Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Everybody Likes to Say They're an Independent--But Are They?

Back in grad school when I was taking a seminar on electoral behavior, one of the major concepts we discussed and read about at length was the notion of whether or not "independents" are actually as prevalent as the conventional wisdom suggests. Among mainstream media reporters, a common assertion is that America is increasingly becoming disconnected from the two major parties. They are dissatisfied with their choices, are less ideological, and will gravitate toward candidates who offer "real solutions" and are pragmatic. The success of candidates like Michael Bloomberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John McCain, and other self styled "mavericks" feeds the media obsession with this meme.

But is this really true? Are Americans really becoming more independent??? While voters might certainly identify themselves as independent, it is their behavior that really matters. In response to the latest talk about Barack Obama and his declining support, John Sides over at the Monkey Cage throws water (convincingly I believe) on the rise of the independent.

As a slew of political science research has demonstrated over the past decade or so, self identified independents actually behave quite similar to highly partisan voters. Although they claim no partisan allegiance, they tend to vote consistently with one party. In the research's parlance, they are "leaners." The number of pure independents, those whose votes are truly up for grabs, especially over time, is only in the neighborhood of about 10% of the electorate. Furthermore, their numbers seem to actually be decreasing.

So as you continue to hear more and more discussion about the vaunted "independent voter," dig a little bit deeper and ask whether appearance and reality match up.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Massachusetts Special Election

I like to wait a few days before I try to analyze why an election turned out the way it did. Too often, in the immediate aftermath of the voting, there's a rush of speculation and "analysis" that treats the election in question as if it, and it alone, will tell us everything we need to know about the current state of our politics. There tends to be very little context and a lot more heat than light.

So, just some links at this point regarding yesterday's tilt in Massachusetts, in which Republican State Senator Scott Brown, as was predicted in the days leading up to the voting, defeated Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley for the right to fill the remainder of Ted Kennedy's term (town by town results here). The most comprehensive coverage of the race can be found at the Boston Globe and Boston Herald's site as well as a great blog that tracked the race,

Our own John LaBeaume was on the ground in Massachusetts this week and filed some dispatches to give you a little bit of the local flavor (here and here).

Finally, via The Electoral Map, here's a good primer on the political geography of the Bay State to help put some of the returns in context.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Amidst the Tragedy, Some Fascinating Numbers

As we watch the horrific tragedy unfold in Haiti, I came across a staggering statistic that I thought was worth looking at in the context of this blog. During one of the news stories last night, it was reported that Brooklyn contains roughly 100,000 people of Haitian descent and that over 200,000 Haitian Americans live in the broader New York area. While we know how much of a melting pot New York is, this number really jumped out at me. This story from a few years back gives some specifics. A while back I did a post on the micropolitics of these ethnic communities throughout the city so its worth revisiting this topic.

The Haitian community in NYC is most prevalent in the Flatbush and Crown Heights neighborhoods In 2007 Mathieu Eugene became the first Haitian American elected to the New York City Council, representing the 40th District which is bisected by Flatbush Avenue. The New York Haitian community is served by the Haitian Times, the Bedford Haitian Community Center, and Radio Soleil, which has been broadcasting continuously in the midst of the earthquake crisis.

The number of elected officials of Haitian descent is relatively widespread across the United States although Florida and New York tend, unsurprisingly, to be best represented. Interestingly, President Obama's former Illinois State Senate seat is currenly held by Kwame Raoul, whose parents immigrated from Haiti. A further Obama--Haiti connection is provided by his Political Director, Patrick Gaspard, who is Haitian born.

For information about how to donate to the relief efforts in Haiti, click here.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Is It Freak Out Time for The Democrats???!!!

Sorry for the lack of posts over the past several weeks. With the end of the semester, holiday season, etc. its been a bit hectic. I'll try to get some new things up over the next few days.

The big news over the past forty eight hours or so has been the announced retirements of several Democratic big hitters: Senators Chris Dodd (CT) and Byron Dorgan (ND), plus Colorado Governor Bill Ritter. As we might expect, there's been tons of speculation within the mainstream press about what this says about the Democrats' chances in this year's midterms (see here, here, and here). Most of it, in my opinion, tries to create a "sky is falling" sense of hysteria.

We need to remember that so far, more Republicans have announced their retirement than Democrats. Despite the GOP's attempt to play up their chances of capturing Congress, most members realize that the math is too difficult (a point even conceded by RNC head Michael Steele). For House members, being a member of the minority is not much fun. The procedural advantages that the majority possesses gives minority members little role to play in the day to day crafting of policy. Thus, for a lot of members, this anemic position is enough to tip them toward getting out.

Back in September I did a post about congressional retirements, trying to add a little perspective to what's been transpiring. In short, I argued that in order for the Democrats to be in any real danger of losing control of Congress-- a la 1994--we'd need to see a much larger wave of defections than what we've seen to this point. Despite Dodd and Dorgan announcements, plus the recent announced retirments of Tennessee Blue Dogs John Tanner and Bart Gordon (see this earlier post about them), we're still a long ways from bed wetting time for Democrats.

The more interesting aspect of these announcements, for my money, is what their replacements will mean for the next Congress. I'm particularly interested in what will happen in the districts being vacated by House Blue Dogs like Tanner, Gordon, and KS Rep. Dennis Moore. Rather than conservative Democrats being replaced by moderate Republicans--which one might expect given the underlying ideologies of the districts--what may happen instead is that these Blue Dogs will be replaced by more conservative Republicans. Even though the districts aren't changing, we may see considerable change in who represents them. In short, many of these retirements may produce a more polarized 112th Congress.

Part of the reason for this may spring from some of the debates taking place within Republican circles these days--the "purity" vs. "big tent" conversation. To get a sense of the intra-GOP dynamic taking place across the country, check out some of these recent stories (here, here, here, and here) on the primary (or potential) races heating up on the Republican side. While the Florida contest between popular Governor (and more moderate) Charlie Crist and the more conservative Marco Rubio has been getting the most press coverage, there are other races that may complicate Republicans' efforts to have a bloodless attempt at capturing Capitol Hill. If the GOP goes through months of fractous primaries that not only produces nominees less palatable to moderate districts but also turns off voters from the losing side (and maybe even swing them to the Democratic nominee), the Democrats' fortunes may turn out much better than a lot of Washington reporters are now predicting.