Russ Roberts

Brady on the State of the Electorate

EconTalk Episode with David Brady
Hosted by Russ Roberts
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David Brady of Stanford University talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of the electorate and what current and past political science have to say about the upcoming midterm elections. Drawing on his own survey work and that of others, Brady uses current opinion polls to predict a range of likely outcomes in the House and Senate in November. He then discusses the role of recent health care legislation in the upcoming election as well as Obama's approval ratings. The conversation concludes with Brady's assessment of how Congress might deal with the demographic challenge facing entitlement programs.

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0:36Intro. [Recording date: July 26, 2010.] Three months from election in 2010. What is the mood of the electorate? One way to answer that question is to do an average, but think the mood varies by political party. Republicans are not happy; most of the Tea Party members, who are Republican, are upset about government spending. Democrats, still pretty happy with the President; 80% approval rating among Democrats. All-important Independents are where the mood has changed. Independents are growing in number, past year and a half, about 40% or so. Very unhappy with what's been going on in the country; unhappy with health care, with taxes, with spending; their mood more closely approximates the Republican mood than the Democratic mood. When you talk about their mood, basing these observations on survey data? Correct, average across 15-20 polls that are good and surveys here at the Hoover Institution, commissioned, YouGov Polimetrix. Digression on the Tea Party: anything stable about their preferences or more fluid? Think of the American electorate as divided along an x-axis that is traditional liberal conservative on the economy, and then another axis that's vertical, social conservative. YouGov Polimetrix: surveying the same 100 people, a panel, traced over time. About 7% traditional liberal, on the left side and socially liberal; about 9% that are economically and socially conservative; 24% or so who are economically conservative. Bottom line is that the bulk of the American public is sort of in the middle--neither too liberal on economics, nor conservative; and they're not too liberal or too conservative on social matters. Those are the voters that are going to decide the election. They are somewhat sympathetic to Tea Party concerns about too much government spending, but they are not to the extreme that the Tea Party is. Don't know what someone who identifies with Tea Party says about social issues. What we hear about are the economic issues, the spending issues. If we just ask the question--without defining the issues--are you sympathetic to the Tea Party movement? Turns out that's not so high; more unsympathetic than sympathetic. But the people who are somewhat sympathetic to it, the main issue driving it is taxes and spending.
4:57What do you think is going to happen in the House in this mid-term election coming up in November? Traditionally--based on the data--the White House loses seats in that mid-term election, correct? While we have data that goes back on those elections quite a while, prefer to start time series post-WWII--modern period of Congressional elections. On average, Democratic presidents in their first term have lost about 30 seats; Republican presidents in their first term have lost about 16 seats. But one of the reasons for that discrepancy is that over the time period from 1946-2010, the Democrats have controlled the House more. Bigger sample. When you average that out, the average loss is about 22-23 seats. But there is a lot of variance in that. Put together models to try to predict these things. Why is it that incumbent presidents lose seats from their party's delegation? What do we know about that? Take as fact--of course they are going to lose seats--but how much? Sometimes they would lose less, like John F. Kennedy only lose 4 House seats. Then in 1998, Clinton and the Democrats gained seats; and then in 2002, Bush gained seats in the House of Representatives. So we have had cases where that has not happened. The traditional explanation was that in a presidential election year voters who weren't strong party-identifiers would come out and vote--marginal voters would be induced to vote by all the hype of the election. Those are the voters most likely to be affected by short-term factors--so, the economy's bad in 2008; Obama and his party get a boost because he's the beneficiary of the bad economy. Then in the off-year election those are the very people who stay away because there is no hype; so the result was the sort of normal party affiliation came back. That explained things up until about Reagan's second victory and then Bush's win. That explanation seemed all right because the Democrats could control the House of Representatives--that was the normal party affiliation; Republicans would occasionally win Presidencies because of short-term factors benefiting them. At a certain point, about 1988, the Republicans continued to win the Presidency and the House. Explanation switched to: Democrats have a natural advantage in the House because they are willing to do the sorts of things to take care of the district. Then the 1994 election came along. An outlier--Republicans won big; and then they controlled the House 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2004. So, we don't have a very good explanation. One explanation is: Who votes in Presidential versus the off-year. A second is that the President goes in with very high expectations--unrealistic. Changing politics in Washington--going to be a breeze in two years. Core supporters fall away. So, if you look at the New York Times, Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, others have been after Obama for not being passionate enough about what happened in the Gulf of Mexico; cap-and trade failure; the war, continue to be involved and with increased troops in Afghanistan. So, the explanation is some of the juice goes out because nobody could live up to those expectations. The combination of all those things, so on. Don't think there is a good explanation that accounts for it.
10:09What do you think is going to happen this time? Democrats going to lose quite a few seats. The way people normally think about it if they want to predict the loss for the President's party in the House, mid-term elections: run pretty straight-forward regressions where you put in how many seats do you have versus if you have more you could lose more; some people put in the state of the economy; some people put in the President's popularity; are you at war. Whole series of right-hand side variables; run the regression over time, some back to 1900, some to back to 1946. Best ones if you are using survey data are what's the President's job approval rating and the generic: If the election were held tomorrow, who would you vote for? Republican or Democrat. When you look at those for this particular election, people are predicting anywhere from 30-55 seat loss for the Democrats. Big range. Our numbers are not just looking at the national average, but samples in key districts: 28 minimum to as many as 50. So the Democrats could lose control of the House--depends on what happens. Think present models of Presidential election years are much better because in those you've got economists like Ray Fair, looks at real income, back to the 1880s, thanks to data set Christina Romer created. The prediction is: the incumbent's party, depending on whether he is or is not running, will win or lose the Presidency depending on how the economy is doing. Period. That's the butter model. Over time they've added guns to it: the Korean and Vietnam War, the two years that really don't predict that very well are 1952 and 1966. So the bottom line, the guns and butter model, which kind of makes sense: electorate holds the President responsible for the state of the economy and responsible for whatever foreign wars you are in. But in a Congressional election year you are looking at 435 elections, and while on average you'd think those things would wash out, really the number of swing districts is about 60, 70 max because of the way they draw the districts, the incumbency factor. There are a lot of seats that are not really up for grabs. So you are running this regression and you've got maybe 360 seats that are fixed; so running the regression over maybe 435 is messing up predictions. I think those models are better than not having them, but on Congressional elections, always try to go back and look at some of the districts. Really running over 70-80 districts. Final thing: What's supposed to account for this mid-term loss: you've got public opinion polls on the generic ballot: what about the President's job approval, what do you think about Congress? You can't predict elections before 1946 because there are no polls. The generic ballot data begin in 1946. Better measure, not included, is party identification. The way political economists have conceived party identification is it's sort of fixed. One point of view is you learned from your parents and that stayed with you. That's changed now: we know people do change their party affiliation based on events. Voters don't really switch from Republican to Democrat or Democrat to Republican. They use Independence as a half-way. In this particular election, Republicans went down starting around 2005, and the number of Democrats went up--encouraging people to say the Republican Party may go out of existence. Now what's happened is the Democrats have fallen, the number of Independents went up, and Republicans have not gained. Very unusual. Data we're collecting right now, back to 1937 on party identification, this period looks a little unusual. Normally when one party gains, the other party loses; now both parties are losing and Independents are gaining. If we knew more about party ID, prior to the elections, that's probably going to be a pretty good predictor of how the President's party is going to do because they'll be moving--maybe becoming Independent. Along with the state of the economy, helpful for predicting events.
18:03State of the economy: Economy is not very good; in July now, will get the July job report in a week and a half; three or four left before the election. Most people assume there's not going to be improvement; could get worse before the election; not going to be dramatic improvement before November. Over the next three months, member of Congress and the President to the extent he's out on the hustings--speaking publicly on political issues. Corn fields--that's husk. Issues on the economy are going to be horrible. They can talk about health care reform, which they passed--not so popular. Financial reform--none of which will actually be in place. They can talk about the prospective benefits of it. President is already out saying the economy is better than it would have been. Seems to be a tough sell. What will be the Democrat's argument that it would have been worse? Other tack they try is: we got out of this mess from Republicans; don't want to give them back the keys to the car. Searching around. If the election is a national issue like the economy, then the Democrats will lose more seats. Their best chance is to cast doubt among the electorate about what the Republicans would do. One way to do that is to blame it on Bush and the Republicans. Not cutting it. When we poll on it, Democrats believe that but Independents, no longer. Independents believe it's Barack Obama's economy; and the Republicans always did. Obama had a 42% approval rating to 38% disapproval among Republicans--lasted about 3 weeks in January when he first came into office. The Democrats are going to have to make the Republican Party the issue, because we do know the Republican Party is not seen in a favorable light--about the same approval ratings as the Democratic Party, about 26-27%. Talk about you can't say No to everything. What about the Senate? Fewer seats up for grabs. Four sure seats that in my view will go to Republicans, currently Democrat: North Dakota, Indiana, Delaware, and Arkansas. But a couple of seats that Republicans might lose: 8 seats that are tossups--Democrats could lose in Missouri, for example. Would say that they'll pick up 5-6 seats, not enough to get the majority. Everything would have to work perfectly for them to get the majority. Could happen. Events could worsen in the world. House elections: if you look at the generic poll, we had data back to 1946; within three months of the election there are only two times, other than right now, that the Republicans led--one, because of several polling problems on the generic ballot, Democrats do better on that poll. The only two times was before the 1946 and 1994 elections. Those are the two major victories. Even when they control the House in 1996, 1998, 2000, and 2002 and 2004, every one of those the generic ballot on Congress showed the Republicans behind. The fact that the Republicans, when you average across the polls, are up about one and a half, two points in the general poll is probably a pretty good sign for them. In those polls are they typically looking at a cross-section of the American people, a cross-section of registered voters, or a cross-section of likely voters? All three. The best site on this for your listeners is Pollster.com--what they did was put together a bunch of people who know political polling. They took 20-25 polls they believed to based on relatively scientific principles and created a moving average among them. On the interactive one you can click off and see any one poll; and they are then taken exactly that way. Occasionally you'll hear that the generic ones are way ahead for Republicans--but the day I see them, they're always pretty close to even. The folks creating those polls are looking at likely voters, and likely want to tout Republicans. The data we have from YouGov Polimetrix, just completed more polls, show Independents and Republicans much more motivated this year than Democrats.
25:00Filibustering. If Republicans pick up a few seats, the filibuster-proof seating of the Democrats will disappear. New phenomenon? Haven't a majority meant you could get things passed in the Senate? You have to have at least 60 votes in the Senate. Is filibustering on the rise? Don't think there is any evidence it is on the rise. If you look at polarized voting--use hands, hard to show. In Congress, many ways to measure it. Imagine if you had on your left hand, fingers are most conservative Democrats, elbows the most liberal; on the right hand opposite. Let them fall over each other, you have it. For those not following on the video [joke--there is no video]--Dave's got his elbows on the armchair; one hand up in the air--the far left guys; other hand in air. Fall toward the middle, can overlap. Two distributions falling. Could be bi-modal with no overlap, Could be bi-modal with a little overlap. Or could overlap so it seemed something like a normal curve. After the 11938 election until the 1960s, not finally till the 1980s, the Senate and the House to a certain extent, votes were often dominated by a conservative coalition of Northern Republicans and Democrats. That pattern began to disappear in the 1960s. By the second term of Ronald Reagan, very little overlap of the parties. Filibuster not used less--used more in a partisan sense now. For a while it was used--government might want to increase grazing rights. Senators from Idaho and Montana filibuster that. Or on Civil Rights. But now the filibusters are all Republican, or all Democrat. So, health care, cap-and-trade which failed yesterday because there are a large number of Democrats from coal states who are not going to vote for that. But in the current world, might say there are two slightly centrist liberalist Republican Senators from Maine; and Arlen Specter, who now is no longer Republican from Pennsylvania. So you have to get all the Republicans. Why has that partisanship gotten so ideological? American political history: the period that stands out is not the no-overlap, but the post-war period when there was some overlap. Normally there is partisan politics, polarized. What drives it now is there are relatively serious issues. In spite of President Obama's claim to bring about bipartisanship. Take what to do about global warming or energy. If you believe that a real solution about what to do about energy is that entrepreneurs, when you put money in there, will invest in it and make new resources, then they'll do it; versus if your view is that entrepreneurs won't do that, then your view is the government should step in and regulate these things. Don't see where's the compromise there. Flip a nickel? Let's regulate half the economy, or try $20 billion instead of $40 billion--compromise but not helpful at all if you think only regulation will work. On health care, same sort of thing--extent to which the government is going to control and regulate that. Facing serious issues. Can we afford all the unfunded liabilities?
32:38The President has faced steadily falling approval ratings from his bright opening. Going to be some loss in the House; don't know how big it will be. What do you expect to happen in the 2010-2012 period? My expectation is that if the economy continues downward, which could easily happen--or if it reverses its modest improvement--the President will change his position. He does not come across as much of a compromiser, partly because he only had to push through health care which was not popular. What are his prospects in 2012? Will he get the nomination if the economy has a double-dip? Think the odds of there being a serious Democratic challenger to the first black president is not likely. Would have to be really pretty bad. Second, after they got health care through, thought they were done. Agenda on air, water, cap and trade gone. Financial reform was one where the Republicans--if you look at polls, about 75% of Americans blame banks; don't think all the money should have been given to the banks; and pressure on Republican Party to respond was pretty high. Knew they were going to get a finance bill, good or bad. Think the Democrats will lose seats. Two scenarios--they lose about 35 seats, not enough to lose control; lose 6 seats in the Senate--whatever agenda President Obama had has no chance of passing. That actually is the worst-case scenario for his re-election. Why? Because then the Democratic Party is fully responsible for the economy, for everything. Alternative is Republicans win the House or Senate. In 1994, which Bill Clinton lost the House of Representatives, that was the first time they'd lost the House in 40 years. Tsunami, Brookings--how could Clinton win now? Clinton looked and was demoralized. But the Republicans overplayed their hand, and Bill Clinton didn't draw a spine; all he did was veto what he could, and it worked; took credit for things that were popular--welfare reform. Elected overwhelmingly. 1946: looked like Harry Truman was dead; was so bad, Senator Fullbright proposed that Truman resign--no Speaker of the House, no Vice President--to give someone else a chance at the Presidency--that's how bad shape Truman was looked at. But he did win in 1948. Truman campaigned on the Do-Nothing 80th Congress. Strange in 1994 how poorly the Republicans dealt with being back in the House. So euphoric, Contract for America, sure that everything had changed. Most people are center-right on the economic dimension; social conservative more centerist, more central. Clinton looks like a centrist. Truman retained power. Both cases Republicans overplayed. Can't make much with two cases; but have to make most of what you've got. Or economy could turn around. Not by 2010 election. Reagan, 1982, lost about same percentage of seats as current prediction for Obama; but economy turned around and his ratings came up; trounced Mondale. Any list of Republicans do pretty well against the President, but they don't have to defend anything.
41:31Health care. Spoke about a year ago; basic polls finding people liked their health care; others didn't get any or much, but they weren't paying very much for it. Those results sustained all the way through the conversations about it, but the House still voted for it. Policy did not get majority support; does not get majority support now. What are your thoughts on why Congress seemed to leave the standard models of self-interest? Think they actually followed the self-interest model. Democrats were faced with the following choice: no bill, in which case they would be accused of not governing. All remembered 1993 when they failed to even get the bill out of committee, how badly they got beat. The costs of the bill don't really start till 2016. There are some short term costs to old people, Medicare Advantage; but major effects are not till after the 2010 election, and not till after the 2012 election. So the Democrats made a bid: the real costs of this bill aren't coming down; if we pass it, we'll get a short term burst of press coverage saying we've achieved something here; and then we can go back and defend having done this. Versus having failed once again to produce a majority. John Cogan: they got down to the Cogan Rule of 10--if you've got 10 votes, you can buy 'em. They did buy them in the Senate. Got enough goodies to hand out. Were going to make it deficit neutral; calling it a deficit reduction. The weekend of the Brown victory in Massachusetts, we sampled--Dan Kessler and Doug Rivers--sampled 11 states that had competitive Senate races; just went back in two weeks ago in July and will go back again in October on health care issue. Results show Obama did get a little bit of a pickup--about 3-4 points, health care is better, after they got it passed. Some growth in support. Two questions we focused on: with the passage of this bill, what do you believe will happen to your health care? 70% said a. it will get worse and b. it will cost more. Before and after the bill passed. When you ask their vote intentions, they are more likely to vote against a Democrat who supported the bill. There's no cabal: Pelosi comes from a pretty liberal district. Reid is in serious trouble. House had already passed it; just barely lost on the public option. They had a liberal majority for the bill. The Senate was the question. Reid became convinced that if he failed and didn't get a bill, he wouldn't get elected. Politicians always thinking about how they'll run against me--if he didn't pass it, let's get somebody in here who will get something done. His chances, having passed it, are better, but not very good. Nevada is one of two states where 50% actually approve of the health care bill; given the unemployment rate--pretty correlated with what your job status is. Don't think he hurt himself with that. Will there be folks in favor of repealing, or is that just going to be talk? Pretty dumb--isn't going to happen. No matter how many seats the Republicans win, they are not going to be able to override a presidential veto. Would be overreacting. In 2006, when the Democrats won control of the House, first time in 12 years, there was a lot of pressure on Nancy Pelosi to impeach the president, turn back the Bush tax cuts; handled membership well, balanced off pretty well.
49:31Certainly going to campaign on the negative aspects of the health care bill. Strange about the health care legislation--the status quo was not sustainable. In run-up to those votes, Obama opponents would put up a chart of how horrible health care organization would look, how complex it would be, as if the current world is some nirvana of simplicity. Current world heavily regulated. Real or apocryphal: Tea Party, don't want the government touching their health care, as if the current health care is some free market paradise. Government pays for most people's health care. Hard to imagine what the health care world is going to look like. Maybe in some states more approval; but if against it, what could they be for? What could be proposed that would be passable, preserve people's right to choose their own doctor, and spend other people's money? Not a sustainable position. What's going to happen over the next 20 years on that issue? Debate over health care on all sides not good. Democrats want to ration it--of course, it has to be rationed in some way, but is it going to be rationed by a market where people get choices, or by a government as it is in Great Britain? Believe better with freedom, unlike most political scientists. Problem: Republicans have proposed no solutions. Since 1930, with Roosevelt, the issue of health care, government trying to take risk out of our lives--to a certain point not a bad thing. But we've made too many promises to too many people and can't afford it. State children's health program, Bush's Medicare prescription drug act, etc.--in each case, emphasis has been an increase in entitlement and rights, increase in coverage. Now about everybody's covered, and it's time to pay the bills. Congress can't pay the bills, can't tax. If it's going to work, will ultimately take away the deduction for employers who give it; going to have to be innovative solutions that let markets work; let insurance programs work--either going to look like that or it's going to look like Great Britain. None of the European countries have solved the health care problem either. Dutch system is one I admire--markets in there in some ways.
54:50Political problem: we've made a lot of promises we can't keep. Seen that playing out in Greece; threat of it elsewhere, Spain. In those situations, reality check. Hard to imagine those responses in the United States. Our system moves very slowly. Hard to have radical change. How are individual politicians going to deal with the fact that they are going to have to take away stuff from people? They are really not good at that. Even today, in July in 2010, when a huge part of the population is worried about deficits--rightly or wrongly--no political mandate to cut spending. There are ones who want to have a Value Added Tax; ones who invoke the Laffer curve and say we can keep cutting taxes. Where is the resolved? How might it happen that we will cope with this by taking stuff away from people? Fundamental question. Two parts. One: Europeans face the problem we are going to face. They have lower population growth, higher welfare; they have made some changes. Don't know whether those Parliamentary systems are better than we are dealing with this. Germans pretty impressive on cutting back benefits. Is the United States unqualified to do this? Japan, no democracy where electives are elected short term has not faced up to this. Don't know many cases where they take something away from people that they've given; and sustainable. In California, you do have cuts in state employees, 10% or so. Assumption in the United States is you grow your way out of it. Maybe there is someone out there with the next Internet innovation, energy at 3 cents. But in lieu of that, which we can't predict, few politicians talk straightforwardly that you'll have to give things up. Chris Christie in New Jersey seems to be doing it. Some talking like that. Andrew Cuomo in New York appears to be campaigning on it. First in states, governors will innovate. If conservatives are right--if you can get that spending under control--economy ought to grow. Short term, not sanguine about the prospects of making real decisions. Deficit reduction commission, Erskine Bowles, delivered supposedly harsh message, government austerity, government spending at 21% of GDP, which would be an all-time high. It's 25% now, but GDP very low. Historically 19-20%, peacetime. Democrats seem happier about spending; Republicans, in practice doesn't seem to be much different. Speculate on who Republicans might nominate? Obama's going to get the Democrat's nomination. Don't think it will be Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney. Think it will come out of the states and state elections. In 1998, Governor Bush in Texas; women's vote and Hispanic vote in Texas.

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COMMENTS (14 to date)
Nick writes:

I believe a husting is the thing they are standing on making a speech, since its a synonym for stump.

AHBritton writes:

I would like to make a correction.

Filibusters have demonstrably increased over the years. It is not a matter of opinion, it is an empirical fact. Simply count the number of times cloture has been invoked for each congressional session and you will see it has steadily increased over time, with a dramatic increase since the 2006 elections when the Democrats took congress.

http://theincidentaleconomist.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/cloture.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filibuster_in_the_U.S._Senate#Recent_U.S._Senate_history

Robert Kennedy writes:

I found this week's episode somewhat disheartening, unfortunately. It brought us back the real world of American politics and the realization that our system is not well suited to the kind of fiscal changes that most of us here would like to see happen. Yeah, I'd like to see the Democrats take a hit in the mid term elections but what difference will it really make?

For me, the only light here is the possibility of a party split between Congress & POTUS. With a split, my hope would be less damage.

In any event, it was good to get a bit of reality check this week. Well done, as usual.

Marvin writes:

I have to agree with AHBritton:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-klein/2009/12/the_right_of_the_filibuster_an.html

Brian writes:

Enjoyed the interview, as always. But I have to disagree with the guest on one small point regarding the 1996 Presidential election. The guest attributes Clinton's victory to the Republicans "over-playing" their hand after their mid-term rout of the Democrats. I disagree, I think this had very little to do with the outcome. Instead, it was a result of the GOP nominating an uninspiring, dull, old, white, male, establishment candidate to run against a young, dynamic, incumbent who was a master salesman and campaigner. There was a palpable mood among many independents and Republicans of discontent with the status quo, thus the presence of Ross Perot on the ballot. There were almost 10 million fewer votes cast in 96 than in 92, yet Dole's total was the same as Bush's in 92, and Clinton's increased by only 2.5 million. So there were several million 1992 voters who preferred stay at home rather than vote for Dole, and another 8 million who preferred Perot to Dole. The outcome of that election was sealed as soon as Dole got the nomination. The Republicans failed to nominate a candidate who could match Clinton's campaign, and win the independents and anti-establishment vote. Dole was a man who played well in Kansas, but not where it mattered.

John Scott writes:

Brady, like a good academic, generally believes there is nothing new under the sun--a view that I am usually in agreement with. But I wonder if this time may be different.

For a year now, people with jobs have been turning out in droves and gathering for protests. They seem to be ordinary people who have other things to do in life, but who are highly motivated. These are the kind of folks that often vote.

I am accustomed to seeing WTO protester types, who do not seem to know what policies they favor, screaming for change--but they do not resemble people who live in the real world. They live in what Sowell calls "the unconstrained world." And these young folks do not usually vote.

So, I cautiously advance the hypothesis that this time is different--that the reaction against the increase in socialism will be unexpectedly large.

Justin P writes:

Re: AHBritton "Simply count the number of times cloture has been invoked for each congressional session and you will see it has steadily increased over time, with a dramatic increase since the 2006 elections when the Democrats took congress."

The problem with that argument is that the use of cloture isn't only correlated to an increase in filibusters. Cloture is used now to stifle debate.

AHBritton writes:

Justin P,

It is true that that is not the only way to measure, nor a direct measure. As far as I can tell no matter what the metrics (actual & threatened filibusters as pointed out in the article Marvin links to) the story is the same.

If you have contrary evidence I would be interested and surprised... if not I would consider excepting the empirical evidence.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filibuster_in_the_U.S._Senate#Recent_U.S._Senate_history

AHBritton writes:

One more thing... cloture is almost always invoked in response to filibusters, if memory serves me (which it doesn't always :) ).

If you have counter examples of significance I would also be interested. A link would be nice. Thanks.

Jeff Burrow writes:

Dr Roberts,

Did you actually say there was a chance that the President might not get the Democratic nomination in 2012? While I'll say p does not equal zero for this scenario and I'll grant your earlier comment that you are not a political junkie, this observation appears incredibly off the mark.

Would you care to make a wager on this possibility? I will happily provide generous odds.

Jeff

Jack Emery writes:

"How are individual politicians going to deal with the fact that they are going to have to take away stuff from people? . . . How might it happen that we will cope with this by taking stuff away from people?"

I would think that the answer to this is very simple: inflation. Monetize lots of debt, nominal prices go up, nominal tax receipts go up, nominal government benefits go up but not as much so real benefits go down, problem solved (as usual, by stealing from savers). (This is why I don't buy the deflation scenario, though there may be a head fake in that direction short term.)

Jack

William Quill writes:

I'd contest the extent to which people are broadly centre-right on economic grounds. Most people are in favour of lower taxes, higher public spending (in their favoured area), and balanced budgets. Taken alone, items one and three seem centre-right, but as a combination, it's clearly inconsistent. Your good friend Bryan Caplan's book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, shows how out of sync the general public are with what could broadly termed centre-right views, on issues like trade and corporations. So I think it's partly right as a description, but in any discussion like this, it should be dissected a little further.

Robert Richards writes:

Here is the Merriam-Webster entry for "hustings" http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hustings . That source says it's derived from an Old Norse word meaning "assembly."

TGGP writes:

Gerrymandering does not increase the incumbency rate.

A possible route toward shrinking back entitlements as demonstrated by Switzerland.

Andrew Gelman is one of my favorite political scientist commentators. I hope you have him on.

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