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i declare complete victory in the more tweets, more votes debate

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In 2013, my collaborators and I published a paper claiming that there is an empirical correlation between relative social media activity and relative vote counts in Congressional races. In other words, if people are talking about the Democrat more than the Republican on Twitter, then the Democrat tends to get more votes. Here’s the regression line from the original “More Tweets, More Votes” paper:

MTMVjournal.pone.0079449.g001.png

People grumbled and complained. But little by little, evidence came out showing that the More Tweets/More Votes model was correct. For example, an article in Social Science Quarterly showed the same results for relative Google searches and senate races:

senate_google

Latest evidence? It works for wikipedia as well. Public Opinion Quarterly published a piece called “Using Wikipedia to Predict Election Outcomes: Online Behavior as a Predictor of Voting” by Benjamin Smith and Abel Gustafason. From the abstract:

We advance the literature by using data from Wikipedia pageviews along with polling data in a synthesized model based on the results of the 2008, 2010, and 2012 US Senate general elections. Results show that Wikipedia pageviews data significantly add to the ability of poll- and fundamentals-based projections to predict election results up to 28 weeks prior to Election Day, and benefit predictions most at those early points, when poll-based predictions are weakest.

Social media DOES signal American election outcomes! I spike the football. I won. Period.

It’s pretty rare that you propose a hypothesis, your prove it’s right and then it is proved right a bunch of times by later research.

#winning

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Written by fabiorojas

September 19, 2017 at 4:01 am

racism and the liberal democratic society

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Most people who think about democratic societies don’t mean “direct democracy.” They don’t want a world where every whim of the majority is translated into policy. Rather, most think about representative democracy and systems of checks and balances because, frankly, the voters often demand unwise things. Furthermore, when we think about democracies, we often think of a goal that might be called the liberal democratic society – a society where the state takes the input of voters seriously while allowing people to set the course of their own lives.

However, there is still a problem in democratic societies. Even with elected representatives and checks and balances, minorities can still push through illiberal policies that directly harm other minorities. I think American racism is a great example of that. Roughly speaking, there is a chunk of the electorate that has a terrible view of immigrants and ethnic minorities. This article from The Root briefly describes recent polling data from the National Opinion Research Center. About a quarter of Republicans and about 15% of Democrats hold highly negative views of Blacks, describing them as less intelligent and lazy.

Now, in historical terms, this is a huge improvement. Fifty years ago, most whites held very negative opinions of Blacks. So why should you be worried? The reason is that there is a strong correlation between partisan identification and nativist/racist sentiment. For example, in the GSS data reported by The Root, the  partisan gap is about 10%-15% points. And once you get a strong faction within a party, they can occasionally win elections – even national elections.

So what do we do when virulent minorities gain power? As we saw in the 2016 presidential system, parties don’t have the power to stop them in a primary system. But we are seeing signs of life. The business community is slowly abandoning Trump. The military has decided to drag its feet on Trump’s transgender soldier ban. In a few cases, the courts have blocked a few of Trump’s more repressive policies, such as the ban on migration from Muslim countries.

This points to an important feature of liberal democracy. It’s liberal character is not in the policy, but the wider culture. Our institutions have had a mixed record in preventing folks like Trump and the virulent “deplorable” 20% that brought him to power. The Republican party collapsed in 2016 and mainstream “establishment” Republicans were helpless to stop Trump. Congress has stopped some of Trump’s worst excesses, but only because the Senate is in relative disarray, not because of active resistance. The strongest resistance has been from outside the political system. Now that Trump has announced the end of DACA, we’ll see how the culture of liberal democracy expresses itself. Will it collapse and agree to a new immigration system that limits movement even more? Or will it assert itself and promote a system that is consistent with freedomo of movement?

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Written by fabiorojas

September 6, 2017 at 4:54 am

american emulation: comments on caplan’s post

Over at Econlog, Bryan Caplan asks – why did so few people want to emulate the US?

After World War II, virtually every Third World country had a major political faction that looked on the Soviet Union as a model society.  What path should their nation take?  The answer was obvious: Emulate the Soviet Union….

And:

As far as I know, the Christian Democratic parties of Germany and Italy never anointed the United States as the Promised Land.  But in the Third World, it’s hard to think of any major political parties that held the U.S. up as an ideal.  For example, the governments of South Korea and South Vietnam angrily rejected the Soviet path, but their alternative was independent nationalism, not Americanism.

Two responses: First, there was a lot of emulation of American culture. McDonald’s, blue jeans and Coca Cola ruled the day. Second, Americanism/Western democracies embodied two things that most people don’t like – market competition and limits on state power. The modal global citizen of the Cold War, and many of the elites of the time, loved American affluence but they wanted Soviet style redistribution. In general, people are deeply suspicious of markets and they also want states to have more power, not less. Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are few parties that directly praised Western liberalism.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 25, 2017 at 12:00 am

democracy in chains symposium

Over at Policy Trajectories Josh McCabe has organized a great symposium on Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains, the most dramatic book on public choice theory you are ever likely to read.

Featuring economist Sandy Darity, political scientist Phil Rocco, and your truly, the essays try to get beyond some of the sturm und drang associated with the book’s initially glowing critical reception and intense subsequent backlash. Instead, they ask: How is political orthodoxy produced and challenged? What responsibility do individuals bear when their actions reinforce institutionalized racism? And what explains increasing efforts to put limits on democracy itself?

MacLean’s book may itself be highly polarizing. But the conversations she has opened up will be with us for a long time to come. Check it out.

Written by epopp

August 24, 2017 at 12:15 pm

the democratic party sucks hard, a scholarly analysis

Let us start with some basic data. First, the Democratic party has won the plurality or majority of the Presidential vote 6 out of 7 times since 1992. Yet, they won the Electoral College only 4 out of 7 seven times. Second, the Gallup polls shows that the Democratic party has a modest advantage in identification, with Democratic identifiers and leaners getting about 46% of the population vs. 40% for the Republicans. Yet, the Democrats only control 32% of the governorships (16 out of 50) and they control  29% of the state legislative chambers (29 out of 99). In the national Congress, Democrats do OK. Democrats have 48% of the Senate (48 of 100) and 44% of the House (194 of 435).  If we assume that non-party identifiers evenly split, the Democrats are somewhat under-performing, but just a little. So, in terms of party control, it is only in Congress where Democrats perform as expected, or perhaps slightly under-perform, but in the Presidency and the states, they really do suck. Hard.

Why?

And, please, no, it is not gerrymandering – the Presidency and the governorships are not gerrymandered. Gerrymandering has a modest effect at best. There really is a consistent under-performance.

I’ve been reading a few books that shed light on this really big structural feature of American politics. Each book offers a discussion of an issue in party politics and when you piece them together, you see how the Democratic and Republican parties differ:

  • In Local Party Organizations, Douglas D. Roscoe and Shannon Jenkins report on a survey of 1,220 party officials at the state and local levels and they ask a number of questions about the operation of local parties. First, how did state parties help locals? GOP advantage – website development, newspaper buys, campaign expenses, social media; Democratic advantages – computer support, record keeping, staff. (page 30). Second, GOP local parties were more likely to have “clear strategic goals” and a well managed organizational culture. (page 42). Third, GOP organizations are more likely to have a complete set of officers, by laws, and headquarters, whiles Democrats are more likely to have a phone listing. (page 52). Also, Democrats also tend to focus on labor intensive actions, like door-to-door and voter registration. (page 55). Fourth, these activities often (but not always) correlate with electoral success (see all of chapter 4). Bottom line: GOP organizations appear to be a little more focused, organized, and strategic. Democrats seem to concentrate a bit more on things people can do (door to door, for example and record keeping).
  • In Asymmetric Politics, Matt Grossman and David Hopkins delve deep into the culture of the GOP and Democratic parties to argue that they are very different beasts. The GOP is ideologically driven and policy oriented, while Democrats are more oriented toward group solidarity and coalition maintenance. The book is massive and presents lots of data, such as public opinion data, voting patterns, and publications by interest groups and think tanks. Even though I disagree with some points, it is well taken. Democrats have a diffuse ideology and work on the coalition, while the GOP is more “mission oriented.”
  • David Ricci’s Politics without Stories is a study of political rhetoric and it has a simple message. Look at the philosophers, wonks and orators of the Democratic party and you see nuance and sophistication. Look the the GOP and you see more direct narratives. To quote the great Kieran Healy, Republicans “fuck nuance.

What do we learn from this overview? From top to bottom, the Democratic and Republican parties show important and consistent differences. Not just ideological differences, but qualitative differences in how their parties are organized and how they behave. Democrats, to simplify, are “people oriented” and focus on social practices and ideology that fits that general perspective. In contrast, Republicans are a little more task oriented, which translates into more focused and digestible rhetoric and more of an institutional interest in concrete results. There is probably more to this story, but this is a good start.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 12, 2017 at 12:01 am

russian and chinese control of social media

Last week, I was asked to be a discussant on a panel for a conference on Russian media. I responded to a paper by journalist, Andrei Soldatov, whose paper chronicled the Russian state’s response to social media. The way I summarized it is as follows:

  • As with most states, initial confusion.
  • Then, journalists, and social media by extension, were granted Western style autonomy.  Until…
  • The contraction of the Russian economy de-legitimized Western views of press freedom.
  • And then the Russian state clumsily tried to usurp social media firms.
  • And then that failed, they turned to the Chinese state for help managing social media.

In my reading, then, the Russian state is in between Western and Chinese models of social media control. The Western model is passive and uses law enforcement as a model. You let people post what they want but you do surveillance and intervene as needed. In the Chinese model, you control the entire platform and censor as needed.

Soldatov added that recently the Russian and Chinese states have met to set up standards and arrange for the purchase of Chinese equipment, which suggests that the Russian state is going deeper into the Chinese model of social control.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 18, 2017 at 12:17 am

race and sovereignty in the american republic

Isaac Arial Reed, associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, has a lengthy blog post up at Public Seminar about the interplay of race and government in post-colonial America. His post is a reflection on the military career of Anthony Wayne, an early American general who wages war in the Northwest Territory:

But Wayne had done for the USA what two previous military leaders of the early 1790s, Josiah Harmar and Arthur St. Clair, could not — he secured the Northwest Territory. Wayne had defeated the allied tribes in the Ohio Valley at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, slashed and burned towns and cornfields afterwards, but wisely stopped short of engaging the British. He had then, in 1795, negotiated the Treaty of Greenville, a massive expansion of U.S. territory, which was now open for settlement.

The life of General Wayne points to the highly racialized history of the Republic:

Wayne was also white. In the history of the USA, the use of racial criteria to judge and violently enforce who is inside and who is outside the republic is deep and extensive. This judging of inside and outside can be about physical borders, but it can also be about social and symbolic borders to citizenship as well (e.g. treatment by police and courts). Importantly, this is not the only logic that has governed the trajectory of the republic — and I will discuss others in part 2 of this analysis — but it is one that has a long history and has been particularly powerful, and whose reappearance we are witnessing now. In Anthony Wayne’s view, the Native Americans he battled and with whom he negotiated would never be part of the band of brothers that made up the citizenry. And, importantly, this was not just about the nation as imagined community, but also about the authority of the state as an organization to govern and settle territory.

Read the whole thing!!

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Written by fabiorojas

April 13, 2017 at 8:48 pm