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more tweets, more votes: social media and causation

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This week, the group Political Bots wrote the following tweet and cited More Tweets, More Votes in support:

The claim, I believe, is that politicians purchase bots (automated spamming Twitter accounts) because they believe that more presence on media leads to a higher vote tally.

In presenting these results, we were very careful to avoid saying that there is a causal relationship between social media mentions and voting:

These results indicate that the “buzz” or public discussion about a candidate on social media can be used as an indicator of voter behavior.

And:

Known as the Pollyana hypothesis, this finding implies that the relative over-representation of a word within a corpus of text may indicate that it signifies something that is viewed in a relatively positive manner. Another possible explanation might be that strong candidates attract more attention from both supporters and opponents. Specifically, individuals may be more likely to attack or discuss disliked candidates who are perceived as being strong or as having a high likelihood of winning.

In other words, we went to great efforts to suggest that social media is a “thermometer,” not a cause of election outcomes.

Now, it might be fascinating to find that politicians are changing behavior in response to our paper. It *might* be the case that when politicians believe in a causal effect, they increase spending on social media. Even then, it doesn’t show a causal effect of social media. It is actually more evidence for the “thermometer” theory. Politicians who have money to spend on social media campaigns are strong candidates and strong candidates tend to get more votes. I appreciate the discussion of social media and election outcomes, but so far, I think the evidence is that there is not a casual effect.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

September 4, 2015 at 12:02 am

trump and the ross perot effect

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I am a big believer in social science. For example, I believe there is a lot of evidence supporting the view that elite endorsements do predict party nominations, as documented in The Party Decides. So how does one explain Donald Trump’s current popularity?

The answer, I think, is simple. Normally, politicians need party elites because they don’t have the money, name recognition, organization, or media presence to run for office. Trump has all of these:

  • A billion dollar fortune he is willing spend from.
  • Decades of media presence.
  • His own business organization.
  • Name recognition from books, tv, and even a board game.

Add to this that Trump is charismatic, then it is easy to see what the issue is. The Party Decides model is mainly about people who need parties for help. If you need a party, and it doesn’t like you, you’ll loose. Trump has his own resources and he’s great at projecting himself on tv. Thus, he has a chance at bucking the system.

This doesn’t mean that he’s a shoe-in. He could easily turn out to be one of the many also-rans in presidential races. But this reasoning does increase my small belief that he could win a state, or run a Ross Perot style campaign and get 10% or 20% of the popular vote. The deeper lesson here is that politicians, relatively speaking, are poor and need parties. That is why most people have to play by the party’s rules. If you have your own bank account, and you’re good on tv, you can write your own rules.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

August 24, 2015 at 12:01 am

the uber-ization of activism

In the NY Times, UCLA sociologist and orgtheorist emeritus Ed Walker had an insightful column about the nature of modern activism. What does it mean when an interest group can just “rent” a bunch of people for a protest? From the column:

Many tech firms now recognize the organizing power of their user networks, and are weaponizing their apps to achieve political ends. Lyft embedded tools on its site to mobilize users in support of less restrictive regulations. Airbnb provided funding for the “Fair to Share” campaign in the Bay Area, which lobbies to allow short-term housing rentals, and is currently hiring “community organizers” to amplify the voices of home-sharing supporters. Amazon’s “Readers United” was an effort to gain customer backing during its acrimonious dispute with the publisher Hachette. Emails from eBay prodded users to fight online sales-tax legislation.

So it’s reasonable to ask whether there’s still a bright line between being a business and being a campaign organization, or between consumer and activist. Tech companies’ customers may think they are being served. But they are often the ones providing the service.

The whole column is required reading and illustrates the nebulous boundary between traditional politics and social movement politics. Self-recommending!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

PS. “Uberi-zation” is such a weird word…

Written by fabiorojas

August 12, 2015 at 12:01 am

analyzing the democratic field, 2016

I recently discussed the GOP presidential field. It’s basically Team Bush/Nixon vs. the populists, with the fruit cake of the month. The Democratic field has evolved into a simplified version of the GOP field. It’s Team Clinton vs. the populists and no loonies need apply. Team Clinton got the nomination three times (1992, 1996, 2000) and a very, very close second place (2008 – Hilary got 47% of the vote vs. Obama’s 48%). All other challengers a combined won three nominations (2004, 2008, 2012) and one of those was when Team Clinton didn’t have anyone in the race.

Vox has a nice feature, by Jonathan Allen, on Hilary’s political style that really does a good job of explaining her political strength and how she is managing to retain the lead. She’s a horrid campaigner whose campaign organization went bankrupt and literally didn’t know the rules, but she has been a center of gravity in the Democratic party for nearly three decades. What allows this? The answer is essentially patronage. Since she’s been working in Democratic party politics since Watergate, she can assemble broad coalitions in the party and incorporates some elements of most mainstream policy proposals:

Clinton’s been a boss at building institutional support. Here’s her secret: Invite potential adversaries to the table, include some of their ideas in policy, and then send their laudatory remarks out to reporters. This signals to them that she’ll be inclusive if she’s elected president, and makes it hard for them to criticize her later on.

The MO has been most evident on the economic agenda Clinton’s in the midst of rolling out. She consulted more than 200 economists, according to her campaign. Her aides worked closely with officials at the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive think tank, in advance of her official campaign launch rally on Roosevelt Island in New York and before her first big economic speech.

More important, she’s taking input from liberal economists who emphasize “fairness” in the economic system and have warred with more Wall Street–oriented Democratic economists such as Bob Rubin and Larry Summers. Rather than choose between their “growth” wing of the Democratic economic establishment and the “fairness” wing, represented by the likes of Joe Stiglitz and Alan Blinder, Clinton has opted for both — and managed to co-opt both.

“Today Hillary Clinton began to offer the kind of comprehensive approach we need to tackle the enormous economic challenges we face, one that is squarely in line with what we have called for at the Roosevelt Institute,” Stiglitz said in a statement.

In other words, she’s the best co-opter in the business.

If you wonder if this strategy will continue to work, just look at the results. Already, she has endorsements from a majority of the Democratic caucus and elite endorsements are strongly correlated with primary performance. Historically, the strategy works like a charm. For example, in 1992, Bill Clinton lost 5 primaries or Caucuses in a row (yes, five!) and was still leading the nomination dues to “superdelegate” endorsements.

Right now, Hilary has at least three challengers and they correctly sense that Hilary is a weak campaigner. What they may not realize is that she is one the best “insider” politicians in the party and they need to address that somehow, if they are going to win.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

July 29, 2015 at 12:01 am

party in the streeet: response to econlog commenters

Last week, Bryan Caplan wrote two lengthy posts about Party in the Street (here and here). He focuses on a few issues: the differences between Republican and Democratic administrations on war policy and the exaggeration of differences by activists. Bryan also argues that the arguments typically made by peace activists aren’t those he would make. Rather than condemn specific politicians or make blanket statements about war, he focuses on the death of innocents and war’s unpredictability (e.g., it is hard to judge if wars work ex ante).

The commenters raised a number of questions and issues. Here are a few:

  • Jacob Geller asks whether the collapse of the peace movement is spurious and could be attributed to other factors (e.g., the economy). Answer: There are multiple ways to assess this claim – the movement began its slide pre-recession (true), partisans are more likely to disappear than non-partisans during the recession (true), and the movement did not revive post-recession (true – e.g., few democrats have protested Obama’s war policies). Movements rise and fall for many reasons, but in this case, partisanship is almost certainly a factor.
  • Michael suggested that there was a Democratic war policy difference in that Al Gore would not have fought Iraq. One can’t establish anything with certainty using counter factual history, but Frank Harvey suggested that President Gore would like have fought Iraq, given the long standing enmity and low level armed conflict between Iraq and the Clinton administration  (including Gore).
  • Also, a few people raised the issue of voting and if the antiwar issue was salient for Democrats. A few comments – one is that in data about activists, Democrats tended to view Obama’s management of war in better terms than non-partisans. Another point is that opinions on the war affected vote choice in multiple elections. The issue, though, isn’t whether Democrats were motivated by their attitudes on the Iraq War. The issue is how that is linked to movement participation and how that changes over time, given electoral events. All evidence suggests that the democratic party and the antiwar movement dissociated over time, leading to the peace movement’s collapse.

Thanks for the comments!

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

July 22, 2015 at 12:01 am

when anarchism is a decent option: the case of somalia

Africanists like to toss around the words “failed state.” But what they falsely assume is that there is only one option – building a stronger state. What would happen if the state just withered and people just let it go? Are people better off by just ditching the weak state? A 2006 article in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization by Benjamin Powell, Ryan Ford, and Alex Nowratseh asks exactly this question. They ask, what happened in Somalia after their state collapsed 1991?

Somalia is a nation that was hammered by war, famine, dictators, and an out of control socialist state. In the 1991, the state collapsed and people reverted to tribal forms of governance based on Islamic courts and kinship (the Xeer system). In 2005, Powell et al. collected basic data on longevity, health, roads, money, and law. Then they asked, how does Somalia compare with other African states?

The answer is surprising. On many measures, Somalia post-1991 actually does well compared to 42 other sub-Saharan states. On at least five measures (including life expectancy and mortality), Somalia is in the top half (p. 662). On a few important measures (such as water access and immunization), they are near the bottom. Even then, they often improved in absolute terms, though not in relative terms. When you compared Somalia with neighbors that had been at war, they report improvements in most measures while other warring states saw declines. Somalia has also seen an expansion of its pastoral economy, a functional currency, and the best mobile phone system in the region. The major setback for Somalia is a depressing performance with regard to infant mortality, which probably relates to poor immunization rates. Still, statelessness did not lead to chaos. Rather, Somalia continued to resemble other African societies on most measures.

This is not an argument for selling off the White House, but it does make an extremely important comparative institutional point. High quality Western systems of governance are simply not on the table. There is no way these impoverished societies can create the level of wealth needed for Western style states in the short term. It is also the case that the options are horrible – dictatorships or Marxist states. If those are your choices, it might be plausible to evolve into a decentralized legal system.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Stree

Written by fabiorojas

July 1, 2015 at 12:01 am

where is rick perry? – a serious response to reihan salam about the republican field

This weekend, Slate published an article by Reihan Salam about Governor Rick Perry. Once considered a front runner, Perry quickly imploded in 2012 and is having trouble finding traction in the current primary. Why? As Reihan correctly notes, he has a record that indicates great political strength. On twitter, I offered the cheeky response: he once promoted legislation that allowed some undocumented Texans to receive financial aid from the University of Texas. Poison. Gabriel Rossman also notes that he “crashed and burned,” a reference to some poor campaigning. But still, he did manage to get the second most endorsements after Romney, which is usually a strong correlate of success as shown in the book The Party Decides.

I’d like to offer a deeper response which situates Perry within the broader evolution of national Republican politics and why he might have an even tougher time in 2016 than before. Let’s start with my master theory of national Republican politics as presented in the post Nixon’s Revenge. What you notice is that almost every single GOP Presidential ticket since 1952 has had someone from Nixon’s personal network – Nixon (1952, 1956, 1960, 1968, 1972), Dole (1976, 1996), Ford (1976), Bush (1980, 1984, 1988, 1992), and Cheney (2000, 2004). This network is what you might call the elite of the national security wing of the GOP, since they focus on foreign intervention.

The next observation is that this ruling faction of the GOP has lost its grip, somewhat. Romney emerged from a more liberal wing of the GOP that is now almost extinct. Palin is the GOP’s version of the social justice warrior. McCain earned his political stripes by virtue of military service and family connections in Arizona and, as far as I know, has relatively little connection to the network of elite Republicans centered around Nixon in the late 20th century.

In theory, Rick Perry might be a strong candidate in this environment. A strong electoral record in a big Republican state would be an asset and you no longer need the sponsorship of the Bush/Nixon coalition. He could, in theory, beat a path similar to Reagan in the 1970s. Work the activist base, develop strong media skills, and use the home state at a launch pad for national politics. When the Nixon sponsored candidate lost in 1976, Reagan could step in and claim the mantle in the next election cycle.

So why can’t Perry use this strategy? First, the Bush faction recovered and Jeb is their guy. That is one very important faction that Perry can no longer rely on. A lot of donors, staff, and activists are off limits. Second, Perry has not projected himself in a way that allows him to be strongly identified with any other faction that is large enough to make a difference in the primary. For example, Romney and McCain easily appealed to centrist Republicans. Palin appealed to the Fox news crowd. Currently, Scott Walker has been able to appeal to anti-unionists, populists and Tea Partiers. Rand Paul can appeal to the 10% of the GOP that is libertarian. Ask yourself who Perry represents in the GOP and it is hard to clearly align him to a faction, even though it is fairly clear that he is a social conservative.

One might ask why Perry has failed to become the standard bearer for a GOP faction. I am not an expert on Texas politics, but I can offer a few conjectures. First, maybe Perry simply isn’t as adept at playing the game of conservative social identities. Walker has spent a lot of time fighting unions and is now tweaking tenure, which is a love letter to the GOP base. When every GOP governor is rushing to create a no-abortion zone, you’ll probably need to do more to stand out from the crowd than pass another law aimed at abortion clinics. Walker understands that better than anyone. Second, Perry is old (66). His career started in the 1980s. He may not have the energy, or the flexibility, to stand out in this environment. Third, Perry may be a Texas specialist. There are a lot of effective governors who did well in their states but failed to make any headway nationally. Fourth is what I call “Mitch Daniels syndrome.” Signal any compromise with the enemy and that can sink you quickly (e.g., the famous debate when Perry was booed for a rather modest higher ed reform benefiting immigrants). There’s a really good reason Mitch Daniels is now a university president and not a serious contender for the nomination.

Bottom line: With the Bush coalition pushing a candidate, there is less room for someone like Perry. Also, Perry hasn’t been able to make himself into a “brand name.” There isn’t much else to say.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($2!!!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street

Written by fabiorojas

June 8, 2015 at 12:01 am

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