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The election that will never die.

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.15.18

Fuck Comey. Jesus christ.


 

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Reading Group: The Big Sort

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.13.18

Mossy Character writes:

Introduction

Bishop will argue that Americans migrate preferentially into areas in which most people share their politics. He holds that this sorting is mostly unconscious: people move to places they like and people in those places happen to think like them as well. Throughout, he will use presidential election returns by county as a proxy for political affiliation, relying especially on "landslide counties", where "one party won by 20 percentage points or more". By that measure, he finds increasing segregation, with the proportion of the total population in such counties rising from 26% in 1976 to 48% in 2000. He mentions work by collaborators, including Florida [whom I discount, based on this (PDF), as confusing correlation with cause, and making no effort to disentangle the two]; and states that prosperity makes individual choices in migration increasingly possible.

1. The Age of Political Segregation

Simultaneously with the sorting, politicians have grown more partisan. Bishop evaluates a number of explanations for this; he denies claims that politicians have polarized while the populace remains moderate. [By 2018 I assume this is no longer controversial.]

He denies that polarization of politicians results from gerrymandering; parties want more seats, not extremely safe seats. [Though true in theory, US parties aren't very unitary: individual legislators may well co-operate to secure supermajorities for themselves at the expense of their parties' best interests. Empirically, Bishop's source, saying that gerrymandering hasn't notably increased safe House seats, is less than convincing. It does show that there weren't dramatic changes after the decennial redistrictings from 1980-2000, but does show steady changes, uniformly increasing incumbent safety.]

Bishop denies that polarization has arisen from a systematic, effort to construct a right-wing political and propaganda machine, on the grounds that a single conspiracy theory, "the Powell memo", is false. [This I dismiss as a straw man; Bishop (entirely unnecessarily) dismisses the organizational explanation in favor of his own, when the truth can easily include both.]

Republicans didn't create a movement. They recognized the cultural shifts taking place across the country--the Big Sort--and then channeled what was happening into politics, to their advantage.
[Though some of the drivers of the sort were not changes but constants (like racism, presumably); others were actively promoted by the right: fear of crime for instance.]

Bishop says that politics flows from the bottom as well as the top. [This is obviously true (though his own rhetoric tends to imply it's just bottom-up), and fares well in light of 2016; although in that year the bottom-up dynamic on the face of it affected the right far more than the left, of which more below.]

Bishop denies that Republican propaganda has swayed Kansans against their economic interests (What's the matter with Kansas?), assigning this rather to "the politics of place". He compares contemporary Kansas to 1950s Ohio, where blue-collar workers were numerous but physically dispersed, making it difficult for them to organize and vote.

Bishop claims that, before 1965, both parties had similar voters in terms of religiosity and urban/rural distribution; institutions like parties and churches were broad-based, pulling fairly diverse people into a working consensus. After the 1960s, people split to seek like minds:

We have built a country where everyone can choose the neighborhood (and church and news shows) most compatible with his or her lifestyle and beliefs.
[Actually, a lot of people don't have so many choices; income stratification is going to matter a lot for evaluation.]

2. The Politics of Migration

Bishop lists sets of facts consistent with his claims ("hindsight tests").

Polarization has increased at all scales, from local to national; counties have grown more partisan in each successive presidential election since 1948; both the number of reliably partisan counties and the margins of party victory have increased over time. Margins in Republican counties were wider than those in Democratic ones, and immigration also was asymmetrical:

Between 1995 and 2000, 79 percent of the people who left Republican counties settled in counties that would vote Republican in 2004 [...] people who left counties that would vote Democratic in 2004 migrated to both Republican and Democratic counties without showing much of a preference for either
[This would be partly explained if Republicans were disproportionately rich, and thus had more freedom in choosing their destinations.

These figures, central to the entire argument, don't measure the politics of emigrants directly, just probabilistically based on election returns; but emigrants aren't necessarily representative of voters. I imagine, for instance, that they are likely to be younger, and thus less likely to vote.

This is the first of several points where Bishop notes substantial differences between Republicans and Democrats, but makes nothing of it. To whatever extent Bishop is describing actual behavior, much of his evidence will indicate that Republicans engage in those behaviors to a greater degree than Democrats; though I have to acknowledge my own confirmation bias here, as the authoritarian personality is central to my own understanding of politics.]

Bishop lists a series of differences in lifestyle and demographics between Republican and Democratic counties. [The gaps are big but not really huge, except for the proportions of evangelicals. Notably, red counties come out looking poorer than blue, which is inconsistent with my general understanding that most Republican voters are richer than average; for instance:

High income Americans have consistently, over the second half of the twentieth century, been more prone to identify with and vote for the Republican party than have low income Americans, who have sided with the Democrats. [...] In the 1990s, income was far more important than it had been in the 1950s. [...] the divergence in partisan identifications and voting between high and low income individuals has been striking.
As I read it, it is unclear whether Bishop's percentages are generated county-by-county or aggregated nationwide; if the former, the Republican figures may be distorted by small populations in red rural counties.]

Bishop claims that opinions vary systematically by location, based especially on one poll regarding the Iraq war:

Regardless of demographic category--age, gender, religion, occupation--Pew found a difference in support for the war based on geography [ie., in red counties all demographics were more in favor of the war, in blue counties the converse].
He then supplies a predictable list of partisan divergences mapped onto counties, but doesn't break them by other demographic categories, as for the war poll above. [It would be interesting, and unsurprising, if there were such a systematic geographical variation, but Bishop doesn't supply the evidence here.]

Bishop lists some social differences between counties. Higher education and immigrant population are increasingly distributed in favor of Democratic counties; religion and white population in favor of Republican. Republican counties have higher birthrates, but these are offset by higher death rates due to age structure; ~90% of Republican-county population increases are from migration. Red-county immigrants were poorer, ~0.75* as rich as blue-county immigrants. [Again, I wonder about the impact of small absolute numbers moving between rural counties; in that connection, I wonder also if these figures are capturing documented but non-voting foreign nationals.]

[Figure 2.2 seems to indicate, contra me, more Democratic polarization than Republican: red counties voted for GWB in 2004 at the national norm +15%; blue counties at norm -20%. Of course this reflects a very obnoxious president; but then Trump is more obnoxious still. This highlights, perhaps, the limitations of using presidential votes as proxies for anything else.]

3. The Psychology of the Tribe

Bishop describes Washington, D.C. in the early 19th century, based on Young's The Washington Community. Young argues, he says, that congressmen sorted themselves into boardinghouses, or "messes" based on origin and party, and that these messes became the basis of highly partisan factions, with mess members voting with great uniformity, and enforcing loyalty by ostracism. Bishop describes similar segregation in contemporary Washington. [I'm inclined to discount the significance of this. Segregation appears at the same time as many other factors promoting polarization; and on the facts of segregation Bishop cites anecdotes, not surveys.]

[Bishop says in his notes that "some find fault with Young's analysis." The paper he cites does a lot more than "find fault". It finds that congressmen's choice of boardinghouse was dominated by pragmatic concerns, not political ones; it finds no discernible influence of mess groups on voting records; it demolishes Young's account of the boardinghouse ostracism of Van Rensselaer, also quoted by Bishop and apparently made much of by Young; and demonstrates that in at least one instance Young quotes a source so selectively as effectively to fabricate evidence.

This more recent paper also finds, by a different method, that politics did not dominate the choice of mess. It also does a similar analysis of voting with a much bigger dataset, and does find a significant boardinghouse effect (though still far smaller than that of party affiliation). However, that effect operated in unexpected ways:

the effect of party was very similar regardless of whether a pair lived together or not--an indirect confirmation of the partisan polarization occurring at the time (and a suggestion that this phenomenon was, in a sense, external to the boardinghouse) [just as present-day residential segregation in Washington is obviously confounded by external partisan polarization].
What the boardinghouses did affect significantly was the voting agreement for congressmen coming from the same region [North or South].
[...]
While coresidence in a boardinghouse enhanced the impact of region on voting agreement, it reduced the impact of party.
Impacts which were detectable because at the time party alignments didn't track closely with geography. Since Bishop's overall argument is that all locations are becoming increasingly partisan, it follows that geography, culture, and politics will be closely correlated, and that whatever mechanism these authors found would not operate today in the same way that it did then. I don't think any of this is particularly important: however, it's interesting; it indicates how much Bishop is a headline journalist rather than a scholar; and it suggests that social interaction effects, however significant, don't necessarily work in obvious ways.]

Bishop describes some social psychology research. Judgments made of other individuals' actions are strongly affected by those individuals' social status. In a closed group, discussion tends to move collective opinion toward an extreme, not a median, and dissidents are ostracized; both tendencies are more pronounced in more homogeneous groups. Psychologists speculate that taking more-extreme-than-average positions is a way both to gain attention and to conform. [I don't know how much damage the replication crisis has done here.]

Bishop argues some of these dynamics were guarded against by the constitution:

Sunstein sees the rejection of the "right [of constituents] to instruct [representatives, on particular issues]" as an explicit example of the framers' realization that like-minded communities could produce extreme politics, a tendency that would be weakened by debate and understanding.
[This echoes our own RH on the virtues of smoke-filled rooms, and the vices of referenda.]

Minority voter turnout falls in landslide counties with "large partisan majorities"; and, "as communication between members of the parties diminishes, the two sides come to see each other as more extreme or radical." [I presume this too is asymmetrical between parties.]

People self-segregate in their media consumption, preferring partisan sources even for non-political content. [Here too Bishop glosses over notable partisan asymmetry. His source doesn't just find partisan media preferences, but that such preferences are much stronger on the right:

Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to rate major news outlets including the three network newscasts, the weekly news magazines, NPR, and PBS as biased
[...]
Although the CNN and NPR labels boosted interest among Democrats, the effects appeared somewhat weak.
[...]
It is also worth noting that liberals did not converge on a single source; instead they divide their selections between the non-Fox News channels making little distinction among them.
This picture is also inconsistent with his blanket rejection of centralized propaganda as an explanation for partisanship (unless all editorial agency is denied).]


 

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Guest Post - the Buyback Bubble

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.12.18

Minivet writes: The corporate class is in bust-out mode:

Corporate executives and directors are apparently bereft of ideas and the confidence to make long-term investments. Rather than using record profits, and record amounts of borrowed money, to invest in new plants and equipment, develop new products, improve service, lower prices or raise the wages and skills of their employees, they are "returning" that money to shareholders. Corporate America, in effect, has transformed itself into one giant leveraged buyout.

Heebie's take: This seems all too plausible.

Also the Supreme Court Voter Discouragement Act of Yesterday really put a rock in my stomach.


 

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Both meanings of nonplussed

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 06.11.18

This shitstain of a president:
1. Meet the guys who tape Trump's papers back together. Because he tears up any document that he doesn't like. So, in order to keep him from violating the law, his Igors fetch the scotch tape, gather up the confetti, and get to taping.

2. I think this is right:

As Trump has lost the benefit of the doubt, he has increasingly relied on the strategy Haberman describes above, wearing down the resistance of disbelief until people just throw up their hands in exasperation. The success of such an approach doesn't rely on a foxlike cunning, but it also doesn't require the lion's threat of blunt force trauma. Yes, a willingness to step aside may be an act of submission, but especially in polite society, it is more often the sign of exhaustion.
And this makes for one of the great ironies of President Trump's leadership style: It intimidates not so much by fear as simple fatigue. Indeed, beyond a few weak-kneed House members and well-fed lackeys in the West Wing, no one really fears getting their ass kicked by Donald Trump. But they're terrified at the prospect of endlessly having to hear about it.

Of course, who gives a fuck why amoral Republicans capitulate. But I bet, of those that privately loathe Trump, this is more or less right.

(And of course, doxxing can turn legitimately dangerous when aimed at vulnerable people.)


 

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