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November 03, 2010

Comments

Alex

I would be very wary to call this a mandate for the GOP on anything really. Historically, the controlling party loses seats when the economy is rough, and the president's party usually loses seats during the midterm elections. Among registered voters, the WSJ found that people preferred a generic Dem over a generic Repub. Similarly, health care reform approval is abysmal, until you poll the parts of the bill, then the approval jumps to something like 70 percent. Finally, I don't see how you can have small government and low deficits while cutting taxes. I'd love to see the math on that.

Also, you say that immigration/race is the only thing that the Dems have right. So, increasing the government to ensure that every pregnancy ends in a birth is right? Increasing bureaucracy just so gays and lesbians can't enjoy the same benefits as their straight counterparts in marriage is right? What about spending up to $43,000 per soldier discharged under DADT? Is that right?

If you're so interested in decreasing regulation of government, I'd be interested to know how those social issues fit in to your philosophy.

Nathan Smith

re: "I would be very wary to call this a mandate for the GOP on anything really. Historically, the controlling party loses seats when the economy is rough, and the president's party usually loses seats during the midterm elections."

No, this was clearly more than just the usual midterm loss for the ruling party.

re: "Similarly, health care reform approval is abysmal, until you poll the parts of the bill, then the approval jumps to something like 70 percent."

Suppose I propose the following policy: 1. Cut taxes. 2. Hold down spending in general but raise it on specific, deserving programs. 3. Reduce the deficit. How many do you think would be in favor? Of course the problem is that the policy is not feasible. Similarly, if you ask people whether they're in favor of banning lifetime limits on coverage, they're problably be for it-- who wants to be at risk of running out of health insurance?-- but if you add that premiums have to go up for everybody in order to finance extreme health care spending for the teeny-tiny minority of uber-sick, suddenly people might be against it. Asking about health care reform as a whole is more accurate because it invites people to consider the systemic consequences of health care reform as a whole, rather than just to respond to the upsides of it.

re: "So, increasing the government to ensure that every pregnancy ends in a birth is right?"

I think to answer "yes" to this is respectable even from a libertarian point of view. Protecting the lives of infants may require govt. intervention; but an advocate of even the most minimal state will condone that. Whether to extend that protection to fetuses is a question about the domain of moral personhood, not the role of government.

re: "Increasing bureaucracy just so gays and lesbians can't enjoy the same benefits as their straight counterparts in marriage is right?"

It's absurd to pretend that gay marriage is an issue about the size of the bureaucracy. Obviously it would take *more* bureaucrats, lawyers, etc., to deal with the paperwork related to gay marriages and their inevitable breakups. One might make a libertarian case for withdrawing civil recognition of marriage altogether (though I would not endorse it); hardly for extending it still further.

re: "Finally, I don't see how you can have small government and low deficits while cutting taxes."

If you make the government small enough, you can cut taxes and still keep the deficit down. Whether Republicans would do that even if they controlled all three branches of government is questionable. With only one legislative chamber under their control, they probably can't do it yet.

nato

Nathan is honest enough to say that medicare, social security, and perhaps even defense need some cuts, so I think his math is probably sound on this issue. Whatever else his faults, Nathan isn't a doctrinaire party hack who will ignore the obvious for political reasons. I also don't see him as being particularly focused on social policy except insofar as one considers excluding immigrants a 'social' choice. I do think #5 is unfair, but it's also true in the sense that Democrats indeed had congress for those years. I'm happy to poke back with the Bush years, which is similarly unfair when similarly divorced from an analysis of who had responsibility for what during the years. It would perhaps be easier to allocate de facto responsibility to 2003-2006 and 2009-2010 when one party or the other controlled both active branches of government, but even that is a bit dubious.

Also, the Dems underperformed with respect to economic indicators. If they'd lost 50 seats I would have shrugged my shoulders and said "that's just what you'd expect" but they lost a fair bit more than that. I still doubt this is really a verdict on healthcare, but it doesn't seem to be the null case: there's something to be explained.

nato

@Nathan: "this was clearly more than just the usual midterm loss for the ruling party"

We should expect it to be, as economic conditions are much worse than usual. However, the historical models would predict 45-50 seats lost (more than the average of ~35), so economic conditions are still insufficient to explain House losses. Oddly, the Senate performed a little better than predicted for Democrats, which is probably entirely a result of the Tea Party. I think the Tea Party might have had a similarly destructive influence on the GOP's results in the House, except that voter in House midterm races tend to be either more extreme or have less information, so any tea party wackiness would be less pronounced.

Nathan Smith

This kind of "model" is a bit question-begging. Are we to assume that the bad economy is simply an exogenous factor that has nothing to do with politics, yet impacts the way people vote through their mood, or something? Or does lousy political leadership tend to cause the economy to perform poorly, and voters perceive this and punish it? If the latter is the case, you will of course observe a correlation between the performances of the economy and of the ruling party at the polls, but that doesn't in the slightest degree justify dismissing electoral defeats as merely reflecting the bad economy, rather than repudiating the ruling party and its policies.

Nato

Of course they're not independent variables, but surveys of lead me to believe that most voters just assume that the government is responsible for almost everything, regardless of facts. Thus, their votes could be regarded as a 'verdict' on the *state* of things, but not so much on *policy*. Some voters think things are bad because the government is doing too much, others think it's because the government isn't doing enough, and others think it's because the government is doing the wrong things, but they all seem to agree that the government is the prime mover. I don't, of course, wish to globally deny governmental causality of any of the three kinds above, but I think the idea that the government is the fulcrum of the world is pretty unfortunate as well as overplayed in most cases.

None of which really denies Nathan's objections to the simplistic models. I just think the models are probably the most useful tool a political science perspective to try and tease out when there are likely to be interpretable departures from the null case.

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