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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And Oscar’s Campaign Contributions Go To . . .

February 22, 2015 Leave a comment

Last weekend was really busy and I failed to post a news item from my introductory US government and politics class. Sorry about that. We had some very interesting submissions, really we did.

Lots of interesting articles and posts sent in by my students again this week. Everything from evidence that Barack Obama really hearts America to Oklahoma’s efforts to spin the AP history exam to a fascinating article about Trinity Industries’ efforts to lobby states’ attorneys general.

But it’s Oscars night. The celebrities are on the red carpet and, so, our featured article this week has an Academy Awards theme.

Political Scientists love data and while federal election law may not do much to discourage floods of money going into campaigns, it has provided us with lots of data about who gives how much to whom.

Analysts from Crowdpac, a group that compiles campaign finance data, examined records of actors, producers, directors and crew members who worked on this year’s Oscar-nominated films in search of a correlation between the message of their film and the political views of their creators.

Crowdpac assigned each person a score based on their donor history, ranking them from most liberal to most conservative. The analysts then tallied an average score for each Best Picture-nominated movie.

Here’s how it breaks down for the Oscar-nominated films (film/liberal index (out of 10)/number of donors/total contributions):

Imitation Game – 9.4L (4 donors – $4,441)

Birdman – 9.2L (16 donors – $518,602)

Selma – 9L (8 donors – $448,408)

Boyhood – 8.7L (11 donors – $39,515)

Whiplash – 8.6L (7 donors – $33,859)

Grand Budapest Hotel – 8.4L (6 donors – $23,500)

Theory of Everything – 6.3L (1 donor – $19,281)

American Sniper – 3.1L (9 donors – $55,959)

It won’t surprise many to see that the donors associated with these films tend to the liberal end of the spectrum, or that American Sniper is the least liberal-leaning film in tonight’s competition.

But maybe there is room for a methodological debate here. After all, if you follow the Auteur theory of cinema, maybe we should only count donations from a film’s director (and maybe screenwriter). I mean, do the Key Grip’s contributions really affect the politics of a film?

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Could Republicans Replace Obamacare?

February 8, 2015 Leave a comment

My introductory US politics students have concluded their multi-week immersion in playing the Reacting to the Past Game–America’s Founding: The Constitutional Convention of 1787 and having adopted an interesting draft for a constitution, they are returning to a more traditional classroom mode.

This week they began in earnest to nominate news articles or blog posts that they think raise interesting issues about US government and politics. I’ll be featuring one or two of their nominations each week for the next few months.

First up is Freda Pu, who found this interesting Wonkblog post called Here’s How the GOP Would Repeal and Replace Obamacare.

Writes Freda,

In class we briefly touched upon medicare and how politics and the supreme court impacts federal decisions. This article was posted two days ago and I thought it was interesting because prior towards this article I was not aware that the republican party wants to change the current obama health care plan.

Of course, another question is whether even though they now control both houses of Congress, Republicans could pass replacement legislation. Claire Stevens nominated a Politico story examining the difficulties of getting the House and Senate on the same page on immigration policy.

Claire says,

I think that it illustrates something that we have seen repeatedly over the course of the [Reacting to the Past Game]. This article is about how the House and the Senate are having trouble getting certain things passed, or even debated about, and how the members of Congress are having to walk a tightrope, so to speak, with their actions. This relates both to playing the [game], where multiple characters held to (or tried, at least) their opinions without wavering or wanting to give much of any consensus. At the same time, it also illustrates the balance of power idea, and how sometimes it balances power in such a way that nothing really gets done.

Claire might have added that Madison in Federalist #51 anticipated that the Senate would often serve as a check on the enthusiasms of the House.


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