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This piece was originally intended as an op-ed for the Union-Leader. However, they did not pick it up. Therefore, I’m running it here.

Why did Republicans do poorly in the last state elections in New Hampshire? There is no shortage of theories, but what has been lacking is any attempt to test those theories on the evidence.

One of the most popular claims, from both Democrats and parts of the Republican establishment, is that the Republican legislature of 2011-12, particularly the state house under Speaker Bill O’Brien, was overly conservative or libertarian. Here’s what former Republican state chair Fergus Cullen had to say in the Union-Leader right after the election (“Will NH Republicans learn the lessons from Tuesday?,” November 8, 2012): “The drag on the ticket was the motley crew of insular Tea Partiers, Free Staters, birthers, Agenda 21 conspiracy theorists, and borderline anarchists calling themselves Libertarians who dominated the Republican majority in the Legislature, led recklessly by soon-to-be ex-Speaker Bill O’Brien.”

Is that true? If it were, then Republican candidates for state house would have done worse than the Romney-Ryan ticket at the top, as some share of voters decided to punish alleged “extremist” state house candidates while still voting for the moderate-conservative Republican presidential ticket. Did that actually happen?

In a word: no. But don’t take my word for it: look at the final data posted by the Secretary of State. Statewide, Republicans received 1,084,642 votes for state house candidates, 51.3% of the total – a majority! By contrast, Romney-Ryan received only 46.4% of the presidential vote in New Hampshire. Gubernatorial candidate Ovide Lamontagne won only 42.5% of the vote.

These figures might be misleading, however, because New Hampshire has many multimember and floterial districts, so some voters end up casting more votes than others for state house, depending on where they live. A better approach is to focus on single-member, non-floterial house districts, comparing votes for state house and presidential candidates in just those districts.

When we do this, looking only at the 49 house races statewide in which one Democrat and one Republican competed, we find that GOP candidates received, on average, 44.0% of the two-party state house vote in those districts. In those same districts, the GOP presidential ticket received only 42.9% of the two-party presidential vote.

Thus, Republican state house candidates ran slightly ahead of the presidential ticket, in some cases (more…)

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The Second Term Begins

Today is the inauguration and the beginning of President Obama’s second term in office.

Ralph Nader, for one, isn’t impressed with inaugurations. As he noted Sunday:

“Tomorrow I’ll watch another rendition of political bulls—- by the newly reelected president, full of promises that he intends to break just like he did in 2009.”

Nader might be a bit harsh in his evaluation. I doubt that President Obama assumed office in 2009 with the intention to break his promises. More likely, he issued his promises to build a coalition and did so before he fully understood the intrinsic complexities of the issues and the limitations of the office.  In the end, there are distinct limits to what a president can achieve given our system of separate institutions sharing powers.  Certainly, President Obama seems to have had distinct difficulties with Congress, even when there was unified Democratic control (e.g., health care, Dodd-Frank, climate change). Whether this was a product of his inexperience or his management style is the subject of ongoing debate. Certainly, things have only become more difficult in the post-2010 period with the GOP in charge of the House. The sluggishness of the recovery (in part a product of public policy and regime uncertainty) has imposed its own set of constraints.

This weekend, Ed O’Keefe provided his assessment of the past four years (WaPo), comparing the campaign promises of 2008 with the performance record. His assessment:

  1. Afghanistan: partially achieved
  2. Iraq: achieved
  3. Climate change: incomplete
  4. Health care overhaul: partially achieved
  5. Guantanamo Bay: failed
  6. The economy: failed
  7. Transparency/government openness: partially achieved
  8. Making government “cool again”: incomplete
  9. United States’ standing in the world: partially achieved
  10. Financial overhaul: partially achieved
  11. Breaking the partisan logjam: failed
  12. Supreme Court appointments: achieved

I would issue a somewhat harsher evaluation of Afghanistan, climate change, transparency and the financial overhaul.  Beyond these items, I would make more of the expansive use of drones and the carnage it has created for civilian populations (apparently, we mourn only the innocent children killed within our own borders).

Looking to the future, my guess is that some of the promises of the past will be recycled. Others (gun control, immigration) will rise to the top. The constraints imposed by our fiscal problems and the economy will continue to impose limits, both in terms of new spending programs and their crowding out other items on the policy agenda.  All in all, I can’t imagine that there will be much of a legacy emerging out of the next four years.

Do any Pileus readers want to issue their own assessment of the past four years?

Any predictions of what the next four years will hold?

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In Canada, provincial parties are totally organizationally independent of federal parties and may not even have the same names. Thus, the British Columbia Liberal Party has generally been right-of-center, and British Columbia Liberals tend to vote Conservative at the federal level. Quebec Liberals have generally been more Quebec-nationalist/decentralist than the federal Liberals. Most provinces have parties named “Progressive Conservative,” even though there is no longer any federal Progressive Conservative Party. And so on.

Of course, it doesn’t work that way in the U.S. State (and even local) elections feature Republican and Democratic candidates, except in Nebraska, where state legislative elections are nonpartisan. As a result, state election results are driven by national trends. Surprisingly, political scientists had not formalized this insight until recently. Here is a paper from Steven Rogers:

State legislative elections are not referendums on state legislators’ own performance but are instead dominated by national politics. Presidential evaluations and the national economy matter much more for state legislators’ elections than state-level economic conditions,  state policy outcomes, or voters’ assessments of the legislature. Previous analyses of  state legislative elections fail to consider which party controls the state legislature and whether voters know this information. When accounting for these factors, I discover that even when the legislature performs well, misinformed voters mistakenly reward the minority party. Thus, while state legislatures wield considerable policy-making power, elections are ineffective in holding state legislative parties accountable for their own performance and lawmaking.

Tyler Cowen calls this “the problem with federalism.” But it isn’t a problem with federalism as such. It’s a problem with U.S. federalism. In Canada, you can’t send a message to the federal government by voting against the incumbent federal party at the provincial level. (In fact, provincial elections are not held on the same days as federal elections.) Changing the perverse accountability dynamic of U.S. state legislatures may require something as simple as changing the names of state parties.

State parties may even have an incentive to do this. For instance, the Republican Party in New Hampshire could change its name to something like “New Hampshire Conservative Party” or “New Hampshire Party.” By doing so, it could help to insulate itself from the partisan swings at the national level that are beyond its control.

In the last election, New Hampshire Republicans lost majorities in the state house and the executive council. The reason for this was the (more…)

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Media are reporting the results of the Puerto Rico status referendum as if the statehood option had won. Now, it may indeed be the case that the resident commissioner will present legislation of accession to the Union in the House of Representatives, but only an oddly structured ballot devised by the pro-statehood party allowed the referendum to “succeed.” In fact, a majority of Puerto Ricans voted against statehood.

The ballot asked two questions. The first question asked voters, “Do you agree to maintain current territorial political status?” The “no” option received 54% of the vote, 934,238 votes of 1,730,245 valid votes. The second question asked voters to choose among three status options: statehood, associated free state, and independence. Statehood received 61.15% of the valid votes, 802,179 votes in all.

But note two things. First, many voters who opposed statehood in favor of, say, independence would have voted “no” on the first question. Second, 25% of the ballots on the second question were left blank, apparently out of protest at a question the pro-status quo party regarded as unfair. If you add blank ballots to the total on the second question, the statehood option received less than 45% of the vote.

This is a good example of how political leadership tries to use a cyclical majority to secure its favored alternative.

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Election Silver Linings

While a lot of folks are disappointed in last night’s most prominent election results, there are some silver linings:

  1. Colorado and Washington passed ballot initiatives legalizing possession and sale of small quantities of marijuana. This could be the thin end of the wedge that ultimately dooms the drug war, as the DEA won’t be able to prosecute everyone who engages in the marijuana business in those states. Also: citizens of Mexico rejoice.
  2. Michigan’s “Protect Our Jobs” initiative, which would have written union privileges into the state constitution, went down to defeat.
  3. California’s anti-science GMO labeling proposition was soundly defeated.
  4. Same-sex marriage was passed in Maryland and Maine. (Usual disclaimers about getting government out of the marriage licensing business altogether apply.)
  5. Several freedom-loving U.S. Reps were (re-)elected, including Thomas Massie in Kentucky and Justin Amash and Kerry Bentivolio in Michigan.
  6. In New Hampshire, Obama ran three points better than in the nation as a whole, no better than Kerry in 2004. Thus, NH’s march to the left really does seem to have halted in 2004.
  7. While Dems took the gubernatorial race and the executive council majority in New Hampshire, Republicans will keep the state senate, and the state house remains too close to call (I’ve seen differing judgments about the likely partisan majority). It looks as if GOP house reps ran slightly ahead of the top of the ticket, which is very difficult to do in this age of party-line voting. In addition, word on the street is that a dozen Free State Project participants won state house seats, the same as in 2010. It was a shame to see good, hard-working reps like Jenn Coffey and Tammy Simmons lose close races, but it was also good to see new blood come in and others return, like Democratic FSP’er Joel Winters. Also, hardcore anti-FSP statist Republican Lee Quandt was defeated. The bottom line is that NH will get a medical marijuana law in the next session and otherwise we should expect little change in policy (probably a slight spending increase and a repeal of the tobacco tax cut).

Also: it looks as if I won all three bets placed on my forecasts, for better or worse. ;-)

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Following Grover’s urging, I’m revealing my vote and my pairwise preference in the presidential contest. My vote in safely Democratic New York is for Libertarian Gary Johnson, but I do have a slight pairwise preference for Romney-Ryan over Obama-Biden. The reason is that while both sets of candidates are equally bad on all sorts of issues, as Marc notes below, the PPACA (Obamacare) really is a tiebreaker. It’s not just that the PPACA is bad policy, but also that it vitiates an important area of federalism. The feds have summarily executed all the state-level experiments in regulating and providing health insurance. The free-market option of permitting low-mandate, high-deductible, low-cost policies to expand coverage has forever been foreclosed. If Obama wins, the PPACA will go into effect and will never be repealed, and another chunk of American federal institutions will go down the drain forever.

Of course, the PPACA will only be repealed if Republicans take both the presidency and the Senate, the probability of which must hover around something like 3% at this stage. If I lived in a swing state, I might well cast my first-ever vote for a Republican in a presidential general election, but I don’t, so I won’t.

Randy Barnett’s argument that we shouldn’t vote Libertarian because it only encourages them to continue existing does not persuade me. The Libertarian Party provides a safe harbor for principled votes when both Democrats and Republicans are genuinely terrible (have we forgotten George W. Bush, Tommy Thompson, et al. so soon?). They also help keep the two parties, especially Republicans, aware of the possibility of being punished by libertarian voters for bad policy decisions, theoretically promoting good policies in the long run even if facilitating some short-run defeats of “lesser of two evils” candidates. Now, admittedly, this strategic role would work much better if Libertarian candidates were strategic about the races they enter (why in the world is a Libertarian running against Jeff Flake in Arizona?), but even so, I would regret very much the demise of the Libertarian Party as a national political option.

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Here are my prognostications for Tuesday. I agree with Alex Tabarrok that a prognostication isn’t worth much if the issuer isn’t willing to put something behind it. Therefore, I’m willing to take bets on any of these.

Probability of Obama victory: 4 to 1. Somewhere between Intrade and Nate Silver. In fact I tried to make a bet on Intrade in favor of Obama several days ago, but they wanted all sorts of private information on my identity that I wasn’t willing to give them. I will take either side of this bet at those odds.

Popular vote share: Obama 50.0, Romney 48.3, Johnson 0.7. I’m willing to take either side of these at even odds.

Electoral vote: Obama 294, Romney 244. Again, I will take either side of this bet at even odds.

Senate: 53 D (incl 2 I), 47 R. Same deal – either side, even odds.

House: Republican majority. I’ll give 13 to 1 odds against a Dem takeover.

New Hampshire Predictions

Governor: Hassan (D). I’ll take even odds against.

Executive Council majority: R. Same.

Senate majority: R. Same.

House majority: R. Same.

If you’d like to make a bet, please post in the comments and then e-mail me your contact information. My e-mail address is jsorensATbuffalo.edu (replace the “AT” with the “at” symbol). Please limit my total exposure on any one bet to $100 maximum (I’m not wealthy).

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