“Racial Resentment” and the Undecided Voter by Lynn Vavreck (at Campaign Stops blog)

Lynn Vavreck has a terrific article at the Campaign Stops blog charting the influence of “racial resentment” on the likelihood that individual voters will vote for President Obama.

She defines racial resentment as “one of a set of regularly used political science measures of attitudes about race. It is born from the concept of symbolic racism, which has its share of critics. Essentially, it is a scale of four survey questions asking people to agree or disagree with questions about whether ‘generations of slavery’ have made it hard for blacks to work their way up the economic ladder – or whether blacks would be as well off as whites if they only ‘tried harder.’”

The data looks like this:

What does it mean?

Vavreck explains that the data show “the racial attitudes of undecided voters do not affect their vote for or against Obama as dramatically as those same attitudes affect otherwise-similar early deciders. On the one hand, this could be interpreted as more good news — another blow at the caricature. Perhaps undecided voters are truly post-racial. If race mattered to them as much as it does early deciders, they’d have already made up their minds, as the more partisan do. Maybe these voters are the ones who have moved ‘beyond’ race, at least in terms of their candidate selection.”

Read the complete, informative piece here: http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/01/in-defense-of-the-undecided/

[Video] A quick history of voting rights in the United States

Source: Democracy DistilledbyeLocalLawyers.com

This is a terrific quick video showing the progression of voting rights from 1776 to now. Princeton University Press books are also a terrific source for more information on who votes and why in the 21st century. Here’s a quick reading list:

New Faces, New Voices

The Hispanic Electorate in America
Marisa A. Abrajano & R. Michael Alvarez
Why Movements Succeed or Fail
Opportunity, Culture, and the Struggle for Woman Suffrage
Lee Ann Banaszak
Creating a New Racial Order

How Immigration, Multiracialism, Genomics, and the Young Can Remake Race in America
Jennifer L. Hochschild, Vesla M. Weaver & Traci R. Burch
Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State

Why Americans Vote the Way They Do
Andrew Gelman
Pocketbook Politics

Economic Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America
Meg Jacobs
Still a House Divided

Race and Politics in Obama’s America
Desmond S. King & Rogers M. Smith
Strength in Numbers?

The Political Mobilization of Racial and Ethnic Minorities
Jan E. Leighley
Latino Catholicism

Transformation in America’s Largest Church
Timothy Matovina
Not Even Past

Barack Obama and the Burden of Race
Thomas J. Sugrue

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: http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/16/debating-points-obama-vs-romney-round-two/#Sides. 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.


“The Undecided Voter” a la Saturday Night Live

Our author Lynn Vavreck wrote eloquently for the New York Times last week about the movements of “the undecided voter.” Perhaps SNL writers read Campaign Stops too?

It turns out a lot of people do, and we’ve seen responses from all over the web:

  • Dylan Matthews at the Washington Post’s Wonk Blog sums it up saying, “So the “undecided” count has stayed pretty constant at 6 percent. It’s just a different group of people each week.”
  • PostBourgie writes, “this year’s presidential election might ultimately come down to the mercurial whims of a few thousand people who don’t really pay attention to or care all that much about this stuff.”
  • Larry Bartels writes at Washington Monthly, “To readers versed in election studies, these findings will seem very reminiscent of those from the first scholarly analysis of campaign effects: “conversion is, by far, the least frequent result and activation the second most frequent manifest effect of the campaign.” However, whereas Lazarsfeld and his colleagues in 1940 studied 600 prospective voters in Erie County, Ohio, Vavreck and her colleagues in 2012 have 44,000 nationwide. That’s real scientific progress.”
  • At The Week, they include the “6 percenters” among “a handful of key figures that have entered the political lexicon this year.”




Sample Free Chapters from The Gamble

John Sides & Lynn Vavreck



Lynn Vavreck on the movement of undecided voters, #TheGamble2012

Lynn Vareck, author of The Message Matters and co-author of our innovative forthcoming book The Gamble, writes at the New York Times’s Campaign Stops site about shifts among undecided voters. Who is moving from the undecided column to the either Romney or Obama, and why? To set the stage, she draws on data from December 2011:

In a December 2011 YouGov poll for the Cooperative Campaign Analysis Project, 94 percent of those polled had already made up their minds about whom to support in a Mitt Romney-Barack Obama contest. Got that? Before the Republican primaries even began, before Romney was even the nominee, only 6 percent of voters were undecided.

For such a small portion of the total voting population, they receive an awful lot of attention. But has all this attention and the efforts of the campaigns helped to move them into the decided column? And if so, do they actually stay there or do they pendulum back and forth from decided to undecided? Here’s what Vavreck writes,

Let’s start with the easy part – on average, half of the 1,543 initially undecided voters report that they are still unsure in 2012. But the closer we get to the election, the fewer people remain undecided. The latest two surveys (one after each convention) show that the share of still uncommitted voters (from that initial group) had dwindled to 25 percent.

Where are these voters going as they make up their minds?  On average, over the course of 2012, 28 percent of December’s undecided voters moved to Romney, and 26 percent to Obama.

But, there is a lot more to this as Vavreck makes clear. More undecideds are swinging into the Obama column as we get closer to the election. But, this movement is a two-way street. Some voters who were previously decided for Obama or Romney are moving into the undecided column, writes Vavreck:

So far, this seems pretty straightforward: the share of undecided voters is going down as the election gets close, and in the last few weeks as these voters make up their minds, they have started to break slightly for Obama. But just to keep it interesting, at the same time that more people are finally making a decision, other people are moving away from their initial choice.

Between 3 and 4 percent of early deciders abandon their initial choice and have not made another when we re-interview them in 2012. That’s right: They have become undecided.

For more on Vavreck’s findings, please go read her fascinating, data-rich article at the New York Times Campaign Stops blog: http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/20/the-a-little-bit-less-undecided/



Sample Free Chapters from The Gamble

John Sides & Lynn Vavreck



The Myth of the Rational Voter, Bryan Caplan’s take on Romney’s 47% comments

I ran across a mention of a PUP book (The Myth of the Rational Voter) on Hit & Run at Reason magazine. This led me to author Bryan Caplan’s blog where he discusses Mitt Romney’s 47% “gaffe”:

Many people believe that voters’ positions are determined by their objective self-interest. I call this the SIVH – the Self-Interested Voter Hypothesis. A massive body of evidence shows that the SIVH is just plain wrong. Self-interest has no more than sporadic marginal effects on political views.

Successful politicians usually seem well-aware of the weakness of the SIVH. To win support, they appeal to the public interest and ideology, not self-interest. What’s really strange about Romney’s recently revealed gaffe, then, is that he seems to take an extreme version of the SIVH for granted. “There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.” Why? “47% of Americans pay no income tax.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong. The 47% won’t vote for Obama “no matter what.” Almost half of voters who earn less than the median income vote Republican in the typical election. A person doesn’t support the nanny state because he wants government to take care of him; a person supports the nanny state because he wants government to take care of us.

Whether you agree with him or not, Bryan’s book has become the go-to book for understanding voter motivation, or as the copy describes it, “misconceptions, irrational beliefs, and personal biases held by ordinary voters.” You can sample the introductory chapter of The Myth of the Rational Voter here: The Paradox of Democracy.



The Myth of the Rational Voter
Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies (New Edition)
Bryan Caplan

Matthew Briones with Cornel West on C-Span

With recent immigration debates and events such as the Trayvon Martin case triggering racial anxieties,  Matthew Briones, author of Jim and Jap Crow: A Cultural History of 1940s Interracial America has been speaking out about the undiscussed and potential alliances between Asian Americans and Latina/os. Recently he spoke at the Hue Man bookstore in Harlem with his friend Cornel West about race relations and the coming election, as well as his book, which follows the life of Charles Kikuchi, a Japanese American who was sent to an internment camp alongside 100,000 other Japanese Americans following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. The event drew a very engaged crowd, and was featured on Book TV this past weekend. Check out their conversation on C-Span’s site here, and their passionate post on this election year in interracial America for our Election 101 blog here.

Is it fair to judge a book by its cover (or its title, even?)

A tremendous amount of effort goes into picking book titles, designing jackets, and crafting back-cover blurbs, and while we come close, no publisher hits the mark 100% of the time. Here is Andrew Gelman at The Browser on the title of his book, Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State:

I regret the title I gave my book. I was too greedy. I wanted it to be an airport bestseller because I figured there were millions of people who are interested in politics and some subset of them are always looking at the statistics. It’s got a very grabby title and as a result people underestimated the content. They thought it was a popularisation of my work, or, at best, an expansion of an article we’d written. But it had tons of original material. If I’d given it a more serious, political science-y title, then all sorts of people would have wanted to read it, because they would have felt they needed to know all the important secrets in it. Instead, I gave it this accessible title which meant that people felt that they didn’t necessarily have to read it. I also regret not putting more about the process of discovery in that book, how we found out what we found out.

As for what other titles might have worked better in hindsight, Gelman has a few ideas:

Maybe something like Voting by the Numbers or The Hidden Patterns or Secret Life of the American Voter, something like that. Or something very dry, that conveyed it was serious, like Demography, Geography and American Voting.

I happen to love the title and the playful cover of Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State, but perhaps I am biased. I have the luxury of already knowing that the book contains unparalleled data and analysis on voting patterns across socioeconomic class, political party affiliation, demographics, religious attendance, gender, state of residence, and countless other useful tidbits. What do you think? Have you ever had the experience of picking up a book because of the cover only to discover it was completely not what you thought after all?

Check your References — Interest Groups

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.

“Factions” have held sway in American politics from the time of the Founding Fathers (“In Federalist Paper number 10, James Madison famously warned of the dangers of faction…”), but how have they insinuated themselves so thoroughly in American politics? Elisabeth S. Clemens gives us a short history lesson in this article.

The historical development of interest group politics may be traced by following each element of this threefold name: politics is modified by group, group by interest. By extension, group politics differ in some important way from other kinds of politics, just as interest groups are distinct from other sorts of social groups. The emergence of recognizably modern interest group politics required the mobilization of groups outside of electoral politics, the development of methods by which such groups could influence policy outcomes, and the legitimation of these interests as recognized elements of a political system that extended beyond the boundaries of the formal political institutions themselves. Although the presence of organized interests near to government has steadily expanded throughout American history, opinions differ over whether these groups support democracy by expanding citizens’ access to politics or undermine it by allowing representatives of narrow interests to control policy making.

Read the complete article here: http://blog.press.princeton.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/2Who-Votes.Interest-Groups.pdf


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 http://press.princeton.edu. 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.

Education and the 2012 Election

There has been relatively little debate on education in the primaries so far, (although state level debates have been heating up all year). The topic of educational reform could prove decisive, however.  Christopher Loss, historian and author of Between Citizens and the State recently shared his insights on contemporary education politics and what the polls tell us about what aspects of educational reform are likely to garner the most support in Election 2012. Read his Election 101 post here:



Education and the 2012 Election

Christopher Loss


The economy and jobs will be the two biggest issues in this fall’s general election, but education will also factor in who votes for which candidate and why. Voters looking for major policy differences between the two candidates this November will have to look pretty hard to find any. Indeed, the striking thing about contemporary education politics is just how much agreement there is among policymakers and the public that the education system is broken and needs to be fixed.

Let’s begin with the K-12 sector. Anyone who has a child in a public school understands by now that the education landscape has changed dramatically since the enactment of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002. The act’s basic features are well known. The states must annually test students in math and reading in grades 3-8, and all students must be “proficient” in these subjects by 2014. Schools that fail to make “annual yearly progress” (AYP) face increasingly severe “corrective actions”—staff can be fired, a new curriculum installed, and longer school days instituted. If improvements aren’t made, failing schools can be taken over by a private company or even closed.

The latest findings of the highly respected Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools suggests that the public supports key aspects of the educational reform agenda that NCLB enshrined. The 2011 poll found that most Americans like their own child’s school but are skeptical of the nation’s education system writ large; they want quality teachers who are fairly compensated; they increasingly like charter schools; and they are more dubious than ever about public sector unions. President Obama has garnered the support of the major teacher unions despite embracing an education agenda that differs little from that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Race to the Top, the President’s signature education reform, has extended the NCLB framework, providing competitive federal grants to states willing to try experiments (i.e., “reforms”) that link teacher pay and performance to student achievement. The distinction between Obama and his predecessor is purely a semantic one—a distinction without a difference.

Governor Mitt Romney, the President’s likely opponent in November, also bows down at the altar of reform, having sworn allegiance to its major commandments: consumer choice, accountability, standards, and testing. As governor he tried and failed to overhaul Massachusetts’ education system, whose students routinely rank among the best performing in the country. None of this had anything to do with Romney’s one-term in office, but that won’t prevent him from boasting about it during the campaign. Where Romney and his party diverge from the President is in their call for even more parental choice and greater access to charter schools. Small-government conservatism, despite all the evidence to the contrary, remains the heart’s blood of the Republican Party. Romney’s support for parental empowerment speaks to that core belief as well as to his party’s larger “family values” agenda, in particular the current cause célèbre of rightwing educational reformers, home schooling.

Higher education, long an afterthought in presidential elections, might figure more prominently in this year’s contest. In his State of the Union Address in January, President Obama’s promise to clamp down on the sector by linking federal funding to student outcomes generated a flurry of debate. Is a new era of NCLB-like federal oversight of higher education in the offing? Or is this just an election-year ploy to stir the passions of the college-educated voting bloc who supported Obama in record numbers four years ago? Either way the President touched a raw nerve. The public has grown concerned over rapidly rising college costs, declining state funding, spiraling student loan debt, high dropout rates, and reports of lackluster learning on campuses across the country.

The problem is that most education leaders agree that the sort of heavy handed federal regulation that has been brought to bear on the K-12 system would ruin America’s great system of colleges and universities. It’s a system with its own brand of self-regulation—admission and degree requirements, peer review and tenure, accrediting boards and professional licensure exams—that works very well. It’s a system that offers students a wide range of institutional and price options. Most important of all, it’s a system whose energy and creativity flow from the freedom it gives faculty and students to think, research, teach, and learn.

Therein lies the catch: unlike other areas of social policy, when it comes to the politics of higher education the usual mix of regulation and/or spending cuts don’t make the grade. If the President pushes too hard for regulation he might alienate the “educated classes” whose support he needs to win. The stakes are even greater for Romney. If he embraces federal regulation in higher education, as George W. Bush did in K-12 with NCLB, it might weaken his claim to the small government, free market credentials that matter so much to the Republican base and that his past support for health care reform has already brought into doubt.

Taking their lead from state houses around the country, the candidates could support spending cuts. President Obama has consistently supported increased spending on higher education, most recently in his proposed budget, and that seems unlikely to change. Romney is in a tougher spot. The recent budget passed by the GOP-controlled House—an ideological showpiece that had no chance of making it out of the Democratic-led Senate—included deep cuts in education spending. His instinct as governor was to cut spending; and that’s been the theme of his campaign. The problem is that slashing funding for student aid does not exactly exude the “politics of hope” that the electorate typically prefers in its presidential candidates. Besides, at the national level dramatic funding cuts are harder to come by, particularly when the powerful higher education lobby is keeping close watch and when there are 18 million students enrolled in higher education, an overwhelming majority of whom rely on federal dollars of one form or another to stay in school.

That leaves the candidates with a final option—to do nothing. This is exactly why students and their families, and the colleges they attend, are in the pinch they are now. Aside from making more and more aid available, neither party has had any strategy at all for higher education for fifty years. Whether the candidates can come up with one in the next six months is anyone’s guess.


Christopher P. Loss is assistant professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University.

Voting patterns of America’s whites, from the masses to the elites — a guest post from Andrew Gelman

Andrew Gelman, author of Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State is well known for analyzing data and crunching numbers to reveal the truth beneath the hype. In this guest post, he provides some graphs comparing data from the last three elections and explains what this tells us about voting patterns among different education and income groups.

Voting patterns of America’s whites by Andrew Gelman


Download this image as a PDF.

Within any education category, richer people vote more Republican. In contrast, the pattern of education and voting is nonlinear. High school graduates are more Republican than non-HS grads, but after that, the groups with more education tend to vote more Democratic. At the very highest education level tabulated in the survey, voters with post-graduate degrees lean toward the Democrats. Except for the rich post-graduates; they are split 50-50 between the parties.

What does this say about America’s elites? If you define elites as high-income non-Hispanic whites, the elites vote strongly Republican. If you define elites as college-educated high-income whites, they vote moderately Republican.

There is no plausible way based on these data in which elites can be considered a Democratic voting bloc. To create a group of strongly Democratic-leaning elite whites using these graphs, you would need to consider only postgraduates (no simple college grads included, even if they have achieved social and financial success), and you have to go down to the below-$75,000 level of family income, which hardly seems like the American elites to me.

The patterns are consistent for all three of the past presidential elections. (The differences in the higher-income low-education category should not be taken seriously, as the estimates are based on small samples, as can be seen from the large standard errors for those subgroups.)

Notes: These graphs show just (non-Hispanic) white voters because (a) most voters are white, (b) minorities tend to vote consistently for Democrats, so there’s less variation in their voting patterns, and (c) sample sizes are smaller for nonwhite groups so it’s hard to see clear patterns amid the noise. Data come from Annenberg pre-election polls for 2000 and 2004 and Pew pre-election polls for 2008; total number of non-Hispanic white respondents: 26161, 36476, and 15212. Graphs show intended vote in presidential election, including only those who expressed a preference for the Democratic or Republican candidate. Income categories are defined as family income Yair Ghitza.

Click here to download the graphs as a PDF.

Latinos in the 2012 Election–How Crucial This Time?

Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America’s Largest Church, by Timothy Matovina explores the ever-increasing contribution Latinos make to American religious and social life, offering a look at the important ways the U.S. Catholic Church, its evolving Latino majority, and American culture are mutually transforming one another. Today he writes for Election 101 on the growing electoral significance of Latinos, and offers his take on the potential impact for the 2012 election.



Latinos in the 2012 Election--How Crucial This Time?

Timothy Matovina


Bold proclamations about Latino voters determining presidential elections have become a regular feature of political commentary. When George W. Bush won a higher percentage of Hispanic votes than any previous Republican presidential candidate in his 2004 reelection, political consultant Dick Morris asserted that “the biggest reason for Bush’s victory was that he finally cracked the Democratic stranglehold on the Hispanic vote.” Four years later, Martin Kettle, associate editor of the British newspaper The Guardian, dubbed Latinos “the big racial game-changer” in Barack Obama’s election after Obama received two thirds of Latino votes cast, 25 percentage points more than John Kerry received four years earlier. Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress Action Fund titled a recent blog post “Why Obama’s Re-Election Hinges on the Hispanic Vote.”


In fact the electoral significance of Latinos is growing steadily, but not as exponentially as such commentaries suggest. Though the growth of Latinos into the nation’s largest minority group has been widely reported, for the 2008 general elections eligible African American voters still outnumbered Latinos by five million. Many Latinos are not eligible to vote because they are not citizens or are younger than the legal voting age. Approximately half a million Latinos reach the legal voting age annually, but these increases add up to only two million new eligible voters since the last presidential election. Moreover, the majority of Latino voters reside in California, New York, and Texas, states in which the results of presidential elections are relatively predictable. The victorious candidate’s margin of victory in these states ranged from 9 to 27 percentage points in the two most recent presidential elections, with Republican candidates winning Texas and their Democratic counterparts winning California and New York. These comfortable margins mitigate claims of a critical Latino swing vote in presidential elections, and potentially reduce Latinos’ incentive to vote in states that pollsters declare are predetermined in advance. Comparatively low Latino voter turnout – in the 2008 general elections less than half of eligible Latino voters cast ballots, while nearly two-thirds of black and white eligible voters did – no doubt results in part from this disincentive to electoral participation.


The four swing states where Latino votes have the greatest influence are Florida, New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado, all of which Bush won in 2004 and Obama won in 2008. Of course, in close races the importance of every grouping of voters is magnified. There is not sufficient evidence in such instances to deem Latinos the decisive factor. Indeed, asking if Latino voters were decisive in a given election result is not the sole or even the most important question to pose. Rather, greater attention should be given to Latinos’ relation to wider voting patterns and their participation in strategic coalitions that affect electoral outcomes. From this perspective, the facts that Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win a clear majority of Latino votes in Florida and that from 2004 to 2008 New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada were the three states with the largest increases in the Latino percentage of the voters who cast ballots reveal the growing significance of Latino voters as one key constituency in presidential elections.


Exit polls for the 2004 and 2008 elections revealed that a clear majority of Latino voters said jobs and the economy were the issues that mattered most in their choice for the presidential election. While the numerous working-class Latinos do not tend to have the same lens on the economy as more affluent voters – to use the language of the 2008 presidential campaigns, Latinos’ focus is more on jobs and Main Street than on investments and Wall Street – the strong focus on economic issues reflected a widespread concern within the broader electorate. Concern about jobs, as well as education and health care, remain important for many Latinos. But recent polls suggest that an increasing number of Latinos avow immigration will be one of the top three – or even the most – crucial issue swaying their presidential votes in 2012. The record number of deportations during Obama’s presidency has upset many Latinos, but many perceive the anti-immigrant rhetoric of leading Republican candidates as even more disconcerting. To the extent the immigration issue becomes more causative of Latino voting in the forthcoming election, the Latino impact will hinge not on whether most Latinos vote again for Obama, but whether they vote at all.


Timothy Matovina is professor of theology and the William and Anna Jean Cushwa Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame.