Russ Roberts

Morris Fiorina on Polarization, Stability, and the State of the Electorate

EconTalk Episode with Morris Fiorina
Hosted by Russ Roberts
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Morris Fiorina, the Wendt Family Professor of Political Science and Hoover Institution Senior Fellow at Stanford University, talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the state of the American electorate and recent election results. Fiorina argues that while the Republican and Democratic parties are more extreme than they were in the past, there has been only modest change in the character of the American electorate. Fiorina discusses these differences in light of recent election results which show an inability of either party to sustain control of the Presidency or the Congress.

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0:33Intro. [Recording date: June 5, 2013.] Russ: Our topic for today is a recent article you wrote for the American Interest, titled "America's Missing Moderates, Hiding in Plain Sight". And we may also touch on some of the issues in your book, Culture War. I recommend the article and the book very much. Let's start with some 21st century political history. Republicans got off to a great start at the beginning of the 21st century, but then everything changed. Tell us what happened. Guest: Okay, that's correct. The 2000 election gave the Republicans full control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress for the first time since Eisenhower in 1952. And that's got all the publicity. But it was also one of the very few instances of unified government on either party in the last half century. Essentially after the Kennedy/Johnson years we had a generation basically of divided government, where one party would control the Presidency but not both chambers of Congress. And this continued through the 2004-2006 election, and everything came apart in 2006. And we went from unified Republican government in 2004 to a Republican head of divided government in 2006 to a unified Democratic government in 2008, to a Democratic head of divided government with split control of Congress in 2010. And there were four distinct patterns here of majority control of our public institutions. And I wondered how unusual or common that was in American history. And it turned out you had to go entirely through the 20th century back to the 19th century to see anything like this. In the period 1886-1894 we had five distinct patterns of different control, different majority control of institutions. So we are looking at an era that is historically very unusual, where basically both parties compete for control of all three institutions. Russ: And 2012 could have tied that streak, going back to the 19th century, at one of the three outcomes changed, correct? Guest: Yes, that's correct. From a professional standpoint I was rooting for that--if Obama were reelected for control of Congress to split or if Romney were elected for there to be split control, because that would have tied us with the historical record. In fact, if you go back to, I believe it's 1884, or no, it's 1888, the Democrats actually won the popular vote but Grover Cleveland was counted out in the Electoral College. So technically we actually tied that period, if you want to get really technical about the Electoral College. Russ: In terms of popular support. Summarize the phenomenon you are talking about. It's not just that there is divided government. Explain what was so unusual about these last four elections--excuse me, we are talking about 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010, correct? Guest: Correct. You are right. It's not just that the government is divided. We had divided government all through from 1968 on to 2000. We had divided government more often than not. It had a very predictable pattern. Republicans would win the Presidency and the Democrats would hold the Congress. And we had an exception, the Democrats lost the Senate in the early Reagan years. But what we've had recently is just pandemonium. Basically this article you mentioned titled "America's Missing Moderates," I originally titled it "An Era of Electoral Instability" to point to the era we are in; they wanted to emphasize Moderates so they changed the title. But yeah, what's different now is that in any given election we could have unified Republican government, unified Democratic government, divided government with either party in control, split control--it's almost anything goes. One of my colleagues said: We're in the post-modern party system, where anything is possible.
4:39Russ: And there are some parallels between that earlier 19th century period and this period that you noted. I don't know if it's significant that there are these parallels, but it's interesting. Guest: Yes. I think that the fact that the parallels are there is actually less fundamental than the fact that there are large-scale social and economic changes taking place during both periods. When political historians study American electoral history, they identify long periods of essentially stability. That the parties are roughly one is the majority, one is the minority; they tend to fight over the same issues; and then there are often transitional periods. Or, in the case of the late 19th century or today, long periods of instability. And what I pointed out is in the late 19th century we had a series of sweeping social and economic developments that are repeated today. And if you'd like me to go into those-- Russ: Yeah, please do. Guest: Okay. One is immigration. Of course, the era of mass immigration was even greater in the late 19th century to the turn of the 20th century than it is today, but again we've had the resumption of large-scale immigration since the changes in the laws in the 1960s. It was a period of economic transition. Then, it was a period going from an agricultural to an industrial economy. Now, we are going from, people call it different things, from an industrial to a post-industrial to a communications to an informational or whatever--big economic changes taking place. That was in the era of globalization. Globalization is nothing new. At that point it was British finance building a great deal of the American industrial base. It was American exports developing: we became, began exporting agricultural and later industrial production, just as we are having an era of tremendous globalization today. It was a period of eternal population movements, the farms were people leaving the rural lifestyle and moving to the big cities. In the present era we've had people moving from the Frost Belt to the Sun Belt for basically 4 to 5 decades now, changing the geographic nature of the economy as well as political power. And finally it was a period of internal population movement--internal population movement--I guess, well-- Russ: Or something else, it doesn't matter-- Guest: There are a number of parallels. And what these kinds of things do is first of all, they throw up new issues and new problems. And it's not clear how to solve these things necessarily. So people flounder around till[?] they split old coalitions. Immigration today for example, we tend to think simplistically about Republicans being anti-immigration and Democrats being pro-immigration; but it's obviously a lot more complicated. There's a libertarian wing in the Republican Party which would like more immigration, especially skilled immigrants. At the same time, Democrats realize that especially low skilled immigrants compete with and lower the wages of the Democratic base. So these new issues create tensions--cities, farms, South, North, etc. And I think basically the instability reflects the fact that neither party can get a total handle on this new complex of issue. They just basically can't come up with a majority vision, a vision that will capture the country and end the period of instability. The late 19th century period ended in 1896 when the McKinley Republicans convinced the country that industry was the wave of the future and they united the urban working class with the industrial class and agricultural was left behind. For a while. Nobody's won yet. If nobody wins decisively and governs in a satisfactory fashion, I think we're going to continue to flounder around politically.
8:21Russ: So, one of the ways that you might interpret this instability is to conclude that the electorate is unstable. That people can't decide whether Republicans have better ideas, the Democrats, whether they want a President who is Republican, a President who is a Democrat. And that this national instability at the electoral level is reflecting the instability of the electorate itself. And you reject that argument. Why? Guest: Well, no, I accept the argument in the sense that people are not convinced that either party has the answers. But my larger point is the electorate itself hasn't changed. That if you go back and you look at people's partisan inclinations, look at their ideological position-taking, look at their positions on the issues, you would have a hard time differentiating the 1970s from the present era. If I didn't label the tables you'd have a hard time saying which era that comes from. But what's happening is the choices are different. And in particular they are not constant. Neither party has the answers. Just look at these last several elections. The Bush Republicans were totally rejected in 2006 and 2008 Congressional Republicans. Then we have the great shellacking of 2010 when the Congressional Democrats were rejected. So it's not that people are changing their minds, their positions, their preferences. They are looking at the alternatives they are offered and the performance of the parties and they are simply reacting that no one has convinced them, no one has satisfied them yet. Russ: Let's go back to this pattern of--you made a claim that I think most people would find very hard to believe. But I've read the paper and looked at the charts so I lean your way. The claim is that if you went back 40, 50 years there's been very little change in either partisanship or ideology. So give us some rough numbers for how people identify both now and then. Guest: Sure. Party identification has been essentially stable since about the early to mid-1970s. The Democrats used to be the majority party but that went away in the 1960s with all the tumult and the problems there. But since that time basically you've had the Democrats and the Independents fighting for primacy--Democrats 35-40% of the population. These are self-identified labels, by the way. We ask people in surveys: Do you think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, and Independent, or what? And the Democrats 35-40%; Republicans have never cracked about 30% since the Eisenhower era. They are definitely the minority. The Democrats have a plurality. The Independents are close to that as well. And then the minority are Republicans. If you look at ideology, it's even more stable. Essentially the liberal label has never been very popular in the United States and there are typically 20-25% of the country that classify themselves as liberals. Conservatives are typically 35% or so. And the moderate label--moderate tends to be more often than not the plurality position with 35-40% of the population. Now it needs to be said that ordinary people don't mean by these terms, especially conservatives, what movement conservatives and political activists think of as these terms. A person can call themselves a conservative and yet have liberal positions on various issues. They are not nearly as consistent in their views on specific issues as activists and commentators and journalists are. But anyway, the big difference, the big change that many people mistake for a changing electorate is that the relationships among these variables has clarified. That in the 1960s there were lots of conservative Democrats, especially in the South. There were many moderate Democrats. There were at the same time lots of liberal Republicans--the Rockefeller wing of the party, very liberal people, like Jake Javits, a Senator from New York. There was also a big moderate wing. And what's happened is conservatives have essentially been driven out of the Democratic Party or have left or died out. And the Republican Party, liberals or left have died out. And the moderates basically don't have a home in either party. The Democratic Party is now clearly a liberal party; the Republican Party is clearly a conservative party; moderates a minority in both, and unpopular in both. But the fact is the actual numbers of liberals or percentages of liberals and moderates and conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents have essentially not changed in a generation. Essentially people are now in the right parties, basically ideologically speaking, which is contributing to the partisan warfare of today.
13:06Russ: So that raises the obvious question: Why are the parties more polarized? The punchline here if I understand it correctly is that the electorate is not any more polarized or less polarized than it was 40, 50 years ago, but the parties that they have to choose from are. The Republican Party is much more 'conservative,' in the pundit sense of the word, and the Democratic Party is much more 'liberal' in the way that pundits and journalists write about it. So the question is: Why does that happen? You'd think there's this great opportunity for either party now to be more inclusive, to move toward the center. There's a large group of Independents, a large group of moderates; there's some overlap there. Why would they separate like that? It would seem everything would push them toward moving toward the middle and dominating. Guest: Well, yes, that's, as you well know, one of the traditional models in political science, political economy, is the median voter model that says: Get to the median; that's the winning position. Russ: Comes from Harold Hotelling. Guest: That's right. About 100 years ago practically. But the fact is--well, take a look at an example from the last election. Many people believe that Jon Huntsman could have beaten Barack Obama. But there was no way that Huntsman was going to get nominated in the Republican primary. And what we have now is a more complicated electoral system which is much more participatory than it was a generation ago. The people who met in a smoke-filled room had one goal in mind, which was to nominate a winner. Russ: Power. Guest: Because with winning came power, and lots of good things. Public-goods like legislation but also private goods like patronage and contracts, etc. But we now have a much more participatory system in which ideology is really the driving force. And these people go out there and they work in primaries and they give money and they basically haul[?] the candidates to the extremes. I have some data in this article that you'll remember--the Republican primary contest this year, which people, they frankly were sort of funny, we had a different candidate leading every week and the question is when do we come to a decision. And people didn't realize what small numbers of people were driving the instability of this process, that the night that Rick Santorum became the contender, the alternative to Mitt Romney by winning three contests--well, in Minnesota 1 out of every 100 eligible voters turned out in the Minnesota caucus that Santorum won. In Colorado 2 out of every 100 voters turned out in the caucus that Santorum won. In the Missouri beauty-contest primary, 7 out of every 100 eligible Missouri votes turned out. So very, very tiny slices of the most extreme, the most committed issue activists are driving the process. And that's why we saw totally winnable Senate seats be thrown away by very, just outrageous comments made by several[?] Republican candidates in these races. And they are being nominated not by professional politicians who want to win and have a good sense of the public but by true believers. The political science term we always use is 'wingnuts.' Basically they are people on the wings of the two parties who have a disproportionate influence on what candidates are presented to the electorate. Russ: And yet, the Republicans ended up choosing, at least on paper and historical behavior, the most liberal candidate. They did not pick Rick Santorum; they did not pick Michele Bachman; they did not pick Rick Perry. They picked this liberalish Massachusetts Republican who, instead of running toward the center--and I guess this is a way of making your point--tried to run to the right, I guess to get that nomination, and found himself in a relatively unattractive position when it came time for the general election. Guest: That's correct. I think even if they managed to be saved from themselves--it happened to John McCain also in the previous nomination contest, you recall that every faction of the Republican Party had a candidate in 2008, and McCain was really preferred by no one, yet he sort of ended up as the candidate. So they managed to somehow find the best candidate to have. But that candidate is in turn pulled too far away from the candidate's background. McCain of course had a reputation as a maverick, as a reasonable person on a lot of issues, as a more moderate person, but he was pulled too far to the right in his campaign. He wouldn't have won anyway, I mean, given the problems of the Bush Administration. Bush's approval ratings in 2008, I don't think there was a way Republicans could have won that election. But in 2012, I think Romney was the best candidate they had, at least the ones that got into the race; there were a number of potentially strong candidates who for whatever reason didn't make the run. But by the same token, I think had he been able to run, had he been able to take credit for the message [?] health care plan, had he been able to try to defend it--I mean, it's still controversial to take credit for it, but nevertheless it cast him as a flip-flopper and somebody who has gone back on his own ideas and achievements. I just think a lot of problems--he couldn't run on his real strength which was a non-ideological, fiscally conservative, fiscally prudent, good manager. He had to run on a lot of other [?] pragmatist who would make deals and sort of start us back out of this cycle of debt and deficits we are in. And so he was unable to run to his strengths; he had to run to using some weaker dimensions. Russ: But that point holds for the Presidency. How do you explain the fact that there is no Scoop Jackson in the Democratic Party, no Nelson Rockefeller in the Republican Party any more, these more liberal Governors, Senators? Although Chris Christie would be the exception there. But certainly in the national level, the House and the Senate, why is there no home for liberal Republicans or conservative Democrats there? Guest: Uh, it's the activists. The Tea Party has gotten all the attention in recent years, but you think of the Daily Kos crowd in the Democratic Party. In all these primaries we're talking about--in House primaries the turnout rates are almost always in the single digits. And so we're talking about small groups of committed activists who have vetoes over the people that get nominated in the House races. Russ: Where were they before? Where were they in 1970? Guest: Well, the parties hadn't sorted it out as much. See, this is the other thing I was talking about, party sorting. In 1970 the Democratic electorate in Mississippi would have been really different for the Democratic electorate in Massachusetts, and Republicans take the same thing, New York versus, say, Nebraska. But what's happened is basically the parties now are pretty much homogeneous across the country, so if you are a Democrat, it doesn't matter where you are--your primary constituency is going to be the public employees' unions, it's going to be the pro-choice groups, the anti-gun groups, and various kinds of liberal cause groups. If you are Republican your base, your primaries are going to be the taxpayer groups, various kinds of conservative cause groups like the pro-life group. And so it doesn't really matter where you come from. You are basically going to be pulled to the left as we define it today in Democratic primaries and to the right in Republican primaries. Look at what's happened to Senators like Bennet[Bennett?] and Lugar, just people who simply would not have been vulnerable in 1970 who are now vulnerable to small groups of activists today. Russ: I just wonder how much of it is technology and the fact that people pay attention at the national level and have the time to pay attention generally. There have always been activists. I think people play politics--it's one of our most popular national sports. We [?] politics, but there's a lot of fandom base on both sides of the ideological and political and partisan spectrum. Guest: Well, only at the upper levels. The fact is the surveys show that the American public as a whole is if anything less well-informed than it was a generation ago. For example, fewer people can name their member of Congress today than they could 30 years ago. You are absolutely right-- Russ: That's Google's fault. They've made us stupid. That's a joke, that's a joke. I'm a skeptic about that. Guest: No, it's true. There are far more sources of information today. But there are also far more ways to evade, to avoid being subjected to those sources. And so far it looks like the latter has been winning out over the former. Just think about the Conventions. These used to be gavel-to-gavel coverage on all 3 network channels. And now you get just sort of some of the high points and then they shift away, and most people can choose to go back to ESPN or ShowTime or HBO. I remember just hearing--again, could be anecdotal--my wife is a retired teacher and she went out to lunch right after the Convention with several of her retired teacher friends. So these are women with Master's degrees, professionals. And it turned out no one else at the table had looked at a single hour of the Convention. She was the only one. And she's married to a political science professor so she was subjected to this. Russ: Poor thing. Guest: Yeah. So, if people like that aren't watching and paying attention, it's just a strange situation we are in. We are overwhelmed with, drowning in information yet we somehow avoid being touched by it. Russ: Well, we pick and choose what interests us. Of course, there's a lot of reasons for not paying attention to the Conventions. They are highly scripted. It's taken some of the fun out of them. They are a little less interesting.
23:05Russ: Let's go to the aftermath of 2008 where some of this instability started to show itself. So, Obama wins with a very large margin--as you point out, second only to Reagan--what was the category? Guest: Party replacement elections, where one party turns out the other party. Russ: In the White House. Guest: Yes. Russ: So he had a 7.2, was it-- Guest: Yeah, it was 7. Things like Roosevelt landslides are extremely unusual in American history. I mean, Eisenhower was about 10. Reagan was a little less than that. And Obama came in right after them. So a good win. Russ: So, what happened? They had a big win; Democrats looked like they were riding high. They were riding high. What went wrong? Guest: Well, I think we're in an era when this just happens. The parties overreach. Whether it's because they think control is so fleeting they've got to make hay while the sun shines, so to speak, or because they talk only to each other, like finding people and you are convinced there is a new world, we now have a permanent liberal majority, or whatever the reason. But Democrats tend to build their coalitions from the left; Republicans tend to do theirs from the right; and you've got to get enough of the center to win. But then if you govern in a way that alienates the center once you get into office, then you lose that in the mid-term. And that's what's happened I think both to Bush after 2004 and to Obama after 2008. There are two things. Obama, basically people did not have a clear impression of Obama when they elected him. They thought he was different; they thought he was not Bush. Russ: People thought [?]. They nailed that one. Guest: But they thought, they were as likely to think he was a moderate as he was a liberal. Well, after about a year they were clear--they had elected a liberal, having looked at the agenda. And health care was a serious problem, that all the data we've looked at suggests that health care vote, pushing it through the Congress, was probably the difference between maintaining a Democratic majority or losing a Democratic majority. And it wasn't just the radicalness of the position. I mean, people have argued that if you go back to what Nixon proposed it was equally liberal; or if you go back to the Southern Democratic alternative to Hillary-care in 1993 and 1994, that was equally liberal. It was also the priorities. What are these people worrying about cap-and-trade and health care and stuff like that when we are dying? Houses are being foreclosed on, we're out of work, we have no money. That essentially the American public, poll after poll showed it's the economy. And instead what we're seeming to get is a list of Democratic ideological ideas, hobby horses. Not to say issues like this aren't important, but they weren't the priorities of the American public. And so I think that's what the 2010 election showed: Dammit, get working on the things we think are important and get off of this stuff you are working on. Russ: Now, what's the evidence that that's the case? I know you have some, because for some listeners out there they might think: well that just sounds like cheap talk. It's easy to say they overreached, they were too liberal. What's the evidence that that actually made a difference? Guest: We basically tortured the data. Several colleagues and I got together; we took the health care vote and we simply plugged it into the standard kind of models we use to predict whether people win or lose--that is, include their party affiliation, their ideological position, and so forth. And we find that the health care vote basically was the difference between winning and losing unless you were in the most clearly Obama districts. Districts that voted most strongly for Obama. In particular, the people who got wiped out in 2010 were what we call the McCain Democrats--they are Democratic House members who were elected from districts that voted for McCain in 2008. So their districts voted for Democrats for the House but a Republican for President. And that group, basically 3/4 of them got wiped out. And it was always the case that if they voted for either cap-and-trade or health care, they lost. The only ones who managed to survive, and about half of them did, were those who bucked the party and voted against both those issues. And so it's just there statistically, that if you voted on the Democratic side on these issues, you lost the election. And there were enough of these people that it would have been just neck-and-neck--I think they needed something like 38 seats to hold their majority and they lost 63. So they would have just been able to be tied if they had released these people and let them all vote wrong. Of course then the issues would have gone down, and that's another story, too--these counterfactuals never completely convincing. But anyway-- Russ: When you say the issues would have gone down, you mean they would have lost--the bills wouldn't have passed. Guest: Yeah, exactly. You have to go back and say, well what if health care had fallen, just not gone through? Of course then what would happen to Obama's approval ratings--we don't know. Would he look ineffectual? So there's another [?]--if you think about the game tree, there's another branch we're not going down here. But certainly if you just say that the way things played out that the people who voted against Obamacare survived 50-50; the people who voted for it all went down--these McCain Democrats--that's clearly the case.
28:31Russ: Now, what role did the Independent vote play in that 2010 outcome? There's the impression--the impression I get, it's probably from talking to Dave Brady, who talks to you, maybe you are getting [?] with the same thing. But my impression is that Republicans pretty reliably vote Republican--self-identified. Self-identified Democrats vote Democrat. And then so it's just a fight over the moderates. Which again raises the question of why they don't go more moderate. We hear constantly about how--Obama had to oppose Keystone, the pipeline, because he had to play to his base. Or Bush had to do x, y, z to play to his base. But the bases are in there. They are for you anyway. Is it just a question of turnout that you are trying to make sure? Guest: Yeah, it's a question of turnout and enthusiasm and getting people out. But yes, the Independents have been swinging massively in recent elections. I think it was 17 points against the Republicans in 2006 and 18 points against the Democrats in 2010. So a net 35 point swing in a 4-year period. And the Independents if you go back and look at Presidential approval ratings, they had bailed on Obama by September of 2009. The Independents had gone to him in the 2008 election. But then having watched the first 9 months of the Administration were already saying this is not really what we voted for. And that just simply forecast the massive swing they turned in a year later in the 2010 election. So they are the wildcard out there. But the problem is basically they don't vote in the party primaries. And the thing is, as strange as it might seem to pragmatic people like most of us, there are people out there who would rather lose with their candidate than win with a moderate. And we were talking to the California Republican Chairman a couple of weeks ago and he was saying that's one of the difficulties he has: there are several winnable Assembly races where he's facing primary constituencies that say we would rather lose with a pro-life guy than win with somebody who is waffling on this issue. And how do you reason with people like that? But that's the case: the base of both parties. Russ: That's just so interesting, in general. Because part of the fun of being a fan of sports is that you don't just get to root for your team; you get to root against other teams. So, as a Celtics fan, this is a good year for me because the Lakers are not going to win the NBA championship. I'm enjoying every minute of it. So, yeah, I don't want one of my soggy, namby-pamby guys to win for "my party." I want one of the real true believers. And if that person loses, well that's okay--I can hate the guy who wins. Guest: Yep, yep, afraid so. Russ: So, is it accurate then to say--you know, we started off talking about instability, that there's a lot of instability at the national level but not so much in the electorate. It seems that that Independent vote is pretty unstable. Guest: Yes it is. Now bear in mind that they don't vote as frequently as partisans do. And so even though they are 35-40% of the population, they are a much smaller proportion of the electorate than that. But yeah, they hold the key. And especially in an era when both the Republicans and the Democrats, neither one of them is a majority, when they are definite pluralities, that's the case not just nationally, but you'll go to the states--Independents outnumber Democrats in I believe Massachusetts, Connecticut, most of New England actually. In California, the story of the Republican Party, the idea that Pete Wilson did them in by, what is it, Prop 187, by alienating Mexicans, that's really only a small part of the story. The larger part of the story is they get totally hosed among the decline to states [?] who are a larger than ever proportion of the population--they get hosed along the moderates in the electorate, that the Republican Party in California just positioned itself to be unacceptable to a big part of middle California. Russ: This is a side note because I'm interested in it; it came up recently in a podcast, an interview I did with Arnold Kling. Do we have any evidence about the accuracy of how informed, accurately informed, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents are? Are Independents less informed, or are they less biased? Or neither? Guest: Uh, both. All the survey data shows Independents are less, basically there are two kinds of Independents--the leaning Independents and the true Independents. True Independent are basically uninformed. Leaning Independents are more informed but not as informed as strong partisans. The strongest partisans are more informed than Independents. But the strong partisan is also mal-informed. They believe things that aren't true. The surveys show, for example, that strong Democrats believe that inflation didn't decline under Reagan. Things that are totally wrong. And the strongest Republicans believe that weapons of mass destruction were found under Bush. Russ: It's comforting. Guest: Yes. It's totally wrong. But it's called 'motivated reasoning' by the people who study political psychology, this sort of thing; that I agree they will give you more correct answers on a knowledge test but they also believe things that are not correct. So, the electorate as a whole--this is a little bit of a digression but I saw a paper presented yesterday on taxes. And it was very interesting that the population according to these surveys does think we should have more taxes on the rich. But then when you ask them, what are the rich actually paying, they underestimate, of course, what the rich are currently paying. And, what's interesting is they think the rich should be paying less than they actually are. But you ask them, what is the fair tax to pay for various income brackets? They come in at figures that are actually below what the rich, what people in those brackets are actually paying. So here's a case of people being uninformed and mal-informed at the same time.
34:51Russ: Now let's turn to 2010. The Republicans had this incredible success in the House in 2010, and they just assumed that in 2012 they are going to expand that and take the Presidency as well. What went wrong for the Republicans? Guest: Well, I think it's a-- Russ: I know, it's a long list. We don't have two or three hours. Do the best you can. Guest: Okay. Well, it's always a mistake to read a trend into one election. And I think the 2010 indicated clearly the electorate was unhappy with what it had seen for the previous 2 years. It was a signal to change course. The economy didn't get any worse, basically. The economic forecasting models always had the election in doubt, that we were in this sort of gray zone between where people had been defeated in the past and people who were re-elected in the past. And so it wasn't clear the economy. The trends were no longer downward; I think at least we can say that. And so I mean the election was close. It wasn't by any means a runaway in either party. I think the Republicans hurt themselves with the primary contests. I think some of the races that were--the Mourdock[?] race, and what was the other race--I think just the image of the party as being wacko I think sort of hurt them. And does continue to hurt them. But I mean, I don't think we need to spend a whole lot of time thinking about what went wrong. It could have gone either way. I think most political scientists before the fact thought would have hesitated to vote much in either way, and went toward the Democrats; and went toward a very uncertain future as well in 2016. Russ: But the standard view, which you argue against a little bit in this paper--the standard view is the Republicans--let's talk about two kinds of problems Republicans have. One is the image of the wacko, outrageous thing, things some candidate, not ready for prime time, somehow finds themselves the nominee, which you identified earlier. And they say something that's appalling and it hurts other Republicans besides themselves. The other is that the Republicans staked out certain positions, not outrageous or wacko but they are not very popular. One for example which we've seen in recent months: Republicans trying to change their image on is immigration. So, Republicans have worry that the Hispanic vote, which is growing a rapidly growing part of the electorate, that they--the Republicans--have been written off. And the Hispanics feel like they've been written off. So, Republicans in the last few months--Marco Rubio and others--have been trying to show that they are not really anti-immigration, they are not so anti-Hispanic. But you point out that's not necessarily their biggest problem. Guest: No. Russ: It is a problem, though, correct? Guest: It is a problem, certainly. I think some years ago David Brooks commented there's an interpretation immediately after the election that gets picked up by all the media types, and it has to have one thing in common which is that it's almost invariably wrong. And I think right after the election, the story line was that the Republicans are doomed because of demographics. Russ: They are too mean--that was the other piece. Guest: Yeah. Because gays, unfriendliness toward gays, and because single women, etc., there are these various kinds of constituencies that are growing in size and are invariably going to make the Republican Party the minority party. Well, the first thing is: Demography is important but it is not destiny. There [?] somebody like this [?] noticed, people begin to recalculate, and they reposition the party. And it can take a long time. But basically the Democrat Party cracked up between 1968 and 1972, and it took somebody like Bill Clinton 20 years to pull them back into the mainstream and become competitive again. So I mean it may take the Republicans a while. Certainly they are working on immigration. But by the same token I think I pointed out in this article that the more interesting thing, I thought, was not just that the proportion of Hispanics was up and the proportion of whites were down, but there were probably when you looked at turnout as a whole it dropped. Turnout had been increasing in recent elections. There were 6 million more eligible voters this time around; but turnout actually dropped. Obama's margin was down 4 points from the previous time. Romney actually, although he did well proportionally among whites, the white turnout dropped by several million, maybe 4-5 million in voters. So whatever they were selling didn't even play that well among whites this time. So it wasn't just a question of there being more Latinos in the electorate. It was a question of I think the whole Republican brand. And there you get into--once you start arguing this in political circles there's going to be 20 factors trotted out. But I think certainly the social conservative branch that, the branch of conservatives and social conservatives has hurt them increasingly in recent years. Partly because the rest of the country is just going in another direction. The younger generations, those of us teaching in college, just know that basically when it comes to issues like homosexuality, anything having to do with sex basically--the old traditional morality is gone. I mean, it's just the younger generation, they are not immoral. They just have different views on things. And it's even, I was just reading recently [?] data--it's even occurring among older people, that basically they know gays, they have relatives, nephews that are gay, and you're even seeing not just the case of a generational effect here, but an aging effect, that even among cohorts of a certain age people are getting more open minded on these things. So to the extent the Republicans are tied to people who talk about no abortion under any circumstances, they are opposed to gay marriage, they make stupid comments on rape, etc., that's just going to hurt. They also, I mean I think you touched on something. There is an edge to some Republican candidates that comes across as meanness. It's not just that we think these programs are ineffective. It's we think the people on them somehow should be the objects of moral opprobrium. And people sense that. And I think people are amenable. They are willing to listen to arguments that programs are ineffective, that they may be counterproductive in many cases. But not necessarily that we want to punish people who are in these programs today. So we could go on for, as you say, a long time, but I think there are a number of things, and there's no single magic bullet that the Republicans could put in the gun and make their problems go away. But a lot of them out there aren't helping, put it that way. Russ: Of course, as you say, one election doesn't make a trend. There is an inevitable introspection that takes place after a defeat that seems to me often to be an overreaction; as you point out often the "obvious" thing that went wrong isn't even what went wrong, whether or not you can fix it. As you say, it can take decades, and it's hard for people to remember because they weren't alive, but Republicans used to be the party of African Americans the way the Democrats are today. And eventually that changed. Things do change. It's hard to remember that. Guest: Yes.
42:33Russ: So, coming back to this issue now of this instability: it's sometimes called gridlock when a particular form of this takes place, when there's divided government in terms of which party has control of which branch. But is it important? Is gridlock important? It's a negative word. But is it really a bad thing? More importantly, does it make a difference? Do you think if you looked at the data, if you had good data in 1892 versus today and the times around it, do you think these stretches where there is lots of changes over which party is in charge of which branch of government would show up in the form of some observable outcome that is different? Other than it's nice to talk about, it's interesting? Again, it's sort of an inside baseball kind of thing. Does it matter? People talk about it, but does it really matter? Guest: It's controversial. There are a number of studies: Do unified governments produce more legislation than divided governments? And the answer is: No. Now, some people argue maybe in eras of divided government, more legislation is necessary. That's not at all clear to me because it could be that divided government means there is no consensus and so it is wrong to legislate in those circumstances. If we go back to the late 19th century I'm always struck by the fact that they managed to pass the Interstate Commerce Act, the Sherman Antitrust Act--they did some really big things then during this period of tremendous instability. And even now, you look at this sequester--the world's going to come to an end because of the sequester. Well, what happened? I can't remember anything, can you? Russ: I'm still here. And unfortunately my house is still worth a lot of money. I paid a lot for it--I'd love for my house in suburban Washington, D.C. to plummet because the demand for government goes down. But I can only dream. Guest: That's really right. I think that there's a clear biased point of view in the people that bemoan gridlock and say that they want a big government that does things. If you are on the other side of that politically, gridlock is not such a bad thing. Especially when--it's one thing when you have huge majorities--and I know you are going to bring up gun control, we can talk about that. But nevertheless, on big things, what are we going to do about Social Security and the taxes, etc., I don't think there's the consensus out there. Even among the elites there's no consensus to lead, to try to lead the population any way. So I'm not sure that simply muddling along till things clarify isn't the best course of events right now. Russ: What should I have asked you about gun control? Guest: Well, I was going to say, when you have clear majorities, and the political class has been going crazy about how you have 80-90% majorities in favor of, say, background checks--and certainly that's true. I can remember the first political science course I took in 1964 them using gun control as the example of an intense minority, that there's something traditionally called the problem of intensity in democratic politics. And the idea is political equality demands, although it [?] weighted equally, but is it really not just fair but is it really prudent if you have an apathetic majority, say, 50%-plus 1 opposed to an intense minority of 50%-minus 1, is it fair the apathetic majority should rule, threatening--you can't weight the votes but essentially that's what's politically happening, threatening the health of the system, civil war--those are the kind of dimensions of the [?], and gun control is this way. There's a Pew Poll that unfortunately didn't get more publicity than it should have: but you remember when Obama was elected in his victory speech and again in his inaugural address, what he emphasized: he said we're going to do something about global warming, we're going to do something about immigration, we're going to do something about gay marriage, we're going to strengthen gun laws. Well, the Pew Poll, which was taken in January this year asked people: What do you think the top priorities of the President and Congress should be in the coming year? And they gave them 21 choices: these are usually picked through focus groups. And of the 21 choices, let's see: immigration came in number 17 in priority; gun laws came in 18th in priority; and global warming came in number 21 out of 21. So I mean there's a total disconnect between what the Washington establishment thinks of as the important issues facing the country and what the population as a whole does. Now, you want to know what the top ones here? Economy, jobs, deficits, Social Security, education, Medicare, health care costs, the poor and the needy, crime, environment, taxes, etc., etc. Until you get down to immigration, number 17. So the fact is you have majorities for strengthening gun laws--that's certainly true but people don't care. That's the basic point. Russ: They don't care very much. They care. Guest: It's essentially: no one is going to, very few people are going to vote against a member of Congress who doesn't support the gun control bill. Whereas the minority on the other side, they will in fact vote against somebody who supports it. I may have garbled that answer there. But so I mean you can't just look at public opinion data like this and say the majority is being thwarted. The fact is if the majority really cared, it wouldn't be thwarted. And members of Congress understand that. So we need to look at public opinion data with some sense of what's important to people as well as just what the division of opinion [?] is. On spending items, we always ask these: do you think these programs should be increased, decreased, or kept the same? The only thing people ever want to cut is foreign aid, welfare, and the space program. Everything else they want to increase. But then if you ask them, what would you like to-- I mean it's true. Russ: What do you want taxes to be? Not so consistent. Guest: Exactly. When you start asking them how much. I remember when people in the business school here did a study during the health care fight: how much would people be willing to pay for universal access? Everybody says: that's a good idea; of course everybody should have insurance. And I think they lost the majority at something like $50 a year for a family. That everybody's willing to do something that's good as long as it's cheap. But if you say, well, it's going to cost you $100, you say, well, I guess we can do without universal access. Russ: You mean they wouldn't pay $100 for other people to have access? Guest: Yeah, exactly. The health care fight, it was very interesting in the sense that basically about 1/3 of the people, first of all health care wasn't that huge an issue. But of the people who thought it was a big issue, about 1/3 thought it was about access and 2/3 thought it was about costs. Now, the fact though, was that people who were concerned about access were nearly all of the Democratic base. So that's why you saw this being basically an access bill, and not a cost bill. And so even though, I mentioned earlier, it wasn't one of the top priorities, but even the way they went about it was actually not the way people felt where the problem existed.
50:08Russ: So, do you want to opine on--you mentioned it already a little bit. Do you want to say anything about what you think is coming down the road for politics in the next election and then the one after in 2016? 2014 and 2016? Guest: Uh, no. Russ: Good answer. Guest: Well, 2014, I think we are looking at again, the Democrats need I think 17 seats to take back the House. It's probably doubtful without some terrible mis-step or exogenous shock because it's--things are not going well for Obama now; things generally sort of begin to deteriorate in a second term of Presidency. And so I think the Democrats' chance of taking back the House are pretty minimal. In fact, the Republicans seem to have a structural advantage in the House, now, that it's always been the case that rural votes, rural districts or suburban districts are less homogeneous than urban districts. So the Democrats waste a lot of votes running up big majorities in urban districts, essentially in minority districts, and now that the South has gone from Democrats to Republicans, Republicans just have more efficient districts--they win by 60% rather than 70%. And so they do have a structural advantage in the House. Now the Senate, we could look at that and say: Boy, the Republicans really ought to be able to take the Senate. But everybody's said that the last two cycles around and they found a way to blow it. So I don't know what the chances of the Republicans doing it next time or not. Now, in terms of 2016, anything goes. One of my favorite anecdotes is after the 1974 election, the Gallup organization decided it was about time to start thinking about their trial heat polls for two years later. And you know we still [?] today: would you vote for so-and-so or so-and-so? And they canvas Democratic Party officials and they came up with a list of 34 names of potential Democratic candidates for potential 1976. And one name that was not on the list of 34 was Jimmy Carter. Russ: He would have been 35th. Guest: Yeah. So, now, well, yeah, certainly it's going to be Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side; it's going to be one of these 3 or 4 people, Cruz, Rubio, Bush, Christie on the Republican side--well, yeah, it sort of looks like that now but I wouldn't be surprised if somebody else emerged who nobody is talking about now. It's just too far ahead to speculate. Russ: I remember when Obamacare was put on the table and Romney did not come out against it. Partly, for whatever reason, maybe because it was so much like what he had proposed in Massachusetts. Maybe he thought it was a great law. Maybe he didn't want to talk about it. Who knows? But he didn't come out against it. I thought: That's it; he's done; he has no chance. Here's his chance to repudiate what he did, say I made a mistake in Massachusetts, it's a mistake to do it at the national level; and that way he'd get the nomination. And if he didn't do it, I thought he'd have no chance. Well, I'm an idiot. I was clearly wrong. As I often am about politics. We'll see. I'll talk to you in two years. We'll have a better idea what's going on.
53:12Russ: Let's close by talking about red states and blue states, which is another divisive or divide that we hear about sometimes, that there are these red states, there are these blue states, and culturally we're so different. And in your book you point out it's not quite so straightforward. Guest: No, in fact the distribution of opinion in red states and blue states are more similar than I think anyone believes. That people tend to stereotype. They think of blue states as Manhattan or San Francisco and a red state as some small town in Texas or Mississippi. And in fact it's just a lot more nuanced than that. I have a map I like that is not just red or blue depending on whether you won the state by one vote, but rather shades the entire state on the basis of strong partisans, Independents, etc. And the whole country with few exceptions, pockets here and there, looks pink and purple, much more nuanced view. And I think it's a mistake to say there's only 7, 8 states in the country that are really competitive and the right candidates can put a lot more areas into play. Like for example I think Christie if nothing else would sort of scramble the map. He would get a look in places where a Republican ordinarily doesn't get a look. And might be in trouble in areas where normally has an easy chance of it. So as long as we sort of have a northern liberal on the Democratic side and a southern conservative on the Republican side, things are going to look pretty stable. But if we break out of that mold and have some nonstandard candidates then I think things will shake up. Russ: As a closing question, total shift of gears: What do you think are the most interesting questions in political science that we can't answer right now, that we don't have survey data, we don't have good understanding of. Where do you think the intellectual action is in your field? Coming forward. Guest: Well, if you want to talk about purely academic--this is really off the wall--there's research going on about biological and genetic bases of political attitudes and behavior, and there's one claim, for example, based on twin studies that about half of your ideologies are inherited from your parents. That it's in your genes. Russ: Not in whether they watched FOX or CNN. Guest: Right. Whether they watch FOX or CNN is based on their genes. So, from a purely academic standpoint, there are lines of research now that would have been totally politically incorrect, unacceptable, 40 years ago. But also just really mind-boggling. People are doing brainwave stuff and other things. That's sort the physical and biological side of things, is where lots of ferment is occurring. Russ: I think that's just too much National Science Foundation (NSF) money. Guest: Not any more. Russ: Who is paying for that? Guest: I think you have--the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is paying for that. NSF as you know is simply not funding now political science stuff that isn't related to national security or economic growth. So they have to go to other funding sources, and NIH has a lot of money. Russ: How about more traditional, less radical stuff? What do you think is interesting that's going on? Guest: Frankly, I guess this marks me as an old, dried up scholar. I was going to use a term that's not politically--but anyway, I think not a lot at the moment. There's a great deal of work on methodology. I should say I'm confining my remarks here to studies of American politics; certainly in international relations this wouldn't be the case. There's a great deal of emphasis on advanced statistical methods on modeling--geographic stuff, that we're now able to map out commercial districts to the square foot and so forth. I find a lot of work in younger scholars being less concerned with bigger questions and more with how to answer smaller questions, or even just how to answer any question. I think basically the pendulum has swung a little too far in that direction. And we saw this in economics, what, 10, 20 years ago; everything had gone to game theory, etc., etc. Now we are seeing a big swing back toward empirical work in political economy, and I think probably the pendulum will swing again. But in talking to journal editors I sort of get this sense that nobody's doing interesting big arguments at the moment, that it's sort of too much small stuff. Russ: Well, we have the same problem in economics. I think the problem is data. There's too much data. Guest: Yeah. Russ: It's ironic. We have all this--you say, to the square foot. It makes it easier to run more interesting statistical techniques; I'm not sure we're learning more, though. But we certainly have fancier tools to play with. Guest: That's right. If you had asked that question to a lot of younger scholars, they'd have said: big data, that's what the interesting thing is. But I just don't have much confidence that that's going to really produce a lot of intellectually interesting work.

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COMMENTS (19 to date)
Greg G writes:

I found the podcast to be interesting and accurate but I think it left out a few points that are key to understanding today's political polarization.

First, it is the relative political bipartisanship of the period between WWII and the end of the Cold War that is the historical anomaly, not the more recent repolarization. Most of the rest of American history has been more polarized than today and that includes the much romanticized (though not in this podcast) early days of the country.

The Founding Fathers passed and aggressively enforced the Alien and Sedition Acts. They politicized the judiciary and routinely packed (and unpacked) the Supreme Court. And they engaged in vituperative personal attacks that would be considered beyond the pale even today.

Secondly, the external threats provided by WWII and the Cold War served to unite the country in a way that is probably not possible in times of greater security. Even if we think a less partisan politics is desirable (and I do) it may not be realistic to view the Leave It To Beaver era as the standard.

Third, the Digital Age replacing the Television Age has meant a return to the older norm of most media sources being quite politicized. When most people got their news in less than a half hour of TV nightly news from three major networks the news was much more homogenized. This had some good and some bad effects but it certainly painted a less polarized picture of the political world. The main goal was to avoid offending viewers. That left out a lot of important information but it did provide an incentive to engage the strongest, not the weakest arguments of each side.

Today with 24 hours of cable news and talk radio to fill up each day the incentive is to seek out the dumbest thing said by the craziest wingnut on the other side and use it to gin up a controversy.

rhhardin writes:

My important variable is soap opera women, that led to a business arrangement between the MSM "news" and the Democrats.

It started with Jessica in the Well, long ago now in 1987, when the MSM discovered an unlimited 24/7 audience for soap opera as news.

Soap opera is easy to manufacture from nationwide news, and a large audience, 40% of women, will tune in every day so long as it's provided.

That has ever since been the MSM business model. They sell those eyes to advertisers.

The business arrangement is that if the Democrats supply a soap narrative, the MSM will run with it.

This coverage takes over all the news terrain, with Democrats getting power from it and the MSM getting ad revenue from it.

That's the polarization of the Democrat party.

No story will run that will confuse soap opera women, lest they tune away.

There's no market for hard news -- except one-off events that won't pay the bills -- so it's soap opera or nothing.

The influence of this convergence of interests can't be overestimated.

Republicans can't play that game without losing support, so the news terrain is all Democrat.

Steve Sedio writes:

I see the vitriolic talking points (that have no middle ground) both parties use to polarize their faithful. It wouldn't surprise me if the party leadership for both the D's and R's cooperate on crafting those talking points.

In my opinion, polarization really kicked off when government got big enough to demand lots of money from big business to control regulation (the ROI for a competition eliminating regulation is much higher than a tax break - allowing more money to "share" with politicians)

Those that didn't play, were harassed. IBM and Microsoft greatly increased their spending on government favor after they were dragged in front of congress. I expect Apple will follow suit.

drobviousso writes:

I can't name my congressman. I do know he won with something like 75% of the vote in the last election, same as every election. I know he champions policies that I am diametrically opposed to, and I couldn't find a single good thing to say about his voting record when I looked into it when I moved to my current home.

So what good would it be for me to know his particular details.

I don't think that's a very good metric to judge how well informed (or misinformed) I am.

When Russ brought up Kling's book, I was hoping he would ask if we have 2 parties and 3 ideologies in this country, but that's not where the conversation went. Maybe next time.

Steve Sedio writes:

drobviousso,

There are a boatload of safe districts. Gerrymandering explains some of it, the rest, I'm not sure. The two party system doesn't exist there.

Even when the politician is supposed to "share" your values, they only have to share more of yours that the challenger.


I don't think either of the below are legal, but it could shift the balance of power away from government.

Add "None of the Above" for every position on the ballot. If that wins 50% +1, the seat remains vacant for the term.

Add the names of people with good name recognition (like movie stars), but unavailable (dead), on a couple of major positions on the ballot. The ballot of anyone that votes for 3 or more is discarded for being totally unaware who they are voting for.

Matěj Cepl writes:

One possible factor I haven’t heard about is the issue of financing the politics. Isn’t in the end Lawrence Lessig right and it’s all about 0.05% of population paying for the politics in campaign contributions? When the politics is so dirty that no “normal” person is willing to touch it, only fanatics will.

drobviousso writes:

Steve - I know. My point is that if you want to measure civic engagement or informedness, I don't think this is a good measure.

I like the plan that's mentioned off hand in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Take your state population, divide by # reps for the state, and anyone that can get that number of signatures gets to be a representative for the state. Don't know how it would play out in reality, but it's a cool theory.

Ak Mike writes:

Greg - Much of what you say I agree with, but I disagree regarding the "bipartisanship" of the WWII - end of Cold War period.

The two most partisan elections that I can remember were 1964 and 1972. In both cases the incumbent party perceived their opponents as unhinged radicals who would destroy the country.

I agree with Prof. Fiorina that most people now are just as moderate as they were a generation or two ago, and that the increasing partisanship of elected officials is caused by the increased use of primary elections. Primaries operate in a fairly mechanical way to drive out moderates.

Jason writes:

This was an interesting discussion, and it was engaging but did we learn anything new? A little, I suppose.

I think the question to be addressed is who is winning from the current arrangement? Clearly media loves the divisiveness and that, in turn, creates more appetite for it in society.

The politicians like it because they don't have to focus on getting anything real done, or even having those discussions.

As the economy continues to deteriorate for most people, business profits have done nothing but increase, so i don't think big business (not small and midsized) has any problems with the status quo, even though they will obviously complain about taxes and regulation.

So there you have it- democracy is hijacked. History has shown us that democracy is not infallible. Look at Germany 70 years ago or Egypt a few days ago. Maybe it is the best choice among the options, but I think we are understating the failure we are experiencing, and it is systemic.

Greg G writes:

Ak Mike

Those are fair points about 1964 and 1972 and the effect of primaries. I still think voters are more polarized today than they used to be as the result of everyone being able to choose to receive their news through the media channel most likely to add to their confirmation bias.

In the 60's the political class was relatively less polarized than the rest of the citizenry. The culture was coming apart at the seams but the people actually elected were more centrist relative to public opinion.

Today the political class is more polarized than the public at large in part due to the effect of primaries that you described.

Eric S. Harris writes:

There was a comment about wingnut candidates losing winnable races and saying outrageous things, which brought to mind Todd Akin.

Some point to anti-Akin ads run by the incumbent Democrat that seemed to have two purposes, especially as they ran before the primary. One was to paint Akin an extremist, to make him less appealing to moderate voters who might vote for him. The other was to make him MORE appealing to extreme voters of his party, so he would be MORE likely to win his primary.

Basically, the incumbent wanted to run against as big a nut-job as possible, so she would look sensible and moderate, relatively speaking. Or so it seems.

If political parties were in charge of their own candidate selection, this sort of thing would be less likely to happen, if you believe what Mark Kornbluh wrote in "Why America Stopped Voting: The Decline of Participatory Democracy and the Emergence of Modern American Politics" http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special%3ABookSources&isbn=0814747086+

Yet another problem to blame on the political events of the so-called "Progressive Era".

David writes:

I found this week's episode disappointing. The intelligent, insightful, and relatively rigorous discussion of economic matters that characterizes EconTalk at it's best is hard to come by. So, I look forward to getting it here, even when it comes from people with whom I disagree (I find opposing views from intelligent, insightful people very valuable).

Political analysis is all around us, all the time. And though Mr. Fiorina knows his subject well, he didn't offer much of anything new (in his defense, that could be because the topic has been so thoroughly discussed that there's nothing new to say). So, I'm hoping EconTalk gets back to talking about economics next week, in its usual intelligent and insightful way.

Amos D Wright writes:

Meh. I no longer take any analysis of politics seriously if they conflate "small government" with "the right."

Small government is small government. It is possible to have large right-wing government. See Saudi Arabia and Iran, a monarchy and a theocracy.

That we don't have that in America (if you think you can build a theocracy out of America's wild and differentiated religious groups, you've well and drunk the Kool-Aid) is a fact of history.

That the left can't even imagine the possibility of a society where they pursue their goals without using the guns and jails of the Law to force the rest of us into their schemes is only evidence of their proclivity toward tyranny, not any kind of balance in our politics. That a supposedly even-handed political science professor doesn't grasp this is only evidence of the capture the left-Statists have had in academia.

Kount von Numbacruncht writes:

I found this podcast to be remarkably uninteresting, but the comments made up for that. I offer a special tip of the hat to rhhardinn, Steve Stedio, Metej Cepl and Amos D Wright. Thank you for your interesting posts.

How can you talk about American party politics and not mention the corporate/government nexus of Verizon/MSM/Google/NSA/FBI/IRS? That might help a not-so-scrupulous incumbent, no? Big data, indeed. Certainly, Google billionaire Eric Schmidt thinks his team provided valuable assistance.

Rob writes:

I was rather disappointed with this episode. The problem with talking about the numbers of moderates/independents versus conservatives/Republicans or liberal/Democrats is that the terms don't really mean anything policy-wise. A libertarian given only three choices would likely choose moderate, but so would the opposite of a libertarian, someone who supports traditional morality, but likes big government. People who know or care nothing about politics are also likely to choose moderate. If you use party designations, independents also pick up some extremists who think the Republicans are too liberal or the Democrats are too conservative. Moderate/independent really is just an "other" choice.

The suggestion that politicians should moderate their positions to attract this large voting block is more or less nonsensical. They will likely annoy as many moderates as they win over.

There are two proven ways to win over moderates. The first was Reagan's way: convince them you are right. Obviously not easy to do. The other way is to appeal to those who don't care about politics using something other than politics. Play the sax on late night, or talk about your bracket picks.

Ralph writes:

Whatever the statistics on the electorate, the pary leadership on both sides has lurched towards 'Big Government' and the infringements on personal liberty and property that entails.

George W was a rapid expansion of 'big' government, and the Democrats, who "voted for it before [they were] against it" have certainly used the Patriot Act to their political advantage: NSA is monitoring these posts, and Obama has a "database that no one has ever seen before in history" for his private political advantage.

If "extreme" is crafting an amnesty bill to legalize illegals and offer tax-payer funded services, I'm not sure what "moderate" would be.

On the Democrat side we've seen more "stimulus" and borrowing than ever before, Obamacare, and the continued executive push for Cap & Trade to rectify "man-made global warming." Moderate?

Consider the trespassing, property damage and clashes with police of the Occupy movement funded and organized by Big Labor with the vocal support of Democrats vs. the Tea Party 'protesters' who obtained permits to meet, sang the National Anthem, prayed and cleaned up their trash before leaving quietly. Who's the extremist group?

I call myself an American conservative independent (well-informed), because the Republican leadership is "extremely moderate" and Democrats are "extremely progressive," resulting in a lurch towards rapidly expanding federal government with clear evidence to that fact in just about any source of data you care to use.

Democrats are "moderate" only to the extent that they accept Republican bureaucratic initiatives and then use them as a bargaining tool and launching pad for their own further government expansion "investments."

The electortae is "moderate" when examined as an aggregate, perhaps. Lost in this discussion is the fact that the electorate doesn't just vote, many of them fund the government and many do not, while all are influenced by the outcomes. Any public discussion of funding for federal social programs will make clear just how "moderate" the electorate is on those isssues.

Harun writes:

MSM + Big Data + LIV = WIN.

I don't think the GOP will win much of anything. Maybe when the money runs out.

I already feel disenfranchised by the system. Not by having my side lose elections, but by our institutions not being fair to both sides, and this includes the media, not just the federal bureaucracy.

Hey, but as long as the Left gets to keep winning, I guess they can be happy. No need for the consent of the governed.


Harun writes:

"When the politics is so dirty that no “normal” person is willing to touch it, only fanatics will."

This is not due to money. This is due to digging up dirt on people and then publishing it. This is why many good people don't run for office.

Guess which major American political figure got the divorce records for their opponent unsealed even though both people in the marriage opposed that?

Guess which major political figure had an economist named Austan Goolsbee who somehow came up with the tax records of two private citizens and announced them to the world...that was illegal, but the IG report won't see the light of day...see, that would reveal personal details!!!

DM in Australia writes:

Enjoyed the podcast Russ and Morris

While not from the US I find reading about it and the occasional visit are fascinating

The podcast raised three ideas:

1. As well documented by your sociologist Robert Putnam, binding social capital (between like minded people) has been growing in the US while bonding social capital (between socially different people) has been weakening

2. When you mainly interact with like minded people your views become more polarised as explained by papers such as the Harvard Law School paper at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=199668

3. When voting is voluntary, people who feel strongly about policies are more likely to vote. In Australia we have compulsory voting AND you indicate your preferences. This requires politicians to appeal to a large proportion of the electorate and to advocate moderate policies to be electable.

I am not saying that this is superior to the US system, just that this system tends to work against extreme positions as was well documented in this fascinating analysis

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