Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Getting All Partisan and Elite

First I'm gonna be partisan.

David Atkins has one of the best brief descriptions of the present state of the Republican Party. It requires a demographic setup by Jonathan Chait:

The Republican Party constructed a geriatric trap for itself. Just how it will escape is hard to see. It is a small-government party whose base is wedded to the programs that constitute a large and growing share of government. The inability to touch the benefits of any old person, in combination with its still-extant support for defense and fanatical opposition to tax hikes in any form, have driven Republicans to propose massive cuts to the small share of government that benefits struggling workers. This priority has, in turn, saddled the GOP with the (correct) image of hostility toward the unfortunate.

Atkins continues:
The easiest way for the Republican Party to escape would simply be to abandon its pretense of fiscal austerity—it is, after all, a kabuki show that closes up whenever a Republican is president—and wholly embrace becoming a party of elderly voters driven by cultural resentment. The GOP could, in effect, treat cuts to Social Security and Medicare as equally sacrosanct with cuts to the military, and then suggest that literally everything else in the budget be cut first. If they can get a Democratic president to go along with it, then so much the better for them.

Some Republicans are doing that already, of course. But the challenge for conservatives is that a new generation of lawmakers and activists grew up actually believing the Objectivist rhetoric of fiscal austerity and intend to see it enacted. Not only are Republicans unlikely to start treating spending on retirees as a sacred cow, they’re even moving away from protecting military spending as well.

GOP leadership knows that in the medium-term it has to reach out to younger voters and voters of color. But their base rejects out-of-hand any of the policy changes that would be required to even begin to do that. 

So instead the GOP just plods along incoherently, moving opportunistically to capitalize on fear and cultural prejudice, but lacking in a broader strategic vision for its future. It’s so hostage to its own extremism and demographic traps that it can’t even take advantage of an amazing opportunity to enact their policy agenda, even when a Democratic president offers it to them on a silver platter.
Think that's partisan? Well, ain't NOTHING more partisan than a little gerrymandering. It's the second thing us Democrats leap to when assigning blame for losing control of the House, right below the Koch Brothers.
(Pro tip: Hollering "Koch Brothers" isn't about motivating actual voters, who have no idea who they are. It's about motivating donors.)

But back to gerrymandering, Nate Cohn looks at Pennsylvania as a test case and argues the problem is more a matter of birds of a feather flocking together.
“The fact that Democrats do so much better in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh than the Republicans do in their best counties is responsible for the entire Democratic advantage in Pennsylvania.”

The result is that Democrats win Pennsylvania but aren’t positioned to win a majority of its congressional districts.

“This wasted vote problem has been steadily getting worse for Democrats. Both parties have made gains in base areas since 1992, but the Democratic gains are larger.
Kevin Drum is more direct:
Gerrymandering is what it is. The best studies I've seen suggest that it accounts for 6-8 additional Republican seats. The rest of the Republican advantage is due to the incumbency effect; self-sorting; natural Democratic clumping in urban areas; and a few other minor things.

So: Is gerrymandering responsible for Republican control of the House? No. Is it partially responsible? Yes. What's so hard about this?

Enough partisanship. Time to get elite. This Politico survey of an "Elite 50" is most interesting for the places where elite opinion and public opinion diverge. Much of the difference seems to reflect education and economic class differences between a panel of experts and a random survey. Most notable:

Elite opinion is much more likely to accept the reality and human causes of climate change. The general public is to some extent in denial and refusing to accept that major lifestyle changes (like living closer to where you work, not driving a car everywhere, and not building refrigerated cities in the desert) are going to have to happen.

A majority of the general public is supportive of marriage equality, which would have seemed like a miracle a dozen years ago when Howard Dean was a "radical" for supporting civil unions. But a very large minority is still opposed. In contrast, elite opinion is near unanimous for marriage equality.

In foreign policy, opinion leaders overwhelmingly sees the Iraq war as a mistake and Afghanistan as the right call. But the general public more evenly divided, still unable to balance supporting the troops with opposing a policy.

The general public, probably thinking in terms of jobs and economy, see China as the greatest international threat. But elites, no doubt thinking through China's obsession with "stability," see Putin's Russia as more dangerous. On the other hand, the general public is scared of Kim Jong Un's atomic posturing, but elites see it as empty threat.

And surprisingly, elites and the public are in line on drug policy, with near-identical majorites in favor of marijuana legalization.

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