Monday, August 14, 2006

Grassroots Founders, on voting: Alexander Hamilton

Grassroots? Alexander Hamilton? OK, let’s face it: overall, Hamilton was not a grass roots kind of guy. It is even an open question whether he really believed that representative democracy was a better form of government than the constitutional monarchy of Great Britain. I think Hamilton’s attitude was “Well, I’m not sure this republic thing is the best approach, but if you are going to do it, here’s how." Perhaps that is why his views on representative democracy do not seem so inspiring to us today. We prefer the noble inspiration of Jefferson or the deep, if sometimes obscure, ponderings of Madison.

I think the key to understanding Hamilton is that he had a deep respect for the right of the people to rule, and a deep respect for the power of popular opinion, but a very deep fear that the popular will could not be channeled constructively without very careful and stable guidance. And this should be guidance by an elite, who would be accountable to the people, but also had a definite self-interest in the prosperity generated by a responsible government. This governance by a stable elite whose interests would be channeled towards the public good by careful institutional design, and also accountable to the people is the source of Hamilton’s notorious concept of good corruption. He believed that a good government that respected human rights had to derive ultimate authority from the people: very ultimate, but also in some ways very remote.

So, looking at the plan Hamilton presented to the constitutional convention, you see this curious mix. On the one hand, he recommended a very stable elite: life tenure for the president and members of the Senate, de-emphasis on the states, explicit rejection of any kind of state sovereignty, and concentration of talent and power at national level. One the other hand, he recommended more branches of the government be elective than most others: indirect popular election for president and members of the Senate, and direct election of members of the House at the relatively frequent interval of three years.

I think that Hamilton felt that it was the duty of the government to ensure that this ultimate authority had to be a genuine expression of the mass of public opinion. He feared social and constitutional instability unless the people really were given the opportunity, indeed, encouraged to express their opinion honestly and completely in elections. After that, well, they had better mind the people they elected to be the elite. But in any case, he wanted very free elections with very broad participation. Here he is speaking at the New York ratifying convention:

" …We must submit to this idea, that the true principle of a republic is, that the people should choose whom they please to govern them. Representation is imperfect; in the proportion as the current of popular favor is checked. The great source of free government, popular election, should be perfectly pure, and the most unbounded liberty allowed. "
Alexander Hamilton, Speech in the New York Ratifying Convention, on Representation, 1788

How perfectly pure? How much unbounded liberty? We will see in the next post in this series that he would probably approve of a proposal that would be considered very grassroots and progressive today in terms of ensuring a large voter turnout (hint: Australia).

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Turnout: how bad is it in the US --as % of registered voters?

There was a post a while back on the awfulness of US turnout as a proportion of voting age population compared to other countries. I said the situation was about the same if turnout was expressed as proportion of registered voters. I may have exaggerated a little bit. Looks like turnout as a proportion of registered voters in US is just below average, not truly awful. Below are some international comparisons for elections in the 1990s. You be the judge.

I have omitted some elections in some countries where, for one reason or another, the elections or voter registration statistics might not be considered kosher, but that is a subjective judgment. All the statistics can be found at the US Election Assistance Commission:

The average turnout for all the countries other than the US listed at the US Election Assistance Commission page is 70%. The US just beats that for presidential elections at 71%, but the average for off-year Congressional elections is just 60%, for an overall average of 66%. The averages for the countries I selected for the tables above are 75% for both presidential, and parliamentary or legislative elections.

In any case, I think by either measure, as a proportion of population, or of registered voters, turnout in US national elections is a disgrace.

Sorry for the lousy graphics formatting -the MS Office software I use defeated me this time.

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

How important were ‘moral values’ issues in the 2004 election? (continued) Effect of same-sex marriage ban initiatives

How the world has changes in two weeks. With all the fur flying following more terror alerts, elderly rejected Democrats converting to reactionary Republicanism (excuse me, I meant Independent Unityism that echoes reactionary talking points), does anyone care about the moral values vote anymore? Whatever, we will continue with two more studies, which look at a slightly different question: could moral values issues have made the difference in the close election of 2004? I was planning on wrapping up this series with this post, but have found a few more interesting papers, so there will be one or two more posts on this topic before the wrap-up.

The first study is DE Campbell and JQ Monson, "The case of Bush's re-election: did gay marriage do it?" The focus is on whether state ballot initiatives that would ban same sex marriage had an effect on turnout. The study looks at county and individual data from the eleven states that had a ‘Gay Marriage Ban’ (GMB) initiative.

Campbell and Monson's county level data are from the secretaries of state offices for the eleven GMB states. The authors look at each state and estimate the relationship between the proportion of voters in each county who voted for the state's GMB and the change in proportion of those voting for Bush between 2000 and 2004. There was a statistically significant relationship in five of the eleven GMB states: AR, GA, MS, OH and OK. So, the conclusion is that GMB helped Bush in some GMB states.

Campbell and Monson also look at individual level data from the 2004 Election Panel Study, a nationally representative survey that followed individual’s opinions from early summer to post-election. They estimated the probability that an individual would vote for Bush as a function of GMB being on the ballot. The individual's age sex and other demographic information, ideological and political identification, feelings of identification with Bush and rate of political contact were also included in the analysis, so the effect of GMB on the state ballot could be analyzed separately from all those characteristics. A GMB on the state ballot appeared to have increased turnout by 5.6% among White Evangelical Protestants, and 5.2% among Catholics, and it increased the probability of Bush vote by 3.3% for Catholics, given their party identification.

Votinglinks’ comments: the study showed that a GMB on a state ballot appeared to have been a significant factor in increasing the vote for Bush, but mainly among White Evangelical Protestants who would have voted for Bush anyway. The most significant effect in turning vote from Kerry to Bush appeared to be among the Catholic vote. Campbell and Monson do not present an analysis of other issues, so the relative importance of moral values cannot be measured.

The second study is by E Donovon, C Tolbert, DA Smith and J Parry, Did gay marriage elect George W Bush. We'll call the authors DTSP for short. DTSP used state level data [correction Aug 14: oops -I meant indificual level data from several states] from PEW Research Center for Press and Opinion Survey with data from just before and after the election in Arkansas, Ohio and Michigan. DTSP estimate several individual regressions for each state that analyze relationships between importance of GMB as an issue, support for GMB, intention to vote for Bush, and actual vote. The analysis took party ID, age, sex, race, education, income and residence and pre vs. post election opinion into account. Individuals' opinions on Iraq war, war on terrorism, and economy were also included in the analysis.

The authors test a complex series of hypotheses, but the important bottom line conclusions are as follows. DTSP estimate that GMB on state ballot increased likelihood that same-sex marriage would be considered in decision between candidates, other factors held constant. DTSP estimated that the effect of GMB on state ballots increased the probability of voting for Bush by 9%. The authors note that in many GMB states, the margin of victory for Bush was so large it was unlikely to have made a substantial difference. In Ohio, GMB did seem to increase Bush's support among African-Americans (+4% over increase nationally in this group), over age 60 (+3% over national increase), HS level education (+2% over national increase) and white evangelical voters (+16% over national increase). The authors conclude that the Ohio GMB could have made the difference for Bush in that state

Votinglinks’ comments: DTSP do not do calculations to compare the issue of same-sex marriage to Iraq war, terrorism and economy. However, the statistical results shown in the paper indicate that these other issues were at least as, or more important than, GMB. So there is certainly evidence that GMB increased turnout and the vote for Bush, but no evidence that this effect was more important than others. Unfortunately, the DTSP do not do an analysis of the relative impact of all the issues.

DE Campbell and JQ Monson, The case of Bush's re-election, did gay marriage do it?

T Donovan, C Tolbert, DS Smith, J Parry, Did Gay Marriage Elect George W Bush?

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Turnout: how bad is it in the US?

Well, compared to other countries, voter turnout in the United States is awful. Previous posts have emphasized that recent voter turnout in the US is not doomed to stay in the dumps compared to our own high turnout days of the 1950s and 1960s. That is the good news. But there is bad news and that is that US turnout sucks a root compared to other countries. Below is a table adapted from the Wikipedia article on turnout. As can be seen, the US is at the bottom of the list with Switzerland and India, and both of those countries also lag far behind the other nations.

Table.--International comparison of average voter turnout.

Note: *country has compulsory voting law, **turnout as % of VAP, ***turnout as % of VEP where VAP is Voting Age Population, and VEP is Voting Eligible Population. N is number of elections used to estimate average turnout. US elections are for presidential years, others for lower house elections.

Table adapted from article Voter Turnout,

The tables and graphs in the Wikipedia Voter Turnout article is a little sloppy because the turnout figures are not always for the voting eligible population, particularly for the US. I recalculated the US figure using the VEP, and it doesn't make much difference, the US still trails the pack, except for Switzerland.

Some of the statistics for other countries do not restrict to the eligible voting population either, but it makes little difference. Look how little difference the rise in ineligible population makes in the US -a rise from essentially zero to ten percent. For the US to catch up to the third lowest country, Japan, the eligible population of Japan would have to be overestimated by 20%.

So, it looks like the US has really lousy voter turnout compared to other countries. The list in the Wikipedia article has many more countries, all of which are also ahead of the US. But many of these countries, such as Russia, Estonia and Romania, have only had two or three elections that could be used, so they were omitted.

There is really nowhere to turn. Statistics on voter turnout as a proportion of registered voters get about the same result -everyone is higher than the US.

Bottom line is that US voter turnout for elections is a disgrace.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Turnout: the registered youth of this great nation are temperamental, not lazy

The issue of youth voting got me curious. Everything I've read is so depressing... 'youth voting down,' 'where are them dang kids?', 'waste of time looking for American Youth,' etc. No wonder they don't want to vote, everyone crabbing at them about it -youth are temperamental.

The previous post in this series took a look at research that indicated youth were just as responsive to GOTV efforts as adults, IF these youth could be contacted at the same rate as adults. The problem is that these dang youth are elusive and move around a lot. So, let us look at the turnout of youth using a measure that, in a crude way, might isolate youth who have been contacted at high rates recently: turnout as a percentage of registered voters.

We will look at the following groups youth (18-24 years), young adults (25-44 years), and adults (45-64 years), using Census Bureau data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), namely:

Table A-1. Reported Voting and Registration by Race, Hispanic Origin, Sex and Age Groups: November 1964 to 2004

We won't look at elderly voters in this post. The terminology used here may be idiosyncratic. I don't know if 44 year old people consider themselves to be young adults. But I've heard 60 is the new 40, so it might be OK.

The CPS data have some problems. It is survey data, rather than a compilation of actual voting and registration records. So, people tend to say they are registered or have voted when they did not and the turnout rates tend to be higher using CPS data instead of FEC data. But the FEC does not keep track of much demographic data, and CPS data have been validated for looking at patterns over time and between groups at the same time.

Graph 1.--Turnout as a proportion of registered voters: youth, young adults and adults, 1972-2004.

Graph 1 above shows turnout as proportion of registered voters in each age group. The turnout of registered youth for recent presidential elections seems to be not so much low as very volatile. It took one presidential election cycle to go from the highest it's been in twelve years to the lowest since 1972. Then it took four years to go from the second worst turnout ever to almost the level of 1992. There does seem to be a long term decline in turnout for off-year congressional elections, though. These are the same patters we saw for the 18-20 year old turnout as a function of Voting Eligible Population in the previous turnout post. What is interesting here is that the young adults, who one would like to think are more mature and regular about things, show the same pattern as youth. In fact, relative to past performance, the drop in young adult turnout after 1992 is even more pronounced. The variation in percent turnout is less than for youth, but youth adults are a larger group, so it may be even more significant in terms of votes. The adults are the most stable of all. Let's use the adult turnout as the reference gold standard, and see if there are any patterns in the ratio of youth and young adult to adult turnout.

Graph 2.--Ratio of youth and young adult turnout to adult, registered voters, 1972-2004.

Graph 2 shows the ratios. I think there is a pattern that confirms the impressions from Graph 1. If we use the adult turnout as a gold standard, then for presidential elections, we see a long slow decline after 1972, followed by a volatile period starting in 1992. The good news is that youth turnout can be large, and, as a percentage of adult turnout, come close to 5 percentage points of turnout in 1972. What I think is interesting is that young adult turnout follows almost the same pattern. So, for presidential elections, if the registered adults are interested enough to turn in large numbers, so are the youth and young adults.

Also, the congressional elections turnouts of both groups don't look so gloomy. There may be a slight recovery in turnout of registered voters in 2002, however that is only one off-year election, and may be due as much to a decrease in adult turnout following 1992 as increased youth and young adult enthusiasm.

So, at least for the registered population the recent history suggests that youth are volatile more than apathetic or dilatory. At least that is how I see it. So, for elections, the bottom line is that registered youth may turnout in surprising large numbers, at least if the election is compelling enough to attract a large proportion of adults. So the question is, who will they vote for? Interesting also that young adults look like a more stable version of the youth.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Ancient Athenian Democracy: It wasn’t the democracy it was the Athenians

Been reading about Ancient Athenian democracy. I decided it has gotten a bad rap. Wasn’t the democracy that was unstable it was the ancient Athenians. They were out of control; too busy doing other things, like establishing trade empires and inventing Western culture.

The run up to official democracy should be a tip-off that the place was out of control, no matter what kind of government they tried. They asked Draco for a law code around 620 BCE, and he listed out a bunch of laws for everything from loitering to murder and prescribed the death penalty for everything. So, anyone should see the place was out of control.

Then Solon came along around 590, and he said he would only work up a constitution if everyone promised to obey it for ten years, at which point he said he would leave the city, before they decided to ignore all his work, and all hell broke loose. So, he knew them better than we do, and obviously he didn’t have much confidence.

Solon prohibited a person from putting up their freedom as a collateral for a loan, he established the right to appeal a court decision to a trial by jury, officials were selected by lot, and he divided Athens up into four groups by wealth, and allowed the chief executive (the Archon) to come from the top three. This worked for a while, but then Athens fell into chaos again.

Then Athens had a time-out for tyranny. A fellow named Pisistratus wanted to become a tyrant real bad. Pisistratus was kind of combination of PT Barnum and Juan Peron (but better macro-economic management skills than Peron). One day Pisistratus pretended to be ambushed by soldiers from a neighboring enemy state and rushed into town to display his wounds. He talked Athens into giving him fifty armed guards, and he used them to take over. People were a bit upset, and he got deposed a short time later. So he rode into Athens with very tall, very beautiful women who he dressed up as Minerva. His old bodyguards and some foreign soldiers ran ahead into Athens screaming that the goddess Minerva had come down to earth; she was upset that Pisistratus had been deposed, and would soon arrive with him in a chariot. And right after them, Pisistratus drove in with this fake Minerva by his side in a chariot. When the confusion died down, Pisistratus was tyrant again (This is from Herodotus, so it must be true.)

Pisistratus was a popular tyrant. He kept most of Solon’s reforms and also instituted circuit courts, so people could go to trial in their own communities. His main innovation was that all officials had to be one of his relatives -that is where the tyrant part came in. Pisistratus reduced taxes on the poor, completed major public works projects, supported the arts, and influenced policy to increase foreign trade. Pisistratus was very popular, and Athens prospered under his rule. Interesting that much of Athens prosperity at the dawn of its famous classical democracy was due to the tyrant Pisistratus.

Unfortunately Pisistratus left the tyranny to his two sons, who were thugs, and things fell apart again. One son was assassinated and the other was exiled, and Athens was a leaderless mess again by 510 BCE. So the stage was set for making the classical Athenian democracy we all know. The end of the story, and Votinglinks little moral from it, will come soon.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Turnout: whither them dang kids?

Seem to have read disparaging things about the youth vote recently. Supposed to be never there at all, and waste of time to pay it any attention, people making fun of Rock the Vote, etc. Interesting paper on the youth vote by David Nickerson, 'Hunting the elusive young voter'. Nickerson says that the trouble is effectively contacting young voters; they are at least twice as likely to move each year compared to older people. But, if you can contact them at same rate as older age groups, they have similar response to GOTV programs in terms of election day turnout. If that is true, situation is not hopeless. Paper can be downloaded from URL below:

D Nickerson. Hunting the elusive young voter. Journal of Political Marketing. forthcoming(?)
pre-publication copy from author's homepage:

Let's take a look at some numbers to see if these youth voters are as unreliable and dilatory as some people say. The graph below compares voter turnout in national elections as percent of Voting Eligible Population (VEP), that is, citizens of voting age not disqualified because in jail, on parole or probation. The numbers were taken from a paper by McDonald and Popkin (reference and link at end of this post). The data only go to the 2000 election, I am working on finding or developing data for later years.

Graph.--Adult and youth voter turnout as percent of Voting Eligbile Population.

The dark circles in the graph show turnout for voters over age twenty (adults). The open circles show turnout for those age eighteen to twenty (youth). The stars connected by the dotted line show the ratio of youth to adult turnout. First thing to note is that, using VEP, adult turnout in presidential elections is not falling dramatically, and the 2000 election brought us almost back to the high turnout days of the 50s and early 60s. Youth turnout started off quite high -it was 80% of adult turnout in1972, the first presidential election in which eighteen year olds could vote. After that it fell off, but for presidential years stayed on a plateau of 60% to 65% of the adult turnout until 1992. Admittedly, youth turnout has steadily declined during midterm Congressional elections. And as shown in the last turnout post, turnout for all groups took a dive in the next three elections, until 2004 when turnout was high again. So everyone shares blame for that. Also note that the youth turnout goes up in presidential elections when adult turnout goes up, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of adult turnout. So if there is an interesting, or close, or notable presidential election, youth will turn out. At least they did until 1992.

Seems to Votinglinks that youth turnout is not some mirage. Youth turnout is lower than that of adults, but during presidential years it held steady until 1992. When an election draws a high turnout among adults, the youth turnout will be higher also, both in absolute and relative terms. If the Nickerson article is correct, then perhaps the scorn exists because youth are frustrating to work with -they are difficult to contact. But once contacted they do seem to respond like their older, and supposedly wiser, fellow citizens. If youth voting has fallen off a cliff, it is something that has happened relatively recently.

Data for graph from Michael P. McDonald and Samuel Popkin. 2001. "The Myth of the Vanishing Voter." American Political Science Review 95(4): 963-974.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Report on registration and GOTV for college students

The Institute for Public Affairs and Civic Engagement (PACE) at Salisbury University has a detailed report on voting for college age students. Click on the link below to the page where you can download the pdf document. A 2006 version should be posted soon. The previous versions (2004 most recent) are still available for download.

Democracy and College Student Voting

The report has detailed state by state information on state residency requirements and voting registration. Useful for anyone who wants to get college students out to vote, and handy dandy for college students themselves too.

The link to the report will be added to the voting resources homepage soon.

Grassroots Founders, on voting: Thomas Jefferson (concluded)

Did Jefferson ever change his mind? He grew extremely conflicted over slavery towards the end of his life, and the Missouri Compromise rattled him. It was the House, the popular branch of Congress, that approved an amendment that would have, if it had survived, eventually eliminated slavery from Missouri. One of Jefferson’s pet ideas for wiping out slavery was to ‘diffuse’ it throughout the nation (he became very conflicted and confused about the subject). He also became somewhat disillusioned about the common people in the new country. They were not all becoming Unitarians, as he had predicted, among other things. Did he still trust the common mass of citizens? Here Jefferson writes on voting in 1824, two years before his death.

" The basis of our [state] Constitution is in opposition to the principle of equal political rights [if it refuses] to all but freeholders any participation in the natural right of self-government... However nature may by mental or physical disqualifications have marked infants and the weaker sex for the protection rather than the direction of government, yet among the men who either pay or fight for their country, no line of right can be drawn. The exclusion of a majority of our freemen from the right of representation is merely arbitrary, and an usurpation of the minority over the majority. "
Thomas Jefferson to John Hampden Pleasants, 1824

Too bad Jefferson stayed a male chauvinist all his life. But this series is about Grassroots Founders (Progressive Founders is another issue) and we have solved the problem of women’s suffrage, but not that of low voter turnout. So don’t hold the weak women comment against him, at least for now.

Finally, there are Jefferson’s Notes for a Constitution. No one seems to know what these notes were for. I found only one discussion of them, and that consisted of the comment that their purpose was ‘mysterious.’ Jefferson wrote a draft constitution for Virginia in 1776, and he offered suggestions based on them to the committee in charge of writing it. But these seem to be private notes for himself. If anyone knows what the story is on the Notes for Constitution, please contact the blog.

" Every male citizen of the commonwealth liable to taxes or to militia duty in any county, shall have a right to vote for representatives for that county to the legislature "
Jefferson: Notes for a Constitution, 1794

So, this concludes Grassroots Jefferson on voting, and I think for his time, he was pretty grassroots on the topic. Certainly very consistent, for Jefferson, who was sometimes not very. Definitely wanted all citizens to vote, regardless of social class or wealth. He presented several arguments for it: protection against corruption, human rights, and social cohesion and justice. Next up is the Grassroots Alexander Hamilton on voting. Believe it or Not.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

How important were ‘moral values’ issues in the 2004 election? (continued) A look at the exit poll itself

J Langer and G Cohen, in 'Voters and Values in the 2004 Election', use data from the 2004 National Election Poll (NEP) exit poll itself. So they give tour through the data that caused all the fuss in the first place.

After explaining the many reasons why 'moral values' was a lousy choice for a 'top issue' in an exit poll, they show that it was chosen mainly by weekly churchgoing conservative Christians. They present summary data from a series of exit polls that show:
--increase support for Bush from 2000 to 2004 was from conservative white Protestants, and all Catholics, but not among all weekly churchgoing white Protestants,
--about 90% of conservative white Protestants have voted for the Republican presidential candidate since 1980 ( I see a slight upward trend),
--about 55% to 60% of other white Protestants and other Christians have voted for the Republican presidential candidate since 1980 ( I see no upward trend),
--most of increase in support for Bush in 2004 came from infrequent or non-churchgoers, not frequent churchgoers.

They present a statistical analysis of the NEP data to estimate the relationship between voting for Bush and choice of top issue on the exit poll. They included other respondent characteristics, so the effect of choosing one of the top issues could be estimated while holding other characteristics constant. The characteristics were self-identified evangelical Christian, weekly church attendance, Party ID, political ideology (liberal vs. conservative), and race (white vs. other). They did a simulation to estimate the average change in probability of voting for Bush for as a function of choice of top issue in the exit poll sample. The results are shown below.

change in probability of Bush vote
as a function of choice of top issue

--terrorism: 0.172
--economy: -0.113
--Iraq war: -0.099
--moral values: 0.081
--health care: -0.080
--education: -0.066
--taxes: 0.011

Choosing terrorism, economy and the Iraq war as the top issue had more impact than moral values. They also do an analysis that indicates that in the exit poll sample, the term moral values acted like a proxy for opposition to same-sex marriage and belief that abortion should be always or almost always illegal.

Votinglinks Comments: The authors recognize that using this data means they cannot unpack the vague term 'moral issues' in detail but they can take a look at how picking that buzzword itself as the top issue influenced the vote among those who turned out on election day. The main weakness of this paper is that they only report how the issues effect the probability of voting for Bush in the exit poll sample, but provide no info on how well the sample represents all the voters or subgroups.

I have not found any studies that indicate 'moral values', or same-sex marriage or reproductive rights were a dominant issue for all voters or any large political demographic, other than conservative Christians. The question of whether, in the close 2004 presidential election, the marriage and abortion issues may have made a difference in certain states is a different issue, and the next and concluding post in this series will look at two studies that tackle that.

G Langer and J Cohen. Voters and Values in the 2004 Election. Public Opinion Quarterly: 69(5) Special Issue 2005; 744-759.
(URL is for abstract, may need subscription to download paper, depending on from where you access)

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