November 2011 Archives
- The Agenda Control Mechanism: The SC would have the privilege of bringing a package of spending reductions and tax increases to the floor of each chamber that would be subject to up-or-down votes. Consequently, any agreed upon bargains could not be undone by floor amendments.
- The Composition Mechanism: The SC might have a composition that is more conducive to reaching an agreement than Congress as a whole.
- The Procedural Mechanism: The SC might adopt internal procedures that were more conducive to reaching an agreement than the procedures used in standing committees.
From Peter Orszag on Bloomberg. Could not have said it better myself:
It is striking that both income inequality and political polarization began to rise sharply in the U.S. in the mid- to late 1970s. Yet many pundits airily dismiss this connection, arguing that because blue states are, on average, higher-income than red states, the link between income and partisanship must be weak. Instead, they attribute increasing political polarization to the gerrymandering of legislative districts. Both of these assertions are empirically false.
I did not get a chance to see the CNN Special Report on gerrymandering over the wekend. Maybe it is all for the best as Jamelle Bouie at American Prospect suggests that it was entirely typical of journalistic treatments on the topic. When it comes to the effects of gerrymandering on polarization, with few exceptions, journalists have focused on the talking points of reform activists without really engaging the now substantial social science literature on the topic.
A recent 60 Minutes segment and a new book claim that members of Congress from both parties have benefited financially from inside information obtained in the course of their legislative duties. Not surprisingly, the specific targets of these charges (Nancy Pelosi, John Boehner, and Spencer Bacchus) have denied doing anything illegal or unethical.
Of course, a major part of the story is that these legislators could not have done anything illegal, because there are no laws against insider trading by members of Congress. There are vague House ethics rules against profiting financially from their official positions, but the best I can tell the House ethics process has rarely if ever been used for allegations against congressional insider trading.
Obviously, I am in no position to evaluate the specific charges highlighted on 60 Minutes or the defenses offered by the individual legislators, but there is an excellent study by Jens Hainmeuller and Andy Eggers evaluating whether or not members of Congress earn excess returns on their stock portfolios. If insider trading were pervasive, one would expect congressional portfolios to outperform the broader market. But this is the exact opposite of what Hainmueller and Eggers find. In fact, legislators are generally bad investors. Their portfolios consistently underperform. My personal hunch is that members are often forced into weak investments for political reasons and that this works against maximizing the value of their portfolio. Hainmueller and Eggers find one important exception to congressional underperformance. Legislators do well with their investments in firms located in their districts. They find, counter to the presumed effects of insider trading, that these excess returns are not due to the timing of transactions, but to the superior selection of which local firms to invest.
The Monkey Cage has an interesting discussion about whether boosting turnout would reduce levels of polarization and partisanship among our elected officials. While none of my work directly addresses the question of the effect of general election turnout on polarization, several of its strands would place me clearly in John Side's camp of skeptics.
- Chapter 4 of Polarized America analyzes trends in turnout among different income groups during the period of expanding polarization (1972-2004). There were several important take aways. The first is that our evidence is consistent with earlier findings of McDonald and Popkin that there is no trend in turnout among the voting eligible population (VEP) (roughly citizens over 18 who are not disqualified due to felony convictions). The downward trend in participation by the voting age population (VAP) (all residents over 18) is caused by increased numbers of non-citizen residents and (to a lesser extent) disenfranchised felons. Moreover we find that the relative incomes of voters and non-voters are roughly constant over the time period. So it would seem that trends in turnout could hardly explain the increase in polarization. Indeed, reversing the trends in VEP would mean reversing disenfranchisement laws and allowing non-citizens to vote. It would be reasonable to expect that those reforms would shift the spectrum to the left but not de-polarize it.
- My other relevant work concerns the effects of participation in primary elections. In this rejoinder to Richard Pildes, I report some estimates of the effect of primary election turnout on the extremity of a House member's NOMINATE score. A key problem for such analysis is that turnout may itself be influenced by a candidate's position. So I use the coincidence of competitive presidential, gubernatorial, and Senate primaries as exogenous variation in turnout. The resulting IV estimates show no relationship between turnout and the winner's NOMINATE score. I concede, however, that the effect of the instruments (the competitive primaries for higher office) is small. The second piece of evidence is reported in my working paper with Eric McGhee, Seth Masket, Boris Shor, and Steve Rogers. Here we find little evidence that the institution form of primary election effects polarization of state legislators. This undercuts the common argument that open primaries reduce polarization by boosting participation.
But perhaps the most relevant piece of information about Bill Galston's original contention that mandatory voting would reduce polarization is a new paper by Anthony Fowler at Harvard. In a careful study, he looks at the effects of the adoption of compulsory voting in Australia. He estimates that the causal effect of compulsory voting was a significant boost the left-wing Labour Party. So the effect of compulsory voting appears to have shifted Australian politics to the left rather than shore up the center.
Contemporary politics in the United States is historically distinctive in at least two respects. The first is the ever increasing polarization of political elites. As my collaborators and I have documented, partisan differences in congressional voting behavior have grown dramatically to levels not seen since the early 20th century. The second distinction is the historically low levels of competition in congressional elections. This is especially true of the House of Representatives where 99 percent of incumbents standing for reelection were successful in the 2002 and 2004 elections. In the swing to the Democrats in 2006, no individual Democrats were defeated and even 89 percent of standing Republicans were reelected. This pattern was essentially reversed in 2010.