Blue Wave, Red Wave; What Wave? No Wave

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By Chapman Rackaway of the University of West Georgia

Political scientists and pundits alike face a contradictory challenge in the concept of the “wave” election. Journalists use the term commonly, and 2018 is no exception. The hashtag #bluewave is a constant presence on political Twitter feeds, and a search reveals hundreds of news articles discussing the likelihood of Democrats benefitting from just such as wave. What constitutes a wave election is a complicated matter, however, and needs some definition. Is a wave election simply when one party does appreciably better than the other? Is a specific seat gain enough to call an election a wave? Insinuated in tweets and stories about a 2018 blue wave is a sense that voters nationwide have gravitated intentionally towards Democrats with the specific goal of resisting the presidency of Donald Trump. Political science can help us bust that myth, and see that national intent during midterm elections does not exist. Democrats may do very well nationwide in 2018, but that does not mean that a national wave of support is why Democrats look to succeed.

We know some basic evidence from the discipline that puts the wave talk in perspective. First of all, incumbents are rarely vulnerable, but Jacobson (2015) shows that the incumbency advantage has been eroding recently. Still the best opportunity for Democrats to make gains in Congress or in state legislative seats is for a large number of Republicans to retire. In Congress, at least, Democrats can rely on a higher level of Republican exposure than in the last six election cycles. A total of forty-four GOP incumbents are retiring from Congress, the highest since 31 left before the 2012 elections. And Democrats have a much lower exposure rate in the House, with only twenty departures as of early August.

The Senate also looks good for Democrats, with the need to take just two Republican seats away to wrest majority control. Of the seven races listed as “toss-up” by RealClearPolitics, four are held by Democrats while three are Republican. A tied chamber is certainly possible but the Senate seems “wave-proof” in 2018.

State legislative races also can factor into a “wave” election, and again Republicans have a high level of exposure. Republicans hold majorities in 31 state legislatures, compared with fourteen Democrat-controlled assemblies and four are split between the two parties (Nebraska’s non-partisan legislature is not included here). Governing magazine rates ten GOP chambers as leaning or tossups, and Democrats have seven chambers leaning with no tossups.

Democrats have a target-rich environment, and have performed very well in special elections which Smith and Brunell (2010) show yield some predictive power. Turnout for adherents to the in-power party tends to drop off in midterm elections, too, which should hurt Republicans. Previously local-first races into a nationalized environment (see Abramowitz and Webster 2016). Add a divisive President with a lower approval rating than other recent Presidents at their midterm to mobilize Democrats, and together, the anecdotes suggest the components of a wave.

But one important factor suggests that the Democratic wave will not happen: negative partisanship. We know that the nature of partisan identification has been changing for some time, and while support for one’s own party has remained stable, the disapproval voters feel towards the opposing party has increased. Independents, long considered the swinging gate in between the parties upon which elections have hinged, are the key to Democratic success and the least likely group to vote. Calling an election a wave must mean that there is a surge of support behind it, and those support surges do not happen in the current partisan environment. Instead of getting a boost from independent and leaning-partisan swing voters who cast ballots for the opposing party in the previous election, partisans today must do a better job of mobilizing their base.

For Democrats to approximate a wave in 2018, they need to register more voters, and across the country most state-level registrations of new voters has been flat. A wave of anti-Trump resistance will not flood former leaning-Republican voters to embrace local-level Democratic candidates. Republicans do not trust Democrats (and vice versa) while independents are unreliable saviors. If Democrats do have great success in the 2018 elections, it will come instead from a methodical, state-by-state process of registering and mobilizing base Democratic voters.

Calling successful elections “waves” does a disservice to the voting public, advancing a narrative of the electorate’s motivations that does not sync with their real preferences and behaviors. Wins happen in politics, waves stay on the water.

About the author: Chapman Rackaway serves the University of West Georgia as Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science where he teaches classes in Political Parties, Political Campaign Management, Interest Groups and Lobbying, and Campaign Finance. You can also find Rackaway on Twitter and his website.

 

Save the Swamp

By Michael A. Smith of Emporia State University

The Trump Administration’s recent reversal on immigration policy regarding children has gotten me to thinking. What exactly does it mean to “drain the swamp?”

First, let me share a bit of background about the current situation. In 1997, a court ruling known as The Flores Settlement Agreement (Flores) set forth standards for the conditions in which children must be held, when in detention. The same standards were not set for adults. As a result, the most cost-effective way for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to comply was to release undocumented immigrant parents (or just one parent) with their children, with an order to appear at a specific court date. Some show up for the court dates, others do not. Trump supporters derided this policy as “catch and release” and instead attempted to put in place a new policy that such undocumented immigrants would be detained until their court date. The problem is, few facilities which meet the Flores standards can accommodate whole families, so ICE began separating the children from their parents, producing heartbreaking smartphone videos, and a grassroots movement to overturn the policy. To construct detention facilities for entire families meeting the Flores standards would cost an estimated $300 million and take time, neither of which are immediately available. There are also a lot of questions about the integrity of the contractors that bid to build and operate the facilities—oversight of private prisons and detention facilities is lacking.

Thus, acceding to public pressure to stop separating children from parents effectively means a return to the earlier policy. Currently, the implementation of the undoing is another mess. Some of the children are unaccounted-for, while others had been sent to facilities in different states from their parents. Some were being held in a converted, former department store. There even appeared to be children locked in cages. All this, because the Administration had wanted to hold the undocumented immigrants in detention until their court dates.

There are a lot of moving parts here: court rulings, campaign promises, public budgeting, public pressure, private contracting for facilities (building and management), oversight, smartphone videos and news coverage, and simple human empathy, to name a few. Oh, and it’s an election year, too.

This debacle is an excellent place to begin re-considering Trump’s oft-repeated campaign promise to “drain the swamp.”

This now-famous phrase deserves more scrutiny—Trump is effectively analogizing his plan to reform government, to the act of destroying an ecosystem. Is that really the metaphor you want, Mr. President?

Draining an actual swamp is a truly terrible idea. Swamps are teeming wetlands that support a wide variety of life. Their destruction can have ripple effects thousands of miles away—for example, by wiping out stopover sites used by migratory birds, and destroying the boundaries between fresh and salt water, just for starters. In fact, the U.S. did try to drain the swamps at least once—in the Florida Everglades, during the early and mid-twentieth century. Swamps were drained to make way for railroads, then housing developments and hotels, and later freeways. Water was diverted, while agricultural chemicals polluted what was left.

The result was unmitigated disaster. Species were driven to extinction, while human beings settled and built homes in natural-disaster prone areas. Some species reproduced out of control when their natural predators were decimated, the overflow spilling into areas populated by humans. Later, many people died and property was destroyed on developments in flood-prone areas, then rebuilt at great cost to us taxpayers- right in the path of still more disaster. Displaced from their homes, alligators and other swamp creatures still frequently appear in populated areas, for example in swimming pools.

Today, efforts are still underway to reverse the damage. An even more expensive project has allocated hundreds of millions of tax dollars to un-do the mess: trying, as best they can, to return the wilderness to this once-thriving area. Nonprofits are helping, too. At least in some places, the swamp is finally being un-drained, but there is still work to do. Florida, along with other states, still encourages and even subsidizes development in ecologically sensitive, disaster-prone areas such as coastline and floodplains, disrupting wildlife, endangering lives, and putting the taxpayers on the hook for major rebuilding expenses.

In short, draining the swamp was nothing less than a human-made disaster, the efforts to restore it cost a fortune—and still, it will still never quite be the same. The same is true of Trump’s metaphor. A key lesson of the immigrant children debacle is that “draining the swamp” of the federal government is a horrible idea.

While the metaphor is novel, Trump’s idea is not. Generations of politicians have sought office by promising to “clean up the mess” in Washington, the state capital, or city hall. The Coen Brothers’ popular movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? features a challenger candidate running for Governor of Mississippi by promising to “Clean Up for the Little Man,” complete with Vaudeville-style theatrics. (Spoiler alert: In the end, the reformer turns out to be more corrupt than the incumbent he is challenging.)

Like a real swamp, a government in a pluralistic democracy is a complicated ecosystem teeming with life. From court rulings to interest groups, election cycles to news cycles, international agreements to Gross Domestic Product, and lobbyists to lawyers, few public policy problems have easy answers. As in the case of the children, changing just one aspect of policy means changing a whole chain of interconnecting parts. Domino effects abound. Simply ending the cruel practice of separating children from parents means ending Trump’s policy initiative altogether, at least for now. There are simply too many things which affect other things which affect other things, and so on. Changing one thing—for example, the separation of children–undoes a whole policy. Public policy, like a swap, is an ecosystem.

It takes a lot of full-time professionals to oversee such a complicated government, but too often, there are not many to be found. This is the point made by John J. DiIulio, Jr. in his 2014 book Bring Back the Bureaucrats. DiIulio, a Democrat who was director of faith-based initiatives in the George W. Bush Administration, shows that federal spending has grown exponentially since the Kennedy Administration, but the federal workforce has not. Instead, the federal government has expanded its scope via entitlement payments to individuals, along with grants to for-profits, nonprofits, and state and local governments. DiIulio thinks there are far too few civil-service federal employees overseeing what is done with all this money and power, and he calls our current system “Leviathan by Proxy.” He ends by calling for an expansion of the civil-service workforce, arguing that more oversight will cost far less than one may think, and the end result of increased accountability will in fact save taxpayers’ money—a lot of it. The lax oversight of for-profit detention facilities is an excellent example, which is currently in the news.

Having more government professionals means that we can study the swamp before we go trying to drain it.

Better staffing, more professionalism, and elected officials who consult with and listen to the civil service workers we do have, can help prevent disasters like the recent one involving the immigrant children. Instead, the policy was thrown together in the same spirit as those campaign promises to “clean up the mess in Washington”—the simplistic idea that the current politicians and civil-service workers are too stupid, corrupt, or lazy to make common sense changes that will simplify and change policy. In reality, they are too smart to do this. Full-time government professionals realize that the enormous interdependence of public policies means that careful review and study of the costs and benefits of policy change are needed before seemingly-simple reforms are put in place. It would not hurt to have a few political science- and economics-trained professionals on staff to analyze the impact of things like unintended consequences, substitution effects, and ripple effects before putting these policy changes into effect. It also wouldn’t hurt to take a look at court rulings and even the Constitution itself before issuing orders.

Of course, when Trump says “drain the swamp,” he means to end a corrupt system of lawyers, lobbyists, and influence peddlers who have too much influence by comparing them to the alligators, snakes, and other reptiles that live in the swamp. No standup comedian could pass up the opportunity to point out the unfairness. Predatory alligators and snakes are just fulfilling their role in the food chain, after all—they hardly deserve to be compared to the likes of Washington lawyers and lobbyists!

Yet on a serious note, this summer’s events are a powerful reminder of the complexity and interconnectedness of policy. This is a fine time to revisit the swamp metaphor. Just as destroying an ecosystem in real life is an ecological disaster that disrupts or ends plant, animal, and human life, so draining a swamp is also a terrible way to go about governing. The diversity, complexity, and interconnectedness of governing life is as important as it is in a wetland. With actual swamps, it is time to stop the drainage. Instead, let’s hire some more wildlife biologists and park rangers and implement their recommendations. Likewise, with the metaphor, more professionals trained in political science and related disciplines working in the civil service can help show how even one seemingly small change can have a far greater impact on human lives than we ever imagined—and hopefully, next time the warnings will come sooner.

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.

 

(The Lack of) Diversity in Trump’s America

By Adaobi Duru, University of Louisiana at Monroe

(The Lack of) Diversity in Trump's America

The lack of diversity in Trump’s cabinet appointment is significant and might be a reflection of the President’s position on issues regarding racial and gender equality in government. The President’s cabinet is made up of 18 men and four women. In total, 73% of the cabinet members are white men. The only black man on the team- Ben Carson was a contender for the presidency. In this cabinet, the big four positions- State, Defense, Justice and Treasury departments are manned by white men.

Journalists and scholars have written extensively on the apparent lack of diversity in elected and appointed positions in government, yet according to a Pew study, all minority groups are still underrepresented. The implications of diversity for the survival of the nation’s democracy are far reaching because of the changes happening in the country.

The United States is a considered a great nation because of its form of government – democracy is supposed to represent the common man. It is government of the people by the people and for the people, and not government of the rich and by the rich. The demographic trend of the present cabinet members is toward plutocracy. As the Washington post rightly said, Trump’s administration is the wealthiest in modern American history. One might wonder if there is a correlation between the lack of diversity in cabinet and the administration’s aversion to immigration.

Equal representation of all races and ethnicity in government has never been more important than it is now because of the demographic changes of the nation’s population. The United States is gradually becoming more diverse with rapid changes coming to many of the least diverse areas.  According to Pew, the country is projected to be more diverse than it is currently in coming years. This diverse demographic is a result of immigrants from different parts of the world arriving the united states and claiming it as home. The projection is that by 2055 there will be no single ethnic majority on the country. Therefore, the country must make intentional effort to address issues of diversity if they want to reap the abundant benefit inherent in such endeavor.

The Diversity Gap in American Politics
Source: LEE & LOW BOOKS, Where’s the Diversity? 5 Reasons Why the US Government isn’t More Diverse

For one, because the nation is diverse, an equal representation will increase the administration’s ability to cater to people from different backgrounds and be more tolerant of other traditions and cultures that makeup the population. A diverse cabinet will likely pay more attention to minority issues than a homogeneous cabinet.

Minta (2012), found that diversity had a great effect on the responsiveness of the nation’s political institutions to minority sentiments. They found support for the argument that shifts in the demographic composition of lawmakers made them collectively more considerate to racial and ethnic minority problems. This indicates that diversity is important in government institutions because it ensures that citizens interest will be represented.

Race and ethnicity aside, women are also underrepresented in Trump’s cabinet, with only four women appointed overall (21.1% of the confirmed positions), but no woman in the big four positions. The President was embattled over his objectification of women during the election – Megyn Kelly, who was with Fox News at the time called him out on this during one of the presidential debates. While the President has denied these allegations, his cabinet appointment does not reflect his touted respect for the female gender.

Although women are as capable as men at being good leaders, a Pew study indicates that women are still in short supply at top government positions in the united states. This gender disparity in government comes with a price. According to a 2016 Mckinsey Global Institute research, closing the the gender gap in workforce participation will lead to a $28 trillion increase to the annual world GDP.

Women are not only important in business and the economy, their input in government is also noteworthy. A study conducted by Anzia and Berry (2010), revealed that districts that are served by women have certain advantages over districts represented by men. First, districts that elect women receive about $49 million more each year in discretionary spending than those that elect men. Also, women sponsor more bills than their male counterparts. Given the disadvantaged position of women in politics, Anzia and Berry found that “women will perform better, on average, than their male counterpart.”

This quote from this CNN article sums up my gender disparity argument “Simply having female leaders changes the norms about who can and what qualities are necessary in leadership. Having women in leadership roles is breaking down cultural and structural barriers–improving leadership around the world and showing everyone what women can achieve.”

By embracing a diverse cabinet, President Trump will not only communicate fairness, but also a deep understanding that policy development and other government work benefit from having different views and backgrounds at the table.

About the author: Adaobi Duru is an Assistant Professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe Communication Program. Her research is in health and political communication. She examines effects of political communication regarding health policies. She is also an international media comparativist. She can be reached via email at duru@ulm.edu.

Ruling by Distraction

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To rule by distraction is a time-tested tool of autocratic and authoritarian regimes. It is a go-to move for non-democratic regimes when faced with a challenge, domestic or international. As the name suggests, this approach is simple but effective. The idea is to create enough chaos and distraction that all eyes remain on that. The key is to make “normal” a moving target (i.e. change what it means to be normal on a regular basis). Doing so allows for drastic steps to take place behind the smoke screen and distractions.

A simpler way to understand this is to consider how bot net attacks work. Essentially when hackers bring down a website or a cyber system, what they do is simply overload the system with bot net queries. If a system is built to handle a million queries a minute, the system crashes when it is hit with 2 million queries. And while everyone focuses on the system crashing, no one notices the data stolen or traffic diverted.

Now let’s employ this to what happens every day in Washington these last few days. The morning starts with denials of Russian involvement, Rep. Nunez’s collusion with the White House, intelligence community up in arms and the latest Executive Order on immigration and visas being put on hold by courts in Hawaii. The average viewer/consumer of current affairs knowledge is already overloaded to take in all of this. Their focus moves beyond the fact that the proposed American Health Care Act (aka Trumpcare) failed miserably in Congress even though the GOP controls both houses. The average viewer has also forgotten that the President tweeted a baseless claim about wiretapping a couple of weeks ago. He was widely-assailed for that at the time, but the story did not stick. By overloading the attention span of the average person, the administration can push past any governance disasters. Because the news cycle is so small and there is so much “news” nothing sticks long enough to make an impact.

Why This is Dangerous for Democracy

A democracy relies on checks and balances in the system. Transparency through checks and balances allows people to continue trusting the governance institutions. Unless the people trust the governance institutions, they will not trust the democracy.

In a “rule by distraction” situation, the survival of the administration depends on people not being able to process the complete information. By creating multiple simultaneous distractions, the administration overloads the attention of its citizens. In essence, then, they are not lying to the people, they are just creating enough alternative explanations that “truth” becomes debatable. Add political polarization to this and consistent bashing of the “other” side and you have a loyalist following locked up that will disregard anything that questions the government.

To have some context on this – consider the example of Turkey in the recent weeks and months. Turkey will have a referendum in mid-April to determine whether it will effectively crown President Erdogan, the king by giving him sweeping powers but not the title. In run up to the referendum, the Turkish government has successfully changed the major news story every day. They picked a fight with Netherlands and Germany that escalated in to a fight with the EU all within a space of three days while they were losing soldiers in the Syrian incursion. Government ministers were slamming the US and its refusal to turn over Gulen while the U.S. Secretary of State was visiting Turkey this week.

Through perpetually distracting the viewers, AKP has successfully taken the focus away from the question of whether it was Gulenists who were behind the coup attempt or if it was some other group. The distraction has also helped take away focus from the fact that thousands of academics and journalists are languishing in jails under exaggerated charges while more than one hundred thousand people have lost their jobs. Because the distraction of a showdown with the European Union is more newsworthy, these smaller news stories have gone under the radar. Plus, through polarization, there are two groups of people in Turkey now, those who will vote yes and those who will vote no on the referendum. The only loser in this process is democratic norms of checks and balances through transparency.

Act Not Distract

The reason rule by distraction has worked so well in the U.S. so far is because the media is struggling to disaggregate news and distraction when the same authority is creating both. In this scenario, it is our responsibility as scientists, academics, and intellectuals to keep the focus on facts. We cannot fact check everything; what we can do is fact check our domain. What we can do is explain to our students, friends, and family how this cycle works. The news cycle needs to be slowed down, and we need to be a party to that.

We often discuss standing up for science; we hardly go in to details of how to do that. One way to do that is slowing down the news cycle by unpacking stories and issues. More crucially, we need to teach the society how to do that. Unless we focus on specifically doing this, we can expect the malicious cuts to arts and sciences that we have witnessed in the last few months. If the public does not know the value of our work i.e. proving and disproving ideas as facts through evidence, they will see no need to support it. Rule by distraction puts democracy at risk, as political scientists we have a duty to push back and reclaim space for facts.

About the Author: Adnan Rasool is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Political Science, Georgia State University. He is also a Student Innovation Fellow at Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning (CETL) at GSU and Taiwan Fellow 2017 at National Sun Yat Sen University, Kaohsiung (Taiwan). His research focuses on role of bureaucracies in democratization and populist clientalistic appeal in new democracies. You can also find Rasool on Twitter and his website.

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.

 

Mass Administrative Reorganization, Media Attention, and the Paradox of Information

The following is part of a series of posts written by 2016 MPSA award recipients highlighting outstanding research presented at previous MPSA annual conferences.

Our article – Mass Administrative Reorganization, Media Attention, and the Paradox of Information (Now PAR 2015) – is one of a series of three related pieces of research focused on the structural politics of independent agencies. This line of research is part of the Shrinking the State project and set in the context of a reform agenda of the recent UK coalition government (2010-2015). The public policy and public administration questions we address are broadly applicable: in any democratic setting, there is some kind of link between voters and their policy demands, politicians seeking to win elections, and government agencies tasked with producing policy outputs. The elected politicians can, in circumstances dependent on the specific national institutional arrangements, modify the structure of the administrative state. The study of structural politics is all about the consequences of those decisions.

Why “Mass Reorganization”?
Our work fits broadly into the literature on agency termination. This literature is largely American-centric and reflects the question Kaufman (1976) famously asked: “are government organizations immortal”? Recent scholarship (see: Lewis 2002) suggests that they are not, even in the US; rather, agencies are thought to face a hazard of termination over some period of time. Nevertheless, agency termination remains something of a rare event in an American separation-of-powers context relative to what can happen in a high accountability system like the UK.

The British coalition government in 2011 put together a reform proposal comprehensively examining about 400 independent agencies, ultimately removing independence (absorbing into a government department or terminating the function entirely) for 32 percent of them. Making decisions about this many agencies all at once (a “bonfire of the Quangos”) involves termination decisions of a different magnitude than what we have seen in an American context. Thinking through what might be different about these cases can provide useful insights into structural politics across different types of political systems.

Why “Media Attention”?
A decision about agency independence is fundamentally tied to the politics of accountability. A decision to remove independence increases the identification of the government with the outcomes in that policy area. Even if an agency is terminated entirely (removing not just the agency’s independence but also ending functional performance), the government remains responsible for outcomes in that policy domain. Media attention is one way voters can know that an agency exists and get some sense of what it might do. We should expect politicians to think about the media salience, and salience with some particular audiences, of any particular agency when making these kinds of decisions.

Why a “Paradox”?
As media salience increases, we argue that the termination decisions should be less systematic. An agency’s salience with partisan audiences – core or opposition supporters, and those willing to swing either way – should directly impact the political decision, as one might expect. Nevertheless, a high media profile, rather than making outcomes more predictable as information becomes readily available, can actually disrupt the normal way governments learn about agencies; it is one thing if the minister hears about the agency from the professional civil servants, and another if the minister has been reading about the agency in the morning in the newspaper (as any devotee of Yes, Minister well knows).

What can we learn?
Particularly for practitioners, and scholars working in other areas, there may be a tendency to assume that governments simply kill off agencies that do things they do not like. The view we present is more complicated. Given the considerable freedom of choice of governments in high accountability systems like the UK, we see that the predictability of the outcomes changes with total media salience. This suggests that the government is considering carefully, although less systematically, the consequences of their choices with the most commonly mentioned agencies.

MPSA_Awards_RecognizingOutstandingResearchAbout the Authors: Anthony M. Bertelli is a Professor of the Politics of Public Policy and J. Andrew Sinclair is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Public Service at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University. Their paper “Mass Administrative Reorganization, Media Attention, and the Paradox of Information” was recognized at the 2016 MPSA Conference with the Best Paper in Comparative Policy Award sponsored by the Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis: Research and Practice (JCPA) and International Comparative Policy Analysis Forum.

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.

 

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.