Obama's (Unintentionally?) Brilliant Strategy on Cap-and-Trade

We've been focusing so much on health care (and Iran) that we haven't written very much about climate change. And yet, after making concessions to farm state Democrats, the House is prepared to vote on the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill on Friday. Ezra Klein wonders where exactly the President is in all of this. Climate change, obviously, was a key piece of Obama's agenda. But why is the House about to vote on this bill now, when Obama is more focused on health care?

First of all, we don't necessarily know that this is Obama's doing. It's the House's job to -- well, to vote on stuff. It's the Senate, where bills are much easier to block through a variety of tactics ranging from filibusters to holds to plain old stalling, that is more inclined to play traffic cop and where the President probably has more influence on the timing process.

But if this is a deliberate strategy on the White House's behalf, I think it's a pretty smart one. The reasoning is as follows:

1. No climate bill will pass the Senate which has not passed the House. In contrast to health care, where using the reconciliation process remains a possibility (meaning that a vote could not be filibustered and only 50 votes would be required for passage), the Senate has already banned use of the reconciliation process on climate. There's pretty much no way that a climate bill could get 60 votes in the Senate but fail to garner a majority in the House.

2. The House vote will provide a benchmark. The prospects for passage of a climate in the Senate can probably be reasonably be inferred by exactly what happens in the House. Specifically, Democrats will get to see how many Blue Dogs vote for the bill and how many Republicans do. If the bill gets the support of, say, all but a dozen Blue Dogs as well as handful of moderate Republicans, you can envision a route toward passage in the Senate. If it passes by a bare majority in the House, on the other hand, it is unlikely to overcome a Senate filibuster. And if it the bill entirely fails to pass, it's back to the drawing board and the Democrats will know they'll have to make more compromises.

3. Support for a cap-and-trade bill is probably relatively dependent on cyclical factors. By cyclical factors I mean three things: gas prices, the overall state of the economy, and Presidential approval. Polling generally indicates that support for curbing carbon emissions rises along with gas prices, as well as the overall health of the economy. And as Ezra suggests, because public opinion on climate change is relatively poorly formed, it may also depend heavily on the amount of political capital that the President is willing and able to expend.

Right now, Presidential approval is fairly high, and gas prices are also fairly high, having increased significantly since bottoming out in January:

(If this chart looks a little funky, it's because I'm using yearly data from 1976-1990, and then weekly data from 1991 onward).

On the other hand, the economy remains in really bad shape. If we had to rate these three factors on a scale of 0 to 10, where 10 represents the most favorable conditions for a climate bill and 0 the least favorable, we'd probably rate Presidential approval at about a 7, gas prices at about a 6.5, and the economy at about a 1.5. That averages out to a 5, meaning that this is a fairly average time to be pushing a climate bill. In February, by contrast, we might have rated Presidential approval at an 8, the economy at a 1, and gas prices at a 4, which averages to a 4.3. That probably would have been a slightly worse time, on balance, to push a climate bill forward.

4. Democrats get to pick their moment in the Senate. Just because a climate bill is approved by the House does not mean that the Democrats have to push it through the Senate immediately. The Democrats could wait on floor action until essentially any point until November 2010. This is one of the advantages of controlling the chamber.

I hope you see where I'm going this: the four factors above are very powerful when taken in combination. Say that Waxman-Markey passes the House, but only barely. That means the Democrats can wait for a better moment in the Senate -- gamble on the prospect that the economy is going to improve, which would probably improve Obama's approval ratings with it. So long as gas remained somewhere in the range of \$2.50 or higher, a climate bill would probably have a much better chance of picking up votes from your Evan Bayhs and Susan Collinses and Mel Martinezes than it does now. On the other hand, if the Waxman bill passes the House by a 40-vote margin, the Administration could begin to think more seriously about pushing it forward now, and not risk something like a deterioration in its approval ratings.

In finance terms, there is a lot of option value created for the Democrats by having the House vote on the bill now. The reasons that Obama may not be exerting political capital are twofold. Firstly, it may be many months before Senate action follows. And secondly, seeing what the House does on its own merits may provide for a better benchmark: you don't want to take your temperature after you've just taken aspirin.

### Sanford's "Hiking" Affair: Spitzer/Edwards, or Giuliani/Vitter?

The ever more bizarre tale of the disappearing South Carolina governor has had a even more fascinating twist now. Apparently, Sanford spent his time "away from the kids" in Buenos Aires with a "dear, dear friend from Argentina," with whom he was having an affair.

While he has already resigned his post as chair of the RGA, the full political fallout is yet to be seen.

Sanford has long campaigned as a strong conservative (over 90% rating from the American Conservative Union over his career), though has made headlines more in the economic/fiscal realm than on social issues. Like fellow Republicans Rudy Giuliani and David Vitter, he came out relatively quickly to acknowledge his infidelity, and will be looking to quickly move out of the spotlight to revamp his image.

The two big fish that have gone down on this issue in the past eighteen months, Eliot Spitzer and John Edwards, both seemed to be punished more sharply for their hypocracy and attempts at cover ups than for the scandals themselves. Ironically, both Spitzer and Edwards are Democrats, the party which theoretically could be more forgiving to this type of behavior.

Bottom line for Sanford: fess up, get back to work, and try not to look like a hypocrite, because that seems to be the thing that sinks people in the American voters' eyes the quickest.
---
Renard Sexton is FiveThirtyEight's international columnist and is based in Geneva, Switzerland. He can be contacted at sexton538@gmail.com

### Why is the Washington Post Testing Republican Messages on Health Care?

After months of cordial relations between the industry and the White House, Obama's comments were the sharpest to date and come at a time when there is widespread debate and confusion over what the public wants. One of the reasons is the complexity of the issue, something not easily captured in a poll question.

Survey questions that equate the public option approach with the popular, patient-friendly Medicare system tend to get high approval, as do ones that emphasize the prospect of more choices. But when framed with an explicit counterargument, the idea receives a more tepid response. In the new Post-ABC poll, 62 percent support the general concept, but when respondents were told that meant some insurers would go out of business, support dropped sharply, to 37 percent.
Actually, I don't have any particular problem with probing the depth of support by providing the respondent in your poll with an opposition message. This poll does suggest that opinion on the public option -- which Americans may not know all that much about -- is relatively malleable.

What I do have a problem with, however, is testing one side's message but not the other's. How about giving the people opposed to the public option a Democratic message about cost control?

It turns out that another organization, the Kaiser Family Foundation, did just this in their April tracking poll. They gave people who said they liked the public option two Republican messages -- one which mirrored the Washington Post's language on competition, and another about single payer. The unfair competition message did better, and picked off 45 percent of those who had initially supported the public option. That brings support for the public option down to 32 percent -- actually lower than the Washington Post's figure.

But Kaiser also tested two Democratic messages to people who initially said they opposed the public option. The stronger of those two messages -- one about cost containment -- converted 40 percent of the opposition. That brought support for the public option up to 78 percent.

What would be even better is if the pollster gave both sets of messages, read them in a random order, and then probed again on the public option question. That's the way the debate plays out in the real world. People who support the public option might hear things that cause them to question their support -- but they'll also hear things that reinforce it (like the President's remarks from yesterday). The same goes for people initially opposed to the public option.

My guess is that when this process in fact takes place in the real world, overall support will be about unchanged. On the one hand, the pro-public option position, since it's initially more popular, has more ground to lose. On the other hand, the Congressional Republicans aren't very good messengers, and Obama is. Maybe the public option will lose a couple of points of support -- I doubt it will lose more than that unless Obama pulls a Sanford and disappears.

But the Post's poll, and the accompanying article, seem like less of an effort to report on reality and more of an effort to create a new one.

### Sanford to Minneapolis? (Nope -- Argentina?)

EDIT: Sanford told the The State newspaper he was in Buenos Aires, Argentina. FWIW, a flight did arrive at Hartsfield from Buenos Aries at 5:43 AM this morning.

Original Post: Passing along information from anonymous Wikipedia sources really isn't the best way to build one's reputation. But I noticed that the Wiki for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, whose whereabouts have been unknown for six days, now contains the following proviso:
A state vehicle, however, was missing and was tracked down, not to the Appalachian Trail, but to the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta. A federal agent spotted Sanford in the airport boarding a plane to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
A report by WYFF-TV in Greenvile, SC claimed earlier today that Sanford had been cited boarding a plane at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport. Nowhere, however, in the mainstream (or the non-mainstream) media has the destination of the flight been reported, and there is no citation in the Wikipedia entry. The comment was added by someone at the IP address 24.250.141.144, which traces back to a Cox Communications server in Atlanta. This is either someone with first-hand knowledge of the situation (a fellow passenger, a flight attendant, a federal marshal) or someone trying to play a prank. Ordinarily, the probabilities would weight heavily toward the latter possibility, but since the entry comes from Atlanta and Atlanta specifically the former seems distinctly possible.

Obviously, if Sanford was in Minneapolis, he was nowhere near the Appalachian Trail, as his aides claimed earlier today. But I sure hope the guy is OK. The first association I make with Minneapolis in this context is "Mayo Clinic". If Sanford went to get some kind of medical condition checked out, and it proved to be more serious than expected, that might explain the tendency of those around him to obfuscate on about his whereabouts.

## 6.23.2009

### Good Morning, Tehran

Since the Iranian elections were held a week ago Friday, this website has received 2,065 visits from Iran. That's not particularly many and represents just a fraction of a percent of our overall traffic. But considering that we'd had just a couple dozen visitors from Iran in the entire history of this website prior to 6/12, it becomes more impressive.

One thing I noticed, however, is that 67 percent of our Iranian visitors are from Tehran, even though Tehran accounts for only about 10 percent of the country's population. This is not particularly surprising considering that Internet access in Iran is highly inequitable: of the 33 ISP's in Iran as of 2005, 19 were in Tehran Province.

Nevertheless, it does seem to underscore the point that so many other commentators have been making: the protests are being facilitated to a large degree by the Internet. We've heard very little about protests outside of Tehran, even though there are some other fairly large cities -- Tabriz, Zahedan, Ardabil, Yazd -- where Ahmadinejad (ostensibly) received 50 percent or less of the vote. But we're seeing hardly any visitors from those other cities, except for Yazd from which we've gotten quite a few. If our traffic is even a loose proxy for the Internet situation in Iran in general, these people aren't Tweeting, and they certainly aren't reading the New York Times or the BBC. And they also, apparently, aren't protesting in great numbers.

### George F. Will Admits Public Option Will Cut Costs

George Will's latest:
The puzzle is: Why does the president, who says that were America "starting from scratch" he would favor a "single-payer" -- government-run -- system, insist that health care reform include a government insurance plan that competes with private insurers? [...]

Assurances that the government plan would play by the rules that private insurers play by are implausible. Government is incapable of behaving like market-disciplined private insurers. Competition from the public option must be unfair because government does not need to make a profit and has enormous pricing and negotiating powers. Besides, unless the point of a government plan is to be cheaper, it is pointless: If the public option conforms to the imperatives that regulations and competition impose on private insurers, there is no reason for it.
Emphasis in original. Will's argument is apparently this: The government does not need to make a profit and will have greater leverage with providers; therefore it will deliver the same service for less money. That's unfair!

Is this really the best argument that one of the most prominent intellectual conservatives can mount against the public option?

I'm a big believer in the profit motive in 99 percent of all cases. If the government decided to open a non-profit hamburger stand, I doubt that it would compete successfully against Five Guys. If it tried to open a non-profit airline, I doubt that it could offer the same value as JetBlue. Insert joke about General Motors and/or the Post Office here. The point is, I think the profit motive is generally well worth it in terms of the incentives it creates to cut costs, develop new products, improve customer service, and so forth.

But health insurance is not like those things.

Insurance exists because of the decreasing marginal utility of income: most people would rather have a 100% chance of paying \$300 a month than a 1% chance of paying \$30,000 a month. In fact, our hypothetical customer -- let's call him Frederick, after George F. Will's middle name -- might very well accept a 100% chance of paying \$400 a month rather than take 1% chance of having to pay \$30,000, which he might not be able to afford. This is true even though Frederick will lose \$100 on this deal in an average month.

There's nothing wrong with this arrangement -- the customer has improved his marginal utility and the insurance company has made \$100. It's a win-win.

The thing is, though, that the insurer hasn't had to work particularly hard for his \$100. He hasn't had to figure out how to cook up tastier fries or save you a few bucks off the cost of your next flight to Orlando. All he has to do is to have a bunch of money pooled together, such that he has a different marginal utility curve than you do. He has the luxury to accept the risk of unlikely outcomes, particularly if he can hedge his position by making the same deal with other customers, most of whom won't wind up requiring an angioplasty or cataract surgery, even if Frederick does.

Now, what's supposed to happen in the free market is that another company will come in and offer Frederick a better deal: they'll offer him the same coverage for \$350 a month, accepting a smaller profit, and Frederick will happily take the deal. There are at least a couple of reasons, however, why this may not be happening in the insurance industry. The first is that Frederick might not realize he's paying \$400 every month for insurance. That's because if he's like the majority of Americans, he's getting his insurance through his work, and except when the HR lady gave him a shiny brochure on his first day at the office, he's probably never thought very much about what this insurance is costing him in terms of foregone salary. This is particularly so because health insurance benefits, unlike other types of income, aren't taxed, and so Fredrick is less cognizant of them if show up on his paycheck at all. Not only, then, is the free market maxim of perfect information violated, but it's violated in such a way that creates artificial profits for the insurance industry: the government is effectively subsidizing every dollar that Frederick's company is willing to spend on his insurance benefit.

The profits the insurance industry is making, of course -- profits artificially boosted by an enormous backdoor tax subsidy -- don't seem to be buying the customer much of anything in terms of improved service or cost savings. On the contrary, health care costs are rising by as much as 9-10 percent per year, without any concomitant increase in the level of service. If JetBlue were raising the cost of its fares by 10 percent per year, they'd be out of business.

The reason the insurers are staying in business, though, is because barriers to entry in the health insurance industry are in practice quite high. Insurers benefit from pooling risk. The larger the pool, the better in terms of the insurer's ability to hedge its risk and build negotiating leverage with its providers. That makes it very difficult for a Five Guys or a JetBlue type of start-up to compete: they'll have trouble getting together enough customers to pool their risk adequately, and even if they do, they won't have as much negotiating leverage as the big guys. Health care providers may demand a better deal or refuse to accept them. As such, they'll never get off the ground.

Insurance, in other words, is a volume business, the main requirements for which are that (1) you have a lot of money pooled together and that (2) you've been around for awhile.

CIGNA and Aetna have a lot of money pooled together and they've been around for awhile -- but they don't have as much money, nor have they been around as long, as the federal government. It's possible, certainly, that the profit motive in the insurance industry has driven more innovation than we're giving it credit for. But that isn't my bet, and it isn't George Will's: There's no obvious reason that the government couldn't provide more for less. And if we are wrong, we would find out soon enough: if the public option can't deliver more bang for the buck than private insurers, it wouldn't gain much market share from them, and Will will have nothing to worry about.

What Will's position reflects instead is ideology: who cares that the federal government could build a better mousetrap? They're the government and that's bad. His argument is really no more sophisticated than that. If a libertarian conservative wants to make this argument, more power to them, but they absolutely should not be turning around and suggesting that a public option would raise health care costs. They're saying, rather, that they're morally opposed to the cost savings that would ensue.

If you've been reading me for a while, you'll know that, as compared with most self-described liberals, I'm unusually sympathetic toward the notion of the profit motive and private industry; I've defended Wall Street bankers and the AIG bonuses at various points during the financial crisis, among other things. It's my belief that private industry is usually able to deliver more efficient outcomes to the consumer than the government could.

But usually isn't always. And health insurance, as Will seems to admit, is one of those exceptions.

### Elections Without Section 5?

Yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District v. Holder is being kicked around today all over the news media and (undoubtedly) in law schools. With many observers expecting a closely divided Court to strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (which requires most of the former Confederacy and a few other jurisdictions to secure Justice Department "preclearance" of election procedure or district mapping changes) as unconstitutional, it instead chose, on an 8-1 vote, to decide the case on narrow statutory grounds while making it clear that Section 5 requires immediate repair by Congress.

In 2006 Congress extended Section 5 along with the rest of the Voting Rights Act for another 25 years on a unanimous vote in the Senate and a 390-33 vote in the House.

But more than likely, Section 5 as we've known it is doomed, as renowned Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse explained this morning at Slate:

[T]he notion that Congress can be enlisted to avoid this looming constitutional showdown by readjusting Section 5's geographic coverage is completely unrealistic, as anyone familiar with the history of the 2006 extension has to know. The decision in Congress not to revisit the existing list of covered jurisdictions was a very deliberate one—made because everyone knew that the extension effort would get hopelessly bogged down if that can of worms were opened.

This matters to non-lawyers mainly because Section 5 has had a profound impact in recent decades on both election procedures and on redistricting, and the Supremes are tinkering with the rules in this and another recent case on very the brink of the next redistricting cycle.

The simplest way I know to demonstrate the importance of Section 5 on redistricting is to look at the composition of the U.S. House delegation in my home state of Georgia.

Going into the 1992 cycle, Georgia had nine Democrats (eight of them white) and just one Republican in the House. Republicans formed a de facto alliance with civil rights activists to utilize Section 5 review to boost the fortunes of both the GOP and of African-American Democrats through "packing" of black voters into districts sure to elect a black representative, and "bleaching" of adjacent districts likely to elect Republicans. After a protracted battle with the Justice Department and rejection of two state plans, Georgia finally got a definitive redistricting plan prior to the 1994 elections, and sure enough, that produced a delegation composed of eight Republicans and three Democrats (all African-American).

In the most recent round of redistricting, the GOP-civil rights alliance broke down, and Section 5 review encouraged the creation of "minority influence" or "crossover" districts instead of "packing" and "bleaching." After the 2002 elections, despite a major shift towards the GOP in statewide races, the Georgia House delegation had eight Republicans and five Democrats (including four African-Americans), and shifted to a mere 7/6 Republican advantage in 2004 (with a second white Democrat winning office).

Yes, other things were going on during those ten years, but redistricting under the discipline of Section 5 was a huge factor in these massive gyrations in party control.

Aside from yesterday's ruling, the Supreme Court decided in March (Bartlett v. Strickland) that creating "minority influence" or "crossover" districts could not be required via lawsuits under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, creating some fears among Democrats that the next round of redistricting in the South could see a return to the "packing" and "bleaching" practices of the 1990-92 era. Now the whole process is under a cloud. It's possible that more active litigation under Section 2 would replace some of the restraints imposed by Section 5 over the years, but obviously the "preclearance" requirement was especially powerful.

The most obvious implication is that party control of the redistricting process through victory in 2010 state legislative and gubernatorial contests is more important than ever. The federal courts already grant states considerable leeway in redistricting decisions that involve anything other than purely racial considerations political gerrymandering, for example, has been given an almost total green light). If Voting Rights Act review declines in importance, and Section 5 goes away, then more than ever, to the victor will go the spoils.

### NRCC Bullish About Taking Down Rookie and Sophomore Dems

Depending on how you look at the partisan situation in the US House, the National Republican Campaign Committee is either in dire straights or facing nothing but upside as the 2010 cycle approaches. On the one hand, House Republicans are a shrunken caucus with little power to push back against Speaker Nancy Pelosi's solid Democratic majority; on the other, that majority may well be maxed out and the Republicans have a chance to chip away at it during President Obama's first midterm cycle. Fivethirtyeight interviewed NRCC executive director Guy Harrison to find out what the strategy, mood and situation is at the NRCC right now.

Fivethirtyeight.com: Please tell us a little bit about your professional background prior to becoming executive/political director of the NRCC.

Guy Harrison: I started out on Congressman [Pete] Sessions’ campaign right after college. He was running against a six-term incumbent, John Bryant, who had never been held to less than 60 percent of the vote. While we lost by approximately 2,400 votes, Bryant decided to run for Senate rather than facing Sessions again in 1998. Sessions sought the seat again and beat John Pouland. After that, I came up to Washington with the Chairman and was his Chief of Staff from 2000 until I moved to the NRCC in January.

How would you describe Congressman Sessions’ management style and philosophy so far as NRCC Chair?

Congressman Sessions uses the tools he learned in the private sector--he defines the mission, recruits good managers and places value in quality experienced staff. His NRCC reflects this philosophy with strong Congressional leadership in his Vice Chairs and Regional Chairs. He knows that regaining the majority will be because of member involvement, quality staff, and great candidates.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has traditionally struggled to get all its members to pay their dues. What is the dues structure for the NRCC and how compliant are members of Congress in paying them?

The NRCC is fortunate enough that we continue to have a tremendous amount of support by the members in our caucus. Last cycle, we had more than 75 percent of members pay their dues to the NRCC which provided us with critical funds needed to defend our incumbents and target numerous Democratic candidates all over the country. This year, we have already have increased member participation, with 99 percent of members helping with our March Dinner.

It’s harder for Hill committees to raise money when their party is in the minority, of course. That structural liability aside, what are the challenges or opportunities of fundraising for the NRCC right now?

There a definitely a lot of opportunities right now for the NRCC. Right now it’s all about the House. This isn’t a year of a presidential election so we can really focus on raising money for House races and ending Nancy Pelosi’s reign as Speaker. This provides us with more opportunities to raise the necessary amount of funds to hold Democrats accountable all across the country.

Were you surprised by President Obama’s appointment of New York Republican Rep. John McHugh, and what would you say are the prospects of keeping that seat Republican?

I think everyone was initially surprised at the choice but given Congressman McHugh’s long involvement in military issues, it was understandable as to why the White House selected him. However, it was also a calculated political move by the impromptu DCCC Chairman who is the White House Chief of Staff to attempt to add another Pelosi puppet into the House of Representatives. We are optimistic that the New York Republican State Committee will nominate a strong and credible candidate, someone who shares the interests and values of such a diverse district and we will make a solid effort to gain the seat. As we have said before the Republicans are committed to assemble an aggressive and winning campaign especially in this area.

There’s been a lot of talk of Republican troubles in the Northeast, particularly New England. In those six states plus New York you’re down to three seats, perhaps two depending on what happens in McHugh’s district. How does the GOP turn things around in what once was a generally competitive region for Republicans?

What were are really going to focus on in New England and really all over the country is going after candidates who fit each district and candidates who can really win each district. Some of those prospects include Tom Reid, the Mayor of Corning, NY to run in NY-29 and John McKinney, the Connecticut State Senate Minority Leader in CT-04 and of course Frank Guinta, the Mayor of Manchester, NH, who is running against Carol Shea-Porter in NH-01. We are going to focus on strong candidate recruitment so that we can make a comeback with great recruits who can win for the GOP.

I’m presuming that Democratic freshman, particularly those who either won narrowly and/or won on the strength Obama coattails, are among the NRCC’s top targets for 2010, correct?

Yes, definitely. The target list definitely includes those who won narrowly or on the coattails of the Obama campaign. Tom Perriello for instance, won by little over 700 votes and the margin can definitely be attributed to President Obama’s winning of Virginia on Election Day. The same thing can be said for Glenn Nye in VA-02. They can expect difficult re-election campaigns over the next year and a half.

If you are at liberty to discuss specific races the NRCC has at or near the top of the target list, can you identify some of these?

Well clearly most freshmen Democrats will be on the target list like Frank Kratovil (MD-01), Suzanne Kosmas (FL-24), Walt Minnick (ID-01), Alan Grayson (FL-08), Bobby Bright (AL-02), Parker Griffith (AL-05), Eric Massa (NY-29), Jim Himes (CT-04), and many others but there will also targets who got elected either in 2006 or prior like Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Charlie Melancon (LA-03), Steve Kagen (WI-08), and others.

Though things may change by autumn 2010, right now President Obama is much more popular than Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose approval is at a record low. Are we safe to presume that Republican candidates will be advised to position themselves in opposition to the Speaker rather than the President?

When we look at key swing districts, we’re continuing to find her numbers are not only bad, but there’s a sense that she’s the embodiment of the San Francisco liberal agenda. We have already gone on the offensive against what we call Pelosi’s Puppets, those are House Democrats who have no problem voting with Speaker Pelosi and her liberal causes more than 90 percent of the time. Then you have the Blue Dogs who are acting more and more like Pelosi’s lapdogs and with this latest CIA flap, the speaker will definitely be an important target for the NRCC and for the 2010 election.

### Another Iranian Oddity

I've been playing around with the files (.zip) that the University of Michigan's Walter Mebane (who has concluded that there is a significant likelihood of fraud in the Iranian election) has made available. These files contain what I believe to be the equivalent of precinct-level returns from about 22 of Iran's 30 provinces. They also indicate which city and county each precinct is located in.

One thing that jumps out about this data is that the share of the vote for the candidates varies a lot from precinct to precinct within a given city. You'll somewhat routinely come across cities where Ahmadinejad won 25% of the vote in some precincts and 90% or more in several others. Let me give you some idea about what I mean.

The chart below contains the interquartile (from the 25th to the 75th percentile; indicated in red) and interdecile (from the 10th to the 90th percentile; indicated in orange) ranges of Ahmadinejad's share of the vote at the precinct level for the 10 largest cities in Mebane's dataset (notably, Mebane's files do not include Tehran). Gosh, that was a mouthful -- what I'm showing you here is how much Ahmadinejad's vote varied between different precincts in the same city. The ranges are weighted according to the number of votes that were cast in each precinct, so tiny precincts where you might have an odd result here and there will not significantly affect the findings.

In Mashhad, for instance, Iran's second-largest city, Ahmadinejad received less than 37 percent of the vote in 10 percent of the precincts, but also received more than 88 percent of the vote in another 10 percent of the precints. The interquartile range is also quite large -- from 57 percent to 82 percent. This pattern holds across all of these large cities. Indeed, the variance in Ahmadinejad's share of the vote in different precincts within the same city is not particularly smaller than the variance in his vote share across all precincts throughout the country.

If this seems unusual by American standards, it certainly is. For comparison's sake, I present the same analysis for the 10 largest cities in Minnesota in the recent (and disputed) U.S. Senate election in that state. (I'm using Minnesota simply because they have detailed, precinct-level returns available in a place where I know to look for them.) The average precinct in Minnesota contained 707 votes, similar to the 806 per precinct in Iran.

Although Al Franken's share of the vote varied quite a lot between different cities throughout the state, it didn't vary very much between different precincts in the same city. The ranges are very tight -- once you know how Franken did in a particular city, you'll have a pretty good guess at how he did at any given precinct within that city. That isn't so true in Iran.

Why is this relevant? Well, suppose you've rigged an election. The day of the election, you're in a hurry to report nationwide voting totals and declare a winner -- the sooner the better to prevent the opposition from creating drama. A few days after that, in order to give yourself more credibility, you reverse-engineer some plausible province and city-level returns. A few days after that, you back into some precinct-level totals to give yourself even more credibility.

It is not a trivial problem, when you're doing this for tens of thousands of precincts (there are more than 35,000 in Membane's data set), to create the "right" amount of variance between different precincts in the same city, particularly given the constraint that the precinct-level returns must match up to the city- and province-level returns that you reported earlier. If you're not keenly aware of the organic relationships in the levels of variance between precincts and cities, between cities and provinces, you could easily wind up inserting too much or too little noise into the system. It seems plausible that the former was the case in Iran; they set the randomness parameter too high.

With that said, there are also several benign explanations that could account for this. Perhaps society is structured in such a way in Iran that there are strong levels of political disagreement between different parts of the same large cities. Perhaps what is indicated by a "precinct" in Iran is significantly different from the American conception of it. Perhaps this is an artifact of the way that I've constructed the analysis -- the Iranian cities I've reported on are much larger than the Minnesota cities, for instance, although if you amend the analysis to cover cities comparable in size you still get about twice as much intracity variance in Iran as you do in Minnesota. All of these are entirely reasonable explanations -- the most I'm willing to say on the record right now is that this is something which deserves further study.

Still, as we've discovered in a number of different contexts, creating the illusion of randomness is not as easy as you might think.

EDIT: As a commenter points out, this analysis is less persuasive when carried out on, say, Ohio (see below), although the precinct-by-precinct variance is still somewhat smaller than the Iranian case. What we need to know is whether Iran is more like St. Paul, Minnesota, which is relatively homogeneous across different precincts, or more like Columbus, Ohio, which has big divides between black and white and student and nonstudent populations. If the former, this evidence is pretty damning; if the latter, it may be nothing much.