Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Invisible Primary Ala Turca, Part Two

The invisible primary here in Turkey has taken a decisive turn in the last 24 hours.  On Tuesday it was announced in a joint press conference held by CHP and MHP bosses Kemal Kilicdaroglu and Devlet Bahceli that they had made a "grand conciliation" to jointly nominate Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu to run in the upcoming presidential election.  While I certainly didn't expect them to take my advice and nominate Abdullah Gul, they've probably set themselves up for a duck in August's election (yes I do indeed use cricket terms).  Though I don't know much about the person's background other than what's been reported today, I think this was about as bad of a decision as they could have made.  Despite a sound reputation of intelligence, honesty, and a recent high profile spat with Erdogan, it's patent that he's a political neophyte and the two parties are making a very superficial ploy to name someone with a degree of Islamist street cred to take on Erdogan.  Unless something big happens to bring Tayyip's reputation down in the next two months - and the man's survived the tapes where we hear him discussing how to hide a billion euros in cash of graft money with his son, so he's clearly made of Teflon - the effort will probably fall flat.

This isn't the first time these two parties attempted this kind of cooperation.  In this spring's local elections the MHP and CHP coordinated by landing on a consensus candidate to take on the thoroughly corrupt Melih Gokcek in Ankara.  Gokcek's mastery of patronage and populism has made him nearly invincible here.  Despite the fact that he's clearly made hundreds of millions in graft and his city services are abysmal, he's developed an electoral base that no other individual or party can even begin to match.  The consensus candidate in that contest was the mayor of Beypazari, Mansur Yavas (an outlying district in the Ankara municipality).  Coincidentally, he floated his name a few weeks ago as an invisible primary candidate for the presidency.  Until the 2014 election, he was a member of the neo-fascist MHP, though for the mayoral election he ran under the six arrows of the CHP banner.  Pretty simple strategy they took: grab a fascist, slap a Kemalist label on him, hope they can bank on CHP brand loyalty in that corner of the electorate and that enough nationalist voters are willing to accept the compromise.  It nearly worked.  While there were widespread accusations of fraud, and an incident where a cat apparently caused a blackout disrupting the counting of ballots, the CHP lost by a slim margin.  But still, the Ankara mayoral election gave both parties a glimmer of hope, yet showed just how touchy this triangulation on consensus candidates between these two parties can be.  

That touchiness goes double for the presidential election.  You honestly can't fault the opposition parties too much for this odd behavior and ultimate compromise.  Despite them sharing a lot in terms of ideology (xenophobia, economic statism, hyper-nationalism, and a religious attachment to Ataturk), there's a lot working against effective cooperation between the MHP and CHP.  Chief amongst those is the fact they hate each other in nearly absolute terms.  There's literally been too much blood spilled between these two camps over the years, particularly in the time preceding the 1980 coup.  That kind of hatred just doesn't evaporate in a few decades as their political identities were literally forged in that conflict and some rather important ethnic-religious dynamics that have been at play between these parties for years.

But more important than those factors, is that all of this is a rather weird learning process for the parties and electorate.  There's a real paradox at play here: How can Turkey popularly select a constitutionally non-partisan office, whose historical purpose has been to protect the interests of the state elite from the people themselves?  Compounding this paradox is the stark reality that Turkey has been wrestling with a changing of its state elite.  While I clearly don't have the answer to this, I do know this is a highly consequential power play at a time of heightened social and political tensions.

The stakes are high as there is considerable ambiguity in the constitutional and legal structures defining presidential powers.  Up until the presidency of Abdullah Gul, presidents were always representative of the Kemalist establishment and exercised their powers sparingly with deference to the bureaucratic-military elite.  President Gul, despite the hoopla during his election has also exercised restraint, though his deference has been more towards the AKP and Erdogan.  However, as several Turkish professors of politics and law have explained to me in my conversations over the past few weeks here in Ankara, there is great potential for presidential power to grow because throughout the constitution (and supporting law), the president is referred to as head of state, but doesn't have his powers neatly defined.  Given these ambiguities, there's no doubt that Erdogan will push those potential powers beyond the pale resulting in de facto constitutional changes that will surely bring more conflict.  

The sad part of the constitutional struggle is that there's widespread consensus that the present constitution, particularly the division of executive authority, is in desperate need of change.  But there's absolutely no trust between the parties to even begin a productive conversation.  Until there is some semblance of consensus, Turkey will have to settle for these strange fits and starts of constitutional evolution.  As for the election of 2014, it is anyone's guess how the electorate will respond to the various candidates and how that power will be exercised by the eventual winner.  For me, I just find it fascinating that despite the stark differences between our systems, there are some marked similarities in the invisible primaries in both nations.  This undoubtedly speaks to the explanatory power the underlies our understanding of the invisible primary.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Invisible Primary Ala Turca

Once again I am exercising my power as this blog’s macdaddy to go off topic and discuss some pressing matters in Turkish politics.  To say that Turkish politics is going through an interesting time is clearly an understatement.  Not only has Turkey recently embarked on a disturbing reversion from solidly illiberal to near authoritarian governance, they are wrestling with fundamental constitutional changes of selecting their president and the authority of the office.  The most charitable characterization of the care in which these changes have taken would be reckless abandon.  But we need to back up for one moment to contextualize the changes in post-1980 environment. 

The republic president is an office that carries mostly ceremonial powers.  While he is technically the commander in chief of the armed forces and carries a veto power over the parliament, military autonomy ensures that he exercises no real power over military affairs and parliament can override a veto with procedures no more difficult than a majority vote or two.  Formerly, the president of the Republic was chosen in a series of votes taken in parliament.  Generally, the high numbers of parties in parliament and the deference (read sycophantic capitulation) MPs would show to the military, ensured that the president would have relatively broad support amongst MPs and be properly vetted by the TSK (central military command).  Until 2007, this worked swimmingly for the TSK, as you’d expect it would given that they wrote the constitution themselves.  That is until the rise of the AKP.  As a result of the 2002 election, the AKP had a solid majority in the parliament, the first government in a generation that didn’t require a crazy quilt of coalition for a confidence vote. 

In 2007, Turkey stepped as close as it had to a military coup as it had since 1997’s “post modern coup” where PM Erbakan resigned just as tanks began to roll out of the barracks in Ankara’s suburb of Sincan.  Just to give you sense of the military posture in Ankara, it’s a surrounded by military bases, with tens of thousands of troops (not just TSK bureaucrats) permanently stationed therein.  A very visible reminder close to my old home near Umitkoy, was a tank on permanent display next to the freeway with it’s barrel pointed directly at the parliament building, a symbolic cue proudly displayed with the subtlety of a sledgehammer (and yes, I checked the line on Google Earth).  But I digress.  The constitutional crisis centered around PM Erdogan’s nomination of then foreign minister Abdulah Gul.  Erdogan had the audacity to appoint Gul without vetting him through the military or the political opposition, as his majority in parliament was sufficient to carry the vote without any other support in the later rounds of balloting.  Despite following the military’s constitution to the letter, the Kemalist establishment was furious, demanding that a new election be called before the president be chosen.  Rumor has it, that a meeting of the national security council had been held discussing the possibility of a coup (a right they reserved for themselves in the constitution, ain’t that peachy) and that every force commander wanted to pull the trigger, save the chairman Yasar Buyukanit, who ordered a “wait an see” posture.  Long story short, the coup was avoided, a parliamentary election was held with the AKP taking a larger share of the vote, and Abdullah Gul became president with as clear of a mandate from electorate as possible and the tacit ascent of the MHP.

To avoid this sort of nonsense in the future, the AKP forwarded a national referendum to amend the presidential selection system by throwing the decision to popular vote.  Well the geniuses in the AKP elite didn’t really think out a few obvious contingencies that even foreigners like me were asking.  Along with the popular vote, the single 7 year term of president was shortened to 5 years, with the possibility of a single reelection.  But how would this apply to President Gul?  Must he abide by the old term?  Was he eligible to seek reelection?  No one had answers until the constitutional court chimed in, basically pulling a ruling out of the air.  In fairness, they had to this time, as they had no guidance whatsoever in the constitution, the amendment, or the law.  

Another lingering question is the partisan nature of the office.  Formally, the office is non-partisan. Though the nominations are made with the support of a given number of MPs and then a series of parliamentary votes chose the winner, once the person took office, they would eschew their former political ties, rise above petty squabbling, and focus on being a figure of unity in a highly fragmented political system.  With a half dozen or so parties in any given parliament, a multi-party consensus (albeit militarily facilitated) had to be reached.  Not so anymore with the decision made by the electorate and MPs free to nominate whomever they wish.  While Gul has done this far better than most had predicted in that he's not been as overtly partisan ad some had feared, the question remains for future holders of the office: Can a future president rise above the fray now that they’re popularly elected in a ridiculously polarized system?  Smart money would suggest no. 

With Gul’s term coming to an end, and an election looming, Turkey is again at a crossroads.  Who will be the candidates?  What role are the parties going to play?  What other changes are in store for the office?

On the question of who, this is still an open question.  Erdogan is clearly in the running.  Despite the office not carrying much power at the moment, it still is an office of high prestige, and this schnook’s all about showiness and prestige (the tackier and cheaper, the better).  Also, he’s got designs on transforming the constitutional powers of the office.  Given his personality and nihilistic political ethic, he might not wait for the formalities of constitutional amendment.  While he and his supporters would tell you he’s aiming for a French style semi-presidential system, the reality’s certainly far darker.  He’s already got more relative power than the French President does.  At best, we’d see a Russian model of weak institution with the locus of power being where the boss wants it, or possibly the Hugo Chavez model of hard fisted, slash and burn kleptocracy.  This rightly sends shivers up and down the spines of everyone in the various opposition parties, or those with any liberal democratic sensibilities.  This puts the opposition parties in a conundrum and the structural incentives of the new presidential selection system is pushing them towards (wait for it…) a non-partisan invisible primary!  Well shit fire, who’d a thunk that?

Normally the main parties of the opposition are farcical, and I don’t think this is contained to the AKP era.  Their irresponsibility is probably due in large part to both  the crazy assed coalitions of the 90s and the absolute majoritarian nature of governance.  Apologies for the language, but that is the only way I can describe it.  What else would you label a government composed of conservative, fascist, and socialist parties (well, socialist for Turkey) as they had in the wake of the 1999 elections?  Other coalitions weren’t much prettier.  How does an opposition even begin to oppose such governments?  Near as I can tell, throw rocks at whatever it does, and hope you hit a soft spot on occasion forcing a confidence vote or early election.  Not a particularly strong model for electorally responsible parties.
As to the absolute majoritarian bit, this is another curse of Turkish illiberal democracy.  In days past, when coalitions were necessary for confidence votes, coalition partners were hardly partners in any sense.  They’d simply divi up the ministries as per negotiated terms and exercise exclusively within their domains, each party using the ministries’ budgets like ATMs and dolling out the positions to their peeps.  Even communication was difficult between ministries of different parties, as several foreign NGOs discovered in the relief efforts of the 1999 earthquake.  What kept graft somewhat in check was the fact that not a single party controlled the whole pie, and that there was a constant churning of governments preventing any one party from controlling too much, for too long.  The advantage of that natural check on corruption came at the cost of good governance and stability.  When politics is simply a zero-sum game to control patronage, neither those in government or opposition are particularly incented to create viable, programmatic platforms to present to the voters.  But again I digress. 

In the current AKP era, opposition has been limited to two parties: the CHP and the MHP (yes, there is a Kurdish party, though my heart is with them, their marginalization is so severe that they can hardly be considered a “normal” opposition party as they stand alone in this).  Both parties are caught in a trap of trying desperately to maintain their bases, which by necessity limits their programmatic appeals to the broader electorate.
The CHP is a nationalist party that waves the Ataturk flag most briskly of the lot.  Despite the fact that it quite literally isn’t the party Ataturk founded (that party was closed with all the others in 1980), the “new CHP” founder Deniz Baykal successfully claimed their label and substantial financial assets in the early 1990s.  An old expat friend of mine from my Ankara days, referred to them as “sad old Kemalists.”  Though a bit of generalization as there are some young folks in the party, it’s not that far off psychologically.  The base of the party is largely the same today as it was throughout the first six or so decades of the Republican era: people who are part of the military-bureaucratic elite or the primary beneficiaries thereof.  Though Baykal is now out, brought down in a sex scandal a few years ago, the current leadership follows the standard Turkish model of cadre parties where power is highly centralized, intraparty democracy is non-existent, and order is maintained through highly personalized networks within the party.  The closest the CHP comes to a political platform these days is a collective mourning of their lost privileges of old and rather nondescript appeals to secularism that generally comes out as rather course anti-religious rhetoric.

The MHP is in no better shape.  The MHP is a neo-fascist party that picked up on a thread of racial identity politics that emerged, gee wiz, in the 1930s and 40s.  Turkish identity has always been rather nebulous, but I think it’s safe to say that most Turks take a rather benign definition of it, framed in Ataturk’s often cited “Ne mutlu Türküm diyene.”  Roughly translated: How happy is one who calls oneself a Turk.  As Ersin Kalaygioglu puts it, if you say you’re a Turk, you’re a Turk!  I can dig that.  Not so the MHP.  They’ve long exhibited the key traits of a true fascist party: ultra-nationalism, wrapped up in a biologically determined identity, a rejection of liberal individuality, voracious xenophobia, proclivity towards violence, glorification of an imagined history, ideally reinforced by a heavy handed state.  While their current leader Devlet Bahceli says reasonable sounding things from time to time regarding the abuses of power by the AKP, never forget Bahceli came to power in the party and maintains his power in the party by the naked use of force.  Thankfully the electoral base of this party is a bit smaller than the CHP’s, but it usually wins enough votes to break the ten percent threshold making it a persistent player.  Their politics are what you’d expect from a fascist party – repugnant.  While they’ve gone through some window dressing in attempts to mainstream themselves for broader appeal (with a degree of success), their core fascistic values remain intact.  Straying too far from them has proved risky in the past, and they’re unlikely to stray too much in the future (they’ve made some consensus to Islamist elements in years past, which pushed out some hard core identifiers, but that’s another story).

So, what now?  Both of these parties are undoubtedly going through an internal invisible primary right now to forward some names to the Turkish people.  I don’t rightly care about that, since they’ll lose.  As the invisible primary is all about triangulating on viable candidates, which often means going with a number two choice, here’s my advice to both the CHP and MHP: Go with Gul. 

That’s right, I said it.  Go with Gul. 

I say that not for their sakes, but the sake of Turkish democracy.  Here’s why…

In the current political landscape both the opposition parties are sure losers.  I don’t care who they nominate, the Turkish electorate will not go for another CHP hack moaning about how hard it is to be a White Turk these days, or an MHP blowhard doing his fascist thing, nor should they.  Should both these parties nominate their stereotypical selves, hello President Erdogan.  Gul has a genuine shot here.  His presidency has been unremarkable, which a Turkish presidency ought to be.  While he’s taken heat for giving ascent to some repugnant AKP legislation, his veto would have been superfluous in the end as the parliament would just override it on majority vote.  Is he in my ideological camp?  Of course not, none of these people are.  But in democratic, electoral politics you play the cards you’re dealt.

Is such a marriage easy?  No.  Hell no!  Despite inhabiting a lot of similar ideological space (statism, nationalism, xenophobia), it goes against the virtual DNA of both the MHP and CHP to work together given their history.  They are nearly as harsh of one another as they are of the AKP.  But if Bulent Ecevit could hammer out a coalition deal with his DSP and the MHP, there’s always that possibility (the DSP inhabited identical ideological space as the CHP does, just with a different leader, did I mention parties were personalized in Turkey?).  Though the result of that government was clear disaster, negotiating and governing with that coalition was a far taller order than agreeing on a candidate for a largely ceremonial position.  All of which is nothing to say of the difficult pill to be swallowed by the CHP and MHP agreeing to endorse Gul individually.  He’s the most prominent face of the AKP save Erdogan himself, and his very nomination to president was the cause of the 2007 crisis.  But recall, that it was the MHP that facilitated Gul's election in 2007, by attending a quorum call (a quorum that the constitutional court pulled out it's ass in its absurd annulment of the first attempt at Gul's election).  Not an easy pill to swallow at all; but necessary.  

Though I hate false dichotomies for the sake of rhetorical leverage, the way I see it, the opposition in Turkey has two options: nominate you own candidates to face Tayyip, get your ass handed to you in the election, and hold on for whatever grand, looney, and destructive ideas he’s got in store for the office and the nation.  Or, go with Gul.  You have a known quantity who’s probably not going to recklessly blow holes in the constitutional order to immortalize himself as the greatest statesman that ever ruled, anywhere, anytime.  Are these good options?  Not really, but again, play the cards you are dealt.  Gul might be an ace in the hole.

Make no mistake, I’ve got clear baggage in this.  I think the current constitution is rotten to the core.  Militaries suck at constitution writing; period.  Additionally, my disdain for all the main political parties ranges from strong to absolute, as liberal democratic values aren’t embraced by any of them.  But we must grasp at whatever shreds of democracy we can to prevent Turkish democracy from backsliding into genuine authoritarianism.  For all its faults, the present constitution is probably better than whatever Erdogan has in mind.  And though Gul and I share little in political values, he clearly doesn’t have the messianic hubris that Erdogan displays.  Should an Erdogan-Gul contest be held, it’s anyone’s guess as to the result as I’ve seen no polling on it; but I like those odds far better than an assured Erdogan win which the CHP and MHP will hand deliver if they insist on nominating their own candidates for the presidency.  

Who knows, perhaps Erdogan getting spanked by Gul would signal the end of his career.  If only we could be so lucky.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game

Just a quick post here as I’m in Ankara trying to catch my breath after the flurry of activity at semester’s end. Hopefully in a week’s time I’ll be doing some real writing as I watch the Aegean Sea slowly pass by Didim…

Assuming Tayyip doesn’t block blogspot in the next few minutes (I’m not kidding folks), I felt the need to expand on an interesting post Seth Masket had today over at Mischiefs of Factions, where he presented a wonderful graph courtesy of Poole, Rosenthal, McCarty, and Bonica.  Masket rightly describes the situation described here as a conundrum, we know the super-rich are underwriting a greater and greater proportion of campaign costs and that as a class most everyone of the big donors fit between the party medians within congress, so it appears that they aren’t getting everything that they pay for.  Even the “evil” David Koch inhabits this middle ground, though his brother Charles is barely to right of the median point (clearly making him the evil brother).  This makes intuitive sense.  All these super-rich players are true intense policy demanders; they have real policy goals that they don’t want to see cocked up by extremist policy makers.  This echoes some research Ray La Raja and I did a couple years back in APR where we found that campaign contributors aren’t the polarizing force in American politics that many assume them to be.  Using ANES data back to 1972, we concluded that politicians aren’t particularly responsive to ideologically extreme donors as they are strategic in mobilizing ideologues in pursuit of financial resources towards electoral goals.

Broadly speaking, political scientists are a rather skeptical lot when it comes to campaign finance reform (at least for those of us who study it closely).  Especially frustrating to us are the repeated calls towards reforms that we know would be counter productive based on the empirical work we are intimately familiar with.  The campaign finance reform quarters, quite frankly, are lousy with terrible ideas that would only serve to exacerbate serious problems in American politics today.  Exhibit A, polarization.  Since our piece, more recent studies have shed light on the role of mega donors, largely because of innovations in the estimation of their ideal points. I’d go so far as to say that there is growing support that large donors are acting as a moderating force, a possibility that Ray and I looked for, but couldn't find given data limitations.  We also suspected that there is the potential for small donors to be a polarizing force should some short term trends continue.  Poole et al’s graph here seems to give us some real empirical evidence to support that idea. 

One persistent call of the reform movement is for some kind of structural support to encourage and/or subsidize small donors through matching funds, clean election laws, and the like.  While there is a nice, democratic, and altruistic ring to the term "small donor," we should proceed with caution, as populistic impulses rarely have positive outcomes when they are enacted into law.  As of now, whatever polarizing effects small donors have on our policy makers are probably being counter-balanced by larger donors.  Amplifying the polarizing voices by juking the system in their favor might only serve to drive the parties farther apart from one another.  While I’m generally not an alarmist when it comes to polarization, I’d say we’ve got enough of it right now as it is. 

And yes, this has some relevance to the invisible primary.  While fundraising is but a part of the game, it is of real significance.  It is also one that is in constant flux due to the shifting legal sands that our finance regime is based upon and the adaptability of the players.  If there’s one constant in the history of campaign finance, it’s unintended consequences.  Virtually every goal of reformers is thwarted in an election cycle or two, and the “problems” they were trying to address wind up being more entrenched and acute.  Should legislation have the unintended consequences of enhancing the voices of the most ideological extreme portions of the financial constituency, the triangulation of party actors in the invisible primary will undoubtedly be affected.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Highly Visible Women

As we hobble into Spring, all eyes are on 2016 – when these eyes really should be on the summer months. Maybe it was the extended-dance-mix winter we had that just. kept. going. Or maybe it was something in the ether that made people act strangely (because folks were acting pretty damned inexplicable this year). But I think mayhaps we have forgotten that summer even exists because it seems that instead of looking to the 2014 midterms as a harbinger of something interesting, everyone is skipping that part and getting to the Show.  And this Show smells like talcum powder.

Yes, Hillary Clinton is going to be a grandmother. Mollusks! Chelsea Clinton is preggers which means that if Hillary runs for president and is elected, she will be the first First Lady to be POTUS, the first woman to be leader of the free world, and the first Bubbe to have her finger on the button. A tip of the hat to those who grew tired of the “she’s a girl!” narrative – this is definitely something new to prattle on about. No less than David Gregory on Meet the Press addressed this obviously essential new development, because with few other unfolding developments in the 2016 race one should clearly watch the development of Chelsea’s uterus instead. My all-time favorite thing, maybe ever, is the claim by a few on the Right that somehow Hillary somehow staged the pregnancy. As if murdering Vince Foster, covering up Benghazi, and faux-ducking shoes wasn’t enough – she Gerry rigged a gestation. I get what they’re saying: Hillary is good. So good, she should be president. 

Wait. That’s not what they’re saying.

Moving on, the other gal in the IP mix these days is Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren who is about to release a book memoir called “A Fighting Chance.”  This is such a classic IP move that the HBO show “Veep” has already mocked it with the lead character releasing a book called “Some New Beginnings: Our Next American Journey” prior to her own run for president. (By the way: One of the show characters ridiculed the “New Beginnings” title by saying “It’s so full of shit there’s a colon in the middle of it.” Ha!) But what the fake candidate and the possibly real candidate have in common is a book tour which gives candidates fake and real plenty of face time with the media and the American public. This, of course, is why you release a book. But despite Politico calling her “hot,” (only in Washington, friends) Warren swearsshe’s not running. Okey dokey. I’m certain a release of “A Fighting Chance” has nothing to do with running for higher office. Nothing at all. 

What all of this means for IP watching is that – just maybe – women’s issues will be central I the 2016 presidential race. Or maybe we will be distracted by the super cute, teeny tiny socks that Chelsea & Marc’s bundle of joy will wear.  Given the seriousness of the news media, it’s an even bet either way, but one can always hope.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

How to Report the Invisible Primary

Thus far in the invisible primary of 2016 we've seen plenty of terrible reporting from all quarters of the press that are frankly too numerous to count, much less link up here.  However, there's some really good stuff going on out there.  For my money, Robert Costa of the Washington Post is quickly establishing himself as my personal favorite, as his coverage has really focused on what matters in things invisible primary.  A hallmark of the junk tends to be heavy on the various match ups for 2016 or even worse, the results of horrifically unrepresentative straw polls such as what we saw coming out of CPAC several weeks ago.  Not so for Costa...

Whilst multitasking between Fareed Zakaria, watching the T20 cricket championship (Australia, what are you doing?), and scanning headlines, I ran into this article by Costa and his colleague Phillip Rucker.  Kudos to them both.  

Let's set aside Jeb Bush's chances for winning the nomination for the moment, and focus on the coverage itself, as this is good stuff from the perspective of political scientists.  They quite literally are covering all the bases that matter.  First, they recognize that this isn't just a matter of a candidate trolling for support within the various parts of the party establishment, but the various parts of the party establishment actively vetting a candidate, or as they put it a "draft" is underway.  Second, they recognize the players here are a diverse network and are deeply concerned about both policy and the political feasibility of the noisiest candidate of the moment, Senator Rand Paul.  Third, they hit the importance of money at this point, and not just ability of Bush stuff his own coffers, but as I've noted before, make it rain for other Republicans across the country.  Fourth, they have a nice discussion on the strengths and weaknesses Bush brings to the table and how they will play to the various factions of the party.  If reporting the invisible primary was a four-banger of a motor, they'd be firing on all cylinders.

And here's where I really appreciate their work and where they separate themselves even more from most of their competition: While they eventually get around to some poll numbers and the (possible) issue of "Bush fatigue," it's at the tail end of the article and well embedded in a nuanced discussion of the factors that matter.  And they're not referencing some idiotic "Jeb vs. Hillary" face-off that litters most coverage at this point, but focusing on factors unique to Gov. Bush.  When we cannot even begin predict what the fundamentals of the 2016 contest will be, those sorts of head to head polls are superfluous.  

Overall, nicely done gentlemen!  I for one, will be following both these people's work rather carefully, as should you all.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Modeling the Endorsement Decision

For political scientists, March means one thing: conference season!  Though the macdaddy of conferences is labor day weekend, the ones I always look forward to the most (for a variety of reasons) are the MPSA and WPSA.  Even though I was crushed that I cannot attend the midwest this year (regional Model UN conferences... sigh), I'm in that sweet spot of a project where I'm furiously working on the models for my latest offering for the western.  It's really rough at this stage, mind you, and will need a significant amount of work in the coming months, but thus far it has some mildly interesting findings that are all about the invisible primary.

Back in late 2011 whilst still at Briar Cliff in Iowa, I was struck by what I thought was an invisible primary oddity.  Rep. Steve King took some time off blaming undocumented Hispanics for all of the nation's ills and expanding upon Todd Akin's legitimate rape comments, to rub elbows with a few of the presidential contenders; or perhaps more accurately, they interrupted his demagoguery to cozy up to him.  The prize being a coveted endorsement from an incumbent Iowan representative.  As we know, the success of an invisible primary candidacy can be predicted rather well by the number of endorsements they accrue in the pre-primary process.  What struck me as particularly odd about this case was that King never gave anyone the nod, despite the high profile hobnobbing.  Which begged a question of "why?"  As I puzzled over his decision not to endorse, I began thinking in broader terms: what factors out there can we associate with this decision?  What is it that drives this important behavior?  Luckily, the clever minds behind The Party Decides have a nifty data base of endorsements that can give a digital ream or two of information necessary to model this decision.  With the help of an undergraduate research monkey, I began to append some vital bits of data to every Representative and Senator in the 2000 presidential election cycle to build a logit model or two.

Though it's taken some time, thought, and rethinking, I'm beginning to see some results.  For those of you who wince at the sight of Stata outputs and the like, kindly avert your eyes and skip down the post a ways.  I modeled each party separately, as I reckoned there may be some differences between them.  The key independent variables are (in order presented): what week the presidential primary/caucus is in the MC's home state, state level presidential margin in 2000, the same margin squared, the electoral margin in the MC's last election, that margin squared, David Mayhew's state party culture (regular organization as reference), DW-NOMINATE dimensions 1 and 2 (common space, as I intend to go time series soon), years in office, age, and age squared.  The d.v. is a simple 0,1; no endorsement, endorsement.  Please forgive the cumbersome variable names.  Though they probably make no damn sense to you, they do to me, and that's what counts at this stage! 

Here are the Democrats:

And the Republicans:

As you can see there aren't any earth shattering results, but there are some interesting contrasts.  My suspicion that Democrats and Republicans approach the endorsement decision differently is seemingly supported.  Briefly, Republicans seem more sensitive to state level electoral factors (as expressed in an interesting quadratic relationship to the presidential election margin in their home state) and Democrats to the electoral calendar and the enigmatic 2nd dimension of DW-NOMINATE.   Some noteworthy, but non-statistically significant associations are found with Republicans and ideology (both dimensions); and for Democrats, the years served in office and a quadratic effect of age.  Both parties were sensitive to party culture, though in slightly different ways.  And if you're wondering, I did suspect the possibility of non-linear relationships in each of these variables before I even opened Stata on this project.  

So what does all this mean?  Apart from the little story told above that I'll be hashing through and thickening in the next few weeks, I'm not 100% sure at this stage.  Clearly Democratic and Republican MCs see the decision to endorse, at least in 2000, in quite different terms, some of which may speak towards the invisible primary process.  However, as the results suggest, this model is far from complete.  What could be missing from this mix of variables?  I'm also a bit perplexed by the direction of the relationship between 2nd dimension of DW-NOMINATE and the d.v.  As Keith Poole has written on several occasions, the 2nd dimension might be reflecting an insider-outsider dimension within the parties, as the more mavericky/Tea Party types tend to score on the negative side of things.  This was why I included the 2nd dimension in the first instance.  Presumably those on the inside would be more likely to engage in this critical party conversation than outsiders looking in.  While it might not be the perfect measure of this inside-out split, it's a convenient proxy.  Yet for some reason, that initial sense I had appears to be back asswards.  Higher 2nd dimension scores (the more "inside" an MC is), are associated with a lower likelihood of endorsing amongst Democrats, and possibly Republicans as well.  I suspect that it's acting as a proxy for a yet-to-be-accounted-for variable.

So in the spirit of our age and latest trends of the interwebs, I've decided to try my hand in a bit of crowd sourcing on these two key questions:

1) Are there any obvious omissions that come to your mind?  I'm all for clean, short, and sweet models, but glaring omissions need to be attended to...

2) What's with the 2nd dimension of DW-NOMINATE here?  Assuming this is a good measurement of "inside-outside" status, I suppose one could hypothesize that "outsiders" due to their outsider position, might feel more compelled to interject into the party conversation with an endorsement than a real insider.  Frankly, I'm not too happy with that line of reasoning.  Something is clearly going on here, but I'm not convinced I'm on to it just yet.

So crowd, get to it.  Any productive discussion is warmly welcomed and appreciated.  Moreover, I hope to see many of you in Seattle!

Day After Addendum: a technical note you should be aware of is that the dependent variable is an endorsement during the pre-primary period, prior to the Iowa caucuses.  As you may know, most every MC eventually makes an endorsement at some point, but often it's after the nomination's all but sewn up.  This is especially true of Democrats whose role as super delegates in the convention gives them a slightly different incentive structure in the endorsement decision.  One of a few reasons I model the parties separately.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Too Much Bush

GOTCHA! If the title lured you to read this in the hopes of something saucy I apologize. I couldn't resist trying to sex it up because we are snowed in here in Pennsylvania and I'm bored. I'll try to add something salacious to the always hot topic of the Invisible Primary.... but even I may not be that talented.

The "Bush," I reference, of course, would be Jeb. Son of 41, brother of 43, and if the chattering class has anything to say about it, number 45 himself. A nice article from Larry Sabato gives some of the most recent 2016 rankings on the GOP side and puts Jeb as a "wild card" which to me takes a verrrry broad use of the word "wild." A Bush running for president you say? How novel. And using a man named "Jeb" in the same sentence as "wild" just conjures up images of some rollicking country club party where someone nicknamed "Trip" had one too many G & Ts and drove a golf cart into the sandtrap (clutch the pearls!). And it's not so wild to think that he's running since the guy has checked all of the IP marks (wrote a book, gave some big platform speeches) and he's got the name recognition to raise some serious cash. I was actually going to insert some prurient language here about Bush's thick hair and the heat in Florida but I will restrain myself because this is clearly a high-brow blog. Don't say I didn't try.

Anyway, it's the Christie/ GWB kerfuffle that is causing all of the Bush speculation (Go ahead - insert "speculating for Bush" joke here please), because serious people (that's YOU Sus Paley!) have wondered whether Christie can come back from le scandal. I doubt it: His narrative frame has changed and that's never good. People see him as a petty tyrant (as opposed to a tyrant with a purpose which is fine, really). And the world's best comedians have had a field day mocking the crap out of him (the best of which is right HERE. And you are welcome). To quote the scholar Ke$ha: "He's going down. I'm yelling timber."

Which leaves a big hole for the GOP to fill and very few people on the Republican bench who can fill it. Bush is wise to keep quiet, because look at what happened to Christie when his star started to burn really brightly? The inevitable backlash against a winner bit him in the tuchas. This is what most concerns those on Team Clinton: Don't use the "I" word (Which is "inevitable." And certainly don't use "I" in the word "Team" because we all know there is no "I" in "Team." Sheesh) because that inevitability thing helped to tank the HRC campaign in 2008. You become an assumption and two things happens: a) The media takes you for granted; and b) The backlash begins.

So there is reason for Jeb to lay low as long as possible, plus there is the truism that three Bushes may be one too many (some would argue three too many, but I'll leave that to the partisans). The possibility of another Bush-Clinton match is at one time alluring because we can pretend it is 1992 again (and that was a super fun year - am I right?). And yet, maybe former First Lady Barbara Bush was right when she said that the nation has "had enough Bushes." Let me add to that, mayhaps, the possibility that we've had enough Clintons and Pauls too. Just a thought.

And speaking of people named Paul. there is more to say about Rand Paul and his completely absurd conversation about Hillary, Bill Clinton, and Monica Lewisnky but I will let Andy Borowitz take that from here.

I would like to start a snow day contest for the best Bush-IP-sex joke. We're stuck inside - might as well make it interesting. Winner gets a "Ship Happens" tee shirt or I buy them a drink at the Midwest Political Science Association meeting in April. Ready? Set? GO!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

More GOP Rule Changes in Store

Once again, I've been beaten to the punch on things invisible primary, but Fridays are filled with classes and cricket (I'm proud to be the Bob Uecker of the SDSU Cricket Club), so delay was inevitable.  In truth, I've been pondering this post since December when details began to emerge about the rule changes the GOP was considering, particularly their plan to compress the nomination calendar.  The mulling is now over, and changes have been adopted.  Over at Bloomberg, Jonathan Bernstein has an insightful post on the net effects of the rule change on the nomination process.

Speaking for myself from the perspective of a political scientist, the GOP navel gazing is at once heartening, yet quite frustrating.

To the former, as someone who spends a great deal of time studying institutions, it nice to see that politicians and party officials recognize that individual behaviors are affected by rules and structures, and that they are trying to harness that behavior in a positive direction.

What's frustrating is precisely what Bernstein dubs "fighting the last war;" ferreting out what they felt went wrong in the last race and rearranging institutions based on some pretty spurious evidence of what made the election break against them.  Could the calendar have mattered in 2012?  Highly unlikely.  As Bernstein articulates (and as most political scientists would concur) the happenings of the primary season are noticed by only a very small sliver of the population and they're lost in collective memory come November.  Assuming that the divisions of the primary season aren't indicative of deep, irreconcilable factionalism  - and 2012 wasn't such a case - an extended primary isn't the worst thing that can happen to a party.  And frankly, it didn't take an undue amount of time for Republicans to choose Romney in 2012.  GOP suspicions in 2012 that the partial move from primarily winner-take-all to a degree of proportionality in delegate allocation in early primary states drew out the nomination fight were effectively shown to be mythological by Josh Putnam and John Sides.  GOP navel gazing by the likes of Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, and John McCain was purely speculative, superficially impressionistic, and wildly uninformed with readily available empirical evidence.  It seems to me that these rule changes now are due in part to the survival of this myth.  What's more important to the party's general election prospects are election fundamentals, and what candidates can do in their campaigns to make the best of the cards they are dealt.  That's what the party ought to be concerning itself with, not so much the timing of primaries and sanctioning states for breaking their rules.  It's just not determinative of general election results, or even the results of the nomination fight.  Now, if a primary season is extended by an inability of the party to triangulate on an acceptable candidate across factions that is highly problematic, but a compressed calendar isn't going to help, as the party's got far bigger issues to worry about.

One minor departure that I take from Bernstein's post has some direct relevance to the invisible primary.  While he's spot on in noting that "any old crank" can have a good two weeks in the pre-primary period (and if the timing is right lucky, in the early primary states ala Santorum), I'm more confident that threshing machine of the invisible primary will effectively separate the wheat from the chaff.  So by my reckoning, a compressed calendar won't make much of a difference on nominee quality.  While the cranks might stick around for the sake of landing a book or TV deal, the probability was exceedingly low that the GOP would nominate Bachman, Cain, Santorum, or Gingrich, as each were at the very best factional leaders, and frankly, not particularly serious candidates to begin with.  To the extent that proved necessary, Romney had the party behind him before the first vote cast in Iowa.  The invisible primary actually threshed out some serious candidates, as it should, like Governors Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry.  And though this thought isn't original to me (and for the life of me I cannot remember who had written it) we know they were serious because they dropped out when they recognized nomination was out of their grasp.  What was left for Romney to contend with were empty husks of challengers, that more or less blew away in the in the early primary season winds.

The bottom line for me (like Bernstein) is that neither party should worry too much about the little details of their nomination systems, they just don't matter that much.  While wholesale changes we saw in the aftermath of the 1968 election cycle were very consequential (and the parties had to scramble to adapt), it seems to me that monkeying around on the margins carries high opportunity costs.  Spend the time, money, and effort on ensuring the chaff is separated from the wheat effectively in the primaries while keeping your party unified, and help nominees carefully choose a general election path that maximizes political return on the fundamentals they have to work with.  Should both parties play a larger role throughout the entire electoral process, our democracy will be that much better off.