Food Fight! Can Food Brands Predict Elections?

UntitledA few weeks ago on Meet the Press, Chuck Todd proposed that the fate of the Senate could come down to the distribution of Starbucks coffee shops (an elitist, urban chain) vs. Chick-fil-A restaurants (propagated by rural, social conservatives).  He predicted “it could be advantage to the chicken” this November. Click here for a video of Todd’s segment.

David Wasserman of FiveThirtyEight went one step further, taking the time to actually map Chick-fil-A and Starbucks locations.  Because, you know, data!  He then compared the distribution of both restaurants and compared them with Obama’s vote share in 2008. Here’s what Wasserman found:

When I mapped Chick-fil-A’s 1,845 stores, what I found surprised me: A majority (52 percent) are located in counties President Obama won in 2008 and 49 percent are in counties he carried in 2012. On the flip side, it might surprise Todd’s viewers that 57 percent of the 976 American counties with a Starbucks voted for John McCain in 2008 and 63 percent voted for Romney in 2012.

Wasserman proceeds to remind voters of an earlier post of his (see here) showing that, unlike Chick-fil-A and Starbucks locations, the number of of Whole Foods stores and Cracker Barrel restaurants does correlate highly with Obama’s vote share.  He notes:

In 2012, Obama won 77 percent of all counties with a Whole Foods and just 29 percent of all counties with a Cracker Barrel.

Now, yes, food can be political.  Look no further than pizza, where we can easily find not one, but two examples of this.  BrandIndex (a company that tracks the reputations of food chains) reports that perceptions of Godfater’s Pizza soared with Republicans and dropped with Democrats after their former CEO–the one and only Herman Cain–decided to run for president.  We saw the same pattern with pizza chain Papa John’s, after it’s CEO–John Schnatter–promised to reduce workers hours and increase pizza prices after Obama’s 2012 victory.

But while food can be political, I’m not satisfied with either Chuck Todd or David Wasserman’s dichotomy.  Let’s have a food fight!

What follows is a summary of a 2011 post of mine on this very issue.  In that post, I proposed a better way to correlate peoples’ culinary habits with their voting behavior. Rather than examine the volume of restaurants in a geographic area, let’s look at Google search traffic for these eateries.

I see three advantages with this approach.  First, it’s easy!  Just play with Google Trends for a few minutes and you’ll see why.  Second, the number of restaurants in a geographic area is pretty far removed from the unit of analysis (people).  In contrast, voting behavior and search traffic both derive from individual level behaviors.  And third,  the geographic location of a restaurant (Cracker Barrel) vs. a large grocery store (Whole Foods) has more to do with geographic dispersion and population density than anything else.  It’s not surprising that Cracker Barrels are more numerous in less populated, rural settings: they cost less to build and operate!  In contrast, you wouldn’t put a 35,000 square foot Whole Foods in small town (irrespective of whether people in that town are staunch social conservatives or big government lefties).

In this old post, I proposed two more reliably partisan food chains: Chick-fil-A (like Chuck Todd) and Ben and Jerry’s?  Chick-fil-A, afterall, gave Tea Party Protestors free iced tea on April 15th, has donated nearly $2 million to anti-gay rights groups and is closed on Sundays so their employees can “rest, spend time with family and friends, and worship if they choose to do so.”  Ben and Jerry, by contrast, are two self-described “liberal lefties” who fed ice cream to600 Occupy Wall Street protestors and adopt (gasp) fair trade practices.  In short, these two chains exhibit clear ideological differences (rather than simply correlate with it).

In order to examine this issue, and pit the two typologies against each other on a comparable scale, I coded Google Trends data for the states with the top 10 search results for each of the four chains.  I then merged that with Obama’s share of the two-party vote.  Here are the results.


It appears that my typology with Chick-fil-A vs. Ben and Jerry’s stacks up favorably—if not better—than the Cracker Barrel vs. Whole Foods divide.  By my count, Obama received 64% of the two-party vote in top 10 states for Ben and Jerry’s searches and only 62% in the top 10 states for Whole Foods searches.  Clearly this difference isn’t statistically significant, but it’s a marginal improvement.  In contrast, Obama only received 46% of the two-party vote in top 10 states for Chick-fil-A searches and 50% in top 10 states for Cracker Barrel searches.

Of course there are perfectly good explanations for these effects.  And to his credit, in his old post Wasserman notes one study: Bishop’s “The Big Sort”, which argues that Americans are geographically sorting into homogenous clusters (and the factors which drive this clustering correlate with political ideology).


Posted in Elections, Political Behavior, Voting Behavior | Leave a comment

Don’t like the president’s “power grab” on ISIS? Blame Congress.

Pundits on both sides of the aisle are criticizing the Obama administration’s decision to bomb ISIS targets without seeking congressional approval.  For example, Andrew Sullivan compares Obama’s actions to those of his predecessor, George Bush, calling the president’s decision a “dangerous executive power-grab.”

As someone who favors a strong legislative branch, I agree with Sullivan’s normative point.  Obama should seek Congress’s approval.  But I’m more interested in why he hasn’t.

Here’s my position on the balance of power between the legislative and executive branch: If you don’t like presidential “power grabs,” blame Congress.  Granted, this argument isn’t entirely mine.  See two excellent pieces by Jonathan Bernstein (here) and Doug Mataconis (here) making the same basic point.  Nonetheless, I’d like to add a few additional points to this important discussion.

Let’s start with the broader institutional landscape before focusing on the specifics of this case.  Regarding the broader dynamics, it’s important to keep in mind that what we’re talking about is a systemic transfer of power between branches dating back almost a hundred years.  And in each instance, much of the blame lies with Congress itself.

For example, we could draw upon the so-called “Two Presidencies” thesis.  Fifty years ago, Aaron Wildavsky published an influential article arguing that the “foreign policy president” has greater authority compared to the “domestic policy president.”  At the heart of Wildavsky’s argument is his view that, while presidents have more formal power in foreign policy, Congress (in both WWII and the Cold War ) ceded much of it’s power over foreign policy (adding to the disparity) rather than the president exercising a naked power grab.

Scholars have made similar claims about the Congresses of 1960s and 1970s.  In “Congress, the Constitution, and the Crisis of Legitimation,” Larry Dodd argued that Congress’s decentralized structure (where, in this period, committee chairmen reigned supreme) hurt the institution in a series of power struggles with the president. Simply put, with a decentralized framework, Congress undermined its own legitimacy and the belief that it should act.

If we fast forward, we can see that the modern Congress has the exact opposite problem.  While Congress is a highly centralized body today (where party leaders reign supreme), the institution is hamstrung by polarization and, ultimately, gridlock.  In the “Broken Branch,” Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein contend that representatives and senators lack “institutional patriotism.”  Rather than defend the institution they serve in from executive encroachments, lawmakers identify as partisans first and foremost and do little to enhance the legislature’s institutional capacity.  As an example, consider the so-called “nuclear option” (both instances, in 2005 and 2013) where partisan goals clearly trumped institutional norms.

So in sum, the simple point is that executive “power grabs” are not unique to Obama or modern-day presidents.  Political scientists have noted that Congress has gradually abdicated its own authority in every decade since at least the 1940s.

On the specifics of this controversy, there are a number of things to keep in mind too.  For starters, the president’s justification for bombing ISIS targets comes from prior authorizations passed in 2001 and 2003.  Furthermore, and as Tim Kaine noted in his New York Times editorial, Congress worded these authorizations broadly, without temporal or geographic restrictions.  So in this respect, the Obama administration’s “authority” came from Congress (not some unfounded power grab).

Is Congress powerless in this respect?  No.  Congress can simply revoke the president’s authority.  How?  By passing a law!  In a more general sense, Congress could defund the war effort or impeach the president.  Will lawmakers do any of this?  Of course not.  Less than a month ago, Congress voted overwhelmingly to approve Obama’s proposal to arm moderate Syrian rebels.  Just 22 senators and 156 representatives voted no (with an even balance of Democrats and Republicans in opposition).  In my mind, that’s a sufficient proxy for how a vote on bombing ISIS would turn out.

So, it’s not that Congress is “incapable” or “powerless” against a tyrannical president.  Rather, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are simply “unwilling” to act.  On this issue, retiring Representative Jack Kingston summed it up perfectly:

A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, ‘Just bomb the place and tell us about it later.’ It’s an election year. A lot of Democrats don’t know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don’t want to change anything. We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long.

A final counter argument is that the president should force Congress back from its recess (see for example Eugene Robinson if the Washington Post here).  First of all, there’s nothing stopping the Congress from calling itself back into session.  But second, and more importantly, the president’s power to call Congress back into session is a very powerful tool.  As such, it should be used sparingly.  In fact, since the passage of the 20th Amendment (which moved the start of Congress’s session from March 4 to January 3), there have only been four instances where the president called Congress back into session.  Since 1950, there have been none!

So while the president certainly could call Congress back, that power should be reserved for national emergencies.  Besides, if the president called Congress back for an emergency session, that would be yet another instance of the executive branch exercising its constitutional authority over the legislative branch.  If you’re opposed to presidential “power grabs,” is that really what you want?  As a proponent of a strong legislative branch, I’d much rather Congress call itself back and exert its own constitutional powers.  I don’t blame the president, I blame Congress.

Posted in American Political Development, Legislative Politics, Separation of Powers, The Presidency | 1 Comment

Can Democrats replace Ginsburg?

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in an Elle magazine interview, announced she would not retire because, “[Obama] could not successfully appoint anyone I would like to see on the court… So anybody who thinks that if I step down, Obama could appoint someone like me, they’re misguided.”

Several commentators responded to Ginsburg’s comment with skepticism. Harry Enten at Five Thirty Eight said, “Consider me misguided. Chances are the Senate would approve a justice like Ginsburg.”’s Ezra Klein insinuates that Ginsburg underestimates Democrats’ ability to alter Senate rules. These are all interesting pieces you should read if you have not already. But they are missing some critical points in the hypothetical scenario of replacing a Supreme Court justice.

Today’s Senate politics are the result of a long, downward procedural spiral. Filibuster scholar Steven Smith calls it the Senate Syndrome. In recent years minority parties have increasingly used procedural privileges to obstruct business. Majorities (from both parties) summarily responded with hardball tactics that increasingly exclude the minority party.

This is a relatively recent development. The Senate’s increasingly partisan process can be traced back to the very late-1980s/early-1990s, but really it has only recently begun to fully blossom in the last 15 years. The last decade of Senate politics is arguably the least cooperative, most partisan in its history. That is not to say past policy disagreements were not stark in previous generations. But today’s obstruction and procedural hardball is unmatched.

This has several implications for Ginsburg or future Supreme Court nominees. First, the next Supreme Court confirmation fight will not be the like the others. While confirmations have been made in this partisan environment (Justices Sotomayer, Kagan, Alito, and to a lesser extent Roberts), more recent nominees have faced more partisan opposition. Comparing a Ginsburg replacement debate to any confirmation debate in the last 30-years doesn’t really work. Very heavy-handed partisan tactics have become commonplace. Maneuvers such as routinely filling the amendment tree to prevent minority-sponsored amendments, using 60-vote thresholds to pass amendments (or better put, block unwanted amendments), and the ubiquity of the filibuster are just a few hallmarks of this very-partisan Senate. Understanding the confirmations of past judges is helpful. But in all likelihood the next confirmation debate will be an entirely different animal.

The nuclear option, invoked last November, has complicated future confirmations. Majorities have yet to test the waters on a Supreme Court nomination since last year’s filibuster reform. It is entirely unclear how the minority will react. Senate Republicans retaliated after cloture was changed but only modestly. Republicans delayed votes, extended debate, and have generally refused to cooperate when Reid has tried to expedite executive and judicial confirmations. These delays have not been devastating; however, they are certainly an indication of how the minority has reacted to the nuclear option. They have slowed the process to the extent that they can. If they remain in the minority (which is not likely), they will not likely back down.

Such a response could have major consequences though. As Klein points out, violently reacting against a well-qualified candidate could spur further filibuster reforms and shut the minority out of all confirmations. He further argues this is a fundamental miscalculation on Ginsburg’s part.

Despite the fact a precedent now exists to change the filibuster rules by a majority vote, this drastically oversimplifies the situation. Reforming a rule on the magnitude of cloture is no easy feat. Even if it requires only a majority vote, political support must be garnered and fought for. For example, the nuclear option was not a reform that simply came into being in November of 2013. In fact, some form of the rule change emerged as early as 2005. Rumors of reform again emerged in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. Many were certain filibuster reform would occur on the first day of the 113th Congress. However, it wasn’t until a year later that the nuclear option was actually used.

Google trends graph of filibuster rules searches.

Google trends graph of filibuster rules searches.

The nuclear option took years to develop. It was not a simple flip of the switch. Many Democrats such as Sens. Donnelly (D-IN), Feinstein (D-CA), Pryor (D-AR), Reed (D-RI), and Levin (D-MI) were not convinced that going nuclear was a good idea. Reform-minded members had to convince their colleagues this change was necessary. This took years. And finally, even when the caucus was convinced of the need for reform, changes to Supreme Court confirmations was too much to stomach for many Democrats. Therefore, it is unlikely Democrats could simply change the rules again. That kind of move was too extreme for the majority to stomach last year and that likely hasn’t changed to a significant in the time since.

That said Democrats are becoming more hawkish on filibuster reform through attrition. Of the nine, or so, reluctant Democrats from this past Congress, Sens. Baucus (D-MT), Johnson (D-SD), Rockfeller (D-WV) and Levin (D-MI) will retire from the Senate this January or have already left. This is significant but possibly insufficient. A one or two vote majority in the 114th leaves very little margin for error. There are enough reluctant Democratic senators left to prevent another bold nuclear maneuver. If the next filibuster change is anything like other major rules reforms, this is a process that will likely take years.

If there was ever an opportunity to appoint somebody “like Ginsburg,” now would be as good a time as any. However, that isn’t because the Senate has allowed similar nominees in the past or because the majority would quickly reform the rules. It’s because Senate partisanship is likely to get worse in coming years. In other words, the chances of confirming more liberal or conservative justices will continue to dim. Unless the political environment or the rules change, Supreme Court nominees are likely targets for obstruction, if for no other reason than this is one of the last places a minority can actually use leverage on opposing administrative nominees.

Ginsburg is probably right that Obama does not have the gravitas or the political support in the Senate to nominate someone like her. However, it is unclear any future president will enjoy enough political capital to nominate the kinds of justices that currently sit on the court in the current environment and under the current rules.

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Congress out of session does not mean Congress isn’t working

The Fix blog at the Washington Post has an article arguing that since 1978, Congress has only worked a full week 14% of the time. This is a common—and extraordinarily misleading– jab at Congress. While it is an easy to criticize an institution that frequently makes itself an easy target, it’s a disservice that unnecessarily undermines trust in government.

First, it oversimplifies lawmakers’ jobs. Members of Congress have two jobs: represent their constituents and govern. These responsibilities do not always go hand in hand. Representing constituents means speaking with them in person, holding town hall meetings, organizing rallies, attending to casework, and otherwise being present in the district or state they represent. This is not easily done from a Washington office. Supporting or opposing legislation is an important part of a members’ job. However, it does not come close to capturing members’ range of responsibilities. This is why even when Congress is out of session, members are at work. Most members of Congress work a 5-6 day week. The representative aspect of Congress’s job is almost completely ignored in these statistics.

Second, the chambers rarely work in concert. The article concludes on this note: “It is hard to escape the implications of Friday being the weekday on which the House and Senate are least commonly in session.” Actually, both chambers do not need to be in session at the same time. It is not a requirement to legislate nor are the chambers routinely working on the same issues.

The House and Senate are independent, uncoordinated bodies. They work on different issues at different times and most often do not coordinate their schedules. For example, last Thursday (September 18th) the Senate passed 19 bills on its final work day of the week. Among the bills it passed were the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act (H.R. 4323), Paul D. Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Amendments (H.R. 594), and the Prevent Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (H.R. 4980). Those bills passed the House on April 7th, July 28th, and July 23rd, respectively. The House did not need to be in session for those bills to pass the Senate, then go to the President. The only time the two chambers need to be in session at the same time is if there is a pending deadline Congress needs to meet (e.g. the debt ceiling, avoiding government shutdown, etc). Otherwise, being in Washington at the same time is not a prerequisite to enacting laws.

Lastly, there is no evidence to suggest more legislative days leads to more legislation. The 111th Congress was in session fewer days than the 112th Congress. Having fewer legislative days did not prevent the 111th Congress from being among the most successful in congressional history while the 112th Congress was the least productive since the Civil War. Similarly, the Senate has often worked more days than the House. However, the Senate routinely passes fewer bills than the lower chamber. It is in session longer because its legislative process requires more time for bills and motions to move through the legislative process.

Congress has a lot of problems. Being in session at the same time or having longer work weeks isn’t one of them. The 113th Congress has been extraordinarily unproductive, but fewer days in session have little to do with that.

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Recess is Over: Congress (will be) back in Session.

Congress returns from recess next week after an unexpectedly successful final week in July. Congress passed a significant Veterans health bill and temporarily extended the Highway Trust Fund. While there were breakthroughs, Congress failed to find common ground on several issues. With only 12 legislative days left before the election, here is what’s on tap.

Continuing Resolution. Congress will pass a short-term continuing resolution (CR) in the next two weeks, delaying action on an omnibus appropriations package until the lame duck session. This should be among the first issues addressed by the Congress if incumbents want to avoid the disaster that occurred last year when many parts of the federal government shut down for 16 days. A shutdown five weeks before an election could well lead to a number of congressmen and senators being unemployed in 2015. Despite the incentives to pass the CR quickly and quietly, other issues are creeping into the fold. With significant Republican disagreement on the border crisis and the Export-Import Bank’s temporary extension, extra provisions may be attached to the must-pass CR. If President Obama decides to implement changes that amount to immigration reform via executive order, the CR may become a more contentious debate.

Export-Import Bank Reauthorization. Addressing the Export-Import Bank charter is unavoidable this month. The bank’s charter expires on September 30th and Congress’s action or inaction on this front will make headlines. The bank’s existence highlights the now frequent divide between immoderate and mainstream Republicans. More conservative members, who now include high-ranking Republicans such as McCarthy (CA), Scalise (LA), and Financial Services Chair Hensarling (TX), oppose the bank’s reauthorization. Meanwhile, business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, among several hundred others, have sent several heavy-hitters to advocate for the bank. Reports indicate that a short-term extension is being negotiated between Boehner and Hensarling. The Senate has already begun the process of bringing its reauthorization to the floor. However, it is unclear how and when the reauthorization will make its way through the process before the 30th. Any provision including Ex-Im’s extension will face opposition. Therefore, it will need to be done quickly as it will almost certainly face a filibuster in the Senate, which could delay action for two weeks.

Immigration supplemental and DACA. The House and Senate had widely different ideas on how to address the border crisis. After a failed first attempt, the House passed a $694 million in supplemental appropriations along with a bill restricting executive leeway on deferred action on deporting child arrivals (DACA). The Senate overcame a filibuster on a $2.7 billion dollar bill only to fail on a procedural vote the following day. Since then, the child migrant crisis has virtually disappeared from the news cycle. Without any natural momentum from the media, lawmakers would have to take it upon themselves to generate energy for compromise. With elections looming and a packed legislative schedule, a compromised supplemental funds package would be a big lift. Action on this front is more likely to happen in the lame-duck session if it happens at all this Congress.

ISIS/ISIL AUMF. The House and Senate will likely debate a resolution authorizing the President to deal with ISIS/ISIL.  The fly in the ointment is that President Obama will need to ask Congress for more authority before Members will actually pass such a bill.  The President has annoyed Democrats in the Senate as well as Republicans with his unartful comments regarding the escalating situation in the Middle East.  But both Chambers would be loath to deny him the latitude to bring to justice the barbaric killers of journalists.

Legislative Campaigning – Bills that could get votes but won’t pass the other chamber:

In the House: shaming the Senate. Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader McCarthy have outlined a schedule intended to put pressure on Senate Democrats leading up to the election. They plan to package several job and energy bills previously passed individually earlier this Congress into a House-omnibus, of sorts. This “closing argument” will increase pressure on the Senate’s Democratic leadership as well as vulnerable Democrats from energy states such as Mary Landrieu (LA), Mark Begich (AK), and Mark Udall (CO). Like the previous bills, this package will not see the Senate floor. However, Minority Leader McConnell (KY) may make it a point to mention the bill as often as possible.

In the Senate: minimum wage, pay equity, and student loans. Much like the House, the Senate will likely schedule their own votes on how to improve the lives of voters.  Instead of the House’s job growth and energy bills, the Senate may focus on minimum wage, pay equity, and lower interest rates on student loans.  In addition, there is also an effort to vote on legislation to stop the practice of US companies relocating in foreign countries solely to avoid taxation. The recent talks between Burger King and Tim Hortons have brought this issue to the forefront for many politicians, particularly Senate tax writers. Again, just like the House agenda, these bills have no chance of passing the other chamber even if they did overcome a filibuster, which they won’t. This Senate agenda is about votes in November, not passing bills in September.

One thing is certain: Congress will not address all of these problems before the election. In fact, it may only address one or two of these issues. In these final weeks before November, leaders will orient the legislative process toward campaigns rather than policy. Don’t expect much before November 4th. 

Mark Harkins co-wrote this post.

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Quantifying Bill’s Value to Hillary’s Campaign (Part 2)

In a recent post, I explored whether it’s possible to quantify Bill’s value to Hillary Clinton’s campaign (see here).  In other words: Do voters reward (and punish) Hillary Clinton based on their opinions of her husband?  If so, it could have major implications for the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

Looking at survey data from the American National Elections Study, the answer would seem to be an emphatic “yes.”  Even when we take into consideration various reasons why voters would hold a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Hillary Clinton (such as party identification, ideology, gender, etc.) we find that Bill has a discernible positive effect on Hillary’s approval rating.

Perhaps most notable is just how much Bill Clinton matters according to the results.  In particular, the data suggest that when Bill’s approval rating increases by 1 unit, Hillary’s approval increases by just under ½ in the same direction. 

For today’s post, we’re going to re-examine the same topic with additional data.  Indeed, the prior post left some important questions unanswered.

First, the original analysis examined opinions of Bill and Hillary Clinton in 2000.  It’s certainly possible that the so-called “Bill effect” is unique to this particular time period (perhaps because Bill Clinton was president at the time and the economy was performing quite well).  Simply put, we want to know if the finding is generalizable to more recent conditions.

Fortunately, the ANES asked the same questions in 2008 (when Hillary Clinton ran for the Democratic nomination) as they did in 2000 (when she was First Lady).  So, we can easily run the same analysis as in the prior post and see if the “Bill effect” holds.  Here’s the results:


I’m skipping the statistical details, but the regression model confirms the existence of the “Bill effect” in 2008.  As with the prior results (see here), it would seem that that there is a very strong positive relationship between opinions of both Clintons .  It’s also the case that this effect is statistically significant. 

But what about the act of voting?  Isn’t this the most important outcome?  So far, we’ve only looked at opinions of both Clintons.

Fortunately, the ANES asked respondents about their vote choice in the 2008 presidential primary.  So, we can once again run the exact same analysis expect that, this time, we’re modeling whether someone voted for Hillary Clinton.  Here’s the results:


According to the results, the “Bill effect” exists with respect to voting behavior as well.  In fact, the results indicate that Bill Clinton’s effect is larger in magnitude than any other predictor.  Keep in mind that this is specific to the 2008 presidential primary, where we would expect the effect of economic conditions and party identification to be lower.

According to the results, a 25-point increase in Bill’s favorability rating (out of 100) increases a respondent’s probability of voting for Hillary Clinton by about 10%.  Substantively, therefore, the effect is meaningful (as it was earlier).

Lastly, perhaps there are differences in who is susceptible to the “Bill effect.”  For example, it may be interesting to know whether Democrats, Republicans, or Independents are most likely to be persuaded to vote for (or against) Hillary Clinton based on their opinions of Bill Clinton.

I created the figure below by simply interacting Bill Clinton’s favorability with a respondent’s party identification and re-running the analysis.  Higher values in the figure (in red) indicate a larger “Bill effect” for respondents in the respective group.  We see two interesting patterns. 


First and foremost, Bill Clinton’s effect on a respondent’s probability of voting for Hillary Clinton is strongest for independents.  Roughly speaking, there appears to be a curvilinear effect.  For “weak” and “strong” partisans on both sides of the aisle, the effect is smaller in a relative sense.    

Second, Bill Clintons’ effect on Hillary’s vote probability is larger for Republicans than it is for Democrats.  In fact, for “strong Democrats,” Bill Clinton has “no effect” at the 0.05 level (as revealed by the fact that the confidence interval just crosses the zero line). 

Based on the results, we might conclude that Hillary Clinton’s campaign should get Bill in front of independents and Republicans rather than steadfast Democrats.  Indeed, Bill could be a potent weapon in 2016… if used properly.

Posted in Elections, Political Behavior, Political Parties, The Presidency | Leave a comment

Selection Bias and Voluntary Drug Testing Part II

In August of 2011, a post of mine addressed the policy of drug testing welfare recipients. At that time, much was made of the fact that Florida’s mandatory drug testing policy produced just a 2% failure rate.  From this statistic, Tampa Bay Online concluded:

The initiative may save the state a few dollars anyway, bearing out one of Gov. Rick Scott’s arguments for implementing it. But the low test fail-rate undercuts another of his arguments: that people on welfare are more likely to use drugs.

Irrespective of whether the policy of drug testing welfare recipients makes sense, we just cannot draw these kinds of conclusions from the data.  Indeed, the data suffers from a problem known as “selection bias.”  Simply put, individuals most likely to fail a drug test are not going to take the test.  We just can’t generalize about the entire population of welfare recipients from this severely self-selected sample.

In the current version of this story, Utah has just published it’s version of the same data. Upworthy has the results in a not-so-subtle pie chart.  Here are the findings:












Yeah.  Wow.  Again, it’s reasonable to conclude that this policy may be “unfair” or a “poor use of taxpayer dollars” given the low rate of positive results.  But unfortunately the author of the post draws the same faulty conclusion as in the Florida case.  For us to conclude that welfare recipients (the population of interest) have a lower incidence of drug use compared to the state, we would need a random sample where every individual in the population has an equal, non-zero chance of being selected.  We don’t have that here.

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