Check out the new animated cover for The Gamble by John Sides and Lynn Vavreck

As noted in an earlier post, we are trying something completely new by publishing e-chapters from The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election well ahead of book publication, so why not try something new with the jacket as well? Here you have the perfect image for a book about the close presidential election, the teetering White House alternately dipping to the red and blue.

To delve into the debates over animated book jackets, try these links:

Has Kindle Killed the Book Cover?, The Atlantic:

Is the Book Cover Dead?, Technology Review:

Gorgeous re-imagined Picador jackets:

Designers on Book Covers of the Future:

Another animated jacket for a YA novel,

I couldn’t find too many other animated book jackets — do you know of others? Leave a link in the comments below to other animated book jackets.


Lynn Vavreck and John Sides explain why and how they wrote The Gamble

Read up on the unique publishing story of The Gamble here:


Download THE GAMBLE: “The Hand You’re Dealt” here:

Download THE GAMBLE: “Random, or Romney?” here:


Thank you to UCLA for creating this wonderful interview.

Free E-chapters available from The Gamble by John Sides and Lynn Vavreck

Princeton University Press has never shied away from trying new things when it comes to academic publishing and our latest venture, The Gamble: Choice and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election by Lynn Vavreck and John Sides is no exception. That Princeton University Press would publish a book of analysis by two top notch political scientists isn’t news, but the way we’re doing it certainly is.


Anyone who follows politics and particularly Election 2012 knows that political pundits are everywhere. But you probably also know that their analysis is often either based on anecdotes and personal experience or seems biased toward one political party’s views. This is all the more reason we need objective, scholarly analysis by accomplished political scientists. However, a typical political science book from an academic press about the 2012 election might appear two to three years from now, well after interest in the election has faded.


“Political scientists have much to offer all of us in understanding how voters make choices, what impact campaigns have on elections, the role of big money, and the role of political parties and interest groups in elections, among other issues. And yet nearly all the work is published years after the elections take place,” notes Chuck Myers, Executive Editor and Group Publisher of the Social Sciences at Princeton University Press


So, we are pushing the limits of academic publishing by releasing several free e-chapters from the book as they are completed. The result is peer-reviewed scientific analysis in real-time and a chance to inject a dose of reality into a discourse too often dominated by speculation and folklore.


Download THE GAMBLE: “The Hand You’re Dealt” here:

Download THE GAMBLE: “Random, or Romney?” here:


THE GAMBLE gives political science a voice in the ongoing conversation about this campaign,” says Sides. “It brings hard data to bear and casts doubt on a lot of commentary and conventional wisdom.”


“If you want to understand what’s happening in this election, you have to understand the data,” explains Vavreck. “We have great partners in YouGov and General Sentiment providing us with mountains of data that we can analyze to help readers understand what really mattered and what did not.”


The first two e-chapters of THE GAMBLE“The Hand You’re Dealt” and “Random or Romney”—begin to tell the story of the 2012 presidential election.


“The Hand You’re Dealt” describes the lay of the land at the end of 2011, as we enter into the election year. Sides and Vavreck explain why President Obama may be better positioned than a weak economy would typically predict.


“Sixty years of economic and election data tell us this should be a close election for President Obama, but his general likability and the public’s inclination to blame his predecessor for the economic downturn are making him more popular than we might expect given the slowly growing economy,” explains Vavreck. “People just generally like President Obama, and in a close election, that could make all the difference.”


“Random or Romney” challenges the “anyone but Romney” myth. It demonstrates that, despite the surges of candidates like Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich during the fall of 2011, by the eve of the Iowa caucus Mitt Romney was well-positioned to win. And in contrast to commentators who emphasized Romney’s problems with conservatives, Sides and Vavreck show that conservative Republicans had more favorable views of Romney than did moderate Republicans—suggesting that he would ultimately be able to unite the party, as in fact he has.


“What most people don’t understand is that Romney went into the primaries popular and stayed popular. He was already a familiar candidate to the media, so they tended to pay more attention to the other candidates whenever they did something noteworthy. The news coverage helped the other candidates surge in the polls, but their temporary surges didn’t mean Romney was disliked within the party,” says Sides. “Another myth is that Romney needed help in mobilizing the base. The data tell us that this is not really true.”


“The Hand You’re Dealt” and “Random or Romney” are now available at Princeton University Press’s website and through online retailers. Additional chapters that discuss the rest of the GOP primary, the summer campaign, the selection of Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate, and the conventions will be available closer to the election. In total, four chapters from THE GAMBLE will be released prior to the publication of the physical book in September 2013, and Sides and Vavreck hope that this early material starts a dialogue with readers.


Myers expands on this novel publishing program, saying, “We hope that the finished book will benefit from the comments of our readers, taking advantage of ‘the cloud’ to improve the analysis and the presentation of the story of the 2012 presidential election.”


The book’s web site:


About the Authors:


Lynn Vavreck and John Sides are authoritative voices on voting behavior and campaign effects in political science. Vavreck (, @vavreck) is Associate Professor of Political Science and Communication Studies at UCLA and is author of The Message Matters and co-author of Campaign Reform: Insights and Evidence, & The Logic of American Politics. In 2003, she helped start an online survey research company that became YouGov/America, and in 2010 she co-founded Model Politics, a political blog dedicated to bringing data to bear on contemporary questions. She has been interviewed in the media on campaigns, elections, and media research.


Sides (, @monkeycageblog), an Associate Professor of Political Science at George Washington University, is a leading authority on public opinion and voting behavior in the United States and abroad. He is co-author of Campaigns and Elections: Rules, Reality, Strategy, Choice and is co-founder of and contributor to The Monkey Cage, an award-winning blog about politics and political science. He is also an occasional contributor to the 538 Blog at the New York Times and Wonkblog at the Washington Post. His writing has appeared at the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Review, Salon, the New York Daily News, Al Jazeera, the Washington Monthly, the American Prospect, and Bloomberg View and he has been interviewed in the media numerous times in recent years.

Are Mitt Romney’s Wealth and Taxes Taxing His Campaign?

Back in January, Lynn Vavreck, Joshua Tucker, and I asked this question: what would happen if people knew more specific details about Mitt Romney’s income and tax rate?  We conducted a simple experiment the exposed people to information about these topics.  In this post, I will report on a new iteration of this experiment, which seems particularly timely in light of this Obama ad, for example.

In our first study, we found that Americans tended to think that Romney did not pay his “fair share” of taxes.  In a July 28-30 YouGov poll, the same was true, and perhaps even more so.  Compare perceptions of Romney and Obama in January vs. July:

During these six months, the percentage who had no opinion about what Obama and Romney paid has declined.  For both candidates, the percentage saying that they paid less than their fair share has increased (by about 5 points).  Romney’s disadvantage on this issue remains: a slight majority of Americans now believe that he does not pay his fair share.  And this is not something that only Democrats believe.  Almost half (48%) of “pure” independents believe this as well.

For comparison, here is how respondents felt about the taxes paid by Newt Gingrich, Bill Gates, “most people,” and “people like yourself.”  This shows, for example, that perceptions of Romney are less favorable than those of Gingrich and Gates.

After July respondents had answered these questions, a half-sample was assigned at random to see one of the following:

  • Information about how the average American’s income compares to Romney’s: “The Census Bureau has estimated that the average American household earned about $50,000 in 2010.  In August, Mitt Romney disclosed that in 2010 he and his wife had earned somewhere between $7 million and $40 million.”
  • Information about how federal tax rates for different income levels compare to Romney’s: “In this country, a person making under $20,000 each year pays about 2% of their income in federal taxes.  A person making $60,000 pays about 13% of their income in federal taxes.  A person making $250,000 pays about 20% of their income in federal taxes.  Last week, Mitt Romney suggested that he paid about 15% of his income in federal taxes.”
  • Information about average income and tax rates, with no mention of Romney: ““The Census Bureau has estimated that the average American household earned about $50,000 in 2010.  In this country, a person making under $20,000 each year pays about 2% of their income in federal taxes.  A person making $60,000 pays about 13% of their income in federal taxes.  A person making $250,000 pays about 20% of their income in federal taxes.”

This experiment was designed before Romney had released some details about his income and tax rate, but the information in the experiment corresponds closely to what he released, as we noted in the original post.  For the sake of strict continuity, I opted to keep the experiment the same rather than change it to reflect what Romney released.

Below I compare the key findings from the January experiment — quoting from the earlier post — with new analysis from the July experiment:

…respondents who saw information about either Romney’s wealth or tax rate were less likely to believe he “cares about people like me”—provided they already believed he wasn’t paying his fair share of taxes.

In other words, a group that didn’t like Romney very much to begin with liked him a little less after seeing this information.  In the July experiment, however, even this modest finding did not emerge.  Neither piece of information affected perceptions of Romney on this dimension.

…being told Romney’s income increased the percentage who said that “cares about the wealthy” describes Romney “very well”…

The same is true in July.  In general, Americans now perceive Romney as more concerned about the wealthy than they did in July.  In July, 50% said that “cares about the wealthy” described him very well. Now, 60% say that.  In both experiments, specific information about his income increased that percentage.  Compared to someone who saw no information about Romney, someone who learned that he had made millions of dollars in 2010 was 12 points more likely to say “very well” in the January survey and 10 points more likely to do so in the July survey.

We previously found that believing Romney cares about the wealthy is correlated with believing he doesn’t care about “people like me.”  In this experiment, this correlation is significantly larger when told either about Romney’s income or tax rate than when told neither piece of information.

In the July experiment, we found that information about Romney’s income (although not his tax rate) had this same effect.

What is the upshot here?  First, on dimensions related to wealth and empathy, Romney is perceived less favorably than Obama.  That’s been the upshot of several of my posts with Lynn (e.g., here) and we will be updating that analysis soon.  Other public polls, such as those of the Washington Post and Gallup, confirm this.

Second, specific information about Romney’s wealth and income may worsen perceptions of him on these dimensions, but it is not a game-changer.  As we noted in our earlier post:

The information about Romney’s income or tax rate did not affect how respondents evaluated Romney on other dimensions, such as his willingness to stick by his positions, his honesty, or his trustworthiness.  It didn’t make respondents more likely to describe him as personally wealthy (most already do so anyway).  And it didn’t change whether they believed he cares about the poor or middle class.  When the information does move opinions, the shifts aren’t large.  Many respondents may already have heard about Romney’s income or tax rate or simply don’t consider those facts germane.  The Obama team may find that a campaign that implicitly or explicitly characterizes Romney as a plutocrat isn’t a slam dunk.

That’s still true now, and it’s worth keeping in mind when ads like the one linked above debut.  At the same time, our experiments are just words on the screen during a survey interview, and may not have the impact of a political ad, with its richer palette of image and sound.

Third, even if Romney faces disadvantages on dimensions related to wealth and empathy, it’s not certain whether those dimensions will be the most important ones in November.  Empathy is not the one true key to victory.  More important may be perceptions of which candidate will best improve the economy — something on which Romney has the advantage.

Art’s Political Currency

As a scholar and a critic David Joselit has worked on transformative moments in modern art ranging from the Dada movement of the early 20th century to the emergence of globalization and new media over the past decade. His forthcoming book is After Art, a look at how art and architecture are changing in the age of Google, and a new way of thinking about art’s circulation and currency. But for Election 101, Joselit talks about art’s political currency, responding to the recent comment made by Mitt Romney’s former partner at Bain, quoted in the New York Times Magazine, to the effect that the epitome of the unproductive citizen is the “art history major”. Read his post here:


Art’s Political Currency

David Joselit


When former Mitt Romney employee at Bain capital and author of the notorious apology for enormous income inequality, “Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About the Economy is Wrong,” Edward Conard wants to stigmatize those unproductive wimps who don’t know how to take financial risk, he calls them art-history majors.  As Adam Davidson reported in the May 1 edition of the New York Times Magazine, this is “his derisive term for pretty much anyone who was lucky enough to be born with the talent and opportunity to join the risk-taking, innovation-hunting mechanism but who chose instead a less competitive life.”

Conard’s choice of art history as opposed to say, English, or Philosophy or French for the most unproductive of majors is not arbitrary. In fact, I would argue that his comment marks a glaring return of the repressed. Everyone in the art world knows that the huge and recession/depression-proof explosion in the art market in the last decades is owed in large part to the vast fortunes, like Conard’s made in finance.  Perhaps he doesn’t travel on a private jet to the Art Miami Basel Art Fair to make a few purchases, but many of his class do—and they negotiate their sales with those very same despised art-history majors.

If, as Conard asserts, art (and its histories) lack the capacity of business innovation to build value, why then, does the international financial elite seem to crave—and even need—the kind of value and validation that art does possess?  The fact is, even if Conard doesn’t recognize the value of art personally, very many of the financial innovators he lionizes do.  To understand why, we need only consider another election strategy on the part of the Republicans.  When President Obama began to speak out about the enormous student debt that so many Americans have been saddled with since the economic downturn and the corresponding rise in tuition in both public and private universities, the Republicans accused him of creating a diversion from serious efforts at economic recovery.  This is despite the fact that massive student debt is a demonstrable drain on the economy (if you are paying back loans for college you won’t be buying cars and houses).  As with the value of art, Republicans don’t want the value of education, or any other cultural currency to be equated with finance currency.  This is one of the most important subterranean currents of this election, and it’s nothing new.  Ronald Reagan and his radical right supporters understood the value of culture wars thirty years ago during which time they took the National Endowment for the Arts from a broadly innovative—risk-taking institution, to one that was both defanged and defunded. The result is the privatization and enclosure of public museums and other arts organizations, now even more dependent on individual contributions by wealthy trustees—many of whom belong to the financial elite of which Conard is the would-be spokesmen. No wonder he hasn’t noticed any risk-taking art history majors!

Let me put it bluntly, the 1% (and particularly those Republicans among it) know the value of art and an elite college education very well—and, like so many other things, they want to keep it for themselves by seeking to limit access to these benefits to a broader public, reserving them for the very few.

David Joselit is the Carnegie Professor of the History of Art at Yale University. His books include American Art Since 1945 (Thames & Hudson) and Feedback: Television against Democracy.

Who wins elections? Rich Friends or Rich Friends with Benefits? An exclusive article from Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

Everyone knows that the best way to get a job is to network network network (“It’s all about who you know!”). And nowhere is this more true than in the 2012 Presidential election where each endorsement equals media coverage and votes and where star-filled million-dollar fundraisers are the new norm. 

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett specializes in studying networking and how non-traditional sites for business and interaction form the real core of economic, political, and celebrity transactions. For a quick taste of her earlier work on how celebrity networks actually “work” check out this article she wrote for Gawker upon publication of her PUP book The Warhol Economy.

In this exclusive article for the Princeton University Press blog she assesses the strange blend of political and celebrity networks in the 2012 election and argues that while Romney may be winning the money game so far, Obama’s celebrity friends bring a certain je ne sais quoi to the table that extends beyond their pocketbooks.




Who wins elections? Rich Friends or Rich Friends with Benefits?

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett


No one gets elected without relying on the kindness, or more accurately, the wallets, of strangers and there is no denying that President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney have the fabulously rich among their supporters—in June, Romney raised a record-breaking $106 million, compared to Obama’s “paltry” $71 million. But, a quick scan of the candidates’ wealthiest supporters reveals a startling difference that may have big consequences for the outcome of the election.


Romney’s plutocrat backers include Ron Perelman, the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson. Wall Street captains and industrial tycoons host fund-raisers for him in the Hamptons, and Forbes eagerly writes up the happenings. Meanwhile, Obama has every A-list Hollywood star chomping at the bit to host a fundraiser for him. George Clooney threw a big party for the president at his palatial Hollywood Hills home, while Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour opened up her Greenwich Village brownstone to Obama donors. The luminaries regularly appear in photo spreads in US Weekly and People.


The easiest way to think about this is that Romney and Obama appeal to two different groups of donors—the very, very rich and the rich and famous. Both groups encapsulate the very definition of elite and make up the top one percent of income earners, a group that has become the political punching bag in the current war on inequality. So while the rich may alienate middle class voters, neither Romney nor Obama can do without their slice of these special people who donate millions of dollars and garner pots of media ink even if, ultimately, their success will hinge on their appeal among middle-class voters. In the eyes of these voters, is it better to have the ridiculously rich or the not-quite-so-ridiculously rich and famous on your side?


Obama’s campaign has struggled to find a place for its A-list supporters, as witnessed by its complicated and downplayed relationship with Wintour. In general, associations with the economic elite are seen as so unpalatable and risky that the president gave up his trip to Martha’s Vineyard and will not be attending any campaign fundraisers in the Hamptons this summer.


Romney, by contrast, seems less conscious of his connections to wealth, not realizing, for example, the difference between being friends with NASCAR owners and watching a NASCAR race with a six-pack of Budweiser. Occupy Wall Street and protestors greeted his fundraiser at David Koch’s beach house. As ABC reported of the protestors, “As a $400,000 dollar Rolls Royce passed the barricaded crowd, they decided to take their message to the beach—which also serves as the backyard of Koch’s home.” Still, not to worry.


Ostensibly, the idolatry of movie stars, musicians and artists may seem more alienating than Romney supporters’ piles of cash. After all, everyone knows politicians court money even as they simultaneously strive to paint their portrait as an every man. But celebrities, as distant and elite as they may initially seem, are the cultural currency of today’s society.  Not only do so many individuals want to be just like them, the media has bred a fiction that they are just like us—throwing out their garbage, shopping for groceries and getting lattes at Starbucks.  They are Roland Barthes’ veritable mythology of the 21st century.


And no one eats up their comings and goings quite like middle-class voters, who have ceased to see celebrities as an elite group and more as examples of their own potential should they get their own reality TV show or launch a successful Twitter account.


Thus in a campaign that pivots on class distinctions, aligning oneself with celebrities may be far less alienating than cavorting with the super rich.  Middle class voters care what their celebrities have to say; they want to be just like them; and with the help of reality TV, TMZ and US Weekly’s “Just Like Us” spread, they believe they have much in common with stars. Being Ron Perelman or a titan of Wall Street is an entirely different matter altogether.  Ivy League educations, private high schools and Park Avenue penthouses represent obvious barriers to entry—no middle class voter thinks they’ve got a fighting chance of attaining such wealth.


The thing about 21st-century celebrity is that it seems that anyone can attain it if they really try. And with that in mind, Obama’s courting of society’s favorite celebrities may actually better connect him to those mercurial middle-class swing voters than all those red carpets and camera flashes might lead you to believe.


Elizabeth Currid-Halkett is associate professor at University of Southern California’s Price School of Public Policy and the author of The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City and Starstruck: The Business of Celebrity. She lives in Los Angeles.


The Ancient Problem of Unruly Music–more from Jenn Lena on music and the election

This week, sociologist Jennifer Lena was kind enough to provide Election 101 with a third and final installment to her series of posts on music in presidential campaigns. Check out her new book, Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music and her conversation with the philosopher and expert on both music and law, Jonathan Neufeld, on why the relationship between musicians and politicians is so fraught with difficulty:


The Ancient Problem of Unruly Music

Jennifer Lena


In my last two posts, I’ve detailed the ways in which politicians (and campaign staff) secure music for use on the campaign trail, and some of the controversies that have resulted when they did not secure permission to use those songs. Along the way, I’ve illuminated two other pathways for the match of politicians and musicians. First, political parties could make greater efforts to include musicians as active participants and contributors. It should particularly be the case that political actors working outside the mainstream—in small districts, in local politics, in radical or third party politics—should share many things in common with local musicians, including a point of view. Second, I’ve suggested that politicians engage in smarter strategic action around issues of intellectual property, by seeking approval for using copyrighted works, and finding fair use opportunities (like Obama’s Spotify playlist) to employ the power of music in their campaigns. In this final post, I sought out a colleague whom I thought might be able to shed some light on why the relationship between musicians and politicians is so fraught with difficulty.


Jonathan A. Neufeld is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at College of Charleston and an expert in both music and law. In his forthcoming book, Music in Public: How Performances Shape Democracy (Oxford UP), Neufeld tackles the connections between musical and political deliberation. Here is an excerpt from our conversation about politics and music:


JL: Are the questions I’m asking at all relevant to philosophers of aesthetics?


JN: Yes, your posts touch on an ancient problem. “[T]he modes of music are never disturbed without unsettling of the most fundamental political and social conventions,” Plato writes in the Republic. Aristotle devotes a hefty chunk of his Politics to a discussion of music education; the conflict about what music is appropriately played in church was a hot topic of debate and political maneuvering in the Catholic church stretching back to Augustine. It is easy to multiply examples of music and politics colliding, and philosophers trying to find some way of making sense of it. In most of these cases, philosophers end up focusing on the emotional and sensuous potential of music–we are moved by music. You would think this would be good news for politics! “We are in the business of moving people, too!” But toward what exactly, does music move us? In the ancient controversies, a lot of ink was spilled over the untrustworthiness of music and musicians. Music can make us do things we wouldn’t ordinarily do (dance like idiots, sing lyrics joyously that we might completely disagree with, etc.), and musicians seem to revel in this. Artists were seen to be without a moral core, rudderless.


JL: This seems to differ from how we think about artists in contemporary society: I can think of a number of examples when we revere musical artists as the most principled people. In sociology, we often describe these artists as “disinterested” or “autonomous,” meaning that they do not allow other people (politicians, audiences, producers) to dictate the art (or music) they create.


JN: That’s right. We often characterize artists as being interested in art for art’s sake. Insofar as they focus on particular political messages, they are often accused of doing something other than art. The thought that a consistent message would dictate artistic expression (Plato’s dream!) sits uncomfortably with a modern picture of artistic creativity.  The political demand to stay on message, then, seems to be a violation of the artistic autonomy at the heart of the art for art’s sake norm. Staying on political message is to allow a preset message to dictate what goes into the work. Moreover, when it comes to a campaign, it is to allow the campaign’s message to dictate the work. [And] even if the artist shaped the message, the demand to stay on message seems to be an imposition on the artist’s autonomous creativity. That the artist imposes it on herself doesn’t matter. What matters is the imposition of the wrong kind of norm–an extra-artistic norm–on artistic creativity.


JL: So, do you see an inevitable conflict between the logic of music (the value placed on autonomy) and the logic of democracy?


JN: No. The opposition is not between democracy and music, or even between music with messages and music without. Take Woody Guthrie, the Asian Dub Foundation, or Public Enemy, for example. Here we have artists whose songs are shaped by a message. But is this what it is to be on message in a way that would be compatible with the branding of a campaign? It seems to me not. There is an unruliness at the heart of artistic creation (or, if you prefer, there is a systematic expectation that artistic creation be unruly) that would make any disciplined campaigner nervous.  So the problem for artists is not the politics or the democracy, it’s the on-message requirement of contemporary campaigns. While obeying this requirement might not be an in-principle problem for contemporary politicians, I wonder if it shouldn’t be. Democratic discourse just is unruly–this was Plato’s deep worry about it. I wonder if the artist’s unruly resistance to staying on message could be seen as democratic impulse we might wish contemporary candidates shared.


I really like Jonathan’s last point—that the “unruliness” of musicians might be a better model for democracy than the slavish fidelity to a brand message. It was Benjamin Disraeli who claimed that “The world is wearied of statesmen whom democracy has degraded into politicians.” Let me add more to the arsenal of reasons that politicians and musicians should take long-term collaborations more seriously:


1.Given the enormously large number of un- and under-employed artists in America, and rallying cries for job-creators on both sides of the aisle, why don’t presidential campaigns hire or contract with more artists? A recent survey by the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project (full disclosure: I am a Research Fellow on the project) reveals that 51% of art school graduates who intended to become an artist did not do so because work was not available.


2. Furthermore, given the enormous need for paid work, why aren’t more musicians approaching campaigns to write original material? Billboard Magazine reports that Obama’s 10-second performance of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” sent sales of the singer’s album through the roof (a 490% weekly sales increase). Logic dictates that many struggling artists would benefit from the national attention garnered through association with a candidate, so why isn’t it more common?


3. Democrats and Republicans rely on an extremely small set of performers to provide campaign songs. What would presidential candidates do without Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty? Why aren’t we seeing more pandering to the large and growing Hispanic vote, or to women? And most shocking of all: why are Republican candidates overlooking the massive market power of contemporary Christian rock? According to Neilsen, Christian/Gospel accounted for 9.5 million album sales in 2011, a nearly 7% increase from the year before. The Republican base, particularly the younger generation, consumes a lot of Christian rock, and the songs are on-issue for most of the GOP candidates.


I hope I’ve convinced you that long-term collaborations between musicians and politicians are possible, potentially mutually beneficial and could potentially spark a more vibrant and diverse set of arguments in the public sphere.


Jennifer C. Lena is visiting assistant professor of sociology at Barnard College.

The Young Republicans

Conventional knowledge would have it that liberals have a lock on young voters and that university culture stifles the evolution of conservative identities on campus. But as Amy Binder and Kate Wood make clear, young conservatives are actually a formidable force behind the scene, utilizing a range of styles and strategies to get out their message. Binder and Wood’s new book, Becoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives,  looks at the power that campus culture has in developing students’ conservative political styles and shows that young conservatives are made, not born. Recently they blogged for Election 101 about the dynamic yet often unrecognized role of GOP, college-aged conservatives in Election 2012. Read on:



The Young Republicans

Amy Binder and Kate Wood


In any presidential election year, attention turns to the question of how political parties can mobilize young voters. While we have become accustomed to the argument that demographic shifts may mean the demise of the GOP, college-aged conservatives—and the formidable forces behind the scenes working to energize them—should not be underestimated. With the Republican Party’s nominee finally in place and the focus firmly on November’s election, staff at the Young America’s Foundation (YAF) are preparing for their biggest event of the year: the National Conservative Student Conference (NCSC), to be held July 30 to August 4 in Washington, DC.

While this late summer conference is not the largest meeting attended by conservative collegians (that distinction belongs to February’s Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, where annually 2,500 of 6,000 attendees are students), the NCSC is on the dance card of many right-leaning undergraduates. Here students can rub shoulders with celebrities of the right (including, in recent years, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, and Newt Gingrich) and have “bull sessions” with one another into the wee hours of the night in the dorms of George Washington University.[i]

What kind of political messages should students expect to hear when they get to this year’s gathering? Although the theme of the 2012 NCSC has yet to be revealed, we can get some clues from last year’s marketing:


Tree hugging. Gun taking. Wealth hating. Leftist loving. Sound like a nightmare?…

For most college students, this is an accurate portrayal of their professors and peers and the left-wing ideas they espouse. You can learn the best ways to stand up for and advance conservative ideas on your campus just in time for the start of your fall semester![ii]


As might be gleaned from the 2011 web-based call-to-arms, the NCSC encourages right-leaning students to see themselves as persecuted on their college campuses and to embrace a conservatism that the YAF calls “aggressive.” [iii] Students are urged to “constantly challenge leftist ideas” and leave behind any inklings for “passive” conservatism, by which the organization means “working for candidates, running voter registration drives …essentially a philosophy of accommodation [emphasis added].”[iv] Aimed at “Joe Average” [v] conservative students in public universities and other less prestigious institutions (according to the former YAF conference organizer we interviewed for our book) the conference encourages a more provocative style of conservatism which aligns in many ways with the style we saw practiced by college conservatives in a non-elite university system. Not incidentally, this style militates against what some of our interviewees considered to be boring, or “lame” campaigning.

In its place, NCSC speakers advise those in attendance to scout out the battle lines on their campuses and to head for them with gusto: to stage eye-popping activities like “Strong Women Shoot Back” in response to “liberal” Take Back the Night events, to ensnare their professors and peers with “gotcha” politics, and to avoid anything that looks even remotely like political compromise or philosophical détente. Getting under the liberals’ skin is good, according to YAF materials and NCSC speakers; working across the aisle—a more civilized style like the one we saw on the more elite campus we studied—is frowned upon. To wit, speakers who have already agreed to appear on this year’s program include former presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, and the youngest celebrity in the YAF stable, 28-year-old Jason Mattera, author of Obama’s Zombies: How the Liberal Machine Brainwashed My Generation. Now this is not to say that the NCSC deals exclusively in the provocative style: As in past years at least one slot on the 2012 program will be reserved for someone with more civil political tastes and predilections. This year that role will be played by Professor Robert George of Princeton’s Department of Politics, who will no doubt ratchet down the rhetoric—at least for the half hour he has the floor.

But this tension between civilized discourse and provocation—the two dominant, and more or less mutually exclusive, conservative styles we uncovered in our research—may be particularly pronounced during the 2012 political cycle. After all, eventual GOP nominee Mitt Romney spent months taking a beating from YAF speakers Bachmann, Santorum, and Gingrich for being insufficiently conservative, and has had to repeatedly turn, with limited success, to more provocative attacks to build up his conservative bona fides. With the presidential election less than five months away, what will happen when Romney chooses to move back to the center to be palatable to non-right wing voters? Will the young conservative cadres at the NCSC accept this about-face and recognize that they should probably seek to persuade their peers rather than shout them down? Or will recent events like the failure to recall Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and the precarious economic recovery empower conservative provocateurs to double down and refuse to compromise? Whatever the outcome, the young conservatives mobilized by the NCSC will likely play a considerable role. They will be fired up and ready to go.

Amy J. Binder is associate professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego. She is the author of Contentious Curricula: Afrocentrism and Creationism in American Public Schools (Princeton). Kate Wood is a doctoral candidate in the department of sociology at the University of California, San Diego.


[i] “Bull sessions” is what Roger Custer, a former YAF conference organizer, called students’ conversations with one another (interview with author, 2008).

[ii] From the YAF webpage promoting the 2011 National Conservative Student Conference. See

[iii] See Coyle and Robinson (2005, 1).

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Interview with Roger Custer, 2008.

Gay Marriage by the Numbers–a guest post by Lynn Vavreck and Ryan Enos

YouGov is in the field each week on Saturday mornings with a nationwide, 1,000-person survey. Today, I’m going to look at the surveys before and after President Obama’s ABC interview during which he came out in support of same-sex marriage.

The interview made news for days — and was the topic of endless speculation about whether black voters would “follow obama” on gay marriage. Others wondered: Why was he doing it? Why now? And, of course, what effect would it have on the 2012 election?

The questions stirring in the journalistic community were intense and the conversation from coast to coast, among those interested in politics, relentless.

And yet – very little of interest has happened to public opinion as a consequence of Obama’s revelation. The week before his announcement, 49% of Americans in the YouGov poll supported gay marriage. The week after — 48%, a change far too small to take seriously. Essentially – opinion in general did not move at all after Obama’s interview.

Pooling all 2011 pre-announcement interviews and comparing them to the one post-announcement survey (so we have 1,427 blacks), support for gay marriage changed not at all – 41% before and 41% after. Because our data are a panel, we can compare people’s opinions in December of 2011 to their opinions during the week in which they were interviewed in 2012 (everyone gets two interviews). When we look at how many people are changing – moving off of their initial position to a different one – we find no change in the number of African Americans moving pre and post announcement. About 12-15% are switching their positions regardless of whether we interview them after Obama’s support of the policy or before. But – and here’s the most interesting tidbit – if you changed your opinion before the announcement, there was a 50-50 change you were moving in either direction. But of those who changed after his announcement, 85% moved toward the more supportive position. While there are very few cases to evaluate in the one week after the interview, the result is still statistically distinguishable from zero.

Now, let’s look at white opinion. Before the interview, 54% of the changers (people moving from their December position on gay marriage) were moving toward support. And after the interview, that share drops to 47% — too small to call it different in statistical terms, but an order of magnitude smaller than the change among blacks! To be clear, most people did not change their opinion after Obama’s support of gay marriage, but among those who did, blacks were far more likely to move toward Obama’s position than were whites.

And here’s one more way race is playing a role: Whites with low levels of racial prejudice were more likely to change their position on gay marriage after the announcement than those with high levels of racial prejudice. This result holds even if we control for other things that might drive a reaction to Obama’s announcement (and positions on gay marriage) like party identification and ideology.

Whites with low-levels of racial prejudice who changed their position after the interview were more likely than those with high-levels of prejudice to move toward supporting Obama’s position. The announcement itself had no effect on the positions of these switchers – it was the combination of the announcement and their level of racial prejudice that motivated the movement.

Lynn Vavreck is associate professor of political science and communication studies at UCLA. Ryan Ennos is assistant professor at Harvard University.

Campaign Songs and Campaign Wrongs

Sociologist Jennifer Lena was kind enough to provide Election 101 with another fascinating installment to what will ultimately be a  three part series of posts on music in presidential campaigns. Check out her new book, Banding Together: How Communities Create Genres in Popular Music and her post on the uses and abuses of music by politicians after the jump:



Campaign Songs and Campaign Wrongs

Jennifer Lena


In my previous post on presidential campaigns and music, I discussed the ways in which candidates obtain songs for use during their campaign, including commissioning songs and licensing them for adaptation or use of the original. Seemingly in spite of themselves, campaign staffers keep neglecting to obtain licenses for the songs they use, and so recent campaign history is punctuated by controversies over the unauthorized use of pop music in these races. I previously mentioned one case in which Bob Dole used an unauthorized parody of Sam and Dave’s hit song “Soul Man,” and the song’s copyright holders threatened to sue. The song’s use was not only unauthorized, but unwelcome by its owners. In an interview with the New York Daily News, Isaac Hayes (one of the song’s authors) explained, “Nobody gave any permission here” and, “As a U.S. Senator, he ought to know that you can’t do that.  It also bothers me because people may get the impression that David [Porter] and I endorse Bob Dole, which we don’t.”

Perhaps the best-known case where unauthorized music was used by a campaign was Ronald Reagan’s 1984 use of Bruce Springsteen’s single “Born in the U.S.A.” Although the song’s lyrics clearly focus on the deleterious effects of the Vietnam War on Americans, Conservative columnist George Will heard a nationalistic cry in the song, and dubbed the singer “A Yankee Doodle Springsteen.” Will got word to Reagan advisor Michael Deavers, who had his staffers seek an endorsement from Springsteen, which he immediately declined. Nevertheless, on September 19, 1984, Reagan mentioned the rocker favorably in a New Jersey stump speech, and Springsteen countered by invoking Reagan’s name right before playing “Johnny 99” (a song about an unemployed steelworker) at a concert in Philadelphia. The entire episode was covered closely by the media, and proved to be an embarrassment to the Reagan campaign, although patriotic interpretations of the song’s lyrics are still commonplace.

Four presidential cycles later, another Republican candidate made a similar error with similar consequences. George W. Bush used Tom Petty’s anthem “I Won’t Back Down” on the 2000 campaign trail until Petty threatened to sue. Bush pulled the song (and added “We the People” by Billy Ray Cyrus and “Right Now” by Van Halen). In a bittersweet turn, Petty is said to have played his song at the Gore’s house minutes after he conceded the election.

Several Republicans in the current race have received cease and desist letters for using music on the campaign trail without permission. Michele Bachman allegedly got one letter from Tom Petty’s music publisher for her use of “American Girl.” Katrina and the Waves also asked Bachman to stop using their single, “Walking on Sunshine.” Newt Gingrich was asked to stop using “How Do You Like Me Now?” by Third Side Music, the publisher that owns the right to this 2009 song by rock group the Heavy.

This is really the tip of the iceberg. In recent years, John Mellencamp and the Foo Fighters both asked John McCain to stop using their music during his 2008 campaign, and McCain settled out of court with Jackson Browne after the unauthorized use of his hit single “Running on Empty.” When Charlie Crist ran for a senate seat in Florida last year, he used “Road to Nowhere,” a song by rock group The Talking Heads, in one of his ads without seeking authorization from the group. Frontman David Byrne slapped him with a $1 million lawsuit, which was settled out of court; Crist also issued this apology via YouTube:


It could be, as  FoxNews claims in this report, that GOP candidates are less likely to get permission to use music during their campaigns. The news service attributes responsibility to the liberal bias of the entertainment industry, and preferential treatment of Democrats by musicians (and “Hollywood” donors). In recent memory, the only high-profile Dem to be hit with a cease and desist letter was Barack Obama, who used Sam & Dave’s hit single “Hold On, I’m Comin’” without permission.

Fox News may be right that entertainers are more likely to be liberal, and thus more likely to give Democrats access to their music catalogue. It could also be that Republican candidates are more likely to use music without first seeking permission or licensing the work. In either case, the surprising thing is that campaign staffers don’t secure celebrity endorsements, and tend to mis-manage them when they arrive uninvited.

Consider, for example, Kelly Clarkson’s recent statement of support for Ron Paul’s campaign, and almost immediate retraction. Clarkson, a past winner of American Idol and chart-topping country-pop artist, posted a tweet claiming that she would vote for Ron Paul if he won the nomination for the Republican ticket—a statement many interpreted as an endorsement of his campaign. But as news spread of the racist and homophobic content in Ron Paul newsletters, critics declaimed her support for the candidate as an endorsement of hate speech. In December, Clarkson released an apology in a tweet, voicing support for “white/black/purple/orange rights” and stepping back from the controversy by claiming she wasn’t a “hardcore Republican” and disclosing that she voted for Barack Obama in 2008.

Perhaps it isn’t a huge surprise that Paul’s campaign mis-managed Clarkson’s statement of support, failing to rush to her side and help her type on-brand messages into her smart phone. After all, Ron Paul often takes the campaign stage to the tune of “The Imperial March,” Darth Vader’s theme song from Star Wars, a song that conjures up both space aliens and fascism.

Rick Santorum also had the uniquely strange problem of receiving a statement of support from heavy metal guitarist Dave Mustaine, only to have him claim it wasn’t an endorsement. Mustaine said in an interview with Music Radar that he hopes “if it does come down to it, we’ll see a Republican in the White House… and that it’s Rick Santorum,” but then released a statement to the press disputing the characterization of his remarks as an “official endorsement.”

How can we make sense out of the evergreen problem GOP candidates have securing endorsements from musicians? Strangely enough, the answer might lie in a satirical column at on-line gossip magazine, inspired by Mustaine’s support for Santorum. The column, titled, “Big Running List of 2012 Metal Endorsements,”  is updated as Gawker staffers contact and secure political platform statements from former and current members of major metal groups. Next to Mustaine’s name, Santorum’s appears, followed by a question mark. Other presidential office-seekers appear on the list, and there are also a number of write-in candidates including Gwar’s Oderus Urungus, who votes for “Murdering every presidential candidate on a gigantic wheel of over-sized knives.”

The conceit behind the list, and Gwar’s “vote,” is that musical communities have their own political platforms, not unlike parties, candidates, and social movements. These are the genre ideals of a group; they reflect the community’s sensitivity to some problem or goal (sometimes strictly musical, and sometimes social), and a developed consensus about both its causes and how it should be addressed. One example I give in the book is Seattle’s grunge rock community, within which members shared an anti-macho and anti-mainstream genre ideal; this was a reaction against both “fluffy” pop (both Madonna and Paula Abdul were popular at the time) and against the big hair and “beef cake posturing” of hair metal groups like Motley Crue, Poison and Bon Jovi. As Gwar’s “vote” for President illuminates, metal’s genre ideal—antimainstream, dystopian—abjures the values you’d find in almost every candidate running for a national office in the U.S. No surprise that we don’t see natural alliances developing there.

But it does seem that one means by which candidates could prevent controversy over their use of music (other than securing permission in advance, of course) would be to encourage musicians to get involved in their campaigns, and to remain invested over longer periods of time. This shouldn’t be too difficult, particularly if these alliances begin at the local level, in small communities, where politicians and local artists are likely to share interests and dispositions. Politicians have resources that could benefit artists—access to audiences, performance opportunities, and the press prime among them—and musicians, as I have been at pains to argue, offer resources that are important to politicians.

Jennifer C. Lena is visiting assistant professor of sociology at Barnard College.


The Blame Game

The economy seems to be weakening, and Republicans are eager to blame Obama.  This is by-the-books political messaging: the party opposing the incumbent president should talk about the economy when its weak.  But the success of the attack, as Steve Kornacki notes, may depend on whether Obama really gets the blame for the weak economy.

To this point, more Americans have blamed George W. Bush, during whose tenure the recession and financial crisis began, than Barack Obama. This was true in a series of Gallup polls between July 2009 and September 2011.  For example, in September 2011 69% said Bush deserved “a great deal” or “a moderate amount” of blame.  Just over half (53%) said that of Obama. In a more recent poll, conducted by the Washington Post in January 2011, respondents were given the option of choosing whether Obama or Bush was “most responsible for the country’s economic problems.”  Many more chose Bush (54%) than Obama (29%).

New data from an April 14-17 YouGov poll confirms that Obama is still winning the blame game.

As the graph shows, 56% gave Bush a great deal or a lot of the blame, while only 41% gave Obama that much blame.  This 15-point gap is nearly identical to what Gallup found in September, albeit with a differently worded question and response categories.  Looked at a different way, 47% of voters blamed Bush more than Obama, 21% blamed them equally, and 32% blamed Obama more than Bush.

Naturally, Democrats and Republicans do not see eye-to-eye on the question of blame:

The vast majority of Democrats (80%) blame Bush, while large numbers of Republicans (83%) blame Obama.  The partisan bias isn’t quite symmetric, as there are more Republicans who blame Bush (24%) than Democrats who blame Obama (12%).  Pure independents, those with no leaning toward either party, tend to blame Bush more than Obama.

This tendency to blame the previous incumbent more than the current one is nothing new.  The same was true when Bush himself was president.  Early in Bush’s first term, from March through November 2001, the country also experienced a recession.  Because the recession came so early in Bush’s term, and because the economic slowdown had begun late in Clinton’s second term, there was debate about who to blame.

Two different polls — by the Washington Post in February 2002 and by Princeton Survey Research Associates in May 2003 — showed that, in fact, Clinton was blamed more than Bush.  In the Post poll, 78% of pure independents thought that the economy was “not so good” or “poor.”  Among this subset of independents with a negative view of the economy, 69% believed Clinton deserved “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of blame, but only 48% believed this of Bush.  Similarly, among the minority who thought the economy was doing well, more credited Bush than Clinton.  In the PSRA poll, 30% of independents thought Clinton deserved “most” or “a lot” of blame while 22% thought Bush did.  Even though Bush, like Obama now, was well into his first term, these voters still saw the prior president as more responsible for the country’s economic problems.

The ultimate question for Obama is: could some voters’ willingness to blame Bush more than Obama actually help him win reelection?  Here is one way to answer this question.  Take the difference between how much blame voters assign to Obama and Bush.  This serves as a measure of Obama’s blame advantage or disadvantage relative to Bush (where, as noted above, Obama has a net advantage).  Using that measure — as well as other relevant factors, including party identification, ideology, sex, race, and income — predict how much people approve of the job Obama is doing as president and whether they would vote for him and not Romney.

Then “erase” any blame advantage for either Bush or Obama, which assumes a world in each every person blamed Bush and Obama equally. What would happen in this world?  First, Obama’s job approval would decline by about 11 points.  Second, his poll standing relative to Romney’s would decline by 3 points.  Both of these declines are statistically significant and substantively important.

To be sure, this exercise is purely hypothetical. Life isn’t a laboratory, and we can’t replay Obama’s first 3 years and have voters blame him less or more than they do in reality.  Nevertheless, Obama’s lead in the blame game appears to be helping him in the horserace.

France and America: Richard Kuisel compares elections

As voters went to the polls for the French presidential elections, Richard Kuisel, author of The French Way: How France Embraced and Rejected American Values and Power shared his thoughts with Election 101 on the distinct differences between election season in the US and the one in France. Read on for an interesting study in contrasts between two political cultures including treatments of key issues like the market and capitalism, immigration, as well as a marked difference in the amount of interest in candidates’ private lives and religious faith.



France and America: Comparing Elections

Richard Kuisel


Mitt Romney speaks French! For some voters, this French connection is a handicap.  A look at the concurrent presidential elections in the U.S. and France reveals some striking parallels, telling differences, and intriguing connections.

In both campaigns the principal issue is the incumbent president.  For many renewing mandates is the question that outweighs all other considerations.  In France large majorities say they oppose reelection.  Presidents Obama and Sarkozy have provoked determined opponents, some of whom would go to great length to limit them to one term. The far right of the Republican Party, despite reservations about Mitt Romney, would hold their nose and vote for him in order to oust Barack Obama.  Similarly, in France, the far Left, who are not enamored of the Socialist candidate, François Hollande, seem willing to endorse him if need be to block Nicolas Sarkozy.  For many voters in both countries these elections are referenda on the inhabitants of the White House and the Elysée Palace and much of the energy originates in oppositional politics.  In both countries legislative elections (which in France follow in June) may not ratify the presidential vote and may thus bring divided governments.

Critics in both electorates are also motivated by a perception of national decline and blame this downward momentum on their presidents. Voters worry about a loss of international status, domestic cohesion, a sense of common purpose, and even national identity.  They ask “Are our best days behind us?”  This is an old Gallic anxiety that dates back to the Fall of France in 1940, if not earlier. For Americans this is a newer concern. The way to return the U.S to greatness according to the Tea Party movement is to remove President Obama and revive the spirit of our Founding Fathers. Sarkozy speaks of restoring traditional values like work and responsibility and his slogan is “The Strong France.”  For the Left in France the solution is to send Sarkozy into retirement and revive social democracy and civic solidarity.

Both presidential campaigns have focused on domestic rather than foreign affairs.  Candidates debate unemployment, budget deficits, and strategies for economic revival rather than  international affairs.  In the U.S. even though we are engaged in a seemingly endless war, Afghanistan is not a major issue. The war is less and less popular but the end game is depressing rather than controversial.  The principal international problem is how far the U.S. should go to block Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  Otherwise the question is how to create jobs, reduce government debt, and remedy health care.  Among the French attention is on unemployment, the cost of living, job security, and law and order. And worry about immigration is keener in France than in the U.S. Foreign affairs are peripheral except for Europe and there debate centers on the EU’s new fiscal compact and the union’s openness to immigration.   None of these concerns, however, compete with the agenda set by the current economic and financial crises.

What is perhaps more illuminating than similarities are transatlantic differences starting with religion.  In France’s secular political culture the religious convictions of presidential candidates are irrelevant and the French are dismayed at how American politicians parade their religiosity or question the beliefs of their rivals, for example, the Mormon faith of Romney. Claiming “I am a better Christian than you” seems to enhance a candidate’s political profile here but not in France.   If one’s faith is not an issue in France, however, treatment of the Muslim community is controversial.

Private lives, like religious faith, occupy the American electorate but not the French. In the U.S. presidential candidates parade their wives and children, their records as parents, and their marital fidelity as certificates of electability.  And they undermine rivals by raising questions about such matters, e.g. Gingrich’s divorces.  Not so in France where politics do not intrude on privacy.  That François Hollande sired four children outside of marriage is not a handicap.  Sarkozy, however, has crossed this boundary with his high-profile divorce and remarriage to a former model while occupying the Elysée.  And he has made his temperament and life style a minor issue, but this is atypical of Gallic politics and a faint echo of how Americans conduct elections.

Money also distinguishes the American electoral process. Some ask whether or not the spending of Super PACS and the media have fundamentally distorted this election.  No such problem exists in the current French campaign.

All candidates in the American campaign praise the market and capitalism. Not so in France where both Sarkozy and Hollande  denounce market fundamentalism and the far Left presents an openly anti-capitalist stance.  Unlike the U.S. virtually all French candidates also agree on raising taxes, especially on the wealthy, avoid discussing spending cuts, and indict the financial sector for the crisis.

Are there any connections between the two elections?  A perceived “French connection” is a handicap in the U.S. Thus the Super Pac of Gingrich (who himself knows French) has belittled Romney for speaking French and Santorum has claimed (falsely) that France has not sided with America for the last 20 years. And labeling any Democratic initiative as the “European (French) way” is now a familiar Republican indictment. In France Obama remains popular and anti-Americanism is out of bounds except for latent reservations about Sarkozy.  In 2007 the latter had campaigned openly as a friend of the American way, the first presidential candidate in French history to do so, but he has retreated from this stance and America, including France’s reintegration into NATO in 2009, is not a serious issue.

Mercifully all this will be over by May 6 in France while Americans will have to struggle on until November.

Richard F. Kuisel holds a joint appointment at the BMW Center for German and European Studies and in the History Department at Georgetown University. His books include Seducing the French: The Dilemma of Americanization