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.”

Gerrymandering and the Shutdown

Gerrymandering is a popular topic right now. Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal have an important reminder to everyone who wants to blame the current shutdown/debt ceiling on electorally insulated members of Congress: gerrymandering isn’t the cause of the problem.

They write:

What if we told you that the gerrymandering of congressional districts has nothing to do with political polarization in Washington? Gerrymandering didn’t have anything to do with the shutdown, or the battles over the debt ceiling, or Obamacare. In fact, the accepted view that politically based redistricting led to our state of intransigence isn’t just incorrect; it’s silly.

The real reason for our increasingly divided political system is much simpler: The right wing of the Republican Party has embraced a fundamentalist version of free-market capitalism andsucceeded in winning elections. (The Democrats have moved to the left, but less so.)

The Republican shift is the result of several factors. The realignment of Southern white voters into the Republican Party, the branch of conservative activism created by Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign and the party’s increasingly firm stance on issues such as income inequality and immigration, can all be important to Republicans’ rightward shift.

The “blame it on the gerrymanders” argument mistakenly assumes that because redistricting created more comfortable seats for each party, polarization became inevitable. Our research, however, casts serious doubt on that idea.

Did you hear that: There is no necessary connection between gerrymandering, the creation of safe seats, and polarization.

Still more good stuff:

The most important element affecting polarization in the House of Representatives is the divergent approaches that Democrats and Republicans take to representing districts that are otherwise similar in terms of demographics and presidential voting. Even in moderate districts, Democratic representatives are still very liberal and Republican representatives are very conservative. This reflects a widening ideological gap, not different lines on a map.

If could magically switch the party of the person representing a district, you would observe dramatically different behavior (voting and otherwise) in Congress. It’s not that Congress is polarized because the districts are polarized. The parties have fundamentally different views of governing and seek to act on those views when in Congress. They do so, in some cases, in spite of the district.

One last bit:

There is another distinction. Many districts are safe for one party or the other because of how Americans have sorted themselves geographically — choosing to live closer to people who are politically or culturally like-minded. In Florida, for example, Palm Beach County will be reliably Democratic and the Panhandle will consistently vote for Republicans. These geographic shifts mean that state legislatures, which approve congressional district lines, can tweak but not fundamentally alter the ideological makeup of Congress.

Congress also has a handful of representatives from one-district states such as Vermont and Wyoming that can’t be subject to gerrymandering. Yet they are just as partisan as their colleagues from gerrymandered districts in other states.

See also Seth Masket’s recent post on the subject. Or my earlier post.

Federal Spending

The federal deficit at the end of FY 2012 was $1,087,000,000,000. If you want to make a dent in the level of national debt, you have to turn that number positive. Here’s where we spent money in FY 2012. Can you make enough cuts to get to $1,087,000,000,000? Of course, your other option is to increase revenue (i.e., raise taxes).

budgetnumbers

Republican Redux

I was going through some old notes and found the following. It seemed relevant to all that is going on in Washington these days.

Context: Sen. Barry Goldwater (R) wrote to Gov. George Romney (R-MI) on December 8, 1964, complaining about the fact that Romney never endorsed Goldwater for president (Goldwater lost badly to Johnson in the 1964 election). The following come from Romney’s response to Goldwater on December 21, 1964:

You have requested “an explanation” from me with respect to certain matters raised in your letter. I will try to cover them as frankly and as fully as I can.

First, as to your remarks in Jamaica concerning the possible realignment of the Republican and Democratic parties into “conservative” and “liberal” parties. Whatever the circumstances of the statement, you have indicated that you believe this might be “a happy thing.” I disagree. We need only look at the experience of some ideologically oriented parties in Europe to realize that chaos can result. Dogmatic ideological parties tend to splinter the political and social fabric of a nation, lead to governmental crises and deadlocks, and stymie the compromises so often necessary to preserve freedom and achieve progress. A broad based two-party structure produces a degree of political stability and viability not otherwise attainable. I believe, therefore, that we should exert every effort to broaden and strengthen our Republican party, as a means of preserving a strong two-party system, which is an essential element of a free country. …

I do not believe that we can prevent unsound solutions to current problems by sheer opposition. My experience convinces me that we must present sound solutions based on applying our proven principles to current problems in the development of specific, positive programs. Only in this way can we stop the adoption of unsound national programs to fill personal, private, local, state and national vacuums. …

The ideological fights we are watching today are not new. We’ve been through similar convulsions–and worse–in our political history. What is new is the means by which the fights are taking place. Never before has one party been so willing to use the budget process and the full faith and credit of the country to try to extract so much from its political opposition.

Fixing Their Mistakes

September 24, 2013 Leave a comment

According to an article in today’s Los Angeles Times, California’s Democrats appear to be learning from their mistakes and making sure that they don’t repeat them in 2014.

Most observers thought that the Democrats would pick up the CA-31 congressional district in 2012. Democrats had a moderate registration advantage, and the new district tended to vote more Democratic than Republican. Yet, when voters went to the polls on last November, there was no Democrat on the ballot.

What happened? Under the new Prop. 14 system, the top two vote getters in the June election face each other in November. Normally, in a moderately competitive district like CD-31, we would expect one Republican and one Democrat to make the runoff election. In 2012, however, the Democrats couldn’t settle on a candidate and so four candidates split the Democratic vote. As the table below (taken from my article; gated) shows, the top two vote getters ended up both being Republicans.*

CD-31 results for 2012 June election.

Pete Aguilar, now the Mayor of Redlands (my hometown!), is not repeating the mistake this time. This time, he is wrapping up the local party endorsements in order to forestall any intra-party challengers. With the local party endorsement in hand, I would expect him to go to the California Democratic Party’s convention and try to win its endorsement as well. As Thad Kousser, Scott Lucas, Eric McGhee, and Seth Masket demonstrate, these party endorsements have important electoral effects. A candidate who wins the party endorsement tends to win a larger portion of the vote than one who does not.

So the incumbent, Gary Miller (R), will face stiffer competition next year. He’ll at least likely have to face a Democrat in the November election.

—–

* As I note in my article: “The astute observer will note that the Republican percentage of the vote in Table 2 totals more than the Democratic vote. For a variety of reasons, including the fact that the Republican presidential primary was the dominant race in the election and that primaries tend to have relatively more Republican voters, one should not take this total as a sign that the district is really Republican and not Democratic.”

 

A Response to George Skelton

September 17, 2013 Leave a comment

So this response is a day late (and maybe a dollar short). Yesterday, one of the deans of the California politics press, George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times, published a column lauding the recent California legislative session as a turning point. He wrote, “It’s a new era in Sacramento — a markedly improved one, so far. Watching the lawmakers, you don’t cringe nearly as much. They’re actually getting things done in the state Capitol. You can set aside that old label ‘dysfunctional.’”

Skelton argues that the legislature’s new found functionality comes from three recent reforms approved by voters:

  • Term limit reform (Prop. 28, 2012), which he argues allows legislators to develop a sense of stability
  • The top-two primary (Prop. 14, 2010), which he argues makes it easier to elect new blood into the legislature
  • The work of the California Citizen’s Redistricting Commission in drawing legislative district (Prop. 20, 2010), which he argues reduced the degree of strident partisanship in the legislature

While, admittedly, I don’t live and breath Sacramento politics the way that Mr. Skelton does, my response is, “No, no, and no!”

The study of Congress has taught us that there are two primary causes of legislative gridlock: (1) ideological differences between the two chambers of the legislature and (2) divided government. The greater the ideological distance between the two chambers (see Congress right now, where Republicans control the House and Democrats control the Senate) the greater the degree of legislative gridlock. If the legislature and the executive are controlled by different parties (see President Obama (D) versus the House Republicans), then we can expect still more legislative gridlock. Some would add a third cause: The number of seats that the majority party holds relative to those held by the minor party. The bigger the difference in the number of seats held by the two parties, the less gridlock we should see.

If we look at the California legislature following the 2012 elections, what do we see? We see both chambers dominated by Democrats, which minimizes degree to which there will be significant ideological differences between the two chambers. Moreover, Democrats have a 2/3 voting majority in both chambers, which means they have a huge seat margin relative to the Republicans. In an era of simple majority budgeting (Prop. 25, 2010) the Democrats don’t have to worry about negotiating with recalcitrant Republicans. They don’t even need to worry about Democratic defections on most votes. At the same time, we also see that Democrats control both the Governor’s office and the legislature, which minimizes the likelihood of significant conflict between the two branches of government (especially in an age of hyper-partisanship).

I personally would add in the fact that the state’s fiscal situation has improved sufficiently that legislators no longer feel that they have to protect their preferred policies and programs from budget cuts, which makes everyone feel better in the abstract. (The literature on Congress, however, doesn’t suggest this is important in determining the level of gridlock.)

So what, then, do I think has led to the improved situation in Sacramento? The fact that the Democrats now control all the levers of power. (And, by the way, I would expect similar stories of a miraculous change in the culture of Sacramento if Republicans somehow magically controlled all the levers too.) The institutional reforms enacted by California voters may yet create a change in the Capitol’s culture and behavior, but I don’t think they have done so yet.

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.

 

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