Politics and Sunburn: Snapshot of the U.S. from Belize

By Harold Young, Ph.D.

Portrait of US President Donald Trump, Michael Gordon (Belize), acrylic on canvas with wooden window frame, 2017The sun blazed, cooled only by sporadic showers, during my recent visit to the Central American and Caribbean nation of Belize where I spent my formative years. The size of Massachusetts, Belize is racially and ethnically diverse population of 332,000 that depends heavily on U.S. for trade, investment, and tourism. A cross section of people receive remittances, vacation in and access tertiary and medical institutions in the U.S. My goal during this visit (in addition to enjoying family, friends, the cuisine and seasonal fruits, indulging in the local beers and rums, and avoiding a painful sunburn) was to capture a local snapshot of the Belizean view of the U.S. and the current Trump administration.

After a few days, you quickly glean that Belizeans are passionate about domestic politics and versed in international politics. In a parliamentary democracy patterned on the British system (Grant 1976), domestic politics is close-up, dirty and discussed openly. Assad Shoman, a local political observer, diplomat, writer and academic challenges Belize’s classification as a liberal democracy (Diamond 2002). The United Democratic Party and the opposing Peoples United Party have trade terms governing through many election cycles of bitter partisan fights that merely entrench the status quo (Shoman 1987). Shoman’s (1987) characterization of the democratic system in Belize questions whether elections in Belize make a difference to the lives of ordinary people. His assertions that there is little to differentiate the two major parties and public disillusionment with both arguably puts  the country in the category of an “electoral democracy” described by Diamond (2002) as based on degrees of “freedom, fairness, inclusivity and meaningfulness of elections” (170). I suggest Shoman’s observations are arguably still true today.

With an uncensored press and freedom of expression (Balboni, Palacio and Awe 2007), there have emerged numerous newspapers and many radio and TV stations with a plethora of channels carrying U.S. and international programming that bombard Belizeans twenty-four hours a day. Particularly popular are BBC International, MSNBC, CNN International, Al Jazeera, and the major U.S. outlets: ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. Domestic and international events are passionately discussed in homes, on beaches, in bars, on street corners, in barbershops, and online. Despite love of county, there is widespread disenchantment with local politics and politicians (Shoman 1995). Belizean views of U.S. and the current administration, however, are more complicated. As many have relatives in the U.S., emotional and economic ties are strong. The U.S. is admired, loved, feared, disliked, envied, and made fun of in a deep love-hate cauldron. Belizeans love American pop, hip-hop and R&B music, Disney characters, hamburgers and fries, reality TV, the NBA, MLB, and the general notion that America can be a land of opportunity. Any combination of those elements fuels the exodus of Belizeans to the U.S. (Vernon 1990). Conversely, Belizeans are suspicious of U.S. foreign interventions, dislike the “ugly American” tourists and the rehashed refrain from then-candidate Ronald Reagan during the 1980 presidential campaign to “Make America Great Again” (Margolin, September 9, 2016). My conclusion is that the locals view Donald Trump and his administration’s policies with a combination of bewilderment and amusement. Both reactions stem from the conclusion that the most powerful country on earth has elected a president who seems as visionless and as tainted as many of the local politicians and administration. One friend referred to Trump’s election as a “self-inflicted wound” which is a phrase often used in the U.S. media for President Trump’s actions and proposed policies (See Borger, January 29 2017; Lake, May 11, 2017) and mused about the specter of China or Russia filling the possible super power vacuum (Graham-Harrison, Luhn, Walker,Sdghi and Rice-Oxley, July 7, 2015) .

The most widely read bi-weekly local newspaper is the Amandala. In addition to standard editorial content, a health section, classifieds, and advertisements, each edition contains a smorgasbord of local crime, sports, local political intrigue, and international news. A snap shot view of this newspaper from June 15 through July 20 provides an interesting picture. Based on a cursory count of the ten issues over five weeks, there is an interesting distribution of subjects (See Figure).

Figure: Distribution of five categories of articles by percent from June 15, to July 20, 2017

There are 64 international articles (15% of all articles in sample) averaging 6.4 per issue. Of 64 articles, 10 articles (16%) discuss the U.S. and the current administration; none of which discuss the administration in a favorable light. An article reprinted in the Amandala entitled, Donald Trump at the Abyss, Ford (July 12, 2017) concludes, “Nevertheless, the real danger to the Republic are the intentional and malign acts of a soulless presidency that will haunt this country for years after the man with the Tiny hands is forgotten.” Belizeans still feel connected to the U.S. but with an increasingly negative view of the U.S. (or disappointment) for electing Donald Trump. Belize is not alone. A recent Pew Research poll of thirty-seven nations reflects a significant drop in the favorability rating of the U.S. under President Trump when compared to President Obama.

Map of BelizeConsidering the media coverage (Ford August 7, 2016) and my personal discussions (absent formal opinion polling), it is not a stretch to conclude that most Belizeans do not have a favorable view of Donald Trump and his administration. The artist and educator Yasser Musa captures this in his poem Tea with Trump. Musa eviscerates Mr. Trump’s character, hubris and domestic and international policies. A collage of images and footage of the artist Michael Gordon painting a portrait of Mr. Trump accompany the reading of the poem.

As descendants of pirate, colonial, slave and native cultures, Belizeans are a hardy people with welcoming dispositions. For this small country, therefore, drastic policy changes or instability in the U.S. is always deeply worrying. While I do not expect the current administration to precipitate a total disillusionment with the U.S., there is perceptible cynicism about U.S. commitment to the world community. Nevertheless, there remains a belief in the underlying strength of American institutions and an expectation that the U.S. will remain the stable beacon to the North. Let us hope that we all survive this tumultuous period without a painful sunburn!

About the Author: Harold Young is an Assistant Professor at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. His research area is Public Law and examines an American and comparative perspective on judicial institutional changes and decision-making. Previously, he was a health communications manager, a social worker and an attorney-at-law. Contact him at youngh@apsu.edu.

Polling for the 2016 Presidential Election: What Went Wrong?

mpablog-2016electionpolling

As I write, Donald Trump is less than two weeks from being inaugurated as President of the United States. For political scientists, our “what the…?” moment involves the failure of most public-opinion polls to predict the results of the 2016 election. I joined numerous colleagues in assuming a Hillary Clinton victory. The news media and even Saturday Night Live took Clinton’s victory for granted. I will never in my life forget spending Election Night watching the needle on the New York Times’ prediction meter move from strongly favoring Clinton to 100% Trump.

Comparisons to the classic “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline of 1948 are inevitable, but several differences emerge. Most notably, telephone polling was in its infancy in 1948. The methodological sophistication and advanced computer programs used today were not available. Today, pollsters predict elections based not on a single poll or early returns, but rather on an amalgamation of many polls, plus other data. The methodology is so advanced, so tested, it is completely indestructible—just like the Titanic!  However, in fairness, it should be noted here that Nate Silver, the most popular proponent of this polling-amalgamation strategy, stated repeatedly that Donald Trump has a path to victory. Just before Election Day, however, even Silver’s models leaned toward a Clinton win.

What lessons can we learn from these polling-based collisions with last year’s electoral iceberg?

First, it is worth noting that political scientists were not necessarily part of the horse race frenzy. Quite a few correctly predicted the Republican victory, using various modeling techniques. Most of those who bucked the media’s conventional wisdom have one thing in common—they looked at numbers affecting partisan breakdown, not numbers for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump specifically. The news media’s “horserace” coverage emphasizes polling respondents’ plans to vote for one candidate or another, while political scientists such as Michael Lewis-Beck and Charles Tien, Brad Lockerbie, and Alan Abramowitz, each did what political scientists (as opposed to campaign or media pollsters) usually do—they looked at fundamentals such as the state of the economy, partisan breakdown of the electorate, historical trends, approval of the current President, and voter optimism about the economy, not voters’ opinions of the candidates themselves.

Why were these models so widely ignored? That answer could be summarized as, “but… Donald Trump!” More formally, many commentators (including more than a few who were political scientists or political science-trained) assumed that Donald Trump’s quirky candidacy and high personal negatives meant that the usual partisan-breakdown models used by these political scientists and others simply did not apply this year. In fact, they were onto something. The scholars cited above all predicted a higher popular vote share for the Republican than Trump actually won, while others were even farther off, predicting percentages for the Republican nominee as high as 56% (Trump actually won just 46.1%).

If John McCain or Mitt Romney had been the Republican nominee, he might very well have gotten the 50%+ of the popular vote predicted by these models. So, in fact, the conventional wisdom was not completely wrong. Trump did underperform the expectations of these models, presumably due to his unusual personality, behavior, and candidacy. Yet he is still on the verge of becoming President. The results of another poll, in the very “red” state of Kansas where I research, write, and teach, may offer a clue as to why. According to respondents in the Kansas Speaks survey, Donald Trump was highly unpopular here, scoring particularly low with our respondents on the matters of trustworthiness and “understanding people like me.” Yet Trump won Kansas easily, and the reason is clear: not only is Kansas a heavily Republican state, but Hillary Clinton was even more unpopular here than was Trump. Her worst-scoring categories in Kansas Speaks were the same as Trump’s, and Kansans rated her lower on trustworthiness and “understands people like me” than they did Trump.

In short, outside of California, voters disliked Hillary Clinton more, but they also disliked Donald Trump. The conventional wisdom before the election had this reversed, with commentators assuming that Clinton, not Trump would be perceived as the lesser of the evils. Commentators underestimated the roles of three things: deep party ties (the vast majority of Mitt Romney’s supporters from 2012 backed Trump), the same variables that usually affect elections, such as the state of the economy and optimism about it, and finally, Hillary Clinton’s unpopularity.

While this is conjecture on my part, I cannot resist adding that in the last three elections that have been framed by the conventional wisdom as “a choice between the lesser of two evils”—2000, 2004, and 2016—Republicans have gained the White House each time.  The tiresome “lesser evil” frame appears to be toxic to Democrats, likely because their base is less reliable about turning out to vote if they do not like the candidates.

Still, I have not yet gotten to the problem with the polls themselves. Weren’t they clearly predicting a Clinton victory, not only nationwide (which was correct), but in those Great Lakes “firewall” states that put Donald Trump in the White House?

Here’s a dirty little secret of polling: no poll has a representative sample of those being studied. Polling, like scientific tests of soil or water quality, works by sampling— drawing a subset of thing being studied, testing it, and then drawing an inference (logical leap) from the results for the sample to the likely condition of the whole from which that sample was drawn. We cannot really know what the water quality is in, for example, Lake Michigan, because it is impossible to test all of it. However, water-quality experts often draw and test samples of the water, then draw inferences to the whole.

For this to work, sampling must be done with great care. Likewise, pollsters must take pains not to over-sample certain populations and under-sample others. One classic example pertains to the time, not so far back, when most households had one landline telephone. In mixed-gender households (often married heterosexual couples), the adult woman was usually the one to answer the phone. Had pollsters simply interviewed her, the result would be a sample that was heavily skewed towards women, and under-sampled men, relative to their proportions among the population. Thus, a “randomizing” technique had to be employed, such as asking to speak to the adult in the household with the next birthday.

Today, many Americans have their own cell phones, and landlines are becoming obsolete. Call “screening” is also more popular than ever.  If getting something close to a random sample was hard 20 years ago, today it is nearly impossible. It is very difficult to get proportionate numbers of complete surveys from African-Americans and from people that do not speak English as a first language, for example. Randomizing methods are still used but they are not enough.

When polling results are featured on the news, what you are hearing about are not the raw data from the poll, but rather, poll results that have been “weighted” to account for the impossibility of getting a true representative sample. Imagine that we expect 12% of the voters to be African-American, yet only 5% of the polling sample fit this description. The “weight” of each result from an African-American respondent is thus multiplied to adjust to something more representative. This process often employs “multivariate regression with post-stratification,” or, in a wonderful acronym, “Mr. P.”

Here’s where things went south in 2016. In order to weight the polling results, we have to know ahead of time who is going to vote. If we weighted the data based on a prediction that 12% of the electorate would be African-American, and it turns out that only 10% were, then our predictions were off.  It is, of course, impossible to know who is going to vote until after they have done so, therefore, the composition of the electorate is estimated, often using the composition of the electorate for the last election (in this case, the 2012 Obama-Romney race). In 2012, this worked well—the composition of the electorate was similar to 2008 and the winning candidates were also the same. Notwithstanding unnecessary media “horse race” hype, the predictions of prognosticators in 2012 were pretty much dead-on.

Then it all fell apart in 2016.

Put simply, the composition of the electorate changed. African-American turnout dropped, while Trump, like 1992 third-party candidate Ross Perot, pulled out voters who simply would not have voted at all, had Trump not been in the race. But unlike Perot, Trump also won a major-party nomination, so he was able to put the party’s base together with those infrequent voters and pull off the victory—at least in the electorally-critical states. The pollsters’ estimates of the electorate’s composition were incorrect, therefore, the weighted predictions were wrong as well.

Another possible factor in the polling inaccuracies is the “Bradley effect,”- that is, Trump voters having lied to pollsters about their intentions. This was a popular Election Night speculation.  However, subsequent analysis indicates that the Bradley effect was, at most, only one of a number of factors involved.

Taking stock of all this, it’s not yet time to invoke the famous quip about “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” In fact, many political-science-based models correctly predicted the winner, while polling data such as Kansas Speaks show how Trump could win despite relative unpopularity (because Clinton was even more unpopular). I join fellow MPSA bloggers in calling for the news media to re-orient away from “horse race” coverage. It is underlying dynamics, not the horse race, that usually decide elections—and news consumers deserve more attention and analysis of those dynamics. After all, it is things like the state of the economy and our optimism about the future, not political candidates’ personal idiosyncrasies, which are what truly affect our own lives.

About the author: Michael A. Smith is a Professor of Political Science at Emporia State University where he teaches classes on state and local politics, campaigns and elections, political philosophy, legislative politics, and nonprofit management. Read more on the MPSA blog from Smith and follow him on Twitter.

Election 2016 Lesson for the Media: New Journalistic Norms Needed to Cover Elections

MPSA blog - New Journalistic Norms Needed to Cover Elections

The 2016 U.S. presidential election will stand out in the nation’s collective memory as a highly unusual event for many reasons. It featured two unique candidates, an election campaign that completely overturned the norms set by previous elections, a neglected voter base that showed an unexpectedly strong turnout at the polls, and a national media that missed a huge story.

The media, in particular, have received severe criticism for the role they played in promoting Donald Trump. Faced with a candidate who did not fit the traditional mold of a politician, mainstream media organizations struggled to come up with a plan that would help journalists inform the public while maintaining journalistic standards of accuracy, fairness and balance. Unfortunately, the existing rules of political journalism that favor controversy and poll-centric coverage did not help paint an accurate picture of Trump’s preparedness; instead they helped him win the presidency.

Throughout the campaign, Trump proved to be too much for the media to handle. Right from the primaries season, he made one outrageous comment after another. Given the lack of precedent for inserting commentary into straight news stories, the media simply reported his quotes as facts. Each comment drew enormous amounts of press attention, and when Trump drew criticism for his comments, his campaign issued denials, sparking off another deluge of press coverage. This strategy was hugely successful. During the 2015 campaign season, Trump’s media coverage translated into the equivalent of $55 million worth of ad value for his campaign. In contrast, he spent less than $15 million in ad buys in all media throughout 2015.

Another factor that favored Trump’s campaign was the media’s propensity to cover elections using horserace and game frames. Stories using these frames focus on candidates’ poll numbers and have little accompanying commentary. They are popular because they are less expensive and easier to produce than investigative or long form journalism pieces, but their inclusion comes at the expense of stories focusing on candidates’ issue positions. Given the media’s preference for horserace coverage and with Trump winning primaries and surging ahead in the polls, the resulting media coverage focused almost entirely on Trump and was either positive or neutral in tone throughout 2015. Between June and December of last year, Trump received 34 percent of media coverage, while all other GOP candidates received half this amount or lesser coverage.

After Trump won the Republican nomination in the summer of 2016, several media organizations began looking into his personal and business affairs in greater depth. The result was a series of articles on his failed business ventures, fraud allegations, racism, and his appalling attitude towards women. However, fearing they would be perceived as partisan and biased, the media tried to create a balance in coverage by publishing equal amounts of criticism on the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. They focused on one particular flaw—her use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state. The result was a flood of media coverage on this issue, which created a false equivalency between the two candidates and portrayed them as equals, though they differed vastly in terms of temperament and experience.

Looking back at the media’s role in the election year, critics have made several suggestions to improve political reporting. First, given the unconventional nature of the Trump candidacy, the media should invest heavily in fact checking and run these as part of daily news coverage on the White House. Second, newspapers should make a consistent effort to include diversity of race, gender, and class in their newsrooms. This will help counter the “coastal bias,” which was a huge factor in causing the media to miss the surge among white working class Trump supporters. Finally, the media should gear up to report on what the president is actually trying to do, rather than focus on his populist tweets, and rally together to resist efforts to delegitimize the press. 

About the Author: Newly Paul is Assistant Professor of Communication at Appalachian State University. Her research focuses on political advertising, political communication, and race and gender in politics. Her website is newlypaul.weebly.com.

 

Recommended Reading: Themes from Election 2016

In the week since the election of Donald Trump, many citizens and political scientists are trying to understand both the underlying causes of the win while thinking about the implications for the citizenry and policy going forward. Here, we do not offer a full accounting of the election, but rather, outline three major themes about voters from this election and make some reading recommendations. These books and articles can both help illuminate this election as well help us think through what we need to know more about as a discipline.

The Enduringness of Partisanship

For all the many ways that this election was unusual, it was quite usual in the importance that partisanship play in people’s vote. As in most elections, the people who decided to turn out on Election Day 2016 identified with a political party and chose candidates based on this political identity. According to exit polls, upwards of 89% of Democratic voters voted for Hillary Clinton and 90% of Republican voters voted for Donald Trump. Politics is complicated and abstract, most people pay little attention to it most of the time, and rely on the relatively easy cue of partisanship to tell them which candidate to choose. Partisanship is a long-standing, durable identity that people develop through socialization and is now more central to social identity in a political environment that is more deeply polarized by party than in the past. Partisanship allows citizens to make relatively easy choices in the voting booth, but also shapes how they filter information about not only the candidates and the state of the world. Partisans see the economy and the state of the world as better when their preferred party is in the White House and worse when they do not hold political power.

Here, it is worth revisiting some classics on the formation and maintenance of partisanship, including The American Voter (1960), where Angus Campbell, Philip Converse, Warren Miller, and Donald Stokes use survey data that are now the American National Election Study to show the importance of partisanship as an enduring identity that shapes our views of particular candidates and policies.

Philip Converse’s 1964 chapter, “The Nature of Belief Systems in the Mass Public” on the lack of ideology and ideological constraint in the public reminds us that while many voters have a partisan identity that does not always translate into a well-formed or coherent ideology. Strong partisans, then, are likely to engage in a variety of ways to reconcile disagreements between their partisanship and issue positions, meaning that partisans are more likely to switch their positions on issues to conform with their partisanship than the other way around. Here, we’d recommend Gabriel Lenz’s book  Follow the Leader: How Voters Respond to Politicians’ Policies and Performance and Milton Lodge and Charles Taber’s The Rationalizing Voter.

While we will not weigh on the issue of mass polarization here, there is ample evidence that party loyalty and straight-ticket voting has increased dramatically in recent decades. Gary Jacobson provides an overview of this trend in a recent article in the Journal of Politics (“It’s Nothing Personal”). Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster similarly highlight a growing connection between the results of presidential elections and the results of House and Senate elections (“The Rise of Negative Partisanship and the Nationalization of US Elections in the 20th Century,” Electoral Studies). They find that from 1960 to 1980, Republican House candidates won just under 60 percent of the districts where Republican presidential candidates did well. By 2012, party-line voting was so strong that Republicans had won 95 percent of contests in Republican-leaning districts while Democrats won 93 percent of contests in Democratic-leaning districts.

Abramowitz and Webster suggest the rise in partisan behavior reflects a change in the nature of partisan identity in American politics, what they call the rise of “negative partisanship.” Negative partisanship develops when the partisan identities of voters are bound up within other salient social and political identities, detailed further below. The effect is that supporters of each party view those in the opposing party as very different from themselves in terms of their social characteristics and values. Possibilities for split-ticket voting diminish as partisan divides increase, even when the party nominee is as unconventional as Donald Trump.

The dialogue and behavior of political elites are certainly contributing to these trends. Frances Lee’s new book Insecure Majorities: Congress and the Perpetual Campaign examines how competition for government control compels members of Congress to promote their own party’s image and attack that of the opposition party. (See also Sean Theriault’s Party Polarization in Congress and Barbara Sinclair’s Party Wars for additional insights into institutional changes that have spurred elite polarization.) Matthew Grossman and David Hopkins’ recent book Asymmetric Politics: Ideological Republicans and Group Interest Democrats is helpful for grappling with differences between the two parties and the distinct policy agendas they are likely to embrace.

Social Identities Matter more than Policy

Partisanship is perhaps the most important social identity that people use to help guide their vote choice, but this election showed the power of other identities to which political scientists are just beginning to pay serious attention. Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels’s new book Democracy for Realists argues forcefully that it is identity, rather than policy, that drives political behavior.

Two intertwined identities that were activated and important this election cycle were rural consciousness and white identity. Two recent books, Katherine Cramer’s, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker and Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right help explain the importance of rural identity and how it undergirds anti-elite sentiment and opposition to government programs. Both Cramer and Hochschild use ethnographic methods to listen carefully to how people talk about their economic and social situations and their isolation from a government they believe has ignored and abandoned the places they call home.

Race is a consistent theme in American politics and attitudes about racial groups shape the types of policies that Americans support or oppose. Philip Klinkner and Rogers Smith’s The Unsteady March: The Rise and Decline of Racial Equality in America, Richard Valelly’s The Two Reconstructions: The Struggle for Black Enfranchisements, and Daniel Tichenor’s Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America provide historical perspectives on how race and immigration structure our parties, institutions, and public policy. There is an extensive literature on attitudes about out-groups, such as racial resentment, or the belief that African-Americans undercut basic norms of hard work and are thus less deserving of government help. For examples, see Donald Kinder and Lynn Sanders book Divided by Color: Racial Politics and Democratic Ideals and Martin Gilens Why Americans Hate Welfare: Race, Media, and the Politics of Anti-Poverty Programs. There is also a literature about the development and mobilization of racial identities into politics, for example, Michael Dawson’s Behind the Mule on African-American political identity and Lisa Garcia Bedolla Fluid Borders: Latino Power, Identity, and Politics in Los Angeles on Latinos in American politics.

One identity that was clearly more prominent in this election cycle is white identity. One of the consequences of the presidency of Obama has been a consolidation of identities of what it means to be “white”. Changing demographics in the country, increase in immigration from non-European sending countries and the election of an African-American president are perceived to be a threat to the social hierarchy and have created a sense of loss and an identity that can serve as a mobilizing force. Marisa Abrajano and Zoltan Hajnal’s book White Backlash: Immigration, Race, and American Politics, argues that fears about immigration shape white American’s identities and these concerns drive whites away from the Democratic party and toward the Republicans. Ashley Jardina’s work argues that white identity is an important determinant in political behavior. One of the other questions raised by the overtness of appeals to white identity is whether the norm of racial equality that drove racial appeals to be more implicit in previous elections has now been eroded for good. See Tali Mendelberg’s The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality for a discussion of implicit messages.

Gender continues not to be a potent force in driving women toward solidarity; gender was a major theme in the election (both masculinity and what it means to be a female leader) but wasn’t enough of a threat to make white women abandon their partisanship to vote on gender solidarity. Despite some expectations that 2016 would produce the largest gender gap in recent history, the gap between the percentage of men and women voting for the winning candidate remained virtually unchanged from that in 2012 (10 percentage points in 2012 and 11 points in 2016). Kathleen Dolan’s work—Voting for Women: How the Public Evaluates Women Candidates–has long suggested that variables such as party and incumbency matter more for voting behavior than candidate gender, which we saw in this election, as well.

Although there are well-known examples of sexism in American elections (men shouting “Iron My Shirt at Hillary Clinton in 2008”, for instance), the evidence is mounting that women candidates do not suffer different electoral fates than their male counterparts. Deborah Brooks’ He Runs, She Runs: Why Gender Stereotypes Do Not Harm Women Candidates also challenges the conventional wisdom that women candidates are held to a different standard than male candidates. A recent article in Perspectives on Politics by Danny Hayes and Jennifer Lawless shows that candidate sex does not affect media coverage or voter attitudes toward candidates, and that partisanship, ideology, and incumbency weigh more heavily in the eyes of journalists and citizens alike. Of course, there is not enough data to systematically examine whether voters are biased against female presidential candidates. It is quite possible that something gendered is going on at the highest rungs of the political ladder, but with an N of 1, it is too early to know.

The Emotional Substrates of Politics

Emotions get citizens involved in politics – compelling people to pay attention, to leave their house on election day, to contribute their time and their money to campaigns. Anxiety, enthusiasm, and anger are some of the most common emotions in political life (see George Marcus, Michael MacKuen, and W. Russell Neuman’s Affective Intelligence and Political Judgment). These emotions affect what people know about politics, how they make decisions, and what policies they prefer. Election 2016 focused on multiple types of anxiety – economic anxiety, racial anxiety, immigration anxiety, anxiety about the character of both major party candidates. Anxiety leads people to seek protection, and immigration anxiety, which was a major theme of Donald Trump’s campaign tends to benefit the Republican party, since the Republicans are seen as better on the issue of immigration (see Anxious Politics: Democratic Citizenship in a Threatening World by Bethany Albertson and Shana Kushner Gadarian).

While anxiety can shape opinion, it is anger and enthusiasm that affect the decision to participate in politics. Campaigning for Hearts and Minds by Ted Brader demonstrates that enthusiasm is a motivator of turn-out, but enthusiasm for Clinton did not appear to have enough steam, at least in the Midwest states where changes in turn-out may have turned the tide for Trump. One of the most prominent emotions this election cycle was anger – anger at elites, anger at the press, anger at China for trade practices, anger at immigrants. Anger is a powerful motivator of action – in “Election Night’s All Right for Fighting,” Nicholas Valentino and colleagues show that anger can bring people to the polls, and in 2016 anger appears to have driven many citizens who had not voted recently to the ballot box.

There are many more themes from this election that deserve more attention, including the alignment and potential realignment of the political parties, polarization, populism, and authoritarianism. Americanists have much to learn from our colleagues who study the rise of right-wing parties in comparative politics as well as our colleagues in sociology, history, and psychology to understand both the decisions of voters in November as well as some of the consequences of that vote in the months and years to come.

 

About the Authors: Shana Kushner Gadarian is associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School, Syracuse University. She studies American politics with a focus political behavior, political psychology and political communication. She is co-author of Anxious Politics: Democratic Citizenship in a Threatening World .

Danielle Thomsen is an assistant professor of political science at the Maxwell School, Syracuse University. She studies American politics, U.S. Congress, and gender and politics. Her book, “Opting Out of Congress: Partisan Polarization and the Decline of Moderate Candidates” is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.

Political Science: The Cure for Election Anxiety

Reporters are discovering a new phenomenon this year: election anxiety.  This year’s contests, particularly the one for President, have Americans worried and minds racing.

The cure is right here: political science. It is the key to calming mental chatter, reducing stress, re-centering energy, and living in the now.

According to advocates of mediation and mindfulness, just sitting still and breathing deeply can bring everything from feeling slightly more peaceful to pure joy. As mindfulness advocate Eckhart Tolle would say, there is only the present moment. It’s always now.

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.”

In this particularly bizarre election year, it can be hard to breathe.  Political news (or “news”) can be a major source of angst. Just think of the worries cascading through politically-informed Americans’ heads right now — Tolle could easily use them as examples in his next book. When we’re worried about politics, we’re not living in the present moment.

Did you see the latest polls?  What if the candidate I don’t favor wins the election? Why are voters so angry? What about the latest scandals/revelations/stories/rumors and how will they affect the outcome? How about all those undecided voters? I read some really bad things on the Internet about some of the people supporting my candidate’s opponent. I don’t like any of the candidates–what do I do?

And on, and on, and on.

Tolle writes, “Most people are still completely identified with the incessant stream of mind, of compulsive thinking, most of it repetitive and pointless.” (Tolle, 2005)

Sound familiar, political junkies?

One of political scientists’ favorite pastimes is debunking these racing thoughts. Larry Bartels’ famous takedown of Thomas Frank (of What’s the Matter with Kansas? fame), is a case in point. In 2016, political science offers a reminder that fundamentals generally drive voting behavior, and that is just as true in a year when a politically untested, anger-spewing real-estate developer faces a former First Lady with an e-mail problem, as it would be in a more normal election cycle.

Consider the following insights: calming thoughts offered by political science to calm the endless, often pointless stream of thoughts cascading through our heads as Election Day, 2016 approaches.

1. There are hardly any undecided voters.

If the news media has a favorite theme, it is all the drama, worry, and suspense about undecided voters. Even the normally-sober Economist got into the act at one point, joining the usual suspects in fretting that vast legions of Americans have absolutely no idea whether they will vote for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton this November, and the election is in their indecisive hands. So much to worry about!

Relax: it’s mostly nonsense. As John Sides points out, there are hardly any true undecideds. Those appearing in polls as undecideds are generally partisans or “independent leaners” who are waiting for the candidate whom they will probably support to close the deal. The Nation’s Jon Wiener notes that the vast majority of Donald Trump’s supporters voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, and the vast majority of Hillary Clinton’s supporters backed Barack Obama that year. Little wonder that Nate Silver’s famously accurate state-by-state predictions now look nearly identical to the 2012 red-and-blue map. For the most part, the same voters are voting the same way in the same places.

Oh — and about those “independent” voters: they’re not really so independent. The vast majority of independents are independent leaners, who vote nearly as partisan as do strong partisans.

The bottom line? There are no vast legions of indecisive, uncommitted voters waiting to sway the election.

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in…

2. This is not the year of the angry white male.

If there’s any truism (besides the undecided voters) that obsesses reporters these days, it’s the angry white males backing Donald Trump. This idea is intuitive. And, for the most part, it is wrong.

On the surface, some voters’ resolve to stick with Trump despite his impulsive statements and raucous supporters seems to support this meme. Easier to forget, is that we have been down this road before. There have been numerous years of the angry Caucasian man before now, going back at least to 1968. A case in point is the first term of the George W. Bush Administration, when journalist David Brooks informed his readers of a major, sociological split between Republican-voting “red” and Democratic “blue” states, regions, and counties — fundamentally different cultural values cleaving the nation. (This year’s angry white male would be analogous to the red-state values identified by Brooks.)

Brooks’ analysis gave his politically-curious readers a treasure trove of speculations — grist for the mill, material to mull. Not all of it stands up to strict scrutiny. Morris Fiorina rebutted many of Brooks’ claims, showing through rigorous data analysis that most Americans are not politically polarized, only political elites are. Most Americans are political centrists even on divisive issues like abortion rights, on which they favor certain restrictions but not a complete ban. Of course, most Americans also hate politics.

Sorry, no “red America” and “blue America” here… and no legions of angry voters, either. Instead we have Democrats, who tend to be urban, younger, more secular, and less likely to be married or white, and Republicans, who tend to be rural or outer-ring suburban, middle-aged or older, white, married, and religious (particularly Evangelicals). Except for political elites (who can make a lot of noise) the two groups are not as far apart on the issues as Brooks may think they are.

Breathing out, I know I am breathing out…

3. Third party candidates are unlikely to swing the election.

Another thing that keeps brains burning all night is the worry that third-party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein will throw the election. In particular, what appears to be lackluster support for Hillary Clinton by former Bernie Sanders supporters has observers wondering. Yet, hard data suggest that the vast majority of voters in both parties’ primaries will support the final nominee, even if they were not that voter’s first choice. Like the vocal elites creating the impression of “red” and “blue” Americas, the handful of angry Bernie supporters walking out of the Democratic National Convention created a lot of heat — but few votes. It does appear that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore Florida and the presidency in 2000, but only due to the absurdly-close margin by which Florida was decided. If the difference between the two candidates is larger than Florida’s 0.009% was in Y2K, third-party candidates are unlikely to throw the election.  As that hyperlinked article above by Herron and Lewis notes, had Nader not been in the race, about 60% of his supporters would have voted for Gore, about 40% for Bush. The difference does produce a number large enough to have tipped the outcome–but not by much.

4. Debates, game changers and gaffes rarely make a difference

Here’s a radical idea: don’t watch the final presidential debate on Wednesday. Presidential debates contain little information and are not true debates.

Political junkies and journalists love to recall the famous “gaffes” of years gone by, particularly those made during Presidential debates. Richard Nixon had a five o’clock shadow. Gerald Ford didn’t think Poland was under Soviet domination. Jimmy Carter let his 13-year-old daughter name the nation’s top foreign policy priority. Michael Dukakis had no emotional reaction to the thought of his own wife being raped and murdered. George H.W. Bush looked at his watch.

It did not matter.

Comprehensive analyses of public opinion data before and after these debates and gaffes shows little long-term shift in public opinion as a result. Gaffes may give the chattering mind something to sink its teeth into, but that’s about all they do. Elections are still determined by fundamentals, particularly deep partisan ties (including those held by independent leaners) and the state of the economy. There aren’t many “game changers.”

So it goes, on and on. We could toss in a few other observations, too, such as noting that vice-presidential nominees have almost nothing to do with election results.

Political science reminds us that this year’s election will be decided by the fundamentals: partisan ties and the economy, just as were previous elections. All the heat and noise that unsettles us, from polls to angry voters to gaffes to vice-presidents, serve primarily to give the chattering class — and chattering minds — something to do instead of living in the now. It is not necessary nor particularly productive to speculate about these things, and we might all be better off just sitting still.

Turn off the TV and the computer.

Breathing in, I know I am breathing in…. breathing out, I know I am breathing out…

About the author: Michael A. Smith is a Professor of Political Science at Emporia State University where he teaches classes on state and local politics, campaigns and elections, political philosophy, legislative politics, and nonprofit management. Read more on the MPSA blog from Smith and follow him on Twitter.

 

 

Bias and Women’s Under-Representation in Politics

Even if Hillary Clinton shatters the “highest” glass ceiling this November, for many years to come women are likely to remain under-represented in elected offices in the United States and throughout most of the world’s democracies. If bias on the part of party leaders or voters explains some of this variation, we can imagine three ways that such bias might operate.

The first type of bias against women would crop up if voters or party officials preferred male candidates to female candidates, even when the candidates are otherwise identical. (Or worse, if less-qualified men were preferred to more-qualified women.)

The second type of bias would arise when voters or party officials “read” a candidate’s characteristics in different ways depending on the candidate’s gender. For example, if voters were confronted an otherwise identical male and female candidates, each of whom had two children and reasoned: “well, he has good experience and, given his family commitments, he is likely to be a responsible leader” while at the same time thinking “she has good experience but, given her family commitments, she is likely to be over-taxed if she is elected”, then they display bias (perhaps unbeknownst to themselves) against women.

The third way that bias might operate is if traits that are historically and statistically more likely to be associated with male candidates are valued by party leaders or voters, while traits that are more likely to be associated with female candidates are de-valued. For example, if female office-seekers are more likely to have backgrounds in education, while male office-seekers are more likely to have backgrounds in business, and party leaders preferred candidates with business backgrounds, then their preferences were biased against female office-seekers from the get-go.

The third type of bias is the most subtle, and therefore the most difficult to observe and confront with public policy and hiring best practices. But our study shows that in some contexts, it may be the most pervasive form of bias that female candidates face. In order to understand how each of these types of bias work, we embedded conjoint experiments into surveys of three groups of people: public officials from the United States; national-level legislators from around the globe; and American voters.

Video: Experience, Discrimination, or Skill-sets?: Using Elite and Voter Conjoint Experiments to Understand Women’s Access to Political Power – Presented by Dawn Langan Teele at the annual MPSA conference in Chicago, April 2016.

Conjoint experiments ask survey respondents to determine the winner of an imaginary competition between hypothetical candidates using nothing but simplified resumes to guide their choice. In our study, each candidate’s resume contained information including gender, political experience, marital status, number of children, and previous occupation.

In order to determine which characteristics were worthy of examination, we looked at the background traits that are commonly associated with female politicians and those that are commonly associated with male politicians. For example, the work of Susan Carroll and Kira Sanbonmatsu shows that since 1980, teaching has been the single largest feeder career for women in state legislatures in the U.S., while careers in law were the most common for men. Women who enter politics are also likely to be older, have fewer children, and more likely to be unmarried than men who enter politics. These different patterns are what Carroll and Sanbonmatsu term the “gendered” pathways to political office.

PrimarySeat-Resumes

To examine the role of each type of bias, we conducted three tests. First, we looked at whether, all else equal, male candidates were preferred to women. Remarkably, we do not find much evidence that women are discriminated against as women in this way. In nearly all of the surveys (and most sub-groups) women actually get a boost over men. This female preference is strongest for respondents who are themselves women, and it does not exist among Republican leaders and voters in the U.S., or independent voters, though neither group shows a type 1 male bias.

Second, by looking at interaction effects, we can see whether certain attributes become more important depending on the gender of the candidate. We find that men and women are evaluated similarly if they have high versus low levels of political experience, if they are unmarried, and they have particular previous occupations, however some respondents seem to penalize women more harshly for having children than men.

Finally, we examined whether gendered traits, like having fewer children, being un-married, or older, affect the evaluation of a candidate. Overall, we find that candidates fared worse when they have characteristics that are associated with women’s gendered pathways to political office. Older candidates and single candidates are less favored. Candidates with more children fare better than those with fewer—a pattern that damns disproportionately childless female candidates. In some surveys, respondents, and especially male respondents, passed over hypothetical candidates with backgrounds in teaching, choosing candidates with backgrounds in business or law.

In sum we don’t find much evidence of explicit bias against women, as women, and it seems that given the same characteristics, male and female candidates are evaluated similarly for most traits. However, the typical profile of female candidates—their age, marital status, family characteristics, and career backgrounds—are de-valued by leaders and voters, and thus may hinder their careers.

Hillary Clinton exhibits some although not all of the female pathway to politics. If she wins, in spite of having only one child and getting a relatively late start on her elective career, we can only hope that it might change the way voters evaluate candidates, erasing gender bias in the years to come. Until then, there is more work to be done understanding how gendered pathways influence political selection.

About the Authors: Dawn Teele is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at University of Pennsylvania,  Joshua Kalla is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley, and Frances Rosenbluth is a Professor of Political Science at Yale University.

Bernie Goldwater: What Sanders Supporters Can Learn from Young Americans for Freedom

Supporters were crestfallen, but their resolve was firm.

Their candidate had refused to buckle to the pressure from party elite—the usual pressure from political managers, to move to the political center and tone down strong rhetoric, seeking to enlist the support of middle-of-the-road voters and avoid alienating the power brokers and stakeholders who benefit from the status quo. Instead, the candidate took a stand for what he believed and stuck resolutely to his guns. One of his campaign slogans was, “in your heart, you know he’s right.”

Supporters included many well-organized young people who rejected the values of conformism. Their goal was not to support a candidate who moved to the political center in order to win an election, but one who would take a strong stand and build a movement that would shift the center of gravity underlying American politics, even if it took time.

In the end, they succeeded.

I refer not to this year’s surprisingly tenacious candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders, whose dark-horse candidacy gave Hillary Clinton fits through the primary and caucus season. Rather, I refer to the iconic conservative of 1964: Arizona’s Republican Senator Barry Goldwater, who famously accepted his party’s nomination for President by saying “Extremism, in the defense of liberty, is no vice. And let me remind you that moderation, in the pursuit of justice, is no virtue.”

Thanks to Donald Critchlow’s book  “The Conservative Ascendency” (University Press of Kansas: 2011), we know that Goldwater got shellacked by Lyndon Johnson in ’64, but observers at that time may not have appreciated what was happening. Four years later, in the midst of the Vietnam War, LBJ was so unpopular that he did not even seek re-election, and Republicans captured the White House. Goldwater supporters, on the other hand, ascended to power through the 1970s, nearly upsetting the re-nomination of President Ford in 1976 and ultimately catapulting Ronald Reagan to the White House in 1980. This did not happen by chance.

In fact, Reagan was one of Goldwater’s enthusiastic supporters. Then a General Electric spokesman and former actor, Reagan gave one of his most famous speeches in support of Goldwater’s small-government crusade. This was a major step forward on Reagan’s path, leading to the California governorship and ultimately the presidency. This speech was officially called “A Time for Choosing,” but it is so well-known among conservatives that many simply call it “The Speech.” (Read the speech transcript.)

Goldwater’s supporters also included many young people, particularly college students that were part of a new group called the Young Americans for Freedom. Organized in Sharon, Connecticut by conservative intellectual William F. Buckley, Jr., the YAF issued its own “Sharon Statement” (avoiding the word “manifesto,” which had a decidedly communist-sounding ring to it), condemning the middle-of-the-road politics of both parties and calling for a renewed commitment to small government, anti-communism, and religious values in public life. As Republicans, they sought a greater differentiation between the two parties, who they thought had clustered together in a political center that accepted too much big government: one that had gone soft in its opposition to communism and secularism alike.

Less than ten years later, galvanized by their opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment and the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision affirming abortion rights, conservative activists began to take over the Republican Party. Some of these were veterans of the YAF and the Goldwater campaign. They took on and defeated prominent moderate and liberal Republicans in primary elections, while challenging Democratic dominance in districts once thought unwinnable. In particular, they targeted the West and the South, culturally-conservative areas long accustomed to the Democratic Party by tradition and habit. They used then-novel computer technology to organize donor databases and make fundraising appeals, and fought at the grassroots by targeting church groups, party caucuses, and low-turnout elections such as those for school board and Republican precinct committeeman and –woman. Reagan nearly captured the GOP nomination, almost defeating a sitting incumbent of his own party in the bizarre, post-Watergate political environment of the mid-1970s. More gains came in 1978, with conservatives defeating both liberal Republicans and Democrats for a handful of key Congressional races. Finally, in 1980, the big prize: a President conservatives could call their own, along with a Republican majority in the Senate and a coalition of Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats that effectively created a conservative majority in the House as well.

Tax cuts, beefed-up military spending, staunch anti-communist policies in Afghanistan and Central America, conservative social legislation, and deregulation swiftly followed. Sixteen years after Goldwater’s seeming defeat, the values for which he had stumped were victorious. Still a U.S. Senator, Goldwater was able to be a part of the revolution that his candidacy had launched.

Fast-forward to 2016: This year’s most visible young political activists are on the political left. Young people – particularly college students – are Feeling the Bern for tuition-free college, universal health care, regulations that break up huge banks, and other policies at the opposite pole from those once backed by Goldwater, Reagan, and the YAF. Yet I re-tell the story of conservatives’ rise to power because I think it has relevance to Sanders’ young supporters.

Like the YAF, Feel the Bern activists believe their party has sold out to the powers that be. Their argument that Hillary Clinton’s policies are little different from those of a moderate Republican nicely mirror the Sharon Statement’s condemnation of establishment Republicans. Like the YAF, Bernie supporters believe it is more important to be true to one’s values and support a candidate that they believe has integrity, than it is to make the kind of compromises that lead to short-term political victory by winning over moderates and big-money donors. Like the YAF, many Bernie voters are young and have lots of elections in front of them. Winning in 2016 is not as important to them as shifting the political center of gravity. Conservative activists took 16 years to move this center to the right. Will Sanders’ supporters have the same tenacity and patience to move it left?

Doing this will take serious organizing skills. This is where Bernie’s veritable army of supporters can learn a lot from the YAF and the Goldwater veterans. If they are in for the challenge, here are a few tips:

  1. Target Low-turnout Elections 

If Sanders and his voters have one signature issue, it is their absolute outrage at the way both political parties have, in their view, caved into the pressure of “the establishment”: wealthy bankers, corporate CEOs and Board members, and their hangers-on who manipulate the political system to their own benefit, avoiding both taxes and accountability while raking in subsidies.

Do these still-young activists realize that this is not purely a federal problem? In state and local governments across the country, generous tax packages are dangled before big businesses in order to get them to locate in one place over another. There is little, if any evidence that Tax Increment Financing and other incentives produce any overall growth to local economies, primarily because they are a zero-sum game in which all local governments are forced to compete. What they do is hollow out the local tax base, forcing communities to rely on residential property assessment and regressive sales taxes to fund schools, police, fire, and other local services. Taking the anti-corporate crusade to state and local government could lead to “truces” among municipalities that would stop the giveaways and safeguard tax bases from further depletion.

As if that weren’t enough, another Bernie priority—the $15-per-hour minimum wage—can also be implemented at the state and local level.  Indeed, some states and localities have already done so.  More gains for progressives in local office means more places with a majority to pass such legislation — not to mention more chances to show, contrary to critics’ worries, that it does not cause widespread job loss.

  1. Run for Office

Now seventy four years old, it is not clear that Bernie is the one who will ultimately ascend to the presidency if the progressive left does triumph. Besides, no one person can make up a grassroots movement. It is time for these liberal young activists to look, not at Bernie, but at themselves—are you ready to seek public office? Our media culture obsesses on the Presidency, but this is not where things start. Bernie’s backers can start their insurrection in the Democratic Party, or as independents, but either way they should seek jobs like precinct committeeman and –woman, getting spots on platform-writing committees, and running for offices like school board, city or county commissioner, and state representative.

Like a “deep bench” in baseball, well-qualified, thoughtful, articulate candidates for offices like these form the ranks from which future members of Congress and even Presidents will be chosen. Many of these elections, including party primaries, have low voter turnout, which tends to reward those who are well-organized and passionate. Sanders did better in caucus states, which reward perseverance and passion, than in primary states, in which voters need only mark a ballot. The energy of these supporters can be tapped to start taking and holding government and party offices from the bottom up. Besides, state and local government is where key decisions are often made, for example the overly-generous tax packages given to business.

  1. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

It may seem odd for Sanders and his activists to take heart from the right-wing Goldwater-Reagan coalition. Yet, it is important to learn from them regarding tactics, if not ideology. Buttressed perhaps by their religious faith, late-twentieth-century conservatives did not fret about the loss of a few seats or one election. They had long-term goals and planned accordingly. Party activists like Newt Gingrich carefully planned out strategies to target districts as they became winnable, and to differentiate themselves from establishment politicians on key wedge issues that would appeal to voters. If they had folded their tent and gone home after 1964, none of this would have happened. They had a twenty year plan and they seized on opportunities as they became available, meeting periodically to track progress. They built a deep bench of state and local officeholders and sought higher offices when they came within reach.

4. Organize, Organize, Organize

In the ‘70s, conservative activists realized that computers could be used to keep track of supporters and target fundraising appeals. These computers might seem museum-quality crude today, but at the time it was revolutionary. Knowing who your voters are, being able to reach them when needed, and raising money by bundling lots of small contributions are all essential skills in today’s politics. Today’s counterpart may be the social media savvy taken for granted by many of Bernie’s younger backers, who cannot remember a time when there was no Internet. Activists in Bernie’s campaign and #BlackLivesMatter have shown us that social media is not a place to rant against one’s political opponents, it is an organizing tool, and they have used it effectively. These skills will come in very handy at bundling small contributions and organizing voters, particularly in low-turnout elections like party primaries.

Bernie Sanders will be 90 years old in 16 years. Many of his supporters will not even be 40.

Who knows? Maybe this year’s Sanders campaign has launched a new generation of activists that will shake up the Democratic Party in the years to come, leading a grassroots revolution that will ultimately elect a President and Congressional majority and make real change to our creaky political status quo.

Someday, maybe they’ll call him Bernie Goldwater.

About the author: Michael A. Smith is a Professor of Political Science at Emporia State University where he teaches classes on state and local politics, campaigns and elections, political philosophy, legislative politics, and nonprofit management. Read more on the MPSA blog from Smith and follow him on Twitter.

 

Social Media: Great Campaign Tool, but Bad News for Democracy

By now, we have all read about and analyzed Donald Trump’s (in)famous Cinco de Mayo tweet, which featured a picture of him grinning broadly while eating a taco bowl, with the following tweet: “Happy #CincoDeMayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!” Twitter and other media outlets reacted swiftly to the tweet, mostly ridiculing Trump and criticizing his attempt to reach out to Hispanic voters. With his characteristic insult, Trump managed to win yet another news cycle and add to the nearly $2 billion free media advantage he has gathered so far.

 

Trump’s not-so-subtle outreach effort and the publicity it gathered, is an example of the evolving tactics of campaigns in an election year that some media outlets have labeled the “social media election.” Media reports cite polls showing that more and more people are keeping up with the election via social media. Polls also show that twice the number of registered voters follow politicians on social media as compared to 2010. Scholars have found evidence that campaigns are taking advantage of these trends and using social media, especially Twitter, to fundraise, spread information about their candidates, spar with opponents, control the media agenda, and organize volunteers and activists.

Though studies on the impact of social media on elections have found that social media has limited impact on election outcomes, candidates continuously use Twitter as a campaign tool. Election tweets mainly focus on information—facts, issues, opinion and news—and attempt to portray the candidate as an everyday, relatable person. Along with positive, image-building tweets, campaign tweets often use heavy attack appeals, usually juxtaposed with links to external media outlets, to add credibility to these negative tweets.

While social media is undoubtedly helpful for candidates who have low name recognition (usually challengers), these social media campaigns come with a set of unique drawbacks. Platforms like Twitter, where comments trend for very short amounts of time, tend to favor extrovert candidates. Twitter favors candidates who can make the most outrageous comments. Instead of knowledgeable opinions based on facts, Twitter statements are designed to provoke the most number of reactions from followers and journalists.

In fact, social media campaigns may not be beneficial for democracy. Take the example of political discussion. A healthy democracy depends on a free marketplace of ideas. Though Twitter gives users the illusion of interactivity and connectedness with the world, a large portion of this connection and interactivity is scripted and tightly controlled by campaigns. Since campaign managers aim to maintain a tight control on their message, they avoid engaging in genuine deliberation with citizens over social media, as this would make them lose control of the message and force the candidate to take firm policy positions. On one hand, Twitter enables candidates to connect directly with citizens, thereby helping message to reach citizens without the involvement of a third party, but on the other hand, deliberation, if any, remains superficial and confined to 140 characters.

Social media campaigns also minimize the impact of the media’s fact checking function. Candidates can simply ignore the media’s fact checking attempts and repeat erroneous messages to their followers on social media. In an age of increasing polarization and media fragmentation, this could widen the gap between voters on each side and lead to further negativity and loss of political efficacy.

About the Author:  Newly Paul is Assistant Professor of Communication at Appalachian State University. Her research focuses on political advertising, political communication, and race and gender in politics. Her website is newlypaul.weebly.com.

 

Sir Edmund and Hillary: A Surprisingly Likely Pair

MPSAblog_Smith_BurkeMainstream political scientists often struggle with the subfield called political theory. Otherwise known as normative theory or political philosophy, theory is the study of history, philosophy, and values. It made up the bulk of political science before the data-driven “behavioral revolution” (.pdf) of the twentieth century. Today’s empirical, or data-based political scientists are often flummoxed by normative theory, preferring instead to simply let it continue in its own world, on a parallel track largely ignored by others in the discipline.

This is a shame, because the insights of these history- and values-based approaches to studying politics can inform not only political science, but contemporary politics as well.

As a case in point, consider the ideas of Edmund Burke, an eighteenth-century English-Irish statesman whose writings are now considered part of the “canon,” or collection of most-cited authors in the humanities, philosophy, and political theory. Burke’s traditionalist, conservative biographers would likely be horrified to read this, but I keep thinking about Burke whenever I read about Hillary Clinton.

I am not suggesting that Hillary has the same politics as Burke; not at all. What they share instead is a certain attitude. At its best, this attitude is characterized by a skepticism of drastic change and an appreciation for careful deliberation. At its worst, it can be arrogant and aloof.

Burke was a crotchety old-school member of parliament who was known for his opposition to revolution and skepticism of democracy. He is most famous for being aghast at the French Revolution and predicting that it would lead to the rise of a dictator—which it did. He also argued that it was more important for legislators to represent the interest of their districts than to make the right to vote universal, and developed the well-known trustee approach (.pdf) to representation. Unlike the delegate style, trustees do not poll their constituents or hold town hall meetings in order to decide how to vote on key issues. They follow their own judgment, only later returning home to explain their decisions and sit for re-election. In my own research, I once met a trustee legislator who told me,

“My district elects me because of who I am, to come down here and make some decisions. If you’re going to elect somebody that’s going to take a poll, then you don’t need me down here. And so that’s my attitude.”

That’s a good deal less wordy than Burke, but it captures some of the same ideas about representation—the representative knows best, the popular passions are often wrong, and it takes time and deliberation for the truth to emerge. In 1780, Burke told his electors in Bristol:

“I did not obey your instructions: No. I conformed to the instructions of truth and nature, and maintained your interest, against your opinions, with a constancy that became me. I am to look, indeed, to your opinions, but to such opinions as you and I must have five years hence.”

Burke is also known for being haughty and long-winded: a stereotypical British statesman, like something out of a Monty Python skit. Once, when I gave a match-the-quote-to-the-author quiz, one snarky student commented, “It was long, and I didn’t understand it, so it must be Burke.”

The student had marked the correct answer.

Burke was so removed from the affairs of his district that he lost re-election after only a single, elected term in parliament (he served earlier on a Royal appointment). Yet Burke also had powerful insights. In addition to predicting Napoleon’s rise, he also had a strongly compassionate streak, railing against British abuses in Ireland, America, and India. Burke could not get enough people to listen to his concerns on these issues, and as we now know, he was right about all three.

At his best, Burke was a healthy skeptic: deliberative and a good prognosticator. At his worst, he was arrogant, aloof, and not always pro-democratic. In other words, while conservative hagiographers may scoff, Burke was at least a little bit like Hillary.

Clinton is the only major presidential candidate who cannot even plausibly distance herself from this year’s favorite political punching bag: “the establishment.” This is because, far more than Burke was, she is the establishment—part of it, anyway.  She is well-connected to other politicians, non-elected government officials, leaders overseas, and monied interests, and she makes no attempt to hide that. At her best, her policy pronouncements are careful and measured—a stark contrast to the aggressive, change-the-world-in-one-go plans of her opponents on both the left and the right. Hillary is also pragmatic, with a strongly compassionate streak.  At her worst, she appears clueless, for example holding a high-dollar fundraiser with Hollywood celebrities while her opponent Bernie Sanders wins caucus after caucus by attacking her on these very campaign finance issues.

Few question Hillary’s qualifications to be President, but her occasional stumbles into let-them-eat-cake territory bring to mind Burke’s inability to connect with his constituents. Critics of my comparison will call Hillary untrustworthy, which was apparently not a problem for Burke. Yet I question how objective this judgment is—one recent analysis showed that Hillary’s campaign-trail quotes are in fact the most truthful of any presidential candidate. Her trust problem is not dishonesty on the stump, but rather the voters’ uneasy sense that she is entitled, part of an elite club which does not “get” why some of her actions would offend regular people. Of course, some of this is also because of her husband, still a major public figure and a maddening study in contradictions some sixteen years after leaving the White House. Hillary has to earn trust in her own right.

Earnest Barker wrote the following about Burke:

“His normal belief of the union of minds was confined to a narrow circle, and the area of discussion was an area of the elite. He hardly regarded himself as engaged in discussion with the people of Bristol, or the people of Bristol as engaged in discussion with him…”

In my own essay (.pdf), I wrote the following

“In attempting to define representation by doing it, Burke fell short. He did not develop an effective home style grounded in representative-represented interactions.”

As an experienced, qualified candidate, the likely Democratic nominee and quite possibly our next President (and first-ever female President), Hillary and her supporters would do well to take heed of these warnings. Hillary has to convince voters that she can listen and connect at our level. Being a pragmatic centrist is not enough. She has to earn trust as a representative of the people: something with which she still struggles, and which Burke also failed to do successfully.

Learning from Sir Edmund’s mistakes may just help Hillary ascend to the summit of American politics.

About the author: Michael A. Smith is a Professor of Political Science at Emporia State University where he teaches classes on state and local politics, campaigns and elections, political philosophy, legislative politics, and nonprofit management. Smith has contributed to multiple media outlets and is also a blogger for the 2016 MPSA conference in Chicago. Follow Smith on Twitter.

 

Tough Enough? National Security Issues Could Affect the 2016 U.S. Presidential Race

MPSA_NationalSecurity
NEW YORK CITY – MARCH 2, 2016: Hillary Rodham Clinton affirmed her status as front-runner for the Democratic presidential nominations with a speech at Jacob Javits Center.

Following the November 2015 Paris and Beirut terrorist attacks, and the more recent bombings in Brussels and Pakistan, terrorism threats and national security issues have become one of the most talked about topics in the presidential elections. While Republican candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have hardened their rhetoric and called for bans on Muslim immigrants, increased vigilance in Muslim neighborhoods, and torture for extracting information, Hillary Clinton has maintained a starkly different approach. In her speeches, she has called for reinforcing alliances with other nations, asked for help from the technology sector in fighting terrorism, and expressed sympathy for the victims of the attacks. Her calm, reasoned tone is in sharp contrast to the provocative and incendiary language used by the Republican candidates. This raises the question whether Clinton’s strategy of restraint is useful.

Research on women in politics indicates that when national security issues are at the forefront, voters tend to prefer men candidates to women. As Holman et al. (2016) find, voters show most preference for male Republican leadership and least preference for female Democratic leadership. Anxiety and fear about terrorism encourages voters to employ a gender stereotypic lens to evaluate candidates. According to the gender stereotypes literature, the office of the president is generally considered “male” because historically no woman has ever held the office, and issues such as national security, foreign policy, economy and employment that are associated with the office, are considered male areas of expertise. During times of fear and uncertainty, voters tend to prefer the agentic qualities associated with men than the empathic qualities associated with women.

The Republican Party has often used these stereotypes to their advantage. For example, in the 2014 midterm elections in Georgia, Kentucky and North Carolina, the party aired about 60 terrorism related ads, targeted mostly at women Democrat rivals. Similarly, Trump’s ad juxtaposed images of Russian president Vladimir Putin behaving in a threatening manner with Clinton’s femininity to indicate that Clinton is weak and unfit for office solely because of her gender.

Research indicates that women candidates suffer a “double bind” that hinders them from employing toughness in their speech or actions. When women act tough, they’re punished for violating gender stereotypes, but when they hold off on the tough talk, they’re perceived as incompetent.

So far Clinton’s strategy has been to portray herself as a viable alternative to the Republican candidates. Unlike the typical woman candidate, she is a well-known political figure who has held office, established her foreign policy credentials, and enjoys the mainstream media’s support. In her speeches she has been promoting her experience and foreign policy credentials, criticizing her rivals from the Republican Party without using provocative rhetoric, and focusing on finding solutions. This could be an effective strategy in combating stereotypes. Indeed, recent research indicates that gender stereotypes do not hurt the electoral chances of women candidates as much as indicated in previous studies. While the GOP is embroiled in public shows of sexism and irresponsible bluster, voters could perceive Clinton as a welcome alternative. Terrorism and the GOP’s gender war could translate into a win for Clinton.

About the Author:  Newly Paul is Assistant Professor of Communication at Appalachian State University. Her research focuses on political advertising, political communication, and race and gender in politics. Her website is newlypaul.weebly.com.