Category Archives: Politics

The Partisan Gap Amongst Female Politicians is Likely to Get Worse

If I’m being honest, when I first read the title of this journal article “A partisan gap in the supply of female potential candidates in the United States,” I didn’t think twice. Pew often publishes surveys/research that seemed to indicate that the gap between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, with regard to women candidates, was very unequal. As a result, I didn’t expect to be surprised when reading the journal article. However, there was one section that I think is especially important [Emphasis Added]:

Previous studies demonstrating single digit gender gaps in US party identification have not been able to explain the much larger gap when it comes to US elected officials. But representatives do not emerge from the public at large: they are disproportionately individuals with high education, high occupational prestige, and clear partisan preferences.

The researchers are implying that the people who run for office aren’t usually representative of the population at large (something we already knew). The important part here, though, is that they used this assumption to extrapolate to future Congress’s [Emphasis Added]:

By estimating the gender composition of this select group by partisanship, we find that the partisan gender gap is much larger among the kinds of citizens who tend to become representatives and that the emergence of this gap was contemporaneous with the historical emergence of a partisan gender gap in the US House.

Meaning, amongst those people who are more likely to seek political office, there is a larger gender gap than there is amongst the general population. Taking this one step further [Emphasis Added]:

Given the current associations between gender, partisanship, and other attributes among the public, the data suggest that future generational replacement may exacerbate the already significant gap in women’s descriptive representation between the parties, potentially reshaping the behavior of each party’s elected officials, the quality of representation available to diverse members of the public, and opinions of the public toward the Republican and Democratic parties.

Translation: if things continue as they are, the gender gap between Democrats and Republicans is likely to get worse — much worse — and it’s already pretty bad.

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Given how things can shift from year-to-year (or session-to-session), it’s hard to too confident in categorically saying that the Democrats will continue to have more women in their ranks than the Republicans. However, the data certainly seem to point to things not getting better.

While my views tend to lean to the liberal side of the spectrum, I’d still like to see more women represented in the Republican party. They are one of the two dominant (only? viable?) parties in the US and if there’s only one party that’s represented by women, that won’t necessarily lead to the best decisions for women or for Americans (and by extension, citizens of the world in general).

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Assuming that Hillary Clinton is able to become the first woman POTUS, I’d be really curious to see the result of a longitudinal study on women in politics. Theoretically, by having a Madam President, there’d be a role model for young women to aspire to. So, I’d want to test the attitudes of young women (pre-teens and teens) every year for the next 20+ years to see if there is an increase in the number of young women who aspire to be Congresswomen, Senators, and maybe even President of the United States! My hypothesis is that there’d be an increase in the desire amongst the people tested, but as the research earlier in this post alluded to, in order for there to be an increase in the number of women in politics, there needs to be an increase in the number of women who are more likely to run for President from that group of people.

ResearchBlogging.orgCrowder-Meyer, M., & Lauderdale, B. (2014). A partisan gap in the supply of female potential candidates in the United States Research & Politics, 1 (1) DOI: 10.1177/2053168014537230

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Quick Thoughts on “Obama’s Stealth Startup”

A couple of weeks ago, there was a great article in Fast Company about President Obama’s initiative to bring the the technology used in the US bureaucracy into the 21st century. After reading it, there were a few things that came to mind, so I thought I’d write a post with some “Quick Thoughts” as I have in past instances for other events/articles.

1. The first thing that struck me was this idea that Silicon Valley wants to change the world. In particular, the idea that they “think” they are changing the world, but that they actually aren’t. It reminded me of the penultimate episode of Season 1 of “Silicon Valley,” the HBO series. In it, the show parodies Silicon Valley startups who purport to “change the world.” You can see part of it in the beginning of this clip:

In remembering this episode, I wonder if it was like this in previous generations. Obviously, the technology in previous generations was different, especially because companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft weren’t even conceived. In addition, “Silicon Valley” looked very different in the ’40s and ’50s than it did in the ’70s and the ’80s. Nonetheless, I wonder if there were idealistic twentysomethings trying to create things that would revolutionize the way something worked.

 

2. The second thing that came to mind was this idea that lawyers spend a couple yrs in DC between jobs. When I lived in the DC area, I remember one of the jokes being that DC has more lawyers per capita than any other city in the US and part of that was because of the government. It also reminded me of scene from The West Wing in Season 7 when Josh Lyman (who has a law degree) flies to California to recruit Sam Seaborn (who is a lawyer) to come work with him at the White House.

I think it’s a fantastic idea to recruit folks who are wizards with technology into highly placed government positions to help accelerate the transition for many government agencies. Goodness knows that the VA could use a technology-upgrade. In thinking about this idea, though, it made me wonder if there are other professions that could also do with a “stopover” of sorts in the government, contributing their unique skillsets to advancing the mission of the US government. Lawyers already make the most sense as they’re position to write/interpret laws, but what other professions would be well-suited for short stints in the government?

Scientists probably also make sense. I’m reminded of Patrick Dempsey’s character from Grey’s Anatomy (Derek Shepherd) who was working on a brain initiative. I’d imagine that scientists in other fields could also do well to spend some time in a government agency, but that’s not really outside the norm. Meaning, that’s already a career path that’s identified for scientists. I wonder, are there other professions for which working in DC is not something that’s on the radar.

Big Government NOT Linked to Greater Corruption

You hear it all the time: “Big government is the problem.” “We need to reduce the size of the government if we want to eliminate corruption.” As it turns out, just because the government grows in size doesn’t mean that corruption will grow along with it.

From a journal article published last year [Emphasis added]:

This study’s findings suggest that anticorruption policy is regularly hindered by oversimplistic analyses suggesting that “government size” must be synonymous with “corruption,” and that by cutting its government a country is concomitantly reducing the opportunities for the abuse of public office. In contrast with such analyses, this study found no evidence that government size is directly associated with corruption. In fact, the findings presented here indicate that generally the reverse is true. Government size is inversely linked to the level of corruption across nations.

You read that right — the size of the government is inversely linked to the level of corruption across nations. Meaning, as the size of the government grows, the level of corruption seems to go down.

If you had to guess, what would you say would be the most effective way to reduce corruption? There’s a strong hint in the title of the journal article. From the article [Emphasis Added]:

This study’s analysis suggests that an increase in nonprofit sector size should have the greatest anticorruption effect.

This study was done on a global-scale. Here’s a list of some of the countries that were included (there were 50 in all): Argentina, Canada, Denmark, India, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Sweden, and South Korea. The study also looked at corruption at the national level.

Maybe this is a good time to clarify that one can’t actually measure corruption as it happens because by definition, corruption happens in secret. In order to get around this, proxies like “Black Market” activity are used. In this study, the researchers relied on the “Corruption Perception Index.”

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Even with studies like this being published, I worry that folks hellbent on “drowning government in the bathtub” will continue to use corruption in the opening salvo. And when pressed to face the facts of studies like this, they’ll explain it away as not being “relevant” to the US. So, I’d really like to see a study that specifically looks at government corruption in the US. Again, I realize the limitations of taking on a research question like this, but I think it would be interesting to look at the level of corruption in local and state governments. In fact, I’m sure there’d be differences in the level of corruption when moving from state to state, but I wonder if the difference in corruption would be negligible or if we might find something substantial. More than that, I’d be interested to see if government corruption is more strongly linked to one party or the other.

ResearchBlogging.orgThemudo, N. (2014). Government Size, Nonprofit Sector Strength, and Corruption: A Cross-National Examination The American Review of Public Administration, 44 (3), 309-323 DOI: 10.1177/0275074012465791

Do Public Sector Employees Volunteer More Than Private Sector Employees?

I have a confession to make right off the bat — I wrote the headline for this post specifically to counter Betteridge’s law of headlines. If you’re familiar with it, then you’ve already realized that the answer to the question posed is yes.

From the research:

The models showed that government employees volunteered more in general, and participated in a wider range of organizations. However, when the data is examined more closely, the models suggested that these initial big differences are driven primarily by volunteering in two specific types of organizations: educational institutions and political groups. As expected, having children in the household predicted involvement in educational institutions. Other factors such as education, income, health, and formal and informal connectedness explained the higher participation in other venues, but even controlling for all these factors, government employees were still significantly more likely to volunteer in educational and political institutions.

I find it interesting that even when controlling for things that we might think have be confounding, the effect still holds. More than that, though, is the sample. The researchers mention that people older than 60 were oversampled, but that they also too steps to account for this. However, it’s noteworthy that the years from which these data are pulled are quite “old.” In fact, they pulled data from 2008 and even in 2002! Of course, given limited access to data, I can understand this, but when taking this into account, I’m inclined to think that if the researchers were to duplicate the study with more recent data, they’d find an even bigger effect. Consider this:

According to an AP-GfK poll of 1,044 adults, three out of ten (29 percent) Americans under the age of 30 agreed that citizens have a “very important obligation” to volunteer, a significant increase from the 19 percent who said the same thing in a 1984 survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago.

There’s also the idea that millennials prefer a career that “matters” over a career solely motivated by money.

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Let’s assume for a second that public sector employees and private sector employees have the same motivations and that they’re equally likely to volunteer. This isn’t true given the research I’ve included above, but stay with me for a second. Let’s also assume that education, socioeconomic status, and all the other possible confounding variables are equal. Meaning, let’s assume that there’s no difference between a public sector employee and a private sector employee except for the number of hours they work each week. It’s no secret that working in some (many?) private sector jobs, 40-hour workweeks (or less) are the exception rather than the norm. So I wonder, maybe public sector employees volunteering more than their counterparts is a question of availability. If pubic sector employees work only 40 hours in a week, while their private sector counterparts are working 50- or 55-hour workweeks, it stands to reason that public sector employees may be more likely to volunteer simply because they have more time to volunteer. Food for thought.

ResearchBlogging.orgErtas, N. (2014). Public Service Motivation Theory and Voluntary Organizations: Do Government Employees Volunteer More? Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 43 (2), 254-271 DOI: 10.1177/0899764012459254

When Will the United States Next Have a Transformational President on Domestic Policy?

I was catching up on some of the journal articles I’ve accumulated to read over the last year and I one caught my eye: “Transformational and transactional presidents,” by Joseph Nye, Jr. In the article, Nye makes the case that presidents didn’t matter (as much) to the US developing into a great power as we may have previously thought. Furthermore, Nye makes the case that our definitions of the two types of leadership aren’t clear and that the preference for transformational leaders is misplaced.

One of the parts that I enjoyed about this brief article was how Nye identified that presidents can be transformational and transactional at the same time. How? Because there are many different facets to a presidency and so while a president may be transformational in domestic policy, they might not be in foreign policy. Similarly, they can not be transformational in foreign policy early on in their term, but become transformational in response to external events.

Upon finishing the article, I was left wondering if (when?) the United States will again have a transformational president, with regard to domestic policy. Nye didn’t make this case in the article (but maybe he did in his book?), but based on his definition of transformational leaders, with regard to objectives [seeking major change], President Obama was certainly a transformational president. Obamacare is a sweeping change to the way that the US administers healthcare to its people. At the time, President Obama also enjoyed majorities in both the Senate and the House, so this kind of change was more possible (especially more possible than it is now. Can you imagine Pres. Obama trying to pass anything close to Obamacare with the GOP-controlled House and Senate?)

Given Hillary Clinton’s speech this past weekend, I’m inclined to think that she has ideas about domestic policy that would make her a transformational president. However, based on what’s been written about the likelihood of the GOP to continue to hold the majority in the House (redistricting, etc.), it doesn’t seem like there’s likely to be a Democratic-controlled House for the next few election cycles. It’s possible that the Senate flips back to the Democrats in 2016, but they’d need the House to also make a “big change.” So, it seems that, if there’s going to be a transformational president (on domestic policy), it’d have to come from the GOP.

I haven’t been following too closely the candidates from the GOP side, especially with regard to their domestic policy ideas, but is there a transformational president amongst them? There could be, but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see. If neither party is able to sweep the polls in 2016, we might be waiting for a transformational president on domestic policy in the US until at least the next decade.

ResearchBlogging.orgNye, J. (2013). Transformational and transactional presidents Leadership, 10 (1), 118-124 DOI: 10.1177/1742715013512049

What if We Treated Prisoners Like Humans?

There was an excellent article in last week’s New York Times Magazine about a maximum-security prison in Norway. Though, when you read about this prison, it sounds nothing like any prison you’ve probably heard about in the US or Canada:

Norway’s newest prison was marked by a modest sign that read, simply, HALDEN ­FENGSEL. There were no signs warning against picking up hitchhikers, no visible fences. Only the 25-­foot-­tall floodlights rising along the edges hinted that something other than grazing cows lay ahead.

[…]

I walked up the quiet driveway to the entrance and presented myself to a camera at the main door. There were no coils of razor wire in sight, no lethal electric fences, no towers manned by snipers — nothing violent, threatening or dangerous. And yet no prisoner has ever tried to escape. I rang the intercom, the lock disengaged with a click and I stepped inside.

If you think the description of the appearance is surprising, I’d encourage you to read the article as the journalist who wrote the article did a wonderful job painting the picture of what it’s like inside the prison. Here’s another snippet about what it was like to be with the most dangerous prisoners (i.e. violent crimes like murder, assault, rape, etc.) that I found… enlightening:

I met some of the prisoners of Unit A one afternoon in the common room of an eight-­man cell block. I was asked to respect the inmates’ preferences for anonymity or naming, and for their choices in discussing their cases with me. The Norwegian news media does not often identify suspects or convicts by name, so confirming the details of their stories was not always possible. I sat on an orange vinyl couch next to a wooden shelving unit with a few haphazard piles of board games and magazines and legal books. On the other side of the room, near a window overlooking the unit’s gravel yard, a couple of inmates were absorbed in a card game with a guard.

An inmate named Omar passed me a freshly pressed heart-­shaped waffle over my shoulder on a paper plate, interrupting an intense monologue directed at me in excellent English by Chris Giske, a large man with a thick goatee and a shaved head who was wearing a heavy gold chain over a T-­shirt that strained around his barrel-­shaped torso.

The thing that struck me most about this article was the underlying philosophy of the Norwegian prison system: prisoners are humans, too. Think about for a minute what it might like to be in a maximum-security prison in the US. How much freedom do you think you’d have? I’ve never visited a maximum-security prison, but based on what I’ve read, it’s certainly not somewhere I’d like to spend my afternoons. What’s worse is that some of the people in those kinds of facilities are meant to reintegrate into society when they’ve completed their sentence. If they spend so much time by themselves and then when they do get to socialize, they do so in a manner that would be wholly unacceptable when they’re ‘out,’ how can we, as a society, expect them to be ‘better’ once they’re out of prison?

I’m not arguing for every prison in the US and Canada to look switch over and look like this one in Norway (though, imagine what that would look like), but I think it’s important for us to consider the way we treat our fellow humans — even if they’ve done some unspeakable acts. Even if you’re not willing to consider treating someone like that in a more humane way, consider that it could be you. And before you get all high and mighty, remember that not all prisoners are guilty of what they’ve been accused of and subsequently convicted for.

We will never know for sure, but the few studies that have been done estimate that between 2.3% and 5% of all prisoners in the U.S. are innocent (for context, if just 1% of all prisoners are innocent, that would mean that more than 20,000 innocent people are in prison).

Solving False Equivalence in Politics?

Last week, John Oliver had a great segment that poked fun at how most (all?) television outlets cover climate change. Take a look:

Upon watching it, I didn’t think that Oliver was going to “even out” the representation in a physical manner. Instead, I thought that he was going to solve the issue of the “talking heads” appearing equal. Let me explain. Watch this:

That’s Lewis Black from the 2006 film, Man of the Year. I have no doubt that this sentiment had been expressed before this film, but this was the first time that I had heard it in this way. Hosting someone on a TV program with ideas that are clearly incorrect and putting their “talking head” up next to someone who has legitimately studied and confirmed that the other person is incorrect is a form of false equivalence.

As Black explains, to the viewer, both of these sides appear “equal.” It appears that one person is expressing an opinion and that the other person has a different opinion. What’s being missed is that one person’s opinion is factually erroneous (just as we saw in the video with Bill Nye earlier).

When I was watching the Oliver video, it made me think that he was going to do something else. I thought he was going to show the two talking heads in boxes (as you usually see on “debates” on political talk shows), but instead of giving them both a 50/50 split on the screen, I thought he was going to ration it more appropriately given the overwhelming support for climate change. I thought he’d give Bill Nye’s box 97% of the screen and the other guy’s box 3% of the screen.

I realize that this probably wouldn’t work in an actual talk show, but since I knew it was supposed to be semi-satirical, it seemed like a plausible idea.

On that note, can you imagine if that’s how political talk shows actually did things? That is, instead of having that 50/50 split, when they were talking about something factual, the size of the box for the talking head espousing the nonfactual opinion would be smaller. Of course, there’s all kinds of problem that could be raised with regard to censorship, but it’s certainly creative.