Archive for the ‘political science’ Category
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.
Tim O’Brien* of UW-Milwaukee and Shiri Noy of U-Wyoming have a new article in Socious (“A Nation Divided: Science, Religion, and Public Opinion in the United States“) that explores people who are both religious and pro-science. From the press coverage:
“If we look at the modern group and the traditional group and their political and social attitudes, they differ in virtually every domain of human society,” O’Brien said. “When it comes to criminal justice, they are different. When it comes to families, they are different. When it comes to civil liberties, race relations, sexuality, we see a big schism between these traditionalists and the moderns. As you might expect, moderns tend to hold more liberal or progressive opinions and traditionalists tend to be more conservative or orthodox.”
The wild card is the post-secular group. Embracing both science-oriented and religiously inclined views led them to have unique attitudes toward social issues. They are more conservative when it comes to gender and sexuality but lean progressive when it comes to social justice, civil liberties and education.
“Basically what we have found is that scientific Americans aren’t necessarily liberal. … We also find that religious Americans aren’t necessarily conservative; they are progressive in some domains as well,” O’Brien explained. “The overall finding is that people’s attitudes about science and religion really map onto their socio-political attitudes in a more diverse set of ways than I think people usually acknowledge.”
That’s important because moderns and traditionals make up 70 to 80 percent of the American population, and they vote predictably. It’s the post-seculars who have disproportionate sway in American political elections. They tend to vote Republican, but with this year’s unorthodox election, it’s anybody’s guess.
Read the whole thing.
*As my former TA, I take .01% of the credit for Tim.
A few weeks ago, Wired magazine discussed how you can use social media data to improve political forecasting. From Emma Ellis:
Traditional polling methods aren’t working the way they used to. Upstart analytics firms like Civis and conventional pollsters like PPP, Ipsos, and Pew Research Institute have all been hunting for new, more data-centric ways to uncover the will of the whole public, rather than just the tiny slice willing to answer a random call on their landline. The trending solution is to incorporate data mined from the Internet, especially from social media. It’s a crucial, overdue shift. Even though the Internet is a cesspool of trolls, it’s also where millions of Americans go to express opinions that pollsters might not even think to ask about.
And they were kind enough to cite the More Tweets/More Votes research:
According to Fabio Rojas, a sociologist at Indiana University who conducted a study correlating Twitter mentions and candidate success, “More tweets equals more votes.”…
Social media data gives you a sense of the zeitgeist in a way that multiple choice questions never will. “Say I wanted to learn about what music people are listening to,” says Rojas. “I would have to sit down beforehand and come up with the list. But what if I don’t know about Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber?” Polls are generated by a small group of people, and they can’t know everything. Social media is a sample of what people actually talk about, what actually draws their attention, and the issues that really matter to them.
That sentiment matters, and pollsters can (and in PPP’s case, do) use it to direct their questioning. “People clue us in on stuff online all the time,” says Jim Williams, a polling analyst at PPP. They even ask the Internet where and on what they should poll next, hence Harambe’s presence in its poll. But, Williams says, joke suggestions aside, Twitter’s input also helps pollsters include the finer points of local and national politics. And even the Harambe question itself actually tells the pollsters something interesting.
In this third installment of the Trump symposium, I want to talk about how social scientists should think about Trump. Let’s start with prediction – who foresaw Trump? We need to make a distinction.
- Some people, including myself, actually suggested years ago that we would have a populist take over of the Republican party. The argument was that a big chunk of the GOP electorate wants leaders to entertain them, which creates an opportunity for a Trump style candidate to emerge.
- Very few people thought that Trump would be the guy riding the populist wave. Indeed, I thought that Trump would go the way of Giuliani, Carson, Cain, Bachmann, and others who were a flash in the pan. Instead, I thought we’d see someone like Rick Santorum or Ted Cruz become the populist GOP president.
So what should a social scientist do?
- Start with the following mantra: Social science is about trends and averages, rarely about specific cases. If an outsider becomes a major party nominee once, then you can cling to the old theory. If you get three Trumps in a row, then it’s time to dump the Party Decides model, unless, of course, you see the party openly embrace Trump and he becomes the new establishment.
- Feel confident: One crazy case doesn’t mean that you dump all results. For example, polling still worked pretty well. Polls showed a Trump rise and, lo and behold, Trump won the nomination. Also, polls are in line with basic models of presidential elections where economic trends set the baseline. The economy is ok, which means the incumbent party has an advantage. Not surprisingly, polls show the Democratic nominee doing well.
- Special cases: Given that most things in this election are “normal,” it’s ok to make a special argument about an unusual event. Here, I’d say that Trump broke the “Party Decides” model because he is an exceptionally rare candidate who doesn’t need parties. Normally, political parties wield power because politicians don’t have money or name recognition. In contrast, Trump has tons of money and a great media presence. He is a rare candidate who can just bypass the whole system, especially when other candidates are weak.
What does the future hold? Some folks have been raising the alarms about a possible Trump win. So far, there is little data to back it up. In the rolling Real Clear Politics average of polls, Trump is consistently behind. In state polls, he is behind. He has no money. He has not deployed a “ground game.”In fact, the RCP average has had Clinton 2 ahead of Trump every single day since October with the exception of the GOP convention and about two of the worst days of the Democratic campaign. Is it possible that Trump will be rescued by a sudden wave of support from White voters? Maybe, but we haven’t seen any movement in this direction. A betting person would bet against Trump.