Tag Archive for 'Republican Party'


The origins of ideology

With the US Federal Government looking like it might go into a shutdown over budget negotiations (as I type, Intrade puts the chance at 40%), you can expect to see more articles around like this one from the Economist’s Democracy in America.  Here’s the gist of what they’re saying:

As Steve Benen points out, it definitely isn’t (or isn’t just) a function of Democratic legislators’ lack of determination. It’s partly a function of the fact that, as recentNBC/Wall Street JournalPew, and Gallup polls show, Democratic voters want their leaders to compromise, while Republican voters don’t. Jonathan Chait argues that what we have here is a structural issue that forces Democratic politicians to be wimpy:

Most people have the default assumption that the two parties are essentially mirror images of each other. But there are a lot of asymmetries between the Democratic and Republican parties that result in non-parallel behavior. The Republicans have a fairly unified economic base consisting of business and high-income individuals, whereas Democrats balance between business, labor, and environmental groups. The Republican Party reflects the ideology of movement conservatism, while the Democratic Party is a balance between progressives and moderates.

The upshot is that the Democratic Party is far more dependent upon the votes of moderates, who think of themselves in non-ideological terms and want their leaders to compromise and act pragmatically. The reason you see greater levels of partisan discipline and simple will to power in the GOP is that it has a coherent voting base willing to supportaggressive, partisan behavior and Democrats don’t. This isn’t to say Democrats are always wimps, but wimpiness is much more of a default setting for Democrats.

The article then goes on to discuss the psychological origins of ideological allegiance.  The upshot is that certain people have certain preferences and the political parties are representations of those groups of people.  There’s an implied assumption that all of this is exogenous to the system at large; that there’s nothing you can do about it, you just need to take it as given in your deliberations.

For anybody interested in this stuff, I strongly encourage you read Steve Waldman’s opposing view:  “Endogenize Ideology“. Here is his basic point, from quotes arranged in a different order to that in which he provides them:

Many [people] treat ideology or “political constraints” as given, and perform the exercise that economists perform reflexively, starting with their first grad school exam: constrained optimization. Constrained optimization is a mechanical procedure. The outcome is fully determined by the objective function and the constraints.

However …

That’s the wrong approach, I think. Rather than treating ideology as fixed and given, we should treat it as dynamic, as a consequence rather than a constraint of policy choices.

Ultimately, he argues, in a world of hard-nosed ideologues versus constraint-respecting policy wonks …

Rather than two optimizers, one of which has strictly less information than the other, in the real world we’ve seen two satisficers, one of which has adopted the strategy of optimizing subject to fixed constraints and the other of which has neglected pursuit of optimal present policy in favor of action intended to reshape the constraint set. A priori, we would not be able state with certainty which of the satisficers would outperform the other. If the constraint set were, in fact, strongly resistant to change Team Obama’s strategy would dominate. But if the constraint set is malleable (and constraints frequently bind), then Team Bush outperforms.

Just to really kick it home, he pulls out this quote from Karl Rove:

[Probably Karl Rove, talking to Ron Suskind] said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”


Party discipline in the Republican Party

Inspired by this post by Cam Riley … Any observer of U.S. politics could not have failed to notice the incredible level of party discipline that the Republicans, particularly in the Senate, have achieved over the last year or six.  This may be something new to Americans, but it’s rather common to Britons and Australians, who generally get more excited when somebody — anybody! — breaks the party line.  The party discipline of the Australian Labor Party, in particular, is phenomenal.

I understand that the generally accepted explanation for the differences between the USA and Australia in this regard focuses on the sources of funding for campaigns.  In Australia, all campaign funds come from the party — individual candidates cannot raise money directly — where as in the US, there’s a combination of party-supplied and individually-raised funding.

That then suggests two possible reasons for the new-found Republican discipline:

  • Republican congressional candidates have started to take a larger fraction of their total campaign funding from the party itself; and/or
  • Advocacy groups that support policies we stereotypically associate with the Democratic Party have not been giving any money to Republicans.

If it is the second reason, then that is a tactical error, and a foolish one, on the part of those advocacy groups.


The sky is blue …

… news at eleven.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the official business-cycle dating body for the U.S., has declared that the United States is in a recession and that it started in December 2007.

The data were a little confusing in calling the timing.  Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross Domestic Income (GDI) are two sides of the same coin.  Figures regarding their levels and growth rates ought to be the same and differ only because of statistical (i.e. counting) errors.  From the formal release:

The committee believes that the two most reliable comprehensive estimates of aggregate domestic production are normally the quarterly estimate of real Gross Domestic Product and the quarterly estimate of real Gross Domestic Income, both produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In concept, the two should be the same, because sales of products generate income for producers and workers equal to the value of the sales. However, because the measurement on the product and income sides proceeds somewhat independently, the two actual measures differ by a statistical discrepancy. The product-side estimates fell slightly in 2007Q4, rose slightly in 2008Q1, rose again in 2008Q2, and fell slightly in 2008Q3. The income-side estimates reached their peak in 2007Q3, fell slightly in 2007Q4 and 2008Q1, rose slightly in 2008Q2 to a level below its peak in 2007Q3, and fell again in 2008Q3. Thus, the currently available estimates of quarterly aggregate real domestic production do not speak clearly about the date of a peak in activity.

The brief respite in the middle of 2008 appears to be the result of the first fiscal stimulus package.  Nevertheless, it seems quite clear that the overall trend has been downward.

The committee declared December 2007 as the peak after looking at payroll (i.e. employment) data:

Payroll employment, the number of filled jobs in the economy based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ large survey of employers, reached a peak in December 2007 and has declined in every month since then. An alternative measure of employment, measured by the BLS’s household survey, reached a peak in November 2007, declined early in 2008, expanded temporarily in April to a level below its November 2007 peak, and has declined in every month since April 2008.

… and personal income (less transfer payments):

Our measure of real personal income less transfers peaked in December 2007, displayed a zig-zag pattern from then until June 2008 at levels slightly below the December 2007 peak, and has generally declined since June.

… and real manufacturing and wholesale-retail trade sales:

Real manufacturing and wholesale-retail trade sales reached a well-defined peak in June 2008.

… and the Federal Reserve Board’s index of industrial production:

This measure has quite restricted coverage—it includes manufacturing, mining, and utilities but excludes all services and government. Industrial production peaked in January 2008, fell through May 2008, rose slightly in June and July, and then fell substantially from July to September. It rose somewhat in October with the resumption of oil production disturbed by hurricanes in the previous month. The October value of the industrial production index remained a substantial 4.7 percent below its value in January 2008.

The only really interesting thing in all of this to me is to observe that the first fiscal stimulus and the corresponding positive growth in 2008:Q2 saved some embarrassment for the Republican Party.  The negative 2008:Q3 figures were only released on the 25th of November, three weeks after the U.S. election.  Had the 2008:Q2 figures been even faintly negative, there may have been considerable (and, I think, reasonable) pressure for the recession to have been formally recognised in the middle of the campaign.


History of US Legislative and Executive power (again)

Ages ago, I wrote briefly about the history of US legislative and executive power.  I thought I’d update it now that the latest election has (pretty much) settled.  Between 1901 and 2010, the Democratic Party will have been in power in the House of Representatives 65.5% of the time, in the Senate 58.2% of the time and had the presidency 50% of the time.

Much more interestingly, Americans seem to prefer having the same party control all three branches of US government at the same time.  While pure chance would put such an occurrence at 25% (i.e. two out of eight possible configurations), it actually occurred over 61% of the time (33 congresses out of 54).  Of those 33, 21 were all-Democrat and 12 were all-Republican.

Click on the image below to go through to an excel spreadsheet with the details:

History of US legislative and executive power (1901-2010)


More on the shift from Republican to Democrat

Brad Delong observes that there is a clear regional exception to the idea of a broad shift in the vote from the Republicans to the Democrats (the original scatterplot comes from Andrew Gelman):

Paul Krugman takes it a bit further, emphasising this beauty of a map (I’m not sure of the source.  Probably the NY Times?):

The shifts to the Republicans in Arizona and Alaska and to the Democrats in Illinois and Delaware are clearly down to the candidates coming from those states.  I’m a little surprised at the strength of the Republican shift in southern Louisiana.  One might have thought that with the memory of Hurricane Katrina they would have moved blue.  Perhaps the administration’s management of Hurricane Gustav was seen as successful?  The Oklahoma-Arkansas-Tennessee shift is presumably McCain’s “real America.”  I’d love to see a demographic breakdown of the vote in those states.

Almost immediate update:

dbt on Brad Delong’s blog points out the obvious about Louisiana:

Don’t lump Louisiana into that. The changes there are demographic, not electoral.

Which of course must be the explanation. Southern Louisiana didn’t turn red because of the success of the handling of Gustav; it turned red because of the failure to handle Katrina – vast numbers of black Americans were forced out and haven’t come back.