Category Archives: National

Redrawing the Map: How Jowei Chen is Measuring Partisan Gerrymandering

post written by Solmaz Spence

“Gerrymandering”— when legislative maps are drawn to the advantage of one party over the other during redistricting—received its name in 1812, when Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry signed off on a misshapen district that was said to resemble a salamander, which a newspaper dubbed a “gerrymander.”

But although the idea of gerrymandering has been around for a while, proving that a state’s legislature has deliberately skewed district lines to benefit one political party remains challenging.

The problem is that the mere presence of partisan bias in a district map tells us very little about the intentions of those drawing the districts. Factors such as racial segregation, housing and labor markets, and transportation infrastructure can lead to areas where one party’s supporters are more geographically clustered than those of the other party. When this happens, the party with a more concentrated support base achieves a smaller seat share because it racks up large numbers of “surplus” votes in the districts it wins, while falling just short of the winning threshold in many of the districts it loses.

Further, there are many benign reasons that legislatures may seek to redistrict voters—for example, to keep communities of interest together and facilitate the representation of minorities—that may have the unintended consequence of adding a partisan spin to the map.

The research of political scientists Jowei Chen and Jonathan Rodden is helping to differentiate cases of deliberate partisan gerrymandering from other redistricting efforts. Chen, Faculty Associate at the University of Michigan’s Center for Political Studies, and Rodden, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, have devised a computer algorithm that ignores all partisan and racial considerations when drawing districts, and instead creates thousands of alternative district maps based on traditional districting goals, such as equalizing population, maximizing geographic compactness, and preserving county and municipal boundaries. These simulated maps are then compared against the district map that has been called into question to assess whether partisan goals motivated the legislature to deviate from traditional districting criteria.

We first wrote about Chen and Rodden’s work back in December 2016, detailing a 2015 paper in the Election Law Journal, which used the controversial 2012 Florida Congressional map to show how their approach can demonstrate and unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Now, this work is back in the spotlight: Chen’s latest research has been cited in several cases of alleged gerrymandering that are currently working through the courts in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Maryland.

In January, Chen’s testimony as an expert witness was cited when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the state’s U.S. House of Representatives district map. In its opinion, the court said the Pennsylvania map unconstitutionally put partisan interests above other line-drawing criteria, such as eliminating municipal and county divisions.

The Pennsylvania districts in question were drawn by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in 2011. Immediately, the shape of the districts was an indicator that at least one traditional criterion of districting—compactness—had been overlooked.

Though few states define exactly what compactness means, it is generally taken to mean that all the voters within a district should live near one another, and that the boundaries of the district should be create a regular shape, rather than the sprawling polygon with donut holes or tentacles that characterized the Pennsylvania district map.

In particular, District 7—said to resemble Goofy kicking Donald Duck—had been called into question. “It is difficult to imagine how a district as roschachian and sprawling, which is contiguous in two locations only by virtue of a medical facility and a seafood/steakhouse, respectively, might plausibly be referred to as compact,” the court wrote.

Although there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in Pennsylvania, Democrats hold only five of the state’s 18 congressional districts. In the 2016 election, Democrats won each of their five House seats with an average of 75 percent of the vote while Republicans’ margin of victory was an average of 62 percent across their 13 districts. This is an indicator of “packing,” a gerrymandering practice that concentrates like-minded voters into as few districts as possible to deny them representation across districts.

Chen’s expert report assessed the district map and carried out simulations to generate alternative districting plans that strictly followed non-partisan, traditional districting criteria, and then measured the extent to which the current district map deviates from these simulated plans.

To measure the partisanship of the computer-simulated plans, Chen overlaid actual Pennsylvania election results from the past ten years onto the simulated districts, and calculated the number of districts that would have been won by Democrats and Republicans under each plan (see Figure 1).

The districting simulation process used precisely the same Census geographies and population data that the General Assembly used in creating congressional districts. In this way, the simulations were able to account for any geographical clustering of voters; if the population patterns of Pennsylvania voters naturally favor one party over the other, the simulated plans would capture that inherent bias.

Generally, the simulations created seven to ten Republican districts; not one of the 500 simulated districting plans created 13 Republican districts, as exists under the Republican-drawn district map. Thus, the map represented an extreme statistical outlier, a strong indication that the enacted plan was drawn with an overriding partisan intent to favor that political party. This led Chen to conclude “with overwhelmingly high statistical certainty that the enacted plan created a pro-Republican partisan outcome that would never have been possible under a districting process adhering to non-partisan traditional criteria.”

A map showing redistricting simulation in Pennsylvania

This table compares the simulated plans to the 2011 Pennsylvania district map with respect to these various districting criteria.

Following its ruling, on February 20 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a new congressional district map that has been described in a Washington Post analysis as “much more compact”. In response, the state’s Republican leadership announced plans to challenge the new map in court.

 

 

Another Reason Clinton Lost Michigan: Trump Was Listed First on the Ballot 

Post written by Josh Pasek, Faculty Associate, Center for Political Studies and Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, University of Michigan. 

If Rick Snyder weren’t the Governor of Michigan, Donald Trump would probably have 16 fewer electoral votes. I say this not because I think Governor Snyder did anything improper, but because Michigan law provides a small electoral benefit to the Governor’s party in all statewide elections; candidates from that party are listed first on the ballot.

Yesterday, Donald Trump was declared the winner in Michigan by a mere 10,704 votes, out of nearly 5 million presidential votes cast. Although this is not the smallest state margin in recent history – President Bush won Florida and the election by 537 votes and Al Franken won his senate seat in Minnesota by 225 (after the result flipped in a recount) – it represented a margin of 0.22%. The best estimate of the effect of being listed first on the ballot in a presidential election is an improvement of the first-listed individual’s vote share of 0.31%. Thus, we would expect Hillary Clinton to have won Michigan by 0.4% if she were listed first and about 0.09% if neither candidate were consistently listed in the first position.

It may seem surprising to suggest that anyone’s presidential vote would hinge on the order of candidates’ names, but the evidence is strong. In a paper I published with colleagues in Public Opinion Quarterly in 2014, we looked at name order effects across 76 contests in California – one of the few states that rotates the order of candidates on the ballot – to estimate the size of this benefit. We later replicated the results in a study of North Dakota. Both times, we found that first-listed candidates received a benefit and that the effect was present, though smaller, at the presidential level.

There are many reasons that voters might choose the first name, even if they started their ballots without a predetermined presidential candidate. Some individuals might have been truly ambivalent and selected the first name they had heard of (in this case, “Trump”), others may have instead checked the first straight party box – listed in a similar order – without intending to select our new President-elect. Regardless of the cognitive mechanisms involved, the end result is clear – the “will” of the voters can be diverted by seemingly innocuous features of ballot design.

How broadly is this first-position benefit a problem? Across the country, only seven states vary the order of candidate names across precincts. Another nine choose a single random order for listing candidates in each contest, but use that same order across the entire state. And the rest generally use some combination of alphabetic ordering or a listing based on who won in prior elections at the state level. Michigan’s system – prioritizing the candidate who last won the Governor’s office – is among the most common methods.

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Given the control that Republicans currently hold over governorships, this bias likely helps Republicans maintain their dominance over many state legislatures. And the effects of being listed first only grow as you move down the ballot. In our study of California, we found the average benefit for a Governor was also 0.31 percent*, Senators gained 0.37 percentage points of additional votes, and candidates for other statewide offices gained an average of 0.63 percentage points.

nameordereffect

Source: Prevalence and moderators of the candidate name-order effect evidence from statewide general elections in California Pasek J., Schneider D., Krosnick J.A., Tahk A., Ophir E., Milligan C. (2014) Public Opinion Quarterly, 78 (2) , pp. 416-439.

For a better answer, we might look to the strategy adopted by Michigan’s neighbor to the South. Ohio produces a unique ballot for each precinct where the ordering of candidates’ names is rotated. Although it is too late to prevent this effect from altering the 2016 election, it may have less of an impact if everyone were not filling out ballots with the same candidates listed first.


*this would likely be larger if California did not elect its Governors in non-presidential years.

 

Does Presidential Party Impact Inflation Estimates?

Post developed by Katie Brown and Cassandra Grafström.

113690314So-called “inflation truthers” have made recent news waves with claims that inflation is actually much higher than reported. Mainstream financial news organizations have debunked the inflation truthers charges with the simple math of averages. But what if the truthers are just looking in the wrong place? That is, is there systematic bias not in reported inflation but projected inflation?

Enter the work of Cassandra Grafström, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science and affiliate of the Center for Political Studies (CPS) at the University of Michigan. Grafström, along with Christopher Gandrud of the Hertie School of Governance, conducted research to trace potential partisan biases of inflation estimates.

Grafström and Gandrud began with the widely accepted notion that under more liberal governments, the United States Federal Reserve tends to predict higher inflation. But why? Democratic administrations tend to try to lower unemployment, which causes higher inflation. Under more conservative governments, on the other hand, the Federal Reserve predicts lower inflation. Yet there exists little empirical support for these ideas. Instead, most work on inflation comes from the field of economics, with a focus on comparing Federal predictions with money market predictions.

To test these commonly held ideas, Grafström and Gandrud looked at the Federal Reserve’s predictions across time. The authors took Presidential party and actual monetary and fiscal policies into account. They found that, regardless of actual monetary and fiscal policies, under more liberal presidents, the Federal Reserve over-estimates inflation while under more conservative presidents, the Federal Reserve under-estimates inflation.

In the graph below, perfect predictions would create an error of 0. Points above the line correspond to over-estimation and points below the line correspond to under-estimation. As we can see, when a Democrat is president, estimate errors tend to be above the line, while the average of Republican errors falls below the line.

 Errors in Inflation Forecasts Across Time by Presidential Party

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 7.29.39 PM

Grafström and Gandrud also wondered if control of Congress plays a role. To test this, they considered the joint influence of presidential party and the majority party in Congress. As the graph below shows, presidential party drives the trend. Interestingly, a Republican controlled Congress makes the original results stronger. That is, with a Democratic president and Republican congress, there is greater over-estimation of inflation. Likewise, with a Republican president and Republican congress, there is greater under-estimation of inflation. The graph below illustrates these findings (0 would again represent a match between predicted and actual inflation)

Errors in Inflation Forecasts Across Time by Presidential and Congress Majority Parties

Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 7.29.50 PM

Given the clear links between presidential partisanship and inflation forecasts, the authors worry that this likely translates into biased monetary and fiscal policies. That is, over-estimated inflation under Democratic presidents may lead to more restrictive monetary and fiscal policies. On the other hand, under-estimated inflation under Republican presidents may lead to more expansive monetary and fiscal policies. In both cases, the policy changes would be based on forecasts biased by flawed but accepted rules of thumb about inflation under Democrat vs. Republican presidents.

How accurate is marketing data?

Post developed by Katie Brown and Josh Pasek.

Photo credit: ThinkStock

Photo credit: ThinkStock

Have you noticed how the products you look at online seem to follow you from site to site and the coupons you receive in the mail sometimes seem a little too targeted? This happens because a set of companies are gathering information about Americans and merging them together into vast marketing databases. In addition to creating awkwardly personal advertisements, these data might be useful for researchers who want to know about the kinds of people who are and are not responding to public opinion surveys.

But before marketing data are incorporated into social science analyses, it is important to know how accurate the information actually is. Indeed, there are many concerns about consumer data. It could be out of date, incomplete, linked to the wrong person, or simply false for a variety of reasons. If we don’t know when marketing data are accurate, it is going to be difficult to figure out how these data can be used.

This is where the work of Josh Pasek, Center for Political Studies (CPS) Faculty Associate and Assistant Professor of Communication, comes in. Pasek, along with S. Mo Jang, Curtiss L. Cobb, J. Michael Dennis, and Charles DiSogra, have a forthcoming paper in Public Opinion Quarterly about the utility of marketing data. With Gfk Custom Research, 25,000 random addresses were selected, with about 10% of those joining the study. The marketing data available on these individuals was then matched against data collected as part of the study.

Interestingly, many variables showed large discrepancies between the two sources. Incomes mismatched by more than $10,000 for 43% of participants, while education level differed in at least two measures for 25%. Even the number of people living at the address differed by two or more in 35% of cases. Pasek and colleagues also investigate missing data with three different analyses. Ultimately, they find that the amount of data missing from consumer data is vast.

But at the same time, the consumer data performed better than chance in predicting actual data for all variables. This may make them useful for marketing purposes, but Pasek cautions that social scientific applications could be problematic. As Pasek says, “The bottom line is that these data are not consistently accurate. Although they may be great for targeting people who are more likely to buy a particular brand of shoes, our results suggest that marketing databases don’t have the precision for many research purposes.”

The American Voter – A Seminal Text in Political Science

Post developed by Katie Brown.

ANES65th

This post is part of a series celebrating the 65th anniversary of the American National Election Studies (ANES). The posts will seek to highlight some of the many ways in which the ANES has benefited scholarship, the public, and the advancement of science.

 

University of Michigan political scientists Angus Campbell, Philip E. Converse, Warren E. Miller, and Donald E. Stokes published The American Voter in 1960. The American Voter takes root in a time of changing notions about individuals and decision-making. In the 1940s, Paul Lazarsfeld and the Columbia school placed a new emphasis on demographic factors in responses to media and support for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

220px-Angus_Campbell_-_The_American_Voter_(1960)In The American Voter, Campbell, Converse, Miller, and Stokes became part of this behavioral revolution as they considered audience traits in the context of politics. The main argument of the book holds that most American voters cast their ballots on the basis of party identification. Specifically, voter decisions pass through a funnel. At the opening of the funnel is party identification. With this lens, voters process issue agenda. They then narrow down to evaluate candidate traits. Finally, at the small end of the funnel is vote choice. This understanding of voters encompasses the “Michigan Model.”

In time, the Michigan Model was revised. The original Michigan Model held party identification as king. This thesis maps onto the strong post-World War II Democratic party, strengthened by Roosevelt. In the next few decades, party identification weakened. More recently, party identification reemerged stronger than ever due to a variety of factors, including changing campaign strategy and polarization.

So while these new generations of scholars find different balances between party identification and other factors influencing vote choice, The American Voter provided a bar against which this change could be measured.

The American Voter also enabled the tools of measurement with ANES. The American Voter utilized early waves of what would become the American National Election Studies (ANES), which Miller himself facilitated. The ANES developed into a multi-wave, decade-spanning project offering continuous data on the American electorate since 1948.

Cited over 6,500 times to date, the book remains a seminal text in political science.

Measuring Political Polarization

Post developed by Katie Brown and Shanto Iyengar.

The inaugural Michigan Political Communication Workshop welcomed renowned political science and communication scholar Shanto Iyengar from Stanford University. Iyengar presented a talk entitled “Fear and Loathing across Party Lines.”

Iyengar began by considering the current polarized state of American politics. Both parties moving toward ideological poles has resulted in policy gridlock (see: government shutdown, debt ceiling negotiations). But does this polarization extend to the public in general? To answer this question, Iyengar measured individual resentment with both explicit and implicit measures.

Iyengar1

2008 ANES: Party vs Other Divisions

 

For an explicit measure, Iyengar turned to survey evidence. The American National Election Studies (ANES) indeed illustrates a significant decline in ratings of the other party based on feeling thermometer questions. Likewise, social distance between parties has increased over time, as measured by stereotypes of party supporters and marriage across party lines. In fact, this out-group animosity marks a deeper divide than other considerations, even race (see graph below).

But these surveys gauge animosity at the conscious level. Iyengar also believes mental operations concerning out-party evaluations occur outside of conscious awareness. So, along with Sean J. Westwood, Iyengar pioneered implicit measures of out-party animosity. Specifically, Iyengar and Westwood adapted the Implicit Association Test— originally used to capture racism – to political parties. Interestingly, the IAT also captured this animosity, although the polarization was more pronounced with the explicit survey measures. The chart on the left shows the starker divide between Democrats and Republicans using the feeling thermometer; the chart on the right shows the difference with the IAT.

Iyengar2

Comparing Implicit with Explicit Affect

Iyengar also adapted classic economic games to test implicit out-party animosity. Both games allow the participant to share a proportion of money provided by the researchers. Interestingly, participants gave less to out-party opponents. Iyengar cites this as evidence of implicit out-party bias.

Iyengar3

Economic Game Results by Party

Together, these results suggest marked party polarization. The hostility is so strong that politicians running on a bipartisan platform are likely to be out of step with public opinion.

Political Ads, Emotional Arousal, and Political Participation

Post developed by Katie Brown and Kristyn L. Karl.

It’s election time again. And elections bring advertising assaults by Internet, radio, and TV. In Michigan and Iowa, there is one political TV ad every two minutes. But what effect does this have on potential voters?

Center for Political Studies (CPS) affiliate and Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the University of Michigan Kristyn L. Karl investigated this question. Where previous research in this area uses self-reported measures of emotional response, Karl tackled the issue with a randomized experiment capturing a direct measure of physiological arousal – skin conductance. She was interested in the impact of emotional arousal from political ads on citizens’ intention to participate in politics.

Sample Skin Conductance Output

Sample Skin Conductance Output

For the study, Karl brought participants into the lab and measured their skin conductance while watching a political advertisement. The ad was fictitious and created in a way that gave Karl control over the message, images, music, and structure. Karl designed four ads: a positive Democratic or Republican ad, and attack ads on Democrats or Republicans. Participants randomly watched one of the four ads while their physiological arousal was captured; after the ad, they reported their current emotions and their willingness to participate with regard to 1) signing a petition, 2) initiating a conversation on a political topic, and 3) attending a meeting, rally, or demonstration.

Karl finds some key differences between political novices and more experienced participants. For political novices, both physiological arousal and self-reported negative emotion positively predicted participation in politics. Among political experts, however, the connection between arousal, self-reported emotion, and intended participation is more muted. Specifically, while the trend is still positive, the effect fails to reach statistical significance.

The Marginal Effect of Physiological Arousal on Political Participation by Political Sophistication

graph

Karl turns to theory to explain the limited effect of arousal on intention to participate among experts. Experts have a well-developed cognitive network about politics which, for better or worse, allows them to more easily interpret and condition their emotional responses to political stimuli. Political novices do not have this expansive network and so react in a more instinctual way. The model below captures this:

flowchart

This experiment highlights the importance of using alternative measures of emotional arousal as a complementary tool to self-reported measures. Moreover, it draws attention to the question of for whom political ads are motivating and how do they work.

And the best election predictor is…

Post developed by Katie Brown and Josh Pasek.

Photo credit: ThinkStock

Photo credit: ThinkStock

With each election cycle, the news media publicize day-to-day opinion polls, hoping to scoop election results. But surveys like these are blunt instruments. Or so says Center for Political Studies (CPS) Faculty Associate and Communication Studies Assistant Professor Josh Pasek.

Pasek pinpoints three main issues with current measures of vote choice. First, they do not account for day-to-day changes. Second, they capture the present moment as opposed to election day. Finally, they can be misleading due to sampling error or question wording.

Given these problems, Pasek searched for the most accurate way to combine surveys in order to predict elections. The results will be published in a forthcoming paper in Public Opinion Quarterly. Here, we highlight his main findings. Pasek breaks down three main strategies for pooling surveys: aggregation, prediction, and hybrid models.

Aggregation – what news companies call the “poll of polls” – combines the results of many polls. In this approach, there is choice in which surveys to include and how to combine results. While aggregating creates more stable results by spreading across surveys, an aggregation is a much better measure of what is happening at the moment than what will happen on election day.

Prediction  takes the results of previous elections, current polls, and other variables to extrapolate to election day. The upside of prediction is its focus on election day as opposed to the present and the ability to incorporate information beyond polls. But, because the models are designed to test political theories, they typically use only a few variables. This means that their predictive power may be limited and depends on the availability of good data from past elections.

Hybrid approaches utilize some combination of polls, historical performance, betting markets, and expert ratings to build complex models of elections. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight – which won accolades for accurately predicting the 2012 election – takes a hybrid approach. Because these approaches pull from so many sources of information, they tend to be more accurate. Yet the models are quite complex, making them difficult for most readers to understand.

So which pooling approaches should you look at? That depends on what you want to know. Pasek concludes, “If you want a picture of what’s happening, look at an aggregation; if you want to know what’s going to happen on election day, your best bet is a hybrid model; and if you want to know how well we understand elections, compare the prediction models with the actual results.”

What do Birthers have in common? (Besides believing Obama was born outside the U.S.)

Post developed by Katie Brown and Josh Pasek.

The Birther movement contends that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Even after releasing Obama’s short form and long form birth certificates to the public, which should have settled the matter, the rumors to the contrary continued. Some contend Obama was born in Kenya. Others argue he forfeited American citizenship while living in Indonesia as a child.

What drives these beliefs?

Obama's Short-form Birth Certificate, courtesy of whitehouse.gov

Obama’s short form birth certificate, courtesy of whitehouse.gov

Center for Political Studies (CPS) Faculty Associate and Communication Studies Assistant Professor of  Josh Pasek – along with Tobias Stark, Jon Krosnick, and Trevor Tompson – investigated the issue.

The researchers analyzed data from a survey conducted by the Associated Press, GfK, Stanford University, and the University of Michigan. The survey asked participants where they believed Obama was born. The survey also asked about political ideology, party identification, approval of the President’s job, and attitudes toward Blacks.

21.7% of White Americans did not think Obama was born in the U.S.; their answers included “not in the U.S.,” “Thailand,” “the bush,” and, most frequently, “Kenya.”

Further analyses revealed that Republicans and conservatives were more likely to believe Obama was born abroad. Likewise, negative attitudes toward blacks also correlated with Birther endorsement. Importantly, disapproval of Obama mediated the connection between both ideology and racism on the one hand and Birther beliefs on the other.

The authors conclude that, “Individuals most motivated to disapprove of the president – due to partisanship, liberal/conservative self-identification, and attitudes toward Blacks – were the most likely to hold beliefs that he was not born in the United States.” Put simply, the key feature of Birthers wasn’t that they were Republicans or that they held anti-Black attitudes, but that they disapproved of the president. It was this disapproval that was most closely associated with the willingness to believe that President Obama was ineligible for his office.

The full Electoral Studies article can be found here.

Cutting through the Clutter: How to Inform the Politically Ignorant (i.e., Everyone)

Post developed by Katie Brown and Arthur Lupia.

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Photo credit: ThinkStock

In a post last year, Center for Political Studies (CPS) Research Professor and Professor of Political Science Arthur Lupia declared there to be two types of people: those who are ignorant about politics and those who are delusional about how much they know. There is no third group.

If people lack information, it can lead to bad decision-making. As part of an effort to reduce bad decisions, Lupia examines how to inform voters more effectively in his forthcoming book, How to Educate Ignorant People about Politics: A Scientific Perspective.

Lupia focuses on improving the efforts of teachers, scientists, faith leaders, issue advocates, journalists, and political campaigners. How can they best educate others? To further this goal, Lupia focuses on the transmission of information. He clarifies how different kinds of information can improve important kinds of knowledge and competence. A key part of Lupia’s argument is that people are easily distracted and often evaluate information based on how it makes them feel. As a result, the way to improve knowledge and competence is to find factual information that is not only relevant to the decisions that people actually have to make but also consistent with their values and core beliefs. For if a person sees factual information that is inconsistent with their values and beliefs, they tend to ignore it; and if the information is not relevant to their actions, then it cannot improve their competence. In this examination, facts are not enough. The real task is to convey facts to which people want to pay attention.

Despite the pessimistic premise of broad ignorance, Lupia is ultimately optimistic. The central thesis of his book is that offering helpful information is possible. Or as he puts it, “Educators can convey valuable information more effectively and efficiently if they know a few more things about how people think and learn.”