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POLITCAL SCIENCE RESEARCH - SEPTEMBER 2010

From Perspectives on Politics

 

"There's No One as Irish as Barack O'Bama": The Policy and Politics of American Multiracialism

Jennifer Hochschild and Vesla Mae Weaver

 

September 2010

 

ABSTRACT

 

For the first time in American history, the 2000 United States census allowed individuals to choose more than one race. That new policy sets up our exploration of whether and how multiracialism is entering Americans' understanding and practice of race. By analyzing briefly earlier cases of racial construction, we uncover three factors important to understanding if and how intensely a feedback effect for racial classification will be generated. Using this framework, we find that multiracialism has been institutionalized in the federal government, and is moving toward institutionalization in the private sector and other governmental units. In addition, the small proportion of Americans who now define themselves as multiracial is growing absolutely and relatively, and evidence suggests a continued rise. Increasing multiracial identification is made more likely by racial mixture's growing prominence in American society--demographically, culturally, economically, and psychologically. However, the politics side of the feedback loop is complicated by the fact that identification is not identity. Traditional racial or ethnic loyalties and understandings remain strong, including among potential multiracial identifiers. Therefore, if mixed-race identification is to evolve into a multiracial identity, it may not be at the expense of existing group consciousness. Instead, we expect mixed-race identity to be contextual, fluid, and additive, so that it can be layered onto rather than substituted for traditional monoracial commitments. If the multiracial movement successfully challenges the longstanding understanding and practice of "one drop of blood" racial groups, it has the potential to change much of the politics and policy of American race relations.

 

 

How ACORN Was Framed: Political Controversy and Media Agenda Setting

 

Peter Dreier and Christopher R. Martin

 

September 2010

 

ABSTRACT

 

Using the news controversy over the community group ACORN, we illustrate the way that the media help set the agenda for public debate and frame the way that debate is shaped. Opinion entrepreneurs (primarily business and conservative groups and individuals, often working through web sites) set the story in motion as early as 2006, the conservative echo chamber orchestrated an anti-ACORN campaign in 2008, the Republican presidential campaign repeated the allegations with a more prominent platform, and the mainstream media reported the allegations without investigating their veracity. As a result, the little-known community organization became the subject of great controversy in the 2008 US presidential campaign, and was recognizable by 82 percent of respondents in a national survey. We analyze 2007-2008 coverage of ACORN by 15 major news media organizations and the narrative frames of their 647 stories during that period. Voter fraud was the dominant story frame, with 55 percent of the stories analyzed using it. We demonstrate that the national news media agenda is easily permeated by a persistent media campaign by opinion entrepreneurs alleging controversy, even when there is little or no truth to the story. Conversely, local news media, working outside of elite national news media sources to verify the most essential facts of the story, were the least likely to latch onto the "voter fraud" bandwagon.

 

 

Varieties of  Obamaism: Structure, Agency, and the Obama Presidency

 

Lawrence R. Jacobs and Desmond S. King

 

September 2010

 

ABSTRACT

 

President Obama's record stands out among modern presidents because of the wide range between his accomplishments and the boldness of his as-yet unfulfilled promises. Obamaism is a complex phenomenon, with multiple themes and policy ends. In this paper we examine the administration's initiatives drawing upon recent scholarship in political science to consider the political, economic and institutional constraints that Obama has faced and to assess how he has faced them. Our key theme is the importance of integrating the study of presidency and public leadership with the study of the political economy of the state. The paper argues against personalistic accounts of the Obama presidency in favor of a structured agency approach.

 

 

Reconstituting the Submerged State: The Challenges of Social Policy Reform in the Obama Era

 

Suzanne Mettler

 

September 2010

 

ABSTRACT

 

President Barack Obama came into office with a social welfare policy agenda that aimed to reconstitute what can be understood as the "submerged state": a conglomeration of existing federal policies that incentivize and subsidize activities engaged in by private actors and individuals. By attempting to restructure the political economy involved in taxation, higher education policy, and health care, Obama ventured into a policy terrain that presents immense obstacles to reform itself and to the public's perception of its success. Over time the submerged state has fostered the profitability of particular industries and induced them to increase their political capacity, which they have exercised in efforts to maintain the status quo. Yet the submerged state simultaneously eludes most ordinary citizens: they have little awareness of its policies or their upwardly redistributive effects, and few are cognizant of what is at stake in reform efforts. This article shows how, in each of the three policy areas, the contours and dynamics of the submerged state have shaped the possibilities for reform and the form it has taken, the politics surrounding it, and its prospects for success. While the Obama Administration won hard-fought legislative accomplishments in each area, political success will continue to depend on how well policy design, policy delivery and political communication reveal policy reforms to citizens, so that they better understand how reforms function and what has been achieved.

 

 

Institutional Strangulation: Bureaucratic Politics and Financial Reform in the Obama Administration

 

Daniel Carpenter

 

September 2010

 

ABSTRACT

 

The politics of financial reform represent a genuine test case for American politics and its institutions. The Obama administration's proposed reforms pit common (largely unorganized) interests against well-organized and wealthy minority interests. I describe how the withering and unfolding of financial reform has occurred not through open institutional opposition but through a quieter process that I call institutional strangulation. Institutional strangulation consists of much more than the stoppage of policies by aggregation of veto points as designed in the US Constitution. In the case of financial reform, it has non-constitutional veto points, including committee politics and cultural veto points (gender and professional finance), strategies of partisan intransigence, and perhaps most significantly, the bureaucratic politics of turf and reputation. These patterns can weaken common-interest reforms, especially in the broad arena of consumer protection.

 

 

The American Labor Movement in the Age of Obama: The Challenges and Opportunities of a Racialized Political Economy

 

Dorian T. Warren

 

September 2010

 

ABSTRACT

 

The relative weakness of the American labor movement has broader political consequences, particularly for the ambitions of the Obama presidency. Absent a strong countervailing political constituency like organized labor, well-organized and more powerful stakeholders like business and industry groups are able to exert undue influence in American democracy, thereby frustrating attempts at political reform. I argue that it is impossible to understand the current political situation confronting the Obama administration without an account of the underlying sources of labor weakness in the U.S. In such an account two factors loom especially large. One is the role of the state in structuring labor market institutions and the rules of the game for labor-business interactions. The second is the distinctively racialized character of the U.S. political economy, which has contributed to labor market segmentation, a unique political geography, and the racial division of the U.S. working class. In our current post-industrial, post-civil rights racial and economic order, whether and how the labor movement can overcome its historical racial fragmentation will determine its possibilities for renewal and ultimately its political strength in relation to the Obama presidency. If the labor movement remains an uneven and weak regional organization hobbled by racial fragmentation, the Obama Administration's efforts to advance its core policy agenda will lack the necessary political force to be effective.

 

 

The Road to Somewhere: Why Health Reform Happened

Or Why Political Scientists Who Write about Public Policy Shouldn't Assume They Know How to Shape It

 

Jacob S. Hacker

 

September 2010

 

ABSTRACT

 

Why did comprehensive health care reform pass in 2010? Why did it take the form it did--a form that, while undeniably ambitious, was also more limited than many advocates wanted, than health policy precedents set abroad, and than the scale of the problems it tackled? And why was this legislation, despite its limits, the subject of such vigorous and sometimes vicious attacks? These are the questions I tackle in this essay, drawing not just on recent scholarship on American politics but also on the somewhat-improbable experience that I had as an active participant in this fierce and polarized debate. My conclusions have implications not only for how political scientists should understand what happened in 2009-10, but also for how they should understand American politics. In particular, the central puzzles raised by the health reform debate suggest why students of American politics should give public policy--what government does to shape people's lives--a more central place within their investigations. Political scientists often characterize politics as a game among undifferentiated competitors, played out largely through campaigns and elections, with policy treated mostly as an afterthought--at best, as a means of testing theories of electoral influence and legislative politics. The health care debate makes transparent the weaknesses of this approach. On a range of key matters at the core of the discipline--the role and influence of interest groups; the nature of partisan policy competition; the sources of elite polarization; the relationship between voters, activists, and elected officials; and more--the substance of public policy makes a big difference. Focusing on what government actually does has normative benefits, serving as a useful corrective to the tendency of political science to veer into discussions of matters deemed trivial by most of the world outside the academy. But more important, it has major analytical payoffs--and not merely for our understanding of the great health care debate of 2009-10.

 

 

Democracy and Distrust

A Discussion of Counter-Democracy: Politics in an Age of Distrust

 

Philippe C. Schmitter,  Donatella della Porta and Mark E. Warren

 

September 2010

 

ABSTRACT

 

Pierre Rosanvallon is one of the most important political theorists writing in French. Counter-Democracy: Politics in an Age of Distrust is a book about the limits of conventional understandings of democracy. Rosanvallon argues that while most theories of democracy focus on institutionalized forms of political participation (especially elections), the vitality of democracy rests equally on forms of "counter-democracy" through which citizens dissent, protest, and exert pressure from without on the democratic state. This argument is relevant to the concerns of a broad range of political scientists, most especially students of democratic theory, electoral and party politics, social movements, social capital, and "contentious politics." The goal of this symposium is to invite a number of political scientists who work on these issues to comment on the book from their distinctive disciplinary, methodological, and theoretical perspectives.--Jeffrey C. Isaac, Editor

 

 

Dreaming Blackness: Black Nationalism and African American Public Opinion. By Melanye T. Price

 

Robert Gooding-Williams

 

September 2010

 

ABSTRACT

 

This is a timely, engaging, and illuminating study of Black Nationalism. The book's "fundamental project," Melanye T. Price writes, "is to systematically understand individual Black Nationalism adherence among African Americans in the post-Civil Rights era" (p. 60). Black Nationalism has a long history in African American politics, but with the demise of Jim Crow and the election of our first black president, we may reasonably wonder whether ordinary African American citizens are disposed to endorse it. Price's book is important because it addresses this question head-on, defending the thesis that a renewal of Black Nationalism remains a viable possibility in post-Obama America.

 

 

Response to Robert Gooding-Williams' review of Dreaming Blackness: Black Nationalism and African American Public Opinion

Melanye T. Price

September 2010

 

ABSTRACT

 

In Dreaming Blackness, I had two major goals. First, I hoped to elucidate how changes in the American racial landscape have impacted African American support for black nationalism. To this end, I used a mixed methodological approach that included both statistical and qualitative analysis and allowed me to make claims based on a national cross section of African Americans and on more intimate discussions in smaller groups. Second, I wanted to ground my arguments in a robust discussion of African American political thought. This would ensure that my hypotheses and findings were resonant with a longitudinal understanding of how black nationalist ideology is characterized. Robert Gooding-Williams, with some caveats, suggests that I have accomplished these goals. I now address his two areas of concern related to evolving definitions of black nationalism and possible alternative interpretations, and I conclude by addressing our differing impressions of the future viability of this ideological option.

 

 

From Public Opinion Quarterly

Probabilistic Polling And Voting In The 2008 Presidential Election

Evidence From The American Life Panel

 

Adeline Delavande and Charles F. Manski

 

September 2010

 

ABSTRACT

 

This article reports new empirical evidence on probabilistic polling, which asks persons to state in percent-chance terms the likelihood that they will vote and for whom. Before the 2008 presidential election, seven waves of probabilistic questions were administered biweekly to participants in the American Life Panel (ALP). Actual voting behavior was reported after the election. We find that responses to the verbal and probabilistic questions are well-aligned ordinally. Moreover, the probabilistic responses predict voting behavior beyond what is possible using verbal responses alone. The probabilistic responses have more predictive power in early August, and the verbal responses have more power in late October. However, throughout the sample period, one can predict voting behavior better using both types of responses than either one alone. Studying the longitudinal pattern of responses, we segment respondents into those who are consistently pro-Obama, consistently anti-Obama, and undecided/vacillators. Membership in the consistently pro- or anti-Obama group is an almost perfect predictor of actual voting behavior, while the undecided/vacillators group has more nuanced voting behavior. We find that treating the ALP as a panel improves predictive power: current and previous polling responses together provide more predictive power than do current responses alone.

 

The Effect of Question Framing and Response Options on the Relationship between Racial Attitudes and Beliefs about Genes as Causes of Behavior

Eleanor Singer, Mick P. Couper, Trivellore E. Raghunathan, Toni C. Antonucci, Margit Burmeister and John Van Hoewyk

 

September 2010

 

ABSTRACT

 

Prior research suggests that the attribution of individual and group differences to genetic causes is correlated with prejudiced attitudes toward minority groups. Our study suggests that these findings may be due to the wording of the questions and to the choice of response options. Using a series of vignettes in an online survey, we find a relationship between racial attitudes and genetic attributions when respondents are asked to make causal attributions of differences between racial groups. However, when they are asked to make causal attributions for characteristics shown by individuals, no such relationship is found. The response scale used appears to make less, if any, difference in the results. These findings indicate that the way questions about genetic causation of behavior are framed makes a significant contribution to the answers obtained because it significantly changes the meaning of the questions. We argue that such framing needs to be carefully attended to, not only in posing research questions but also in discourse about genetics more generally.

 

 

The Macro Politics of a Gender Gap

Paul M. Kellstedt, David A. M. Peterson and Mark D. Ramirez

September 2010

 

ABSTRACT

What explains the dynamic movement in the gender gap in public opinion toward government activism over the past 30 years? The thermostatic model of politics suggests that aggregate public opinion adjusts to liberal changes in public policy by preferring less government and to conservative changes in policy by preferring more government. Given the cross-sectional differences in policy preferences between men and women, we argue that the dynamic movement in the gender gap in policy preferences for more or less government spending is a function of asymmetrical responses by men and women to changes in public policy. We find that both men and women respond to changes in public policy by shifting their policy preferences in the same direction. But men appear more responsive to policy changes than do women. It is this asymmetrical response to changes in public policy that is responsible for the dynamics of the gender gap in policy preferences across time. Our results show that the gap increases when policy moves in a liberal direction, as men move in a conservative direction at a faster rate than women. In contrast, when policy moves to the right, the opinions of both men and women will respond by moving to the left, but the greater responsiveness among men will decrease the gap, bringing male preferences closer to the preferences of women.

 

"Sour Grapes" or Rational Voting? Voter Decision Making Among Thwarted Primary Voters in 2008

Michael Henderson, D. Sunshine Hillygus and Trevor Tompson

 

September 2010

ABSTRACT

During the 2008 presidential campaign, journalists and pundits debated the electoral consequences of the prolonged and hard-fought nomination contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Previous research, typically using aggregate vote returns, has concluded that divisive primaries negatively impact the electoral prospects of the winning candidate. It is thought that supporters of the losing candidate are less likely to vote and more likely to defect because of psychological disaffection, or "sour grapes." Using a new panel dataset that traces individual candidate preferences during the primary and general election campaigns, we are able to explicitly examine individual-level decision making in the general election conditioned on voting behavior in the primary. Although "sour grapes" had a modest effect on eventual support for the party nominee, fundamental political considerations--especially attitudes on the War in Iraq--were far better predictors of the vote decision among thwarted voters. Moreover, we find that supporters of losing Democratic candidates were far more likely to vote for Obama if they lived in a battleground state.

 

Political Parties and Value Consistency in Public Opinion Formation

Michael Bang Petersen, Rune Slothuus and Lise Togeby

September 2010

 

ABSTRACT

Many have been concerned about the ability of citizens to ground their specific political preferences in more general principles. We test the longstanding intuition that political elites, and political parties in particular, can help citizens improve the quality of their political opinions--understood as the consistency between citizens' specific opinions and their deeper political values. We integrate two major areas of research in political behavior that rarely speak together--political parties and framing--to argue that the structure of party competition frames issues by signaling what political values are at stake and hence enables citizens to take the side most consistent with their basic principles. With a unique experimental design embedded in a nationally representative survey, we find strong support for this argument. Our findings imply that low levels of value-opinion consistency are driven not only by citizens' lack of interest in politics but also by parties failing in providing clear signals.

 

The Polls--Trends

Attitudes About The American Dream

Sandra L. Hanson and John Zogby

ABSTRACT

Results from a number of U.S. public opinion polls collected in the past two decades are used to examine trends in attitudes about the American Dream. Trends are examined in the following areas: "What is the American Dream?" "Is the American Dream achievable?" and "What is the role of government and politics in the American Dream?" Findings suggest that a majority of Americans consistently reported that the American Dream (for themselves and their family) is more about spiritual happiness than material goods. However, the size of this majority is decreasing. Most Americans continued to believe that working hard is the most important element for getting ahead in the United States. However, in some surveys, an increasing minority of Americans reported that this hard work and determination does not guarantee success. A majority of respondents believe that achieving the American Dream will be more difficult for future generations, although this majority is becoming smaller. Americans are increasingly pessimistic about the opportunity for the working class to get ahead and increasingly optimistic about the opportunity for the poor and immigrants to get ahead in the United States. Although trends show consistency in Americans blaming Blacks for their condition (not discrimination), a majority of Americans consistently support programs that make special efforts to help minorities get ahead.

 

From American Political Science Review

 

Leapfrog Representation and Extremism: A Study of American Voters and Their Members in Congress

 

Joseph Bafumi and Michael C. Herron

 

September 2010

 

ABSTRACT

We consider the relationship between the preferences of American voters and the preferences of the U.S. legislators who represent them. Using an Internet-based, national opinion survey in conjunction with legislator voting records from the 109th and 110th Congresses, we show that members of Congress are more extreme than their constituents, i.e., that there is a lack of congruence between American voters and members of Congress. We also show that when a congressional legislator is replaced by a new member of the opposite party, one relative extremist is replaced by an opposing extremist. We call this leapfrog representation, a form of representation that leaves moderates with a dearth of representation in Congress. We see evidence of leapfrog representation in states and House districts and in the aggregate as well: the median member of the 109th House was too conservative compared to the median American voter, yet the median of the 110th House was too liberal. Thus, the median American voter was leapfrogged when the 109th House transitioned to the 110th. Although turnover between the 109th and 110th Senates occurred at approximately the same rate as between the 109th and 110th Houses, the Senate appears to be a more moderate institution whose median member does not move as abruptly as that of the House.

 

From Politics and Society

Economic Ideas and the Political Process: Debating Tax Cuts in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1962-1981

Elizabeth Popp Berman and Nicholas Pagnucco

 

September 2010

 

ABSTRACT

 

While sociologists and political scientists have become interested in the role of ideas in the political process, relatively little work looks at how ideological claims are actually deployed in political discourse. This article examines the economic claims made in two pairs of Congressional debates over tax cuts, one (in 1962 and 1964) generally associated with Keynesian economic theories, and one (in 1978 and 1981) tied to supply-side ideas. While these bills were indeed initiated by groups subscribing to different economic ideologies, subsequent debates look surprisingly similar. The bills were closer in substance than one might expect, and while their proponents came from opposite political camps, in both cases supporters focused more on supply-side than demand-side effects and emphasized tax cuts' ability to pay for themselves through economic stimulation. The authors propose that politically acceptable economic claims may evolve more slowly than the economic theories that inspire policy entrepreneurs, and that this "discursive opportunity structure" may not only constrain the political process but may potentially shape the political effects of expert knowledge.

 

 

Undocumented Migrants and Resistance in the Liberal State

 

Antje Ellermann

September 2010

ABSTRACT

This article explores the possibility of resistance under conditions of extreme state power in liberal democracies. It examines the strategies of migrants without legal status who, when threatened with one of the most awesome powers of the liberal state--expulsion--shed their legal identity in order to escape the state's reach. Remarkably, in doing so, they often succeed in preventing the state from exercising its sovereign powers. The article argues that liberal states are uniquely constrained in their dealing with undocumented migrants. Not only are they forced to operate within the constraints of the international legal order--making repatriation contingent on the possession of identity documents--but the liberal state is also constitutionally limited in its exercise of coercion against the individual. The article concludes that it is those individuals who have the weakest claims against the liberal state that are most able to constrain its exercise of sovereignty.