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CrowdPAC, Candidate Ideology, and Measurement Validity

So there’s this new organization called CrowdPAC that aims to offer “The best objective data on US political candidates.” Using a somewhat undefined methodology (although there is more technical information available here), built on the work of Stanford Political Scientist and co-founder Dr. Adam Bonica, it rates each candidate in all of the various congressional contests on a 10L to 10C scale, with 10L being the most liberal and 10C being the most conservative. (There are a handful of people they rate 10L+ or 10C+, which means they are off the scale liberal or off the scale conservative.) Dr. Bonica’s work recently received some coverage over at the Monkey Cage, most notably because it challenges the dominant narrative that modern partisan polarization is being driven by Republicans rather than Democrats.

I am particularly happy to see this kind of work, especially because it is about candidates and not elected officials. (Much of my current research interest revolves around Proposition 14 and its effects, which are supposed to be about candidate behavior.) Boris Shor has another set of data on candidate positions, but he hasn’t released an update for 2014 yet.

I’m a little dubious of this data, however, and it is the score that they give Jerry McNerney (CA-9), the local representative here in the Central Valley, that spurred my concern. In 2012, according to Shor’s data, McNerney was more conservative than the average Democrat. I made the following graph last election cycle to demonstrate the ideological positions of McNerney and his 2012 Republican challenger, Ricky Gill. McNerney scored relatively close to 0, which is politically moderate.

AllCandidateScores

Shor’s measure tracks well with other measures of ideology as revealed through voting in Congress. The most commonly used measure of ideology in congressional studies is Poole and Rosenthal’s NOMINATE scores. (There are others, but this is the one that everyone talks about.) NOMINATE scores range from -1 (the most liberal member of Congress) to +1 (the most conservative member of Congress). Here too, McNerney comes out fairly moderate (-0.225). All of this should not be surprising for a candidate who has made veterans’ issues and clean energy his primary policy talking points.

So how does McNerney score in the CrowdPAC data? He gets a 9.4L, which is more liberal than Nancy Pelosi (6.8L), Barbara Lee (8.5L), and Maxine Waters (7.1L)–all of whom have strong reputations as liberal stalwarts in both Democratic and Republican circles. (Their respective NOMINATE scores are -0.398, -0.694, and -0.594.) Indeed, as the following graph shows, McNerney’s score puts him near the liberal edge of all Democratic candidates running in California. (Note: I’ve reversed the sign for liberal rankings so that a 10L is a -10 in the following graphs.)

crowdpac_dist

So something seems a bit off here.

One of the concepts we talk about in research methods is measurement validity–the degree to which a measure accurately captures the concept that you are trying to measure. One way to assess measurement validity is to compare its values with other, more well known measures of the same concept. (We call this convergent validity and use it to assess a measure’s content validity. This isn’t the whole of how we should test for content validity, but it is instructive as a start.) So let’s do that.

The following graph compares NOMINATE scores from the 112th Congress with the CrowdPAC measure for California’s candidates. While the two measures appropriately lump Republicans (upper right) and Democrats (lower left) together, there actually isn’t that strong of a correlation between the two measures within each party. Perhaps this disparity isn’t that surprising given that Dr. Bonica’s work disagrees with Poole and Roenthal’s on some important points, but it does raise concerns for me.

crowdpac_dw1

An alternative measure that I have been playing with recently is the National Journal’s conservative ranking. Similar to Poole and Rosenthal, National Journal examines member’s voting records and rates them on a liberal-conservative index. In this index, 0 is the most liberal a member can be and 100 is the most conservative. The rankings shown in the graph below are for current members of Congress. Again, while the groupings are roughly correct, within each party there isn’t much connection between the two scores. In one case, Eric Swalwell (CA-15), CrowdPAC offers a dramatically different rating than National Journal. (Removing Swalwell actually lowers the correlation coefficient for the Democrats to 0.015.) McNerney by National Journal’s measure is on the moderate side of the California Democratic delegation with a score of 38.5.

crowdpac_njcr

For the record, the correlation coefficient for the National Journal rating and NOMINATE for Democrats is 0.645 and for Republicans is 0.698. Unlike all of the above coefficients, these last two are statistically significant at conventional levels (i.e., α = 0.05).

All of this is to say that I am somewhat torn about this new measure. On the one hand, it is fantastic to get any measure of candidate ideology. It allows us to assess questions of whether competitive districts lead to more moderate candidates. The answer according to this data appears to be: No, competitive districts do not lead to more moderate candidates, even controlling for the presence of an incumbent. The following graph shows the CrowdPAC score plotted against the normalized presidential vote (NPV; i.e., how much more or less a district supported Obama in 2012 compared to the average district nationwide). If the competitiveness of a district was related to the ideology of the candidates running in it, we ought to see the dots getting closer to each other as the NPV gets closer to zero. (The lines are LOWESS regression lines for each party’s members.) They don’t.

corwdpac_npv2

On the other hand, I have serious doubts about the validity of the measure. So my hope is that in future iterations it will get better.

Updating Prop. 14 and the Death of Minor Parties

Last year I wrote a number of posts about the impact of Prop. 14 on California’s minor parties. These musings ultimately led to an article, which was published in the California Journal of Politics and Policy, about the minor parties’ experience post-Prop. 14  (gated versionrevised, ungated version). Since the June election is now just weeks away, I thought I would update some of the tables and figures with data from this election cycle.

Overall, 2014 is a continuation of the pattern observed in 2012–there are fewer minor party candidates contesting fewer districts this election cycle compared to prior cycles. The 2012 cycle saw a historically low number of minor party candidates–just 17 (compared with 77 in 2010). In 2014, there are only 14 minor party candidates contesting 12 districts. Table 1 shows the number of minor party candidates and the number of districts contested for each of the three types of legislative districts in California. In general, 2014 looks an awful lot like 2012.

2014 Update Table

In my article, I argue that the decline in minor party candidates principally comes from three factors (in order of increasing importance):

  1. Candidates, knowing they were likely not be one of the top two vote getters and therefore would not make the November election, chose not to run.
  2. The Legislature significantly increased the costs of filing for office for minor party candidates after Prop. 14, changing what had been an essentially costless act into a very costly one. As a result, fewer minor party candidates chose to file for office.
  3. Most importantly, party leaders–especially in the Libertarian Party–no longer recruited candidates as they once did in the face of (1) and (2).

I really want to emphasize the importance of #3 in understanding the impact of Prop. 14 on California’s minor parties. Most of the decline between 2010 and 2012, as shown below, was located in the Libertarian Party. (There was a little controversy over the following chart. See here then here.)

2014 UpdateUnlike the other minor parties (with the exception of the Natural Law Party when it existed) the Libertarian Party has historically relied on a centralized candidate recruitment effort. Moreover, as shown below, until the last two election cycles its number of candidates has largely tracked its statewide party registration numbers. In 2012, though, the person responsible for recruiting Libertarian candidates chose not to repeat the effort. In an email exchange with me, the person specifically identified #1 and #2 as reasons for no longer recruiting candidates. (While I haven’t talked with the person this year, I would be very surprised if there was a recruitment effort in 2014.) As a consequence, while the Libertarian Party’s registration numbers have been ticking upward in the state–reaching a modern high in 2014–the number of Libertarian candidates filing for office has collapsed. Only five candidates filed for office this year. The Libertarian Party now looks like the other minor parties in California.

LibUpdate

It wouldn’t be a post about Prop. 14 and minor parties if I didn’t speculate about what these numbers mean for California’s minor parties, so here goes:

There are two primary ways in which California’s minor parties maintain the ballot qualification status. First, one of their candidates receives at least 2 percent of the November vote for a statewide office (e.g., Governor, Lt. Governor, Insurance Commissioner, and Attorney General). Historically, this has been the principal way in which parties have maintained access to the ballot. Given that none of the parties’ candidates will make it to the November election for these offices, none of the parties will maintain their ballot status this way this cycle.

The second way to maintain ballot status is by having 1 percent of the total gubernatorial vote registered as party members. The minor parties are really lucky that the governor’s race is so very boring this year. Turnout is likely to be low, which will make it easier for the parties to stay on the ballot. The magic number after the 2010 contest (which had relatively high turnout–44%!–because of the Brown-Whitman contest) was 103,004 registrants. Given current registration numbers and an assumed turnout rate closer to 2006, the American Independent, Green, and Libertarian parties should be able to maintain their ballot status. The Americans Elect (a failed “third way” party organized for the 2012 presidential election) and the Peace & Freedom parties, however, will likely lose their ballot status.

(The parties can also gather petition signatures equal to 10 percent of the gubernatorial vote in order to stay on the ballot. Given the expense of doing so, though, I don’t see either party trying this route.)

Updated Minor Party Trend Lines

A commenter on the last post asked to see the numbers for minor party participation going further back in time, so here’s the graph showing the percentage of districts contested by each of the minor parties. I don’t think the argument changes much–while the 2000 election cycle appears to be a modern high for Libertarian Party participation, the decline still predates Prop. 14. Moreover, the other minor parties (with the exception of the Natural Law Party) have always been down in the low teens at best.

What the chart does offer that is new is another possible culprit for the decline in minor party participation–the 2000-2001 redistricting. This redistricting was incredible. Every incumbent was made safe–so much so that hardly any districts changed partisan hands between 2002 and 2012. Only one congressional district (CA-11, which includes Pacific) switched parties. Perhaps the redistricting so ensured Republican and Democratic dominance within their respective districts that the Libertarian Party found it increasingly difficult to recruit candidates. It’s worth exploring more.

Prop. 14 and California’s Minor Parties

I’m working on a project about the impact of Prop. 14 on California‘s minor parties (American Independent, Green, Libertarian, and Peace and Freedom), and I thought I would get some of it up even though it is incomplete.[1]

The conventional wisdom is that by making California’s electoral system a majority-runoff system, where only the top two candidates appear on the general election ballot, California’s minor parties would have a much harder time (a) recruiting candidates to run for office and (b) maintaining their qualified ballot status. Richard Winger, of Ballot Access News, looking at the data for 2012, concludes that Prop. 14 has had exactly this effect: “Proposition 14 makes it virtually impossible for minor party members to participate in the general election, so many candidates decided not to file.”

In this post I want to examine this claim–that Prop. 14 will/has lead to fewer minor party candidates running for office. (I’ll have some thoughts on the second claim–it will be harder to maintain ballot status–in the future.) What I hope to show here is that (a) the number of minor party candidates in California has been declining for a while and that (b) almost all of the decline comes from the Libertarian Party.

If we look at the number of districts contested by minor parties in 2010 and 2012, then it appears that Prop. 14 has had an effect on minor party participation. The following table shows a significant drop-off in the number and percentage of districts contested by minor parties by legislative district type (Assembly, State Senate, and House of Representatives). In 2010, minor parties candidates ran in 39 percent of all California legislative districts. In 2012, these candidates ran in just 8 percent of the districts.

Pretty big effect, right? Well, as you could probably guess, no. It turns out that minor party participation in California elections has been declining for some time now. The figure below shows the percentage of each district type contested by minor parties stretching back to 2000. As is pretty clear, except for the 2010 elections, there has been a steady decline in minor party participation. In 2000, California’s minor parties contested every congressional district (CD in the figure) race, about 85 percent of the State Senate districts (SD), and about 75 percent of the Assembly districts (AD). Each successive year, with the exception of 2010, saw an erosion in those numbers.

If we break out each of California’s minor parties, it becomes clear that this decline is concentrated almost exclusively in California’s Libertarian Party. Most of California’s minor parties actually have very few candidates contesting elections each cycle. With the exception of the Natural Law Party, which disappeared from California elections after 2002, only the Libertarian Party has ever fielded a large slate of candidates. The American Independent Party usually only runs two or three candidates across all of California’s legislative districts per election (although in 2010 it had nine) and the Peace and Freedom Party and the Green Party each average about ten contests per election.

Moreover, as shown below, the decline in Libertarian participation is pretty consistent across the different district types. Each saw a slight up-tick in 2010, but the 2012 numbers are fairly good extrapolations of the 2000-2008 participation trends. You can draw a pretty straight, downward sloping line through each of these time-series.

I should note, too, that this decline is not a function of the number of Libertarian Party registrants, which (a) has averaged about 89,000 people over this period and (b) has increased slightly over the last two election cycles. Also, if the number of candidates contesting elections is a function of party registration numbers, then we ought to expect the American Independent Party, which has seven times as many registrants, to consistently run more candidates than the Libertarian Party. As shown in the previous graph, it clearly does not.

Again, the main points to take away from all of these graphs is that the decline in minor party participation in California elections (a) began well before Prop. 14 was passed–and therefore can’t be the result of Prop. 14–and (b) is largely concentrated in the Libertarian Party.

So why the overall decline in the Libertarian Party and why did it experience a small up-tick in 2010? I am currently exploring these issues, but in their book Three’s a Crowd, political scientists Ronald B. Rapoport and Walter J. Stone offer some potential insight into the (mostly) ebb and flow of the party’s ability to contest elections. Rapoport and Stone argue for a “push-pull” model of minor party success. Minor parties succeed when voters are pushed away from the major parties because they are (a) dissatisfied either with its policies or its candidates or (b) when they do not perceive enough distinction between the Democratic and Republican parties. At the same time, voters are pulled toward minor parties when they view the parties as positive alternatives to the two major parties. Minor parties disappear over time, though, as the major parties co-opt their issue positions in order to win elections.

Using this model, then, we might guess that would-be candidates choose to run as Libertarians when they are dissatisfied with the Republican Party and when the Libertarian Party offers a viable, and perhaps exciting alternative. As the California Republican Party, and the Republican Party more generally, has moved to the right on fiscal issues–co-opting policy positions of the Libertarian Party–perhaps would-be candidates have become more satisfied with the options it presents. Thus the decline over time.

The up-tick is likely due to the Tea Party movement, which was at its peak in 2010. A significant part of the movement was dissatisfaction with the Republican Party establishment, as was a general commitment to fiscal conservatism. Perhaps in such an environment the Libertarian Party offered would-be candidates an attractive alternative to running as a Republican. Now that the Tea Party is a major (if not the dominant) faction within the Republican Party, the Libertarian Party is not as attractive to would-be candidates.

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[1] Yes, I know the Americans Elect party/nonparty has qualified for the California ballot, but they are/were only interested in the presidential contest. These other parties have (a) been around much longer and (b) have contested a number of legislative races. Also, the Reform Party and the Natural Law Party were qualified parties in California at the beginning of the 2000′s. They have since disappeared from politics, however.

Educating voters about voting by mail

April 16, 2012 1 comment

In 2008, in partnership with the San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters, a group of faculty from a variety of programs at Pacific designed and executed a voter education campaign. The education campaign had three primary goals: (1) to reduce voter induced error in elections (e.g., improperly marking a ballot), (2) to reduce polling-place induced error in elections (e.g., improperly enforcing regulations), and (3) increasing voter awareness and positive perceptions of voting by mail.

At this year’s Midwest Political Science Association meeting, Prof. Dari Sylvester and I presented an analysis of the campaign’s effects relative to this last goal. The main question was, did knowledge about and positive perceptions of voting by mail increase as a result of the education campaign?

To assess these impacts, we relied on three waves (in May, July, and November) of random telephone surveys of registered voters conducted as part of the broader project. The surveys asked respondents four questions of interest:

  1. Who can vote by mail?
  2. How does one sign up for permanent vote by mail?
  3. Are there any advantages to voting by mail? Respondents were prompted to provide up to three advantages.
  4. Are there any disadvantages to voting by mail? Again, respondents were prompted to provide up to three responses.

Using these questions  we constructed four variables:

  1. Who: The respondent correctly identified who could vote by mail (everyone)
  2. How: The respondent correctly identified how to sign up for permanent vote by mail (a variety of ways)
  3. Convenience: The respondent identified convenience as an advantage to voting by mail
  4. Net advantages: The number of advantages identified by the respondent minus the number of disadvantages

The table below presents the change in each of these variables over the three survey waves.

There are a couple of important points that come out of this table. First, people already know a lot about voting by mail. Generally, we expect between 10 to 30 percent of respondents to answer recall questions like these correctly. Here, roughly two-thirds of respondents were able to answer these questions correctly and thought of voting by mail as convenient–even before the education campaign began. As such, there wasn’t a whole lot of educating to do about vote by mail.

Second, while we can identify some statistically significant increases in voter knowledge and perceptions over the course of the education campaign, the effects are relatively small. In part, this is because of the relatively high starting values for each variable. At the same time, though, it is also because relatively few people reported exposure to the campaign in the surveys (and many of those that did report exposure likely weren’t exposed to it). Given the limited reach of the campaign, there was very little educating that could be done–even if people didn’t already know a lot.

Sex, Drugs, and Genital Photos: Does Character Count in Political Elections?

November 29, 2011 20 comments
English: New York State Governor Eliot Spitzer...

Image via Wikipedia

Though we publicly eviscerate politicians who engage in extramarital affairs, hire prostitutes, or send photos of their genitalia, we remained glued to the screen when such news flashes across the computer or t.v.  Former frontrunner Cain is now reconsidering whether to continue his push for the Republican party nomination after a set of damaging accusations of harassment and infidelity were revealed.  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/30/us/politics/herman-cain-may-quit-after-affair-and-harassment-accusations.html.

This summer, Rep. Anthony Weiner resigned his office after finally admitting he had sent photographs of his genitals to a number of women and he has been laying low since.  On the contrary, Eliot Spitzer scored a spot as a political commentator for CNN in the aftermath of his resignation from the governorship of NY — after it was revealed that he had hired the services of prostitutes illegally.

In 1998, President Clinton was impeached (though not removed), when the House found him guilty of lying under oath about an affair he had with his intern.

Does questionably moral private behavior impinge on one’s ability to conduct his or her professional office?  Can one cheat on one’s wife without necessarily “cheating” his constituents?

What do Americans think?  In other words, what is the real impact of private scandal on voter preferences for candidates?  In the minds of Americans, does character count?

Scholars have only begun to wrap their brains around the first question.  For instance, political scientists Maule and Goidel conducted an experiment to determine what variables influence reactions to a variety of political scandals (Maule and Goidel 2003).  Interestingly, the sex of the officeholder had a role in determining individual reactions to scandal, though the type of scandal and individual acceptance of gender stereotypes did as well.

But what if you’re the unfortunate politician who’s been accused of scandalous wrongdoing?  When accused of a scandal, what is the most effective political strategy an official can take?  Deny?  Confirm?  Sigal et al. (1988) experimentally tested atttitudes toward fictitious candidates who denied or apologized for either sexual or financial misconduct.  Their findings indicated that individuals were more likely to vote for the candidates who denied misconduct rather than apologized for it.

At the end of the day at the voting booth, we’ll all need to answer the normative question about whether character should count.  Regardless, the next year promises to be a scandal-filled and glorious presidential race.

Dan O’Neill Goes All Tom Cruise in Seattle

September 6, 2011 2 comments

University of the Pacific Political Science and International Studies Professor Daniel O’Neill also participated in the recent Seattle meetings of the American Political Science Association.  He delivered a paper “Risky Business: China‘s Foreign Direct Investment and Aid to Developing Countries.”

Here’s the abstract for the paper:

Foreign direct investment (FDI) from China is increasingly destined for developing states with high corruption, weak rule of law and substantial political risk. To explain the ability of China’s state owned enterprises (SOEs) to invest successfully in such environments, I present a theory of how Chinese bilateral policies, particularly foreign aid, shape incentives for the leadership in the receiving country that constrain predatory behavior against Chinese SOEs. This creates a de facto insurance for Chinese investors in foreign states lacking the institutions shown to protect investments. Case studies of Chinese SOEs in Cambodia and Kazakhstan support the hypotheses. A main contribution of this study is in analyzing the effects of the policies of home (FDI source) country governments on outward foreign direct investment.

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