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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. 

Categories: Uncategorized

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?

Categories: Uncategorized

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.

American Government and Politics Students on Current Events

January 19, 2015 Leave a comment

This semester my students are monitoring the news and sending me their weekly suggestions articles to read about events and issues they think are interesting and important for students of American politics to follow. Every week I will be posting the top articles that they send me here.

I did not receive many suggested articles last week, It was the first week of classes and students are busy preparing for an intensive simulation of the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

However, Juan Aguirre did send a link to this article about terror cells in Belgium.

Dealing with what may be a new phase of terrorist operations will create problems for governments all over the world, including the U.S.

Watch us every week for more news items suggested by my students.

Categories: Uncategorized

New Pi Sigma Alpha Inductees

April 19, 2013 Leave a comment

One of the highlights of the academic year is welcoming new students to University of the Pacific‘s chapter (Alpha Delta Zeta) of Pi Sigma Alpha. the national political science academic honorary society. To be eligible for membership in Pi Sigma Alpha, a student must have excelled in their work in a number of challenging political science courses. Recently Faith James (International Relations, 2014) and Yeni Gutierrez (Political Science, 2015) became members of Pi Sigma Alpha.

Professors Dari Sylvester and Brian E. Klunk welcome Faith James and Yeni Gutierrez to Pi Sigma Alpha.

Professors Dari Sylvester and Brian E. Klunk welcome Faith James and Yeni Gutierrez to Pi Sigma Alpha.

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.

 

Senate Rejects a Treaty Recognizing the Human Rights of People with Disabilities

December 5, 2012 14 comments
A map of parties to the Convention on the Righ...

A map of parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Parties in dark green, countries which have signed but not ratified in light green, non-members in grey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On December 4, 2012, by a vote of 61-38 the United States Senate failed to consent to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It takes 66 votes to consent to a treaty, so at least for the time being the United States will not be a party to the latest global treaty extending international recognition of human rights.

The treaty, already signed by 155 nations and ratified by 126 countries, including Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, states that nations should strive to assure that the disabled enjoy the same rights and fundamental freedoms as their fellow citizens.

The vote was essentially partisan. Every Democratic Senator plus eight Republican Senators, including Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) who has arguably been the most important Senate Republican on foreign policy issues for decades, voted to consent to the treaty. For the record here are the 38 Senators who voted against the treaty:

Senator Cochran initially voted for the treaty, but changed his vote when it became clear that the treaty would fail.

Treaty supporters argued that the convention is based largely on the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. Negotiations for the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities were begun during President George W. Bush’s administration. It had the support of many prominent Republicans, including the first President Bush, former US Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, and one-time Republican presidential nominee Robert Dole, who watched the vote from his wheelchair parked on the Senate floor.

Those who voted against the treaty offered an interesting array of explanations for their votes. Several opponents argued that joining the treaty would make the US less sovereign in how it deal with disability rights policy. In some sense, this is true. Every time a country makes a treaty obligation it agrees to limit its sovereignty. The fact that the treaty is a UN-sponsored treaty was another objectionable point for some Senators. It is an article of faith for many conservatives that the UN is an evil institution that seeks to control the world and subvert the American way of life. This may not be a mainstream point of view, but it could be a factor in Republican primary elections when turnout is much smaller than in general elections and insurgent candidates representing the ideological extreme of the party have had considerable recent success defeating more moderate incumbents. After all, that is why Senator Lugar is leaving the Senate (and why the newly elected Senator from Indiana is a Democrat).

Opponents of the treaty also offered arguments based on what seem like narrowly tendentious interpretations of the treaty. Former Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum used his PAC to spread the fear that the treaty would give Geneva-based (that’s in Europe, so you know it’s really bad) UN bureaucrats the ability to dictate to the parents of children with disabilities how they should provide for those children. This was apparently very alarming to families that home school their children.

“I am frankly upset,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., “that they have succeeded in scaring the parents who home-school their children all over this country.” He said he said his office had received dozens of calls from home-schooling parents urging him to vote against the convention.

Abortion opponents also seized on language in the treaty guaranteeing the disabled equal rights to reproductive rights could lead to terminated pregnancies.

So what can we learn from this episode?

  1. The Republican party has generally repudiated the generations of internationalist foreign policy leaders who held sway from the Eisenhower administration. This Republican party internationalist tradition, which can even be traced to the 1920s and Herbert Hoover, has long been in tension with both an isolationist wing and an imperialist wing of the party. The potential power of Tea Party voters brimming with UN conspiracy theories has either driven out or silenced Republican internationalists, many of whom now find Democrats more reliable stewards of US foreign policy. They are reinforced by scholars and policy makers, often referred to as “New Sovereigntists” who fundamentally reject global governance. While foreign policy issues rarely determine national elections, the repudiation of a tradition embodied by Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George Bush (both of them), Colin Powell, Henry Kissinger, Richard Lugar, and I could go on and on, will make it harder for Republicans to present themselves as reasonable potential presidents.
  2. President Obama and presidents who follow him will be more and more inclined to conduct diplomacy and reach agreement with other countries in ways that avoid the Senate.
  3. On the other hand, the inability of US presidents to deliver the Senate on practically any international treaty of consequence weakens the standing of the US in global affairs. Why, after all, should US preferences be treated seriously in the negotiation of international agreements if nobody believes the US will ultimately become a party to the agreement? The foundation of US foreign policy strategy since World War II has been the creation, articulation, and defense of a liberal international order based on institutions and rules that largely reflect US values and preferences. One of the most important values promoted by the US has been human rights. Even if US relative power in the world should decline, which really seems inevitable, a robust liberal international order would mean that the world would still be congenial for US interests and values. The failure to approve the Disability Convention and other agreements makes the US look like it has lost faith in the values it once asked the rest of the world to embrace. Not necessarily a death knell for the liberal international order, but not a sign of robustness either.

SMH.

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