Friday, August 31, 2007

Live Blogging from the APSA Meeting (Post #2)

Arthur Lupia gave an interesting presentation earlier on what is a compelling topic. The bottom line, your stocks aren't doing as well as you think they are, but you don't realize that because the news media isn't connecting the dots for you. You can read the paper here...very interesting.

Live blogging from the APSA meeting in Chicago...

CCPS fellow Maryann Barakso has been named to the executive council of the Political Organizations and Parties section of APSA. Congratulations to Maryann.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee votes to sanction Florida

After an impassioned speech by Donna Brazile in defense of the Democratic Party's rules, the RBC voted to find Florida's delegate selection plan to be non-compliant. This means that the state Democratic Party will be barred from participating in the January 29 primary. Instead, the state party will have to hold caucuses on some date later than February 4.

Florida's defense: the problems with holding caucuses

Representatives of the Florida Democratic Party are here to plead their case before the RBC, begging forgiveness for not being able to stop the state legislation that changed the date of the primary to January 29, and asking permission to be granted an official waiver from the calendar rule. If the RBC finds the Florida plan in non-compliance, the Florida state party will be forced to hold caucuses sometime after the opening of the window (February 5). The FL state party is arguing that it would be really hard to pull together caucuses - they have to find caucus locations, staff the caucus locations, educate Democratic voters about the caucus process, and print ballots (and we know how good those Floridians are at printing ballots...) If the state party has to hold caucuses, turnout will be much lower than it would in the state run primary, and voters will be confused. A similar situation occurred in Arizona in 2000, when John McCain was running for president and the Republicans in the state helped move the date of the primary to February 2, in the hopes of giving their homestate senator a momentum boost. But February 2 was before the opening of the DNC window, and so the RBC told the AZ Democratic party that they had to hold their own contest (which was a party-run primary) at a later date. They did, and turnout was much lower than any state-run primary, even though Arizona Democrats introduced the use of Internet voting. Michael Alvarez and Jonathan Nagler have a great paper that goes over some of the issues involved in the 2000 Arizona primary (with a specific focus on the effects of Internet voting)

Florida has some ballot issues that are supposed to be on the Jan. 29 primary ballot, and low turnout could effect those measures.

The Florida Dem Party makes a strong argument that the DNC should not be disenfranchising Florida voters by boycotting the Jan. 29 primary and forcing a caucus at a later date. But at the same time, there has to be a point at which the leapfrogging to the front of the calendar stops.

Congressional influence: while this a DNC committee meeting, and Congress has no real role in the presidential nominating process (it is run by the national political parties and the state legislatures), the influence of Congress can be seen in the room. Staffers are in the audience from Senator Reid's office (he represents Nevada - one of the new "early" states, and Reid very much wants to protect the new importance of Nevada's place in the calendar) and Senator Levin's office (from Michigan - another state that wants to move early, like Florida).

Florida's effect on New Hampshire

A few words from guest blogger Marc Schloss, another former RBC staff member: What will Florida mean for New Hampshire, should the RBC allow Florida to hold its first determining step on January 29? Will NH Secretary of State Gardner move up the date of their primary regardless of today's actions? That is the question. Therefore, why not allow a very important southern state to the Democratic Party to move up? Well, then what stops North Carolina, Georgia, etc? The 1,000 lb gorilla in the room though as always in NH. As it seems, NH may move up, as may Iowa and therefore, regardless of whether Florida moves up, we may very well have a nominee before candidates have an oportunity to go to Joe's Stone Crab on Miami Beach.
The RBC does have rules though. By allowing Florida to hold it's primary before the window the RBC is essentially allowing to say the rules apply to all, except, well Florida. This is a dangerous precedent to an already frightfully early nominating process.

DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee Meeting

Today I'm posting from the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) meeting, where the committee members are expected to vote on whether to punish Florida for scheduling its primary before the opening of the authorized "window." A front page story in today's Washington Post describes what is expected to happen here today: DNC May Deny Florida Slots at '08 Convention

The RBC has some well-known and influential members, including Harold Ickes (top advisor to Hillary Clinton's campaign, former deputy chief of staff to Bill Clinton, Donna Brazile (Al Gore's campaign manager), Don Fowler (former DNC chair and former SC Dem Party chair), James Roosevelt Jr (FDR's grandson and the longtime chair of the RBC, and Alexis Herman (former Secretary of Labor). The full DNC is likely to follow whatever the RBC recommends.

The RBC is responsible for approving each state's Delegate Selection Plan. The committee holds several meetings during the year before a presidential election to review each state's plan and approve or deny various waivers to the extensive rules for selecting delegates. (Here is a link to the 2008 Delegate Selection Rules). The rules cover everything from when a state can hold its primary or caucus (which is typically the first stage of a state's delegate selection process) to the break down of men and women in a state's delegation (it must be equally divided between men and women).

Blogger's full disclosure: I was a DNC staff member during the 2004 presidential election cycle, and I served as a staff member to this committee. My first job was to advise the state democratic parties on preparing their delegate selection plans, so that they would be in compliance with the rules, and then my second job was to advise the RBC members on how they should vote on a state's plan or waiver request.

Right now, the RBC is hearing the requests for waivers from various delegate selection plans. Most of the requests are pretty routine - a state might have a deadline for applying for a delegate position that is earlier than the deadline specified by the national party rules. But the hot topic today is how to deal with violations of the calendar rule. Currently the rules specify that any state holding a primary or caucus before February 5 (except Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina - the 4 states the get special permission to hold early contests) wil be penalized. The RBC staff has reccommended that the Florida waiver request be denied and that their plan be found non-compliant with the rules. That means the Florida Democratic Party would be forced to hold a seperate nominating contest and not participate in the January 29 state primary.

Next up is the discussion of what to do with Florida.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Calendar Craziness

For anyone who has been following the continuously changing presidential nominating calendar, this week has not been disappointing. Michigan has become the latest state to announce plans to leapfrog earlier - all the way to January 15, before New Hampshire's currently scheduled date (Jan 22) and Florida's (Jan 29). On Tuesday, The Washington Post provided this graphic showing the ripple effects this could have on the other early states:

A quick primer for those who may not understand what all the fuss is about. The attempts by Michigan, Florida, South Carolina and other states to move to the front of the calendar (called "frontloading," since it loads the primaries and caucuses at the front of the nominating calendar) is against the rules of the Democratic and Republican parties. Both parties have attempted to ease frontloading by creating rules that protect the status of Iowa and New Hampshire at the front of the calendar - the first caucus and primary in the nation. The DNC voted last year to add Nevada and South Carolina to the front of the calendar, to inject some diversity into the lineup of the "first in the nation" states. So the DNC rules allowed those four early states - IA, NV, NH, SC - to hold their primaries and caucuses in January, then any othre state could choose a date on or after February 5. But then the Florida legislature decided to move the state's primary to January 29, and then South Carolina Republicans decided to move their primary to January 19. These moves might cause New Hampshire to move to January 8, and Iowa to January 1 - or even into December (although the Iowa governer has said he won't do that).

The DNC is holding a meeting of its Rules and Bylaws Committee on Saturday morning, where they will decide what to do with these overly ambitous states. The current rules that govern the delegate selection process for the Dem's 2008 nomination ( - I'll try to find and post an official DNC link to the rules and other official docs) specifically call for sanctions against candidates who campaign in states that violate the official opening of the calendar (Feb 5). But it is pretty clear that some states don't care about the threatened sanctions... so the DNC is trying to decide what to do.

The meeting is on Saturday, August 25, 10:00 am at the Capital Hilton in Washington, DC.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Comment: ethics reform

Dr. Thurber wrote an editorial that appeared in the Financial Times yesterday. You can read it here.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Satisfied Customers?

There has been some recent attention to the fact that Fred Thompson's impending campaign is largely being driven by the fact that Republicans are mostly not satisfied with the candidates they presently have to choose from. For example, a July CBS/New York Times Poll asked citizens that expect to vote in the Democratic and Republican primaries whether they were "generally satisfied with the candidates now running" or if they wished they had "more choices." While 61% of potential Democratic primary voters were satisfied with their choices, only 36% Republicans were satisfied with their field of candidates. 60% of Republicans wish they had more choices.

(One interesting note regarding the Democratic numbers is that 68% of Democratic women are satisfied with the choices while only 52% of men feel the same way. That is a pretty substantial gender gap.)

To get some perspective on these numbers, I did a little searching over previous campaigns. The first thing I discovered is that this question has not been asked all that frequently in the past, particularly during the year before the election. Curiously, I could locate no questions on this leading up to the 2000 nomination campaigns.

Nevertheless, it is worth taking a look at what was available.

The only time I could find this asked of Republican voters in a previous campaign was the lead up to the 1996 election. Robert Dole, Lamar Alexander, Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes, Phil Gramm, Richard Lugar, Arlen Specter, Pete Wilson, and Alan Keyes were among the candidates who were in the race at some point during 1995. In November, 1995, 57% of Republicans were satisfied with the candidates while 39% wanted more choices. So, Republicans were far more pleased with their choices then than they are right now. Then again, a year later, Bob Dole would lose the general election decisively.

The figure here compares the satisfaction percentages for Democrats for this year with those in 1991 and 2003. Note that Democrats are far more pleased with their choices this year than they were at roughly similar points in 1991 and 2003. In fact, in 1991, Democrats were not the least bit pleased with their choices--nearly 2 of every 3 Democrats were wishing for more choices in October of that year. This was not surprising since few well-known candidates had come forward to challenge an incumbent president with high approval ratings. In the end, an Arkansas governor captured the nomination and most Democrats ended up being fairly satisfied with their choice.

Perhaps the 1991 Democratic numbers and the 1995 Republican figures demonstrate why one shouldn't make too much of the present dissatisfaction that Republicans have with their choices. After all, a lot can change in the course of a year.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Public Opinion on the Parties

As promised, I've got more from the recent Pew data release. Examining how citizens feel about the political parties can be a fairly important endeavor not just for understanding how things stand now, but also to get a sense of which party is presently favored heading into the 2008 elections.

The figure below presents the percentage of the public that has a favorable rating of both the Demcoratic and Republican parties. The series runs from July 1992 through the most recent Pew survey (July 2007).

The percentage of the public that has a favorable view of the Republican Party has steadily dropped from a high of 63% in April, 2003 to the 39% that presently rate the party favorably. In fact, the 39% for July, 2007 is the lowest rating for the entire period. The previous low for Republicans was 44% in January, 1999 (this was when the party was suffering backlash from the impeachment of President Clinton). While the Democratic Party is doing a bit better than Republicans with 51% presently holding a favorable impression, they are also near their own low point for the period. The previous low mark for the Democratic Party's favorability ratings was 47% just a year ago (July, 2006). Thus, even though Democrats are doing a bit better than Republicans in the public's eye, neither party is particularly popular with the public when compared with views of the past 15 years.

It is also informative to get a sense of stong feelings toward the parties. To do this, we can plot the percentage of the public that has very favorable or very unfavorable feelings toward the parties. First, let's take a look at those who feel very unfavorable.

Generally, over the past 15 years, only a small share of the public (between one-in-four and one-in-five) has had a strong distaste for one or both of the parties. However, in the most recent polling, those taken since the 2004 election, at least one-in-three have had a very unfavorable impression of one party or the other. Republicans are clearly more unpopular among those with strong feelings. In the July, 2007 survey, just over one in every five adults (22%) had a very unfavorable view of the Republican Party. The very unfavorable ratings for the Republican Party have been hovering in the 20-25% range ever since President Bush's second inauguration in January, 2005.

Finally, it is instructive to look at the percent of the public that has a very favorable view of each party. Those with very favorable views are somewhat less common than those with very unfavorable views. In the July, 2007 poll, only 7% reported a very favorable view of the Republican Party and 13% had a very favorable view of Democrats. The 7% for Republicans matches, again, their previous low point during this series, which occurred in February, 1999. The Decline has been fairly steady from the 18% that held a very favorable view of the Republican Party in December, 2002. The percentage of Americans feeling very favorable toward the Democratic Party has remained fairly stable around 15% for most of this series.

So, what to make of this. Well, these findings largely confirm what Pew has told us in an earlier report--American public opinion appears to be swinging back in the direction of the Democratic Party. This obviously helped Democrats capture Congress in 2006, and many political onlookers think that it is likely to propel them into the White House in 2008. Of course, it is still far too early to make predictions on the presidential campaign, but things do appear to be better for the Democrats right now than they are for Republicans. But my use of the word "better" is important. Neither party is doing particularly well with the public. The percent having very favorable feelings toward both parties is down, and the percent having very unfavorable views is up. Democrats may be doing better, but neither party is particularly popular with a significant share of the public. Does this mean that the public is ready for a Bloomberg run? What I'd really like to see is what percentage of the public has unfavorable (or very unfavorable) views toward both parties (the information released by Pew doesn't give that information). This would be the potential constituency for a Bloomberg candidacy.

Another interesting thing that these poll results lead one to consider is how the Democratic-controlled congress will act when they return from the August recess. Do they force a showdown with the president over Iraq, the budget, funding for infrastructure, etc.? At this point, the president has little to lose. His approval ratings probably can't go much lower and he isn't running for reelection (nor does he seem particularly attached to any of the Republicans who are running). Democrats, on the other hand, risk driving up their unfavorable ratings and diminishing the advantage they currently enjoy over Republicans. According to Pew, the public is relatively split on how far Republicans should go in challenging Bush's policies in Iraq. 29% think they are going too far, 38% say they are not going far enough, and 24% say they are about right in how far they have gone. So, do they mount a serious challenge to Bush (one that involves war funding), and risk the backlash that could result? Do they continue to bring up votes for timelines and blame Republicans and Bush for obstructing their efforts to end the war? I have to say that, strategically, based on these poll numbers, the Democrats have some choices to make and it will be interesting to see what they do.

Friday, August 3, 2007

The Supreme Court and the Debates: New Pew Survey Report Out

I'm a big fan of most of Pew's projects, but particularly the Research Center for the People and the Press. The survey reports produced by Pew tend to be some of the most detailed and informative you will find anywhere. When I was writing the sixth edition of my textbook on political parties and elections, I frequently turned to Pew for data to illustrate points I was making in the book. (As a political scientist who is always excited to get his hands on some data, I am also particularly fond of the fact that Pew tends to put its raw data online within 6 months or so of completing the survey (typically, lag times for getting survey data run much longer)).

Well, Pew released a report on a new national survey this week and there are some very interesting findings in the report. One of the things that Pew asked about were the debates, and specifically the CNN/YouTube debate held recently. They asked a general question about whether respondents prefer debates where journalists ask questions or where "regular people" do the asking. The question, of course, assumes that journalists are not "regular people." I am sure we can all agree with that assumption, right? Ok, I'm just joking! Both my parents are journalists...and they are, more or less, "regular people." In any event, by a margin of 68% to 17%, the American public prefers debates where journalists are not the ones asking the questions. I've never seen this specific question asked before, so it was pretty interesting to see how overwhelmingly popular the town hall/YouTube format is with the public. Hopefully we'll see more such debates in the future, as we should be tailoring the format to appeal to the citizens we are trying to engage in the process.

While the findings on the presidential debates were interesting, another part of the survey that stood out the most for me was what Pew found when it asked citizens about the Supreme Court. The percentage of the public with favorable views of the Supreme Court is down from previous surveys. Pew highlights the difference between this survey, in which 57% viewed the Court favorably, and a January poll where the Court's favorability rating was 71%. That is a substantial drop, but there may be something about asking the question in January that leads to more favorable responses (post-holiday warmth or, more likely, the federal government is coming off an extended holiday, so it hasn't done anything to upset people in a few weeks). So, just to be conservative, let's compare favorability ratings now to those given at this time last year. In fact, there appears to be a significant drop in favorability ratings for the court even if you compare ratings from last July. At that time, 63% viewed the Court favorably. Interestingly, this drop is driven in equal amounts by Democrats AND independents--favorability ratings among each of those groups dropped by 8% during the past year.

Of course, it is also important to note that there are a lot of people out there who are fairly uninformed about the court's recent activity, and some of them even admit it. When asked what their opinion was of the court's recent decisions, one in five respondents admitted that they haven't heard enough about them and another 16% said they didn't know what they their opinion was. When capturing attitudes about the Supreme Court, it is good to keep in mind that a lot of these opinions are formulated based on what small bits of Supreme Court news coverage citizens are actually exposed to.

These are just the highlights from the report. There are tons of interesting things to look at in toplines, and I'm hoping to post more about those this weekend.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Congress Passes Lobbying Reform

Given that the Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute is housed by CCPS and CCPS is directed by one of the nation's authorities on lobbying reform (Jim Thurber), we take a particular interest in lobbying. So it is worth noting that today an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the Senate passed the lobbying reform bill that also easily passed in the House of Representatives earlier this week. The bill includes several provisions that Professor Thurber advocated for when he testified in front of the Senate's Committee on Rules and Administration in February 2006 (link).

The White House has not yet indicated whether the President will sign the legislation. Stay tuned.

Introducing: the Supremes

By way of introduction and explanation of this post, allow me to explain the irony behind me working for the Center for Congressional and Presidential studies. Astute readers may realize that our center focuses on only two of the three branches of our federal government. The judiciary branch is conspicuously left out. This is of course fine for an academic center - you have to specialize in something, and what would we call ourselves if we studied all three branches? But it underlines a common tendency in many of my political science professors and colleagues - a tendency to ignore that pesky third branch of government. The judicial branch is best left to people who went to law school, and plus it's hard to get quantitative data out of studying cases, briefs or justices. Without numbers, you can't possibly engage in legitimate research, can you? Better to leave the judicial branch to lawyers and law reviews. This is the sentiment that I sense from many in my chosen academic field. I, however, have always considered the judicial branch to be one of my main academic interests - even if the focus won't do me any good when I'm on the job market. I therefore will frequently defend it's relevancy to the topics studied by this center and addressed in this blog. Sometimes, the Washington Post helps me out.

This article first caught my eye because of the headline: "Courtin' the Left and Right: Roberts Scare Seizes the Trail." I like the Post. I respect it greatly as a news source, and love living in a city now with such a good newspaper. But come on now, anonymous copy editor that wrote that headline, could you be any more cheesy and insensitive to boot? Anyway, the article summarizes the fallout among Members of Congress, presidential candidates, and political pundits after Chief Justice John Roberts had a seizure over the weekend.

First of all, many Supreme Court justices have served under much worse medical conditions than Roberts (Roberts' own predecessor, William Rehnquist, served while receiving radiation and chemotherapy treatments for thyroid cancer). As the article points out, Roberts is a "young whelp" compared to many of his fellow justices. This episode just serves to stir speculation, however unjustified, about what would happen if another vacancy opened up during Bush's presidency. The article's author predicts "all out war" if such a vacancy occurred, and the statements from Senators Schumer and Specter certainly support this prediction. Neither the article or the Senators, however, make any distinctions among justices in this speculation. In other words, it would be a much bigger deal if a justice from the liberal bloc on the Court (Ginsburg, Souter, Stevens, or Breyer), or if the current "swing vote" (Kennedy - though proving not to be as much of a swing as O'Connor was) were to retire. If Bush were replacing Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, or Alito, much less would be at stake.

Also interesting is the conviction that Sen. Specter conveys - like the country was hoodwinked by Roberts and Alito, and they won't be tricked again! Our colleague at AU offers some interesting analysis on this.

No matter what happens during the rest of Bush's term, the next President will likely have several opportunities to influence the Supreme Court's future decisions for decades to come. It's amazing how small of a campaign issue this has been so far. Presidents' terms of 4 or 8 years are relative flashes in the pan compared to the average term of a Supreme Court justice (approx. 25 years). And no matter how you slice it, in the end these justices have the final say on any policy, if they choose to do the saying. Perhaps as the campaign wears on, more will be said about this awesome judicial appointment power. For now, the speculation is mostly left to Supreme Court nerds like myself and SCOTUSblog (who have compiled lists of potential new nominees).