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Fun with Numbers

Like many in America on Tuesday, voters in Stockton went to the polls. As expected–this was an off-year, local election–turnout was pretty low, only 21% of registered voters cast a ballot.

In Stockton, we voted on two ballot measures proposed by the city council. Measure A was a general sales tax increase: if passed, the city’s sales tax rate would increase by 0.75 cents on the dollar, bringing the total sales tax paid in Stockton up to 9%, for at least 10 years. Measure B was an advisory measure instructing the city how to spend the money raised by Measure A. Specifically, Measure B says:

If Measure A is approved by the voters, shall (i) 65% of its proceeds be used only to pay for law enforcement and crime prevention services in the City such as those described in the City’s Marshall Plan on Crime and (ii) 35% of its proceeds be used only to pay for the City’s efforts to end the bankruptcy and for services to residents, businesses, and property owners?

The key words that I want to draw your attention to here are, “If Measure A is approved by the voters …”

According to the numbers posted on the San Joaquin Registrar of Voters web site, 13,273 people voted for Measure A. (It passed with 52.5% of the vote.) At the same time, 14,809 people voted for Measure B. (It passed with 59.7% of the vote.)

Assuming that everyone who voted for A also voted for B and that everyone who voted against B also voted against A (these seem reasonable assumptions but could be wrong), the following are true:

1) A little more than 1,500 more people voted against Measure A but for Measure B. I think these voters were saying, “I don’t want the tax increase, but if it does pass then I want the money used according to Measure B.”

2) About 450 people voted no on Measure A and then didn’t bother to vote on Measure B. These voters were saying, “My vote against the tax increase is enough.” Maybe they didn’t think Measure A would pass. Maybe they didn’t care what the city did with the money if it did pass.

As for the Measures themselves, I think Mike Fitzgerald of the Record got it right: “There are uncertainties. But voters chose increased public safety certainty over possibly chimeric increased fiscal certainty. They were probably right to do so.”

It’s Campaign Season Again!

September 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Hey, I bet you didn’t know that the 2014 congressional campaign season has already started, but it has! Just this morning I received the following email:

colangelo

And since congressional campaign season has seemingly started, let’s lay out some initial observations:

  1. Based on his official biography, Steve Anthony Colangelo is an amateur candidate. He has never held elected office. He may be an incredibly successful businessman, but business success does not carry over to political success. In fact, political science has demonstrated repeatedly that amateur candidates rarely win against incumbents; they tend to lose by very large margins.
  2. CD-9 is a moderately Democratic district. Any Republican is going to struggle to beat McNerney. McNerney (a weak incumbent) beat Gill (a strong challenger with lots of party and affiliated money) 56% to 44% in 2012. Obama also beat Romney 58% to 40%. Go back to 2010, and Brown would have beat Whitman 55-45.
  3. At least initially, Colangelo is pursuing Ricky Gill’s strategy of emphasizing his connection to the Central Valley. That’s all well and good, and it’s a reasonable attack on McNerney who moved to the Valley from the Bay Area when his district was redrawn. It also ignores the part of the district that is in Contra Costa County, which makes up about 30 percent of the district’s population. The Contra Costa section of the district is event more Democratic than the San Joaquin and Sacramento county portions.

All of this means that Colangelo faces a steep climb if he is going to beat McNerney. But who knows? He may not even make it to the November run-off. Another Republican might beat him in the initial, June election.

 

What Do Pacific Political Science Students Do?

April 19, 2013 Leave a comment

University of the Pacific junior Kyle Sasai, center, has August School eighth-graders write down his email address Wednesday during a visit to the east Stockton school. Sasai founded the HopeStreet Backpack Outreach program, which mentors Stockton middle school students as they make the transition to high school and encourages them to consider college.

Sometimes they help at risk students see the possibility of a successful future:

On Wednesday, Sasai, along with 11 other Pacific students, went to August School in east Stockton to start mentorships with soon-to-be high schoolers as part of his HopeStreet Backpack Outreach, a program Sasai founded in 2011.

The middle school students received backpacks for starters. But the most valuable gift is perhaps the mentors themselves.

They’ll be responsible for giving the August students advice throughout their upcoming high school careers about peer pressure, homework and even how to ask a girl to prom.

“Don’t ask a girl to prom over text,” Sasai said, and giggles followed. “It makes it awkward.”

Sasai offered the younger students Pacific campus tours when they’re ready and provided his contact information. “I want you guys to ask me anything,” he said.

The ongoing contact is a much appreciated resource at August, which has a largely disadvantaged student population, said Principal Lori Risso. All of the children receive free or reduced-price lunches.

“A lot of the kids think they can’t afford to go to college,” Risso said. The Pacific volunteers, she said, can relate to the kids and encourage them to seek scholarships and other financial aid.

“It makes the vision of going to high school and college possible.”

Kyle who excels in the classroom as a political science major and a member of the Pacific Legal Scholars program, has proven that academic excellence can go together seemlessly with community leadership.

Sasai . . . founded the program his first year of college. Since then, he has gathered volunteers to fill backpacks, write the kids letters and train for the continuing interaction.

Pacific mentors are each assigned about five students to befriend and help guide.

With the students they reached this year, they have connected with 500 middle school students since 2011.

 

The Future of California Politics?

The California Department of Finance released its new population projections for California counties through 2060. There are a whole bunch of goodies in the report, so I thought I would highlight a few of them here.

First, by 2050, Hispanics are projected to be the plurality ethnicity in California. Here’s the projected ethnic makeup (see p. 6) of California in 2010 and 2060:

PopProjectionsBy 2060, Hispanics will make up 48% of the population (up from 38%), Whites will be 30% of the population (down from 40%), Asian and Pacific Islanders will be 13% (same), African Americans will be 4% (down from 6%), and everyone else will be 5% of the population.

In terms of future voters, these changes have potentially significant implications for California politics. I am not one of the people who thinks that “demographics are destiny” in terms of party politics, at least over the long run, so I don’t think these changes mean that the Republican Party is looking at long term irrelevance in California. If the party keeps its current platform, sure, but there is no reason it has to. Both parties, though, are going to have to adapt to the changing electorate as the issue sets of Hispanic voters are different than the issue sets of white voters.

Second, California will remain relatively young relative to the rest of the country. Our economy (and our budget) will not be as heavily impacted by the Baby Boomers and Generation X moving into retirement. There will still be significant demand, and resources, for public education. The aging of the population will not be uniformly distributed across ethnicities, which will also have significant implications for politics. Whites will grow older faster than any other ethnic group. By 2030, there will be more whites over the age of 65 than under the age of 25 in California. In contrast, there will by almost three times as many Hispanics under the age of 25 as there are Hispanics over the age of 65.

Third, the population–and therefore power–will continue to move inland. Southern California (particularly Los Angeles County) will remain the 800-pound gorilla in California politics, but the Central Valley (Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys) and the Inland Empire (San Bernardino and Riverside) will see their relative populations grow with the rest of the state seeing their relative populations decline. The Central Valley will see its relative population grow 27% between 2010 and 2060. The Inland Empire will see relative growth of 28%. The Bay Area, in contrast, is projected to see the steepest decline in its relative population (down 10%). These changes mean that over time the Central Valley and Inland Empire will gain representatives in Sacramento and Washington DC while other areas see their representation decine.

Fourth, San Joaquin County will more than double in size between 2010 and 2060. San Joaquin will go from being the 15th largest county in California (with just under 700,000 residents) to the 12th largest county (with over 1.5 million residents). Hispanics will account for more than half of this growth.

 

League of Women Voter’s Candidate Forums

August 30, 2012 1 comment
University of the Pacific (United States)

University of the Pacific (United States) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am pleased to announce that, working with the League of Women Voters, the University of the Pacific will host two candidate forums on October 15. The first will be for the two candidates contesting Assembly District 13: K. “Jeffrey” Jafri (R) and Susan Eggman (D). The second will be for the two candidates contesting Congressional District 9: Ricky Gill (R) and Jerry McNerney (D).

The event will will be open to the public. Watch this space for more information.

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.

All the King’s Men and Local Politics

October 8, 2011 16 comments
Image of U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Penn Warren

Image via Wikipedia

What Robert Penn Warren and All the King’s Men

Tells us about Local Politics

Bob Benedetti

In recent years many communities have selected a book annually which citizens are encouraged to read and discuss. This year (2011) San Joaquin County selected All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren.  Those making the decision may have been influenced by the fact that one of two movie versions was shot in Stockton and on the Delta. Moreover, the book is arguably a great American novel and one of the few to focus on local politics. What does Penn Warren tell us about the way democracy works at the grassroots?

At first glance, the picture is not a pretty one.  All the King’s Men recounts the career of Willie Stark, a small town farmer who aspires to public life.  He takes a correspondence school route through law school and runs for local office.  He loses, but uncovers shady construction practices in the building of a local school, which later collapses.  A statewide political “machine” recruits him to run for Governor to split the rural vote.  When he realizes the stratagem, he campaigns for the machine’s opponent and, in the next election, runs against the machine and the incumbent, winning on a populist platform.  Subsequently, he uses blackmail and the promise of lucrative contracts to solidify his political position. While his policies gratify the poor, he manipulates voters with fiery rhetoric and pressures those who oppose him with all means available to him, including those of questionable legality and morality.

However, he attracts loyal followers whom the author describes sympathetically. They are torn between his attention to projects for the poor and his disregard for the standards of reasoned debate and ethical behavior.  This tension is dramatized by the interaction between Willie Stark and Adam Stanton, a young doctor from an established local family.  Stark uses one of Stanton’s friends and his sister to convince Adam to direct a new hospital.  However, when Stanton realizes that Stark has had an affair with his sister, has uncovered unsavory information about his father, and is awarding construction contracts for political gain, he shoots Stark and is killed by Stark’s bodyguard in return.

One would think that Penn Warren would settle for telling a simple morality story in which the corrupt politician gets what is coming to him for breaking the rules of fair political practice and rational policy discourse.   However, his analysis is more subtle and suggestive. He implies that Stark and Stanton are extremes between which American politics fluctuate.  He indicates that the better course of our democracy would be a balance between political realism and political idealism, between necessary compromises to get projects accomplished and the dictates of reason and conventional morality.

If we take his point and apply it to state and local politics today, we may become more sympathetic to recent governors who have seemed to be braking some promises to accomplish others.  This is not to say that Penn Warren does not see a role for principled behavior in politics.  He clearly does, but he is also aware the appeals to principle often benefit one class or group more than others.  If the public good is to be done, all classes and groups need to receive benefits.  In moderation, he would allow politicians to break eggs to make an omelet.

In sum, democracy at the grassroots is an attempt to negotiate a middle ground between the real needs of all citizens and an honoring of traditional practice and rational debate.  Penn Warren thinks it is mythic for citizens to believe that everything necessary for the polity can be accomplished by ordered deliberation.  He accepts, even dignifies, the practice of logrolling where policy is not accomplished by an agreement on merits, but by politicians mobilizing support through trading benefits across policies and, in some case, across policies and personal needs or wants.

Rational choice theory, now quite popular in political science, easily accommodates the idea of “side payments” which are conceptually akin to the practices that Penn Warren is sanctioning here.  However, such theories may not give adequate weight to the moral/rationalist/utopian strain in American democratic politics.  A more fulsome theoretic would accord equal time to the reform impulse in America, to the League of Women Voters as well as to the political machine.  All the King’s Men reminds use to look for a balance between these impulses, both empirically and normatively, as we sift through the politics running along our city streets and across our Capitol malls.

For more discussion of the book see: http://mainehumanities.org/podcast/archives/tag/all-the-kings-men

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