Archive for the ‘political science’ Category
So there are a thousand reasons Trump won the election, right? There’s race, there’s class, there’s gender. There’s Clinton as a candidate, and Trump as a candidate, the changing media environment, the changing economic environment, and the nature of the primary fields. It’s not either-or, it’s all of the above.
But Josh Pacewicz’s new book, Partisans and Partners: The Politics of the Post-Keynesian Society, implies a really interesting explanation for the swing voters in the Rust Belt—the folks who went Obama in 2008, and maybe 2012, but Trump in 2016. These voters may make up a relatively small fraction of the total, but they were key to this election.
Originally, I was going to write a detailed post about how Clinton 2’s campaign created the Rust Belt Bungle. The Washington Post has done the job for me, with a detailed analysis of the campaign’s missteps. But before I drop the discussion of the Clinton 2 campaign, I also want to concur with critics of the party who note that nominating Clinton 2 was taking a large risk. While partisans liked to push the narrative that Clinton 2 was a master politician, the record says otherwise. When something big is on the line, Clinton 2 has often fumbled. Whether it be losing healthcare in a fight with a Democratic congress in 1994, voting for the Iraq War in 2002, or losing a big lead to a no-name Senator from Illinois in 2008, Clinton 2 has not been a master of the political game. Thatcher or Merkel she is not. Future biographers can assess why, but I think Colin Powell summed it up best when he wrote that her hubris “screws up everything.”
Instead, I want to talk about a bigger issue – the progressive explosion in the Democratic party. During the primary, I wrote that there were signs that establishment Democrats were slowly losing their grip and we’d see a Tea Party style blow up. It happened – and sooner than I thought. The party has been decapitated and now the progressive base is out for total control. From The Hill:
Liberals interviewed by The Hill want to see establishment Democrats targeted in primaries, and the “Clinton-corporate wing” of the party rooted out for good.
The fight will begin over picking a new leader for the Democratic National Committee.
Progressives are itching to see the national apparatus reduced to rubble and rebuilt from scratch, with one of their own installed at the top.
And there is talk among some progressives, like Bill Clinton’s former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, about splitting from the Democratic Party entirely if they don’t get the changes they seek.
Other media have reported that Sanders has endorsed a DNC chair candidate and that liberals are preparing for an all out war for control. Given that there is no leadership right now, it could be a messy, but healthy, process. Except for 2004, the party has been dominated by one faction for almost thirty years.
Honestly, I don’t know what will happen. Maybe there is a post-Clinton restoration of some type in the wings. Or perhaps the party will move hard left. But what I do know is that the Tea Party president is here and that is what they’ll have to deal with.
Right now, we aren’t seeing a collapse of Donald Trump. Instead, we’re seeing (a) Clinton 2 steady at about 45% in the four way race and (b) Trump moving from about 40% to 43%. That means that the third party vote is collapsing. Johnson is dropping from a summer high of 10% to 4%. How can that be?
My current favorite explanation is the “parking lot” theory of American third parties. Most people today are highly polarized, which means they strongly sort themselves into parties and stick with it. A number of people, including myself, have argued that parties are a sort of social identity. Perhaps not as fundamental as gender or racial identity, but important none the less. The consequence of party-identity theory is that people usually become defensive about their identity and they are loathe to leave it.
“Parking lot” theory is a corollary of party-identity theory. When people are faced with a horrible candidate from their party, they become defensive and don’t want to give it up. They refuse to consider third parties. At best, third parties become “parking lots” for voters who are indecisive or embarrassed until they finally pull the lever for mainstream parties. I suspect that is what resulted in those 10% polls for Johnson. The Libertarian Party was simply the “parking lot” for 5% of American voters who fully intend to vote GOP but are too embarrassed by Trump. There is a real libertarian vote out there, but it is in the low single digits. Definitely not 10%.
I’m not the first to make this argument. In fact, one my BGS* pointed out that this argument appears in Shafer and Spady’s recent book The American Political Landscape. They don’t develop it fully but the historical data is there. In 2016, we see a spike of 10% for the Libertarians but they’ll be lucky to get 5% on polling day. In 1992, Perot peaked in the 30% range but ended up with 19% (still impressive) and then 10% in 1996. In 1980, John Anderson peaked at 20% but ended up with a paltry 7%. Nader 2000 is probably the only modern third party candidate that wasn’t a voter parking lot. He polled consistently in the 2%-4% range and got 3%.
Bottom line: The Libertarians may spoil a state or two this round, but they are doomed to be a voter parking lot.
* Brilliant Grad Students
In the 1950s, Isaac Asimov wrote a series of books called The Foundation Series. The plot is simple and fascinating. Far in the future, civilization is collapsing, Roman Empire style. A small group of mathematical social scientists (“pyschohistorians”) use all kinds of models to predict what might happen to humanity. They decide to let the Empire fall and replace it with an alternative social order originating on a marginal planet called Foundation. And of course, the pyschohistorians pull the strings to make this happen.
The sequel introduces a fascinating twist. For the first hundred or so years, everything is going to plan. Foundation becomes a strong city state and starts to restore political order. Then, all of a sudden, a Napoleon like leader, called “The Mule,” shows up and effortlessly conquers vast expanses of space. What happened? None of the social science models predicted that this would happen.
It turns out that the Mule is a mutant who has mind control. He simply conquers populations by adjusting their emotions and memories, so they just immediately fall into his lap. Eventually, a hidden group of psychohistorians, “the Second Foundation,” defeat the Mule, he becomes normal, and social progress is back on track.
This is the best way to explain my model of the Trump candidacy. He is a type of figure that does not normally get consideration in social theory. He isn’t quite as all powerful as The Mule, but he does share one key trait. He has a unique ability to directly appeal to a large group of people and by pass the normal channels of influence. The Mule had psychic powers, the Donald has the skill to manipulate the media. Weber, of course, spoke about charisma, but few have really gone into depth and integrated an account of charisma into social theory more systematically. That is why so many social scientists have difficulty talking about Trump, even after the fact. It’s about time we thought more carefully about these rare, but important, figures.
Earlier this week, I discussed Professor Amenta’s insanely generous review, “Raising the Bar for Scholarship on Protest and Politics,” which just came out in Contemporary Sociology. We’ve been discussing Amenta’s criticisms. On Tuesday, I discussed why it is useful to see the wars in Iraq an Afghanistan as part of a broader war on terror. Today, I’ll discuss Professor Amenta’s other criticism. He doesn’t buy our explanation that polarization was such a big for the modern peace movement in comparison to the Vietnam era movement:
The authors attribute the contrast between the vigor of the anti-Vietnam War movement during the post-Johnson (Nixon) years and the weakness of the antiwar movement during the post-Bush (Obama) era to the less intense partisanship of the earlier period. It is true that U.S. politics in the late 1960s featured many conservative southern Democrats and moderate Republicans, but partisanship remained important and influenced political contention against the war. In addition, the earlier antiwar movement was boosted by Nixon’s ‘‘secret plan’’ to end the Vietnam War, which was revealed to be intensive bombing of Vietnam and then invading Cambodia. Moreover, unlike recent history, there was a draft and no news blackout on Vietnam War destruction and deaths, each of which spurred continued movement activity in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This is a significant oversight because it underlines the difficulties faced by antiwar movements today.
First, let’s start with points of agreement. Michael and I definitely agree with Professor Amenta about the importance of the draft. That’s a huge difference and it certainly kept a lot of other wise apathetic citizens on the street to prevent themselves and their family from being drafted. In multiple interviews with older activists, we where told a number of times that the draft was a big motivator in the 1960s.
Still, that doesn’t get you far enough. If “draft theory” were very true, then there would not have been any antiwar movement at all. A relatively small volunteer force fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We would not have seen any protest at all. Furthermore, you need some explanation of why there would be ups and downs of the movement. We think our partisan-identity theory is a plausible explanation rooted in an intuitive political psychology. Polarization just exacerbated the issue. Once Democrats assumed leadership in the war effort, there was nobody on the “other side” to pick up slack in the movement, as moderate Republicans might have in an earlier era.