Outlawing Matthew 25:40?

April 26, 2015 Leave a comment

The semester is almost over and most of my Introduction to US Government students have completed their assignment to submit interesting news items they have found during their weekly reading. A few are still turning in their last items and this week Freda Pu. 

Freda found a Washington Post article called “How Fatal Bureaucracy Starts.” 

Like a number of jurisdictions, Fort Lauderdale, FL has recently passed ordinances restricting the activities of charities or individuals, many of them religiously inspired, who have programs to feed homeless people in their communities.

It will be interesting to see if ordinances like Fort Lauderdale’s, which aims to disperse programs that provide food in public outdoor locations, will be challenged on “free exercise” of religions grounds. Florida has an almost 20 year old RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) which prohibits the state from imposing excessive burdens on the exercise of religion.

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In Which Jeb Bush Flies a Helicopter to Explode a Nuke Over Gotham Harbor

April 5, 2015 Leave a comment

As the semester begins to wind down, the politics stories submitted by the students in POLS 041 seem to be more interesting week to week. 

The week’s feature submission comes from Kaori Kubo, an international student from Japan. Kaori has frequently given us a useful “outsider’s” perspective on the American political system. 

Kaori sent us a recent “Mischief of Faction” post entitled “The Dark Campaign Web Rises.” The post written by Jennifer Victor compares how official campaigns are financed with the fairly unregulated role of Super-PACs and 501(c)(4) organizations. 

The official campaign finance regulations are nicely summarized on the FEC website. But we must remember that modern campaigns have two sides–the official campaign, which is organized by the candidate and receives regulated donations from many sources, and the unofficial campaign, which has always existed in some way but has been growing and was given new life under the 2010 Citizen’s United decision and the decisions that followed it. The key in campaign finance law is that the unofficial campaign cannot, technically, coordinate with the official campaign. In essence, if the Mickey Mouse Campaign for state cat-catcher communicates with a supporting super PAC about what message to use, which markets to buy ads in, etc, the coordination constitutes a contribution to the campaign and is therefore limited by law. The only way the Super PAC can receive unlimited donations is if it does not coordinate with the campaign. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert famously ridiculed this rule

The split-level character of current campaign finance is shown below:


2016 will tell a lot about the relationship between official and unofficial campaigns.

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Pacific Debaters Find Success in Year’s First National Tournaments

March 31, 2015 Leave a comment

Pacific Debaters Find Success in Year’s First National Tournaments.

As usual, political science majors figure prominently in Pacific Debaters’ Success. Congratulations to Kate Earley and her teammates.

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Studying Voter Turnout with Google

March 29, 2015 Leave a comment

Taking a break from March Madness to share one of this week’s student submissions about politics in the United States.

Ms. Claudia Valencia shared a recent Monkey Cage article about the impact of early registration deadlines. 

According to Alex Street, an assistant professor of political science at Carroll College, early registration deadlines needlessly prevent many people, perhaps millions of people from voting. 

Turnout is higher in states that allow voters to register on Election Day. Despite fears over administrative difficulties, surveys show that polling place wait times are actually shorter in states with election-day registration than in the rest of the country. Fears of voter fraud are sometimes cited as a reason against allowing election-day registration. But all of the research shows that voter fraud is extremely rare.

Perhaps just as interesting as Street’s conclusion is how he reached it. To estimate the number of additional voters who might have participated in the 2012 election, he used the number of Google searches for the phrase “voter registration” in the period leading up to election day 2012. 

To estimate the relationship between searching online, and actually registering, we turned to state records of registered voters. The data confirm that, in the period leading up to voter registration deadlines, the daily number of Google searches in each state was closely related to the daily number who registered. If the same pattern had been allowed to continue up to Election Day, millions more Americans would have registered in time to vote.

Technological advances make it possible effectively to extend voter registration deadlines to election day, and technology, in the form of Google, helps us see that doing so would likely improve voter turnout.

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What If We Had to Vote?

March 21, 2015 Leave a comment

We’re back from Spring Break and my students have sent me a new batch of politics related stories that have caught their attention.

President Obama’s suggestion that it might be time to consider madatory voting showed up in several students’ submissions. The president said that making voting mandatory as it is in Australia, Belgium, and other democracies could be “transformative.”

An article in The Fix argued that mandatory voting might have changed the results in a number of states in the 2012 presidential election. 

On the other hand, a Monkey Blog post held that mandatory voting would have little impact on electoral outcomes for a variety of reasons. 

While mandatory voting ceteris paribus might not change the outcomes of many elections, it almost certainly would change campaign strategies and tactics, and other aspects of electoral politics. 

More controversial is whether mandatory voting would be an oppressive violation of citizens’ freedom. Other responsibilities of citizenship are mandatory (paying taxes, jury duty, etc.). Why not voting?

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Was Tyrese a Democrat? Because I’m Pretty Sure Rick is a Republican

March 8, 2015 Leave a comment

We are on Spring Break now, so I was tempted not to post a POLS 041 student submission this week. Happily, Kaori Kubo found a gem of an article that I could not resist sharing. 

While most of my students this week found articles discussing Hillary Clinton’s email difficulties and what they may suggest about her presidential possibilities, Kaori discovered this delightful article exploring a facet of the attitudinal differences separating Democrats and Republicans.

According a recent Yougov poll, 43% of Republicans say that they would survive longer than most people in their community in the event of an apocalyptic collapse. That’s roughly twice the rate of Democrats. 

Various recent studies have highlighted differences between Republicans and Democrats in the TV programs they like to watch, their preferred pets, which alcoholic beverages they are more likely to drink, and whether to get a cup of coffee from Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts, so I guess it’s no surprise that Democrats and Republicans have different views about the apocalypse. 

While both sets of partisans are worried about nuclear war causing the apocalypse, Democrats are more likely to worry about catastrophic climate change bringing the end of the world. Republicans tend to focus on Judgment Day as the cause of the end times. 

On a personal note, writing this post taught me that I drink like a Democrat, own pets like a Republican, and watch TV on a strictly bipartisan basis. There is not a red Hulu Plus and a blue Hulu Plus . . .

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The Difference Between Journalists and Political Scientists (One More Time)

February 28, 2015 Leave a comment

Time again for our weekly contribution from an introductory political science student. This week Claudia Valencia offers this National Journal article suggesting that Hillary R. Clinton isn’t quite the slam dunk to be elected president in 2016 that some in the media may incline us to believe. 

The point has been made many times by now, but unlike journalists who often focus on personalities and the short-term events of campaigns (who won the straw poll at CPAC now?), political scientists try to isolate the fundamental factors affecting how people vote.

But political scientists who specialize in presidential-race forecasts aren’t relying on their guts. They’ve built statistical models that draw on the history of modern presidential campaigns (since Harry Truman’s reelection in 1948) to determine with startling accuracy the outcome of the next White House contest.

Political scientists may not tell the most colorful stories, but they are likely to help you keep your eye on the critical fundamentals. 

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