Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Video of Forum on Presidential Nomination Calendar

Streaming video of yesterday's CCPS Forum on the Presidential Nomination Calendar is available via C-Span here. It was an interesting panel that was definitely worth watching. Congratulations to Jim Thurber, the CCPS staff, and especially Alicia Prevost, who was instrumental in planning and organizing the panel.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Does Hillary Clinton Overcome Gender Stereotypes?

One of the major challenges that women candidates confront when running for office is the way that they are stereotyped by the public. Political science research tends to demonstrate that women candidates are viewed as more compassionate and passive than their male counterparts. These perceptions tend to persist even when women candidates work to portray themselves as tough and aggressive. The problem this may pose for women candidates is that citizens may prefer their politicians have more "masculine" traits, particularly politicians running to be president in a post-9/11 climate.

That is why a recent Pew report stood out so much to me. By this account, Hillary Clinton appears to have overcome gender stereotypes by a wide margin, at least among Democrats. As the figure here shows, two-thirds of Democrats associate Clinton with the personality trait of "tough." This far outpaces any other candidate in either party. And not only has Clinton claimed the "tough" personality trait, but she also seems to not be linked to the traits that women candidates are generally stereotyped with. Only one-third of Democrats associated Clinton with "compassionate," 28% with "down-to-earth," and 22% with "friendly."

Of course, it is not neccessarily a good thing to be "tough" but not also "compassionate" or "down-to-earth." After all, President Bush attempted to soften his image by calling himself a "compassionate conservative" and much of Bill Clinton's success was attributed to his "down-to-earth" personality. It also may not be all that notable that Hillary Clinton has managed to eschew traditional gender stereotypes. After all, people tend to use stereotypes to draw conclusions about candidates they know little about. But Clinton is well-known by the public, so they need not rely on stereotypes when evaluating her. Nevertheless, it may still be significant that Hillary Clinton has managed to project such a "tough" image, as it may make it more difficult for opponents to raise doubts about her.

Special Event Announcement - CCPS Forum on the Presidential Nominating Calendar

James A. Thurber, Director of the Center for Congressional and
Presidential Studies invites you to a Forum on the Presidential
Nominating Calendar

Monday, October 29, 2007
4:00 PM
HC-8 in the U.S. Capitol Building (Please note the new location.)

The presidential primary campaign season is in full swing, but the
dates of the first primaries and caucuses are still uncertain. As
states continue to jockey for calendar positions in violation of
national party rules, we propose a discussion on what role, if any,
Congress should play in bringing order to the presidential nominating
system. Panelists Include:

Rep. David Price, D-NC and co-chair, DNC Commission on Presidential
Nomination Timing and Scheduling

Rep. Sander Levin, D-MI and sponsor of HR 1523, "Interregional
Presidential Primary and Caucus Act of 2007"

Dotty Lynch, CBS News Political Consultant and Executive-in-Residence,
American University

David Norcross, chair, RNC Standing Committee on the Rules

Professor James A. Thurber
Director, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies
American University

Space is limited. Please RSVP by Friday, October 26 to
Andrew Maletz at maletz@american.edu

Friday, October 19, 2007

Stephen Colbert: the savior of democracy?

Continuing our completely serious and academic coverage of Stephen Colbert's candidacy in the South Carolina primary, Dr. Schaffner's post yesterday contained an implication that is worth exploring. Perhaps it's only worth exploring for those of us who are taking the political science master's comprehensive exam here at AU next week (as the recent studying for this exam is the only reason I am able to draw upon this literature), but I digress.

Summarizing a part of the Pew study, Dr. Schaffner pointed out that viewers of Colbert's show (and the Daily Show) on average are both younger and have more formal education than the wider population. Viewers of Colbert's show also scored better on the political knowledge test than other survey respondents. Further down in the study, we discover evidence for something we probably already assumed - that the audience of comedy news shows tends to be more Democratic than Republican. So the Pew study indicates a significant correlation between level of political knowledge and watching Colbert's show. We know that this correlation is positive - higher levels of knowledge are associated with the regular watching of the program. This begs the question, however - what is the causal relationship here? Which is the dependent variable? Do people watch Colbert's show because they are more politically aware, or are they more politically aware because they watch Colbert's show?

Dr. Schaffner (whether intentionally or not) seems to imply the former - that young, educated people watch Colbert's show because they are political informed. Politically informed citizens are more likely to consume news in general - they are more interested in it, and their interest puts them in the position to receive this information more often. These comments are in line with the narrative of the Pew study (after a quick review of it), as it also implies this causal relationship.

To someone who is busily studying for the Voting Behavior question on a poli sci master's comp, these implications loudly smack of...(drum roll please)...John Zaller, God of information processing (here is his book, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion). It's all part of Zaller's RAS model, which is a model that explains how individuals process information and form opinions (in my opinion, his model really only explains why people respond to survey questions the way they do - which is interesting and useful, but not necessarily generalizable to the greater opinion-forming process - but that's a post for another day). The first two axioms are relevant here. Zaller says that the first step to information processing is reception: the greater a person's level of cognitive engagement with an issue, the more likely they are to receive political messages concerning it. In other words, if a person is politically engaged, they are more likely to put themselves in the path of political messages - ie, more likely to turn on news, open a newspaper, read a blog, etc. Sounding familiar? Zaller's second axiom is also relevant: the resistance axiom says that, upon receiving political messages, people will resist arguments that are inconsistent with their political predispositions, but only when they know how to connect the messages to the predispositions. This has an interesting implication for Colbert's show specifically, because we could consider it to have a double message. For those who are knowledgeable enough to "get" Colbert's jokes, they receive his intended message of cynicism and criticism, and they watch it because they are inclined to agree. For those not knowledgeable in this area, they could conceivably receive the same messages that they would receive watching the shows that Colbert intends to mock.

Anyway, what if the causal relationship goes the other way? What if Colbert's viewers are more politically informed because they watch his show? I am a member of the "MySpace Generation" (though I prefer Facebook) who freely admits that often the Daily Show and Colbert Report are my only sources of news. And that admission is from someone who lives in DC and works in and studies politics. Of course, I have literature to site here as well. Matthew Baum suggests in his article "Sex, Lies, and War: How Soft News Brings Foreign Policy to the Inattentive Public" that "soft news" could be "democratizing" our political process. Baum does not mention comedy news shows in his description and definition of soft news - the article was published in 2002, using data from previous years, so it would have been too early for the rise in popularity of these shows. However, what else would we call shows like the Colbert Report? Baum's main definition of soft news is programming that people watch to be entertained. I would consider Colbert's show to fit this bill. After explaining the characteristics and pervasiveness of soft news, Baum shows that exposure to soft news is positively and significantly associated with attentiveness to political events (he looks specifically at foreign crises). His theory is that by reducing the cognitive costs of receiving and accepting (to use Zaller's terms) political messages, soft news is able to inform people who would otherwise not be informed. Hence the title of this post: are people like Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart saviors of democracy, informing the masses with their humorous, yet still educational, programming? Or are people who are already educated flocking to these programs precisely because of their political awareness?

I have no doubt that any one of the staff members of CCPS would be more than happy to discuss this conundrum...say, with candidate Colbert, live on the Colbert Report? Just a thought....

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Do South Carolina Primary Voters Live in Colbert Nation?

With Stephen Colbert officially announcing that he will run in both parties' South Carolina primaries, it is time to consider whether his run will produce anything more than just laughs.

If we assume that the Colbert constituency is roughly equivalent to his regular viewers, then we may be able to get a little insight into what this group is like using a recent Pew report.

In this survey, 16% of respondents reported that they regulalry watch "...shows like the Colbert Report or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." Interestingly, 31% of this group has a college degree and one-in-four is under the age of 30. Thus, Colbert/Daily Show watchers appear to have slightly more formal education than the population and they are significantly younger. They also tend to be much more politically informed than American citizens more generally. Pew asked respondents 23 questions about politics and while only about one-third of Americans got at least 15 of those questions right, more than half of the Colbert/Daily Show audience scored that highly.

So, Colbert's potential constituency is younger citizens with high levels of political knowledge (his audience is also slightly more male than the population). On one hand, we know that younger Americans are much less likely to vote than their older counterparts. This pattern is even more pronounced in primary elections. On the other hand, high levels of political knowledge are often associated with higher levels of political activity, including an increased propensity to vote. Perhaps more important is the fact that citizens who know more about politics tend to feel more strongly about it as well. This leads to perhaps the biggest hurdle that Colbert faces in trying to pick up South Carolina delegates for either (or both) parties' conventions: will his viewers, who likely care more about politics than others, really be willing to cast their ballots for a candidate whose candidacy is largely a joke?

Military Donors

By way of Hotline, there is an interesting story in the Houston Chronicle today examining how much money the presidential candidates have raised from donors affiliated with the military. The Chronicle notes that Ron Paul has raised more than any other candidate from military donors, while Barack Obama places second. I would hesitate to draw any conclusions from where the small amount of military donations have gone, but it is an interesting read and a good example of the kinds of questions you can investigate with FEC data.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Does Ron Paul Have Momentum?

One of the big stories out of the presidential campaign last week was Ron Paul's 3rd quarter fundraising total--somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million (official numbers come out next week). While this amount doesn't quite compare with the piles of dough being raked in by Clinton and Obama, it is roughly the same as what once-frontrunner John McCain reportedly raised during the same period. The fact that Paul was able to raise such a sum during this 3-month period gives him the type of credibility with the news media that a candidate like Kucinich has always struggled to attain. If you want evidence of this, simply turn your attention to the National Journal's Campaign 2008 website. Every other week, the experts at National Journal rank the candidate's from the Democratic or Republican field. A few weeks ago, the experts had essentially banished Paul to the bottom of the ratings. But this week, they have placed him up at #5, just behind John McCain and above Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback (the experts have banished Kucinich and Gravel from the Democratic ratings altogether). In ranking Paul fifth, the National Journal notes, "Look who's crashing the party! His $5 million is impressive because no one on the GOP side is raising BIG bucks."

But is Paul really a force to be reckoned with in this race? Apparently he is in cyberspace, at least. Following the most recent Republican debate, Paul's supporters apparently flooded the media's online polls which, as a result, overwhelmingly showed him winning the debate, despite the fact that he actually received the least amount of air time of any candidate on the stage (some outlets took down their polls because of this activity). Nobody doubts that Paul's supporters are as web savvy as any candidate's followers on the Republican side. But to build on his impressive showing in 3rd quarter fundraising and make a real splash with the traditional media, Paul will have to make a move in the polls somewhere. I'd say his best shot is in New Hampshire, which has a libertarian tradition. There may be some New Hampshire Republicans who were unwilling to support Paul when they thought he had little shot at succeeding. But now that Paul has shown he can at least raise some dough, will those Republicans give him some support in the polls? The polling over the next couple of months should tell us all we need to know. (Of course, his first hurdle is just being listed at all on the Pollster.com graphics).

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

4 Dems Back Out of Michigan Primary

More changes to the primary calendar happened yesterday when 4 Democrats - Edwards, Obama, Richardson, and Biden - withdrew their names from Michigan's January 15 primary ballot. See Kit Seelye's acticle in the New York Times for quotes from the Clinton camp on why she is keeping her name on the ballot, along with Chris Dodd:


This means that at least for the Democrats, the January 15 primary in Michigan is meaningless, and the Michigan Democratic Party is now more likely to hold its originally planned party-run caucus on February 9.

Yesterday's action in Michigan could also make it more likely that New Hampshire and Iowa will stay put on their currently assigned dates, January 22 for New Hamshire and January 14 for Iowa. New Hampshire and Iowa's decision to move might depend on what happens with Michigan Republicans, and if they decide to use the January 15 primary or hold their own party-run process later that does not run afoul of the rules.

The legislation that moved Michigan's primary to January 15 (in violation of both DNC and RNC rules) includes a provision that requires the secretary of state to cancel the primary if no political party uses the election for the purpose of selecting delegates for its national convention - which seems to mean that parties cannot use the election as a "beauty contest." Each political party state chair must report to the Michigan Secretary or State by November 14 whether they will use the January 15 primary for selecting delegates. Will Michigan Republicans stand on their own against Iowa and New Hampshire?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Primary Calendar Still Changing

There are rumors that Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada could all be moving to an earlier date in the calendar. It is no surprise that New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner wants to keep his hand hidden until the last possible moment, to prevent more states from leapfrogging ahead, but NH party leaders were quoted saying they expected the primary to be moved to January 8 (from its current Jan 22 date). This would be one week before Michigan's January 15 primary, which would bring New Hampshire into compliance with its own state laws.

But a January 8 date for New Hampshire would likely cause Iowa to move to an earlier date (from its current Jan 14), since Iowa law says that the caucuses must occur at least a week before any other contest. A January 1 caucus date would bring Iowa into compliance with its state law, but it is unlikely that Iowa party leaders will choose to hold caucuses on the holiday. Instead, the likely date disucssed last weekend (as reported in yesterday's Hotline's Wake-Up Call) was January 3 - a Thursday, which will give just enough distance before New Hampshire, but will still be in the calendar year of the election.

Would anyone even notice at this point if Nevada moved its Democratic caucusus too? Well the Hotline reported yesterday that Nevada Dems migt move a week earlier from the prime spot given to them by the DNC, to January 12. If that happens, it makes it even more likely that Iowa will move to an earlier date such as January 3, 4 or 5.