The Gamble authors liveblog the Presidential Debate at the NY Times

Authors John Sides and Lynn Vavreck were invited by the New York Times Campaign Stops blog to live-blog the Townhall Presidential Debate last night, alongside Stanley Fish, Gary Gutting, and Kevin Noble Maillard.

Sides contributes a post tracking voters’ perceptions of the candidates’ empathy: While Romney has made many strides in his likability, Sides shows that he continues to lag behind Obama in the key trait of empathy. Here’s a graph of his findings:

And Vavreck continues her examination of the undecided voter group in a post that argues that party affiliation is more important than we think when it comes to undecided voters.

She writes:
“As you can see, party identification is more closely related to vote choice for people who can make up their mind a year out from an election, but even among undecided voters coming to a decision, party is a strong driver. For each party, 65 percent of the self-identified partisans choose their party’s candidate, compared to a stunning 93 or 94 percent among those who decide well in advance.

Interestingly, independents who were initially undecided are breaking more heavily for Obama compared to the independents who were able to make an early choice (they’re evenly split). In general, each party group makes up about a third of the set of undecided voters (although independents are closer to 40 percent).”

These two posts demonstrate the value of data and scholarly analysis of that data in understanding what’s happening beneath the surface of the presidential campaign. Having access to this type of data during the election instead of months later (the machinery of academia moves slower than the news cycle), is invaluable and this is precisely why we’ve made two chapters from The Gamble: available months before publication.



The Gamble: The Hand You’re Dealt
John Sides & Lynn Vavreck



The Gamble: Random, or Romney?
John Sides & Lynn Vavreck


These ebooks are are available for free via the Princeton University Press web site and other retailers. Click through to see if they are available via your favorite retailer.


Dennis Thompson at Cambridge Forum

Compromise is a necessary ingredient of a functioning democracy, but it’s in scarce supply in Washington, DC. Why? And can we fix it? Dennis Thompson appeared at the Cambridge Forum to discuss the history and future of compromise in the US Government. This should be required viewing for everyone in the run-up to the election.



The Spirit of Compromise
Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It
Amy Gutmann & Dennis Thompson

Amy Gutmann on Charlie Rose

The video above is a short excerpt from a longer interview. To watch the complete segment, please visit the Charlie Rose Show’s site:

Still Waiting for the Liberal Realignment

Where has liberalism gone wrong?  Douglas Massey says it veered off course with a broad emphasis on symbolic politics—rather than what is needed: concrete reasons why it is in American’s economic as well as moral interest to support the liberal cause. According to Massey, what liberals have long suffered from is the lack of a consistent ideology. So back in 2005 when he published Return of the “L” Word,  his call for a liberal realignment,  he set forth a clear set of liberal principles to explain how markets work in society, and applied them to liberal policies. Recently I caught up with him to find out to what extent he thinks the Obama administration has offered the public the consistent liberal vision that was needed. Read on…


Still Waiting for the Liberal Realignment

Douglas S. Massey


When I published Return of the L-Word in 2005, I argued that the time was ripe for a liberal realignment and that what was lacking was a clear explanation to voters of the key role played by government in producing a healthier, more equitable, and less divided society.  I was impressed by what Obama accomplished in the 2008 campaign and thought someone in his campaign must have been channeling my book, or may even have read it!

The electoral campaign he put together in 2008 constructed exactly the coalition that Democrats need to build for the future, creating high turnouts among blacks, Latinos, Asians, young voters, and progressive whites.  The three minority groups by themselves together comprise a third of the population, liberals make up another 20%, and persons aged 18-29 another 17%.

Despite some overlap between these various components, it is clear that a working majority of the electorate is easily achievable by firing the passions of minorities, liberal whites, and young people while drawing in as many independents as practical.  More importantly, given current demographic trends, size of the ruling majority will only become ever larger over time.  By 2050, minorities by themselves are projected to comprise 54% of the U.S. population.  Older, conservative white people are a withering demographic.

Obama demonstrated the feasability of this political strategy by putting together a coalition that captured 53% of the popular vote, 28 states, and 68% of the electoral college.  The obvious strategy upon assuming office was for him to play to the base that elected him by fulfilling campaign promises to reform wall street, enact immigration reform, spend to create jobs, end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and generally move forward on a progressive agenda of fairness and redistribution.

Instead, to my growing amazement as President Obama did the opposite.  Once in office he bent over backwards to appease older, conservative white voters—a segment of the population that would never support him under any circumstances—by cutting taxes, limiting the size of the stimulus, accelerating deportations, increasing border enforcement, inviting Goldman Sachs into his administration, escalating the war in Afghanistan, and continuing to support a highly racialized criminal justice system.  Even on his signature achievement—health care reform—he caved into health insurance monopolists and big pharma before legislative negotiations had even begun.

It is all well and good to reach across the aisle and make a big show of bipartisanship.  It was a nice gesture right after the inauguration; but once his hand was slapped away and the Republicans had proclaimed their policy of opposition at all costs, he should have doubled down on principle and fought tenaciously for the causes he believed in.  The winning strategy was to send up proposal after proposal and have the Republicans shoot them down and then run on the moral vision behind the defeated proposals and against Republican obstructionism.

Alas, that was not the path President Obama chose, with predictable and inevitable political consequences.  Of course, older white voters were not placated, Republicans never found it within themselves to compromise, the economic recovery proved anemic, and Obama now faces reelection with a demoralized and unenthusiastic base.  The young voters and eager activists that flooded into his campaign and fueled his victory in 2008 are nowhere to be seen, Latinos are furious over his failure to pursue immigration reform, liberals are disgusted with the condition-free bailout of Wall Street, and Americans everywhere are still waiting for any financier to be brought to justice for causing the collapse of 2008.  At this point, even African Americans are beginning to ask what they got and how they benefitted from electing the nation’s first black president.

Obama’s only saving grace at this point is the disarray and delusion in the Republican ranks; but he cannot count on Republicans’ tenuous grasp on reality or their internecine squabbling to guarantee victory in November.  If President Obama is going to win, he needs to articulate and vigorously defend a principled program that will, first and foremost, appeal to his political base.  Despite his impressive victory in 2008, he will find it difficult to win if Hispanics sit on their hands, young people stay at home, African Americans barely drag themselves to the polls, and liberal whites vote without spirit election day.  Although Obama faces a weak and divided Republican opposition, he still has his work cut out for him.  Although he campaigned as a visionary in 2008, he has governed as a technocrat.  He has lost the enthusiastic backing of his base and failed to connect emotionally with the American public.  In order to win he needs to articulate his values clearly and forcefully and defend them with passion and conviction to voters.

Douglas S. Massey is Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University.



Understanding U.S. Presidential Elections

David R. Mayhew has a knack for bringing impressive data analysis to bear on American politics, tackling in his recent book, Partisan Balance: Why Political Parties Don’t Kill the US Constitutional System, how political parties, rather than fostering the  “gridlock” and “polarization” we often lament, have actually been the key to the continued vibrancy of our democratic political system. Writing for Election 101, he offers a characteristically thoughtful take on how U.S. presidential elections work, the idea of “victory patterns” over time, what kinds of events cause party domination, and the role of randomness. Read his piece after the jump.


Understanding U.S. Presidential Elections

David R. Mayhew


To offer fairness, an election system of two parties should exhibit at least two arithmetic properties.  One is equality.  Over a long span of time, the parties should fare roughly equally in elections.  The other is changeability.  Victories should go back and forth.  The equality standard would be satisfied if one party won every contest for a century, then the other party for the next century, but the changeability standard would not be.

By these standards, the U.S. system does rather well.  Let’s take equality first.  Starting in 1828, when mass participation of voters began, the country has had forty-six presidential elections.  The Democrats’ median share of the two-party popular vote has been 50.4%, their mean share 49.5%.  But what about the Electoral College?  The Democrats have taken the White House twenty-one times, the Republicans (or the Whigs before them) twenty-five times.  Three times—in 1876, 1888, and 2000—the Republicans did that by winning the electoral vote but not the popular vote.  On the other side, a slight counterfactual curb on the intimidation of African-American voters in the South might have brought an opposite result in 1884.  Surprisingly, there exists a respectable albeit mind-boggling case, which hinges on how to count the Alabama vote, that Nixon beat Kennedy in the national popular vote in 1960.  All this adds up to something like a wash.  Since World War II, using one plausible metric, the Republicans have performed a shade better in the Electoral College than in the popular vote eight times (certainly in 2000), and the Democrats eight times (including in 2004 and 2008).

As for changeability, that raises the question of victory patterns across time.  One popular theory sorts U.S. history into long “party realignment eras” bounded by “critical elections.”  Examples are the Jacksonian era, the McKinley era, and the New Deal era.  During eras like these, which are said to exhibit a signature dynamic, one party dominates the other for a long time—a common view is thirty years or so.  In this view, change is a rare thing.  Just recently, in the excitement of the 2008 election, it was forecast that the new Obama coalition would go on, if not forever, for a long time.  A new party era was being born.

It is wise to steer clear of such era theories.  For one thing, consider the explanatory default of randomness.  Even if party victories were distributed across a long history randomly, there would be clumps.  That is the way randomness works.  In coin flips, five heads in a row come up surprisingly often.  There is a relevant study by Daniel  J. Gans:  In the sequence of presidential elections from 1856 through 1980, the distribution of victory “runs” by party (Carter, for example, was a run of one for the Democrats; Reagan and G.H.W. Bush a run of three for the Republicans) did not different significantly  from what you would expect to get in runs of heads and tails through coin flips.   Also, a party’s performance in any one election supplies virtually no predictive information on how it will perform in the next election.

For another thing, there are plenty of obvious reasons why voters might make up their minds every four years, not every thirty years.  Events intrude.  Economic crises occur as in 1932 and 2008.  Wars carry weight as in 1952 and 1968.  We may see a “thermostatic pattern” in which voters blanch pretty quickly at a victorious party that pushes policy too far to the left, react by electing the other party which pushes too far to the right, then lurch back the other way, and so on.  The last two decades have seen a lot of this.

A fresh choice every four years.  Lots of changeability.  That is the basic story of U.S. presidential elections.  But there is one fly in the statistical ointment, one impairment to changeability.  In any election, does a party field  an incumbent president as its candidate?  Does a party get a leg up in an election that way?  The answer is yes.  Here is the record.  Going all the way back to 1788 this time, the country has held fifty-six presidential elections through 2008.  For fifty-four of them (all but 1788 and 1824), the question can be usefully posed:  Did the party holding the White House keep it?  In the twenty-three of those cases where no incumbent president figured in a November contest, the party holding the White House kept it eleven times but lost it twelve times.  On average, open-seat presidential elections are a jump ball.

But elections clogged up by an incumbent candidate are not a jump ball.  There are thirty-one instances.  The incumbent candidates have won twenty-one of them, lost ten of them.  This is roughly a two-to-one advantage.  To be sure, incumbents can get slammed out of office as were Hoover in 1932, Carter in 1980, and George H.B. Bush in 1992.  But generally they win.  The likely reasons for this are several.   Voters can be risk-averse.   Incumbents learned how to run a campaign last time and will have no trouble raising vast money for one this time.  They gain experience in office.  As presidents, they can act strategically by making appealing speeches, shooting off pleasing executive orders in September and October, revving up the economy, delaying root-canal questions until post-election Decembers, and so on.  Many are the ways.  (Strategic action by parties or candidates figuring out whom or whether to run can also enter into this discussion, but in practice it probably doesn’t make a big dent at the presidential level.)

Thus, a party can gain a temporary advantage by running an incumbent.  The Democrats hold the all-time record with their four incumbent candidacies in a row in 1936, 1940, 1944, 1948—the last three during national security crises.  But over time the party advantage averages out.  And especially with the presidency constitutionally term-limited since 1951, the possibility of running incumbents doesn’t impair party changeability very much.  Open-seat elections, as in 2008, can offer a paradigm of freshness.

In sum, we see in the U.S. system a pretty good approximation of equality and changeability.

David R. Mayhew is Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University. His books include Congress: The Electoral Connection, Divided We Govern, and Electoral Realignments.


Check your References — Antiparty Sentiment

As part of Election 101, we are posting exclusive content from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History on subjects related to Election 2012.

What is the history of antiparty sentiment in America? Stuart M. Blumin offers some insight into the origins of antiparty sentiment from our Founding Fathers to present day in this short excerpt.

Hostility toward the political party has been an important dimension of American culture from the earliest days of the republic. During the first three or four decades following the adoption of the Constitution, antiparty sentiment derived primarily from the central tenets of classical republican theory, as this ancient body of thought was developed and reshaped by British political philosophers during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Particularly important were two related concepts: that effective and just government flows from the decisions of virtuous leaders pursuing the public good rather than their own or others’ private interests; and that the political influence of those interests and interest groups that do emerge within society must be transitory and contained, so that no single interest acquires enduring power over all others and over the republic as a whole.

Read the complete article here:


The preceding is an excerpt from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History, edited by Michael Kazin, Rebecca Edwards, and Adam Rothman. To learn more about this book, please visit Copyright © 2011 by Princeton University Press. No part of this text may be distributed, posted, or reproduced in any form by digital or mechanical means without prior written permission of the publisher.

Forty-nine Percent of Gingrich Voters Choose Romney over Santorum, guest post from Lynn Vavreck

Back in January, many people wondered whether Mitt Romney’s support in the Republican primary (about 25%) was a floor or a ceiling.  The question was whether that quarter of the Republican electorate was made up of solid supporters who would be a foundation from which Romney’s support could grow or whether they were the only Republican primary voters who would vote for Romney.  Through our relationship with Model Politics, John Sides (George Washington University) and I have been asking 1,000 people a week to tell us about their political choices.  We now have 11 weeks of data about Romney, his challengers, and how voters choose among them.

These data provide a great snapshot of the GOP electorate at any point in time, but more importantly, YouGov, which fields the Model Politics surveys, did a large political profile of all the people who answer their polls in December of 2011, right before the nomination process officially started — and wait for it – everyone who has been interviewed in one of the weeks in 2012 was also interviewed in December of 2011.  This means that we have repeated data on each respondent in our weekly surveys, which means we can track changes over time.

What do we learn from these changes over time?  As you will see, there is very little evidence to suggest a strong “anyone but Romney” trend, but there does seem to be a small set of Republican primary voters holding out on switching to Romney.  More interestingly perhaps, this pattern is not unusual.  Simon Jackman (Stanford) and I found a similar phenomenon when we analyzed the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama contest in 2008.

The first number worth reporting is from these data is 40%.  That is the percentage of likely Republican primary voters who have changed their minds at least once between December 2011 and when they were interviewed.  This has a bit to do with how many candidates have dropped out of the race.  With the exits of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain, some voters are forced to change their minds and move to another candidate.  When we take away these “forced” movers and recalculate the rate of change, we find about 28% of Republican primary voters changed their minds at least once (among people whose initial preference in still in the race).  And if we isolate change further looking only among voters whose initial preference was either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum, we find about a third (32%) changed their minds at least once to date. The comparable number for initial Romney voters is 24%.

A good deal of the changes in preferences come from people switching among candidates still in the race and not only from supporters of those candidates who have dropped out.  And perhaps more interestingly for the “anybody but Romney” narrative is the fact that more initial Gingrich and Santorum voters switch than initial Romney supporters – and Romney is picking up some of those switchers.

You can examine the rate of switching for each candidate among all likely GOP voters in the first column of the table below; and their rates of gains from switchers in the second column.



It is easy to see that Santorum has been a draw for switchers.  Half of his current support is made up of voters who have switched to him after initially preferring someone else. The fact that Santorum’s initial base of support was so low in December is not irrelevant in calculating this number, but it should not take away from the important pattern: people are moving toward him.  His pattern of draw resembles what political scientists call momentum.

But Romney’s numbers are telling, too.  Of his current composition of supporters, a third of them have switched from other candidates.  Among voters who have changed their minds, 28% have ended up with Romney and 37% with Santorum (Gingrich gets 24% and Paul 11%).  But where have these voters come from?  Is Romney picking up anyone of set of people we would think of as “anybody but Romney” voters?

In the figure below I present the distribution of initial Bachmann, Perry, Huntsman, and Cain (and other) voters.  One thing is clear from the figure:  Romney picked up a good deal of support from Bachmann’s voters, almost a third of Perry’s supporters, nearly half of Huntsman’s voters, and a quarter of Cain voters.  Romney’s support is made up of some voters who preferred one of the more socially conservative candidates at one point in time.  Some of these voters will vote for Mitt Romney.

The question is, will any of the people voting for Gingrich now switch to Romney if Gingrich leaves the race? When we examine a head-to-head choice between Romney and Santorum for voters who currently prefer Gingrich and even split emerges.  Forty-nine percent of Gingrich voters choose Romney in a direct choice between Romney and Santorum.  Fifty-one percent choose Santorum.

There is a set of voters in this nominating contest who seem unwilling to vote for Romney, but there are plenty of voters who will vote for him – even if they have preferred one of the more socially conservative candidates previously.

It would be wrong to believe that all or even most of Gingrich’s support would flow to Santorum if Gingrich left the race.



Editor’s note — this is the second post in a series of guest posts by John Sides and Lynn Vavreck that assess ongoing polls through the Presidential Election. This article is cross-posted at Model Politics.

Earlier posts:

Race and the Future of the Democratic and Republican Parties

Does the steady growth of racial and ethnic minority populations in the United States mean inevitable Democratic party domination? How does each group form attachments — or not — to a political party? Recently I asked Zoltan Hajnal and Taeku Lee, authors of Why Americans Don’t Join the Party: Race, Immigration, and the Failure (of Political Parties) to Engage the Electorate, to offer their theories on race and partisan politics. Read on for their thought-provoking explanations — with lessons for both political parties — on what exactly drives party identification.



Race and the Future of the Democratic and Republican Parties

Zoltan Hajnal and Taeku Lee


In many ways America’s changing racial demographics present a real challenge to the Republican Party. The GOP is becoming more and more dependent on white voters at a time when the white share of the population is rapidly declining.  In 2010 Republican Congressional candidates garnered 60 percent of the white vote – by most estimates the highest proportion of the white vote that the GOP has won in any national election since World War II.  Two years earlier, 91 percent of the votes that John McCain received in his presidential bid came from non-Hispanic white voters.   On the flip side, as the racial and ethnic minority population grows, it appears to be increasingly attracted to the Democratic Party.  In recent contests Democrats have garnered about 90 percent of the black vote, two-thirds of the Latino vote, and a clear majority of the Asian American vote.  Considering these figures and the fact that nonwhites are likely to make up a majority of the American population by 2050, one might reasonably predict a future of Democratic domination and Republican irrelevance.

But as we demonstrate in our book this conventional view tells only part of the story of race and partisan politics. An equally significant trend that we highlight is the growth of the unaffiliated population.  Between 1945 and today the proportion of Americans who choose not to identify with one of the two major political parties has more than doubled from 15 percent to 36 percent. Critically, this trend is even more pronounced among minorities.   The largest segment of the Latino and Asian American population is not Democratic identifiers, as the conventional story would suggest, but rather non-identifiers – those who altogether refuse to answer a question about party identification or who claim that they do not think in partisan terms.  Combined, these non-identifiers and Independents make up the clear majority of the Latino and Asian American populations. Even among blacks where racial considerations seem to ensure Democratic allegiance, there are signs of diminished attachment.   Almost thirty percent of blacks feel that the Democratic Party does not work hard for black interests.  We maintain that the most dominant forces in these minority populations are not ties to the Democratic Party but rather ambivalence and uncertainty.

What are the lessons for America’s Parties?  The first and most obvious is that the future of the minority vote is still very much up for grabs.  If either party wants to maintain a dominant position in American politics, it ignores this segment of the American population at its own peril. The second lesson is not to dismiss this nonpartisan population as apolitical or unreachable.  Although these unaffiliated minorities currently tend to reside on the sidelines of American politics, our research shows that they often do care about politics and that they can be mobilized.  In the midst of this diverse nonpartisan population is an array of individuals who would – if properly targeted – become fully engaged.

The real lesson here is how to target this large and growing segment of the population.  Instinctively, parties and practitioners might feel that they need to race to the middle to target the median voter’s ideal point. An array of findings in our book indicate that this logic is less sustainable. Given the increasingly multi-dimensional nature of the American public, it is far from obvious where the median lies and less than clear that if the parties do try to race to that median, who this strategy will attract.  We suggest, instead, that to be successful in America’s increasingly diverse electorate, candidates and political parties will have to consider a multifaceted and multi-racial campaign. Rather than ignore race as the Democrats have in the recent past or use race to lure whites together into a largely exclusionary majority as the Republicans have tried in recent decades, the alternative that we offer is to communicate multi-vocally across the spectrum.

The strategy entails carefully culling through a political agenda to hone in on issues of particular concern to one group that are sufficiently peripheral to other groups that strong stands on these issues will not repel support from other groups.  For Latinos, that issue might be some narrow elements of immigration reform.  For Asian Americans, access to higher education might be an area to make in-roads without inciting an equal and opposite reaction.  Anti-discrimination efforts might similarly attract black support without provoking hostility from other groups.  The winnable set may be thin, but the list could go on.  The key is to exploit the multi-dimensional nature of the American public by appealing to each group on areas of particular concern to that group.  Since the areas of unique concern to one group can often be orthogonal or inconsequential to the core concerns of a second (or third or fourth) group, this multi-pronged approach can accommodate a fairly diverse array of interests.   The basic intuition here is to leverage racial diversity rather than put all one’s political chips into one group or ignore race altogether.

The partisan and political consequences of all of this are too huge to ignore. Over 65 percent of the minority adult population did not vote in the last presidential contest.  These are individuals who could be mobilized, who could be attracted to a party, and who could sway electoral outcomes. At present, one party – the Democrats – has an inside track on a racial multi-vocal strategy.  But the eventual outcome of this battle for the hearts and minds of America’s diverse uncommitted population is far from settled.


Zoltan L. Hajnal is associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. Taeku Lee is professor of political science and law and chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley.