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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