Category Archives: Politics

Public Pension Funds Perform Better When They Keep Politics at Bay

Source: Simon C.Y. Wong, Harvard Business Review, July 19, 2016

….Interference by elected officials — from imposition of local economic development obligations to excessive constraints on head count and compensation that impede recruitment of talented staff — has contributed to poor investment choices, higher total costs, diminished organizations, and disappointing performance at some institutions…..

The Long Shadow of Bush v. Gore: Judicial Partisanship in Election Cases

Source: Michael S. Kang, Joanna Shepherd, Stanford Law Review, Vol. 69, 2016

From the abstract:
Bush v. Gore decided the 2000 presidential election and is still the most dramatic election case of our lifetime, but cases like it are decided every year at the state level. American law leaves it to ordinary common-law courts to regularly decide questions of election rules and administration that effectively decide electoral outcomes hanging immediately in the balance. Election cases like Bush v. Gore embody a fundamental worry with judicial determination of these cases: outcome-driven, partisan judicial decisionmaking. This Article investigates whether judges decide cases, particularly political sensitive ones, based on their partisan loyalties. It presents a novel method to isolate the raw partisan motivations of judges and identifies their partisan loyalty, as opposed to their ideology, by studying decisions in a special category of cases almost entirely about partisan loyalty — candidate-litigated election disputes. The Article finds that Republican judges display greater partisan loyalty than Democratic judges in election cases where ideology is not a significant consideration. This result is not a function of selection methods, with both elected and appointed judges behaving similarly, but it is partially a function of party campaign finance for elected Republican judges, with party loyalty increasing with party money received. However, the effect of party campaign finance disappears for more visible election cases and largely disappears for retiring judges in their final term. What is more, partisan loyalty is reduced when state supreme court elections have recently featured more campaign attack advertising. These findings give reason to re-think judicial resolution of election disputes that require impartial, nonpartisan settlement and offer new insight into judicial partisanship as a more general matter.

Partisan Justice: How Campaign Money Politicizes Judicial Decisionmaking in Election Cases

Source: Joanna M. Shepherd and Michael S. Kang, American Constitution Society, 2016

From the press release:
A new study by independent researchers at Emory Law School finds that the upward spiral of big money fundraising and aggressive politics in state judicial elections pressures judges to become partisan actors who favor their own party in deciding election disputes. Bush v. Gore is by far the most famous of this kind of election case, but state courts decide many similar cases every year, regularly determining who wields power at the state and local level. State judges are under enormous political pressure to join in party-based fundraising and campaign networks to survive what has become a fiercely competitive electoral environment. Analyzing a new dataset of cases from 2005 to 2014, Partisan Justice finds that state court judges are systematically biased by these types of campaign finance and re-election influences to help their party’s candidates win office and favor their party’s interests in election disputes. It provides the first systematic evidence of the hidden influence of raw partisanship and party campaign finance on judicial decision-making in these election disputes.

Especially troubling is that here is little reason to believe that partisanship influences judges only in election cases. If judges are influenced, consciously or not, by party loyalty in election cases, they are likely tempted to do so in other types of cases as well, even if it is methodologically difficult to prove the role partisanship plays. The study, titled Partisan Justice, likely exposes just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Partisan Justice Principal Findings:
Judges favor litigants from their own party in head-to-head cases. …..
Campaign finance exacerbates partisan behavior. …..
Judges are less likely to be partisan when they no longer need to run for office. …..
The problem of partisan decision making is arguably getting worse over time. …..
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Random stuff like the weather sways voters

Source: Jim Patterson, Futurity, June 24, 2016

A new book suggests something as random as an election-year drought or flood can decide whether the incumbent or challenger wins the election.

“Election outcomes are mostly random events shaped by things like whether the economy happened to grow in the few months before the election,” says Larry M. Bartels, chair of public policy and social science at Vanderbilt University and coauthor of Democracy for Realists: Why Elections do not Produce Responsive Governments. ….

Other findings
– People often inherit their partisan loyalties from their parents, or they develop because of passion for one particular issue.
– Southerners in the 1960s and 1970s shifted from Democrat to Republican mostly out of their loyalties to being southern, not their views about civil rights.
– Voters typically like to alternate a top job such as president between the competing parties. The longer the incumbent party has held the White House, the less likely they are to win another term…..

Institutional Investors and Corporate Political Activism

Source: Rui A. Albuquerque, Zicheng Lei, Jörg Rocholl, Chendi Zhang, Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP11301, May 2016
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
The landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission asserts for the first time that corporations benefit from First Amendment protection regarding freedom of speech in the form of independent political expenditures, thus creating a new avenue for political activism. This paper studies how corporations adjusted their political activism in response to this ruling. The paper presents evidence consistent with the hypothesis that institutional investors, in particular public pension funds, have a preference for not using the new avenue for political activism, a preference not shared by other investors.

The power of economic interests and the congressional economic policy agenda

Source: Peter K. Enns, Nathan J. Kelly, Jana Morgan, Christopher Witko, Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Working Paper 2016-07, July 2016

From the abstract:
While there is an oft-noted “bias” toward upper income groups in the U.S. organized interest system, it is debatable whether this bias matters very much since many studies find that lobbying and campaign contributions have a limited effect on policy outcomes. How bias may shape which economic problems are addressed or neglected in the first place has seldom been studied, however. We argue that in order to receive resources from organized interests members of Congress must “signal” their support for these interests by discussing the economic problems that they prioritize. Because there is upper class bias in the interest system this process produces disproportionate congressional attention to the economic problems of greatest concern to upper income interests and a relative neglect of economic problems that concern other groups. To examine this argument we develop measures of attention to various economic problems using congressional speech in the Congressional Record from 1995-2012. We find that during this period of relatively high upper class bias in the interest system there was a great deal of attention to the concerns of the wealthy, and far less attention to some of the concerns of lower income groups. At the microlevel, using a difference-in-differences analysis we observe that when individual MCs become more reliant on the resources of upper income interests they subsequently discuss the problems prioritized by these interests more.

Mobilizing Political Information on the Websites of U.S. Labor: Organizations during the 2012 Presidential Campaign

Source: Clark F. Greer and Kurt D. Moreland, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 41 no. 2, June 2016
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This study examined the extent to which mobilizing information (MI) was present on the websites of the largest, national U.S. labor unions during the 2012 presidential campaign. Using a content analysis, results showed that information and features associated with the election were scarce on the sites. The websites exhibited modest amounts of tactical MI associated with the presidential election. Locational and identificational MI were almost nonexistent on the sites. In addition, analyses showed that size of union was related to the number of features on the sites.

Drawing the Line: How redistricting turned America from blue to red

Source: Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, June 27, 2016

…Two of the most common gerrymandering techniques are “packing” and “cracking.” In the first, the party in charge of redistricting tries to “pack” voters from the rival party into as few districts as possible, to minimize the number of seats the opposition is likely to win. In the second, blocs of opposition voters are parcelled out among several districts, to achieve the same goal.

Both techniques were brought to bear in Pennsylvania. The new Republican majority “packed” blue-leaning voters into a handful of districts around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Then it “cracked” the rest into districts that tilted red.

The original gerrymander—named for Massachusetts’ ninth governor, Elbridge Gerry—was a sinuous blob that wound around Boston. (“The Gerry-Mander: A new species of Monster” read the headline over a cartoon of the district that ran in the March 26, 1812, edition of the Boston Gazette.) Among the misshapen districts to emerge from Pennsylvania’s 2011 redistricting plan is one Daley describes as looking “like a horned antelope barrelling down a hill on a sled.” …. So skillfully were the lines drawn that in 2012—when President Obama carried Pennsylvania by three hundred thousand votes and the state’s Democratic congressional candidates collectively outpolled their G.O.P. rivals by nearly a hundred thousand votes—Republicans still won thirteen of Pennsylvania’s eighteen seats in the U.S. House of Representatives…..

….As far as the upcoming election is concerned, a redmap victory seems almost guaranteed. In House races in 2012, 1.7 million more votes were cast for Democrats than for Republicans. And still, thanks to the way those votes were packed and cracked, Republicans came away with thirty-three more congressional seats. A Trumpocalypse, if such a thing is possible, could put seemingly safe districts in play. But few pundits see that as likely…..

The IRS, Politics, and Income Inequality

Source: Leandra Lederman, Tax Notes, Vol. 150, No. 11, 2016

From the abstract:     
The IRS is in crisis. In recent years, Congress has cut its budget significantly, piled on the workload, and conducted oversight hearings that were often quite partisan. The IRS needs more funding to carry out its mission. For that, it needs Congressional support. Unfortunately, bashing the IRS generally scores political points, while supporting tax collectors does not. However, research suggests that inadequate enforcement of a progressive tax system may actually increase income inequality. Accordingly, Congressional supporters of progressive taxation should use the fight against rising income inequality as a rhetorical tool to help the IRS receive more balanced treatment.

Politically Polarized, Ideologically … Complicated: Mapping America’s Ideological Terrain, Part 1

Source: Joshua Mendelsohn, Michael Pollard, RAND, Research Reports, Document Number: RR-1625-RC, 2016

….Demographics—the personal and ideological characteristics of voters—matter. For example, Hillary Clinton polls very well with female voters, while Donald Trump has a staggering lead among voters who hold a negative view of immigration. However, no characteristic or belief accounts for 100 percent of a person’s vote; all personal characteristics and beliefs play a part in shaping a person’s choices. For example, among respondents who supported a candidate in the most recent wave of the RAND Presidential Election Panel Survey (PEPS), women were more likely to support Democratic candidates. Even so, they had only a 60-percent chance of supporting a Democrat, not a 100-percent chance. Moreover, certain subgroups of women had a very high chance of supporting Republicans. For example, women who supported building a fence along the Mexican border had only a 26-percent chance of favoring a Democratic candidate. While demographics matter, no single category is enough to describe the complexity of a person—or that person’s likely voting behavior….