The rich own our democracy, new evidence suggests

Two new studies by political scientists offer compelling evidence that the rich use their wealth to control the political system and that the U.S. is a democratic republic in name only.

In a study of Senate voting patterns, Michael Jay Barber found that “senators’ preferences reflect the preferences of the average donor better than any other group.” In a similar study of the House of Representatives, Jesse H. Rhodes and Brian F. Schaffner found that, “millionaires receive about twice as much representation when they comprise about 5 percent of the district’s population than the poorest wealth group does when it makes up 50 percent of the district.” In fact, the increasing influence of the rich over Congress is the leading driver of polarization in modern politics, with the rich using the political system to entrench wealth by pushing for tax breaks and blocking redistributive policies.

At the turn of the decade, political scientists Larry Bartels, Jacob Hacker and Martin Gilens wrote several incredibly influential important books arguing, persuasively, that the preferences of the rich were better represented in Congress than the poor. After the books were published, there was a flurry of research arguing that they had overstated their case.

Critics alleged two key defects in Bartels’ and Gilens’ arguments. First, because polling data on the super-wealthy were sparse, it was difficult to prove that there were large differences in opinion. Political scientists often rely on composite measures of policy liberalism, but since the poor tend to be more economically liberal but socially conservative, the differences between the poor and moderately rich can often be obscured. Second, there was no way to show that influence of the wealthy was caused directly by the influence of money. It might well be that the rich are simply opinion leaders or are more likely to vote.

Recent research offers compelling answers to these criticisms. The new evidence adds credence to the Bartels-Gilens-Hacker view that money is corrupting American politics. By using a massive database of ideology that includes the super wealthy, Schaffner and Rhodes found that “members of Congress are much more responsive to the wealthy than to their poor constituents.” However, this difference is not equal between both parties; rather, Democrats are far more responsive to the poor than Republicans. (This is not surprising; other research supports this claim.) They find that both parties strongly favor the upper-middle class, those with $100,000 to $300,000 in wealth. But Republicans are not only more responsive to the rich, but particularly to rich donors. Schaffner and Rhodes argue that, “campaign donations, but not voter registration or participation in primary or general election, may help explain the disproportionate influence of the wealthy among Republican representatives.”

Barber’s study is the first to directly examine the policy preferences of the donor class. Barber sent 20,500 letters to people who contributed to 22 Senate elections in 2012 and asked about various policy questions. This allowed Barber to examine the differences in representation between donors and non-donors. His finding: Donors’ preferences tend to be far better represented than non-donors’. The chart below measures the ideological differences between various groups, with 0 indicating a perfect fit. The data show that Senators are almost perfectly aligned with their donors, but rather distant from voters.


In fact, politicians are almost perfectly aligned with donors, but less aligned with partisans (people who voted for the Senator and share party affiliation), supporters (people who voted for the Senator) and voters in general. He Barber also finds that donors tend to be far more extreme in their views (see chart below). For instance, while about sixty percent of non-donor Republicans oppose the Affordable Care Act, opposition among donors is “almost unanimous.” Barber also notes that donors tend to be far more extreme than non-donors (see chart). (This is supported by other studies).


Such data could explain the rising polarization of Congress, as politicians increasingly respond to their donors, rather than to voters. Political scientists Walter J. Stone and Elizabeth N. Simas have found that challengers raise more money when they take extreme positions, which helps explain why incumbent representatives tend to bemore partisan than departing representatives. It certainly explains the intransigence of the last two Congresses: Republicans, who are responding to their rich donor base, are incentivized to oppose any action, particularly those supporting Obama, lest they lose funding. Since Senators have to raise approximately $3,300 a day every year for six years to remain viable, they will inevitably have to succumb to the power of money if they wish to be reelected.

This research raises the disturbing thought that our political system is no longer representative. As Barber notes, about half of all donors are from out of state, meaning that politicians are no longer responsive to their voters (though they are slightly more during election years). Given that only .22 percent of Americans made a donation of more than $200 (the level Barber studies) in 2014, we have power evidence that America is now a government of the one percent — indeed, of the one-fifth of one percent.

This disturbing trend affects politics at all levels. At the state level, political scientists Gerald Wright and Elizabeth Rigby found that state party platforms are far more influenced by the rich than the poor. Elsewhere, Barber foundevidence that presidents are more responsive to donors than non-donors. Recently Griffin and Newman foundrepresentation gaps between whites and people of color as well as low-income voters. This finding is supported by Christopher Ellis, who found that donors were better represented than non-donors (although using a less comprehensive method than Barber). In a frank moment, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D – Conn.) said, “I talked a lot more about carried interest inside of that call room than I did in the supermarket.” He’s correct: Donors tending to be far richer and wealthier than non-donors (see chart).


There are still unanswered questions. It is possible that politicians cast ideological votes to appease donors and partisans (for instance, the vain attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act dozens of times), while also working to benefit the poor and middle class through less visible means. This might explain why political journalists, who often focus on major legislation, miss the distributional impacts of political appointments and regulatory action. It may be that politicians work to maximize votes, and then political donations follow (though there is strong evidence this isn’t the case). Either way, the most up-to-date evidence strongly suggests that money is distorting our system, and that evidence appears to be growing stronger by the day.


The solution, as a recent Demos report suggests, is to help reformist candidates gather donations with a public matching system. Since voters who are non-donors are less ideological, the solution is to balance out the political distortions from the donor class by turning these non-donors into donors. Citizens United has only increased the stranglehold of moneyed interests on our political system, and is daily choking the life of our democracy. Only by restoring influence to all voters will our republic be restored.

This piece originally appeared on Al Jazeera.

Millennials Are More Racist Than They Think

News about race in America these days is almost universally negative. Longstanding wealthincome and employment gaps between whites and people of color are increasing, and tensions between police and minority communities around the country are on the rise. But many claim there’s a glimmer of hope: The next generation of Americans, they say, is “post-racial”—more tolerant, and therefore more capable of easing these race-based inequities. Unfortunately, closer examination of the data suggests that millennials aren’t racially tolerant, they’re racially apathetic: They simply ignore structural racism rather than try to fix it.

In 2010, a Pew Research report trumpeted that “the younger generation is more racially tolerant than their elders.” In the Chicago Tribune, Ted Gregory seized on this to declare millennials “the most tolerant generation in history.” These types of arguments typically cling to the fact that young people are more likely than their elders to favor interracial marriage. But while millennials are indeed less likely than baby boomers to say that more people of different races marrying each other is a change for the worse (6 percent compared to 14 percent), their opinions on that score are basically no different than those of the generation immediately before them, the Gen Xers, who come in at 5 percent. On interracial dating, the trend is similar, with 92 percent of Gen Xers saying it’s “all right for blacks and whites to date each other,” compared to 93 percent of millennials.

Furthermore, these questions don’t really say anything about racial justice: After all, interracial dating and marriage are unlikely to solve deep disparities in criminal justice, wealth, upward mobility, poverty and education—at least not in this century. (Black-white marriages currently make up just 2.2 percent of all marriages.) And when it comes to opinions on more structural issues, such as the role of government in solving social and economic inequality and the need for continued progress, millennials start to split along racial lines. When people are asked, for example, “How much needs to be done in order to achieve Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality?” the gap between white millennials and millennials of color (all those who don’t identify as white) are wide. And once again, millennials are shown to be no more progressive than older generations: Among millennials, 42 percent of whites answer that “a lot” must be done to achieve racial equality, compared to 41 percent of white Gen Xers and 44 percent of white boomers.

The most significant change has been among nonwhite millennials, who are more racially optimistic than their parents. (Fifty-four percent of nonwhite millennials say “a lot” must be done, compared with 60 percent of nonwhite Gen Xers.) And this racial optimism isn’t exactly warranted. The racial wealth gap has increased since the 2007 financial crisis, and blacks who graduate from college have less wealth than whites who haven’t completed high school. A new paper by poverty experts Thomas Hirschl and Mark Rank estimates that whites are 6.74 times more likely to enter the top 1 percent of the income distribution ladder than nonwhites. And Bhashkar Mazumder finds that 60 percent of blacks whose parents were in the top half of income distribution end up in the bottom, compared with 36 percent of whites.

As to how well whites and nonwhites get along, only 13 percent of white millennials say “not well at all,” compared with 31 percent of nonwhite millennials. (Thirteen percent of white Gen Xers and 32 percent of nonwhite Gen Xers agree.)

In a 2009 study using American National Election Studies—a survey of Americans before and after each presidential election—Vincent Hutchings finds, “younger cohorts of Whites are no more racially liberal in 2008 than they were in 1988.” My own analysis of the most recent data reveals a similar pattern: Gaps between young whites and old whites on support for programs that aim to further racial equality are very small compared to the gaps between young whites and young blacks.

And even though the gaps within the millennial generation are wide, as with the Pew data, there is also evidence that young blacks are more racially conservative than their parents, as they are less likely to support government aid to blacks.


Spencer Piston, professor at the Campbell Institute at Syracuse University, used ANES data and found a similar pattern on issues relating to economic inequality. He examined a tax on millionaires, affirmative action, a limit to campaign contributions and a battery of questions that measure egalitarianism. He says, “the racial divide (in particular the black/white divide) dwarfs other divides in policy opinion. Age differences in public opinion are small in comparison to racial differences.” This finding is, he adds, “consistent with a long-standing finding in political science.” Piston finds that young whites have the same level of racial stereotypes as their parents.


There is reason for an even deeper worry: The possibility that the veneer of post-racial America will lead to more segregation. The post-racial narrative, when combined with deep structural racism, leads to what sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva calls “racism without racists,” a system where racial gaps persist less because of explicit discrimination and more because of structural factors—things like the passage of wealth from generation to generation or neighborhoods that remain segregated because of past injustices.


We can see numerous examples of how the post-racial rhetoric is hampering a racial justice agenda. In Parents Involved in Community Schools Inc. v. Seattle School District, a 2007 case in which two school boards were sued for using racial quotas to ensure that schools were diverse, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” This reasoning is pervasive in his decisions. When the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Roberts wrote that the country “has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” The results were immediate: Across the country, states began putting up barriers to voting, which the finds disproportionately affect black voters. Political scientists Keith Bentele and Erin O’Brien have concluded that the laws are indeed motivated by a desire to reduce black turnout—all proving that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was right when she noted in her dissent that the logic of the decision was akin to “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”


It’s possible that the court will use the same “post-racial” logic someday for affirmative action, too. Or to strike down the Federal Housing Administration’s ban on housing actions that have a “disparate impact” on African-Americans, such as exclusionary zoning or lending practices that disproportionately penalize people of color. This is particularly important since the most important impediment to black upward mobility is neighborhood poverty.


The conservative stance on racism is to deny structural racism exists and therefore deny that the solution to racism lies in structural changes. Instead, conservatives view the way to end racial disparities as simply ignoring the issue and treating everyone equally. While this sentiment sounds nice, it means that children who are born into poverty and face structurally racist housing, criminal justice and education systems will never have equal opportunity. The conservative view was once lambasted by 19th-century economist Henry George as “insist[ing] that each should swim for himself in crossing a river, ignoring the fact that some had been artificially provided with corks and other artificially loaded with lead.”


Yet many millennials subscribe to this view, with an MTV/David Binder poll finding only 39 percent of white millennials believe “white people have more opportunities today than racial minority groups.” By contrast, 65 percent of people of color feel that whites have differential access to jobs and other opportunities. Further, 70 percent of all millennials say “it’s never fair to give preferential treatment to one race over another, regardless of historical inequalities.”


And the irony is that having a black president has made this failure to acknowledge structural barriers to opportunity worse. Numerous studies find that the election of President Barack Obama has made whites, particularly young whites, sanguine about racial disparities in America. One study surveyed 509 people of all races before and after the 2008 election about their perceptions of discrimination against blacks. The youngest third in the sample were 11.7 percent less likely to perceive discrimination in the wake of Obama’s election than they were before, while the oldest third was 8.5 percent less likely. A study of college students at the University of Washington, also based on surveys before and after the 2008 election, finds that those polled were less likely to see the need for continued racial progress after Obama’s election. In the recent MTV study cited above, 62 percent of millennials (58 percent of people of color, 64 percent of whites) agreed that “having a Black President demonstrates that racial minority groups have the same opportunities as white people.”




A 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll found that 58 percent of white millennials say discrimination affects whites as much as it affects people of color. Only 39 percent of Hispanic millennials and 24 percent of African-American millennials agree.


This is disturbing for the future of race in America. The Roberts vision of radical colorblindness has irreparably harmed racial progress. If young Americans buy into his vision of a colorblind society—and a large literature suggests they do—white America and black America will diverge further, creating a permanent underclass in which people of color are denied equitable access to the American dream.

This piece originally appeared on Politico

Ferguson’s Municipal Elections Show That Voter Turnout Matters

In the wake of higher  voter turnout in Ferguson, the city council now has three Black council members, up from only one before the election. This is a welcome change. As Demos has noted, the Ferguson city council is one of the many across the country in which Blacks are severely underrepresented. Using data from the International City/County Manager’s Association (ICMA) survey, Demos finds that one in five Blacks are underrepresented in their city council.

This is important, because racial equity in representation has important implications for policy. Research suggests that Black representatives are more attuned to the concerns of Black voters, and thus represent their interests. African-Americans express more positive feelings about representation when their representative shares the same race. Using exit polls from between 1982 and 2002, Zoltan Hajnal shows that Black voters are those who most frequently vote for a losing candidate: 41% of Blacks saw their choice of president, senator and mayor all lose their election, compared to only 9 percent of whites. This means that Blacks have less voting power: candidates are less likely to try to appeal to their interests.

The result of this low voting power is that politicians simply don’t focus on the issues of importance to Black voters. In Minority Report, John Griffin and Brian Newman show that one solution is getting more people of color into office. They find that African-American members of Congress equally reflect the preferences of their Black and white constituents. Further, in some cases, descriptive representation has an impact on Black and Latino’s relative representation, “over and above district racial/ethnic composition, income, turnout, and even MC’s party affiliations.”

Ferguson shows one way to increase descriptive representation: voter turnout. However, while it was higher in the recent election, it was still only an abysmal 30% (still dramatically higher than the previous 12%). The history of Black disenfranchisement, combined with the fact that many local elections are off cyclemean that participation in these elections is abysmal. As the chart above shows, the turnout in local elections is heavily skewed toward whites and the wealthy.

But turnout matters. Zoltan Hajnal and Jessica Trounstine find, “Even after controlling for public preferences, spending capacity, and needs, the more people who turn out to vote, the more local governments are likely to spend their money on welfare, public housing, and other redistributive programs.” Griffin and Newman find that boosting turnout of African-Americans and Latinos increases representation, but that Latinos gain more than Blacks. They find that these advantages are not to bring about representational equity, but they are an important first step.

In addition, there is a problem on the supply side. In the election before this one, there was one Black candidate on the ballot (he won). In this election, there were four (two won).

Paru Shah finds that when candidates of color are on the ballot, they win at the same rate as white candidates—the problem is getting more candidates on the ballot. Once there are more people of color, more candidates of color tend run. As she told me elsewhere, “once a candidate of color has run and won, there was a tipping point.” This could well be Ferguson’s tipping point.

This piece originally appeared on Policyshop.

For the Effects of Voting, Look to Policy, Not Elections

President Obama’s recent comments on universal voting have spurred a debate about how such a policy would influence elections. On the Monkey Cage blog, John Sidesexamines the partisan consequences and argues that turnout would generally benefit Democrats, but that the effect would be modest. His own research, with Jack Citrin and Eric Schickler concludes, “although Democrats fare better in each scenario, few outcomes would have changed.” He does note that both the 2000 and 2004 elections would have been different with universal turnout.

While these questions are indeed interesting, I’m more interested in the policy consequences of universal turnout. After all, the most important political change in the last three decades hasn’t occurred between parties, but rather within parties: the Tea Party pulling the Republicans right and a more wealthy and elite Democratic party abandoning union-type policies.

So what do we know about the policy consequences?

  • William Franko, Nathan Kelly and Christopher Witko find that states with higher turnout inequality (more rich people voting than poor people) have higher income inequality. They find that the class bias in turnout affects the economic liberalism of the state legislature. Specifically, when class bias is low, the liberal opinions of the public translate into liberal policy. But when class bias is high, liberal public opinion has no effect on policy.

  • A similar study was recently performed by James Avery, who also finds, “states with greater income bias in turnout have higher levels of income inequality.” He reports that even after controlling for various factors (Gross State Product, the strength of labor, government ideology) his findings are “unambiguous.”
  • William Franko finds that states with lower turnout inequality have higher minimum wages, more generous State Child Health Insurance Program Benefits and more restrictive anti-predatory lending laws.1

  • Kim Hill and Jan Leighley find in two studies that states with a more pronounced turnout bias, social welfare spending is lower.
  • Timothy Besley and Anne Case find that, “Less costly voter registration— through motor-voter rules, or through day-of-polling registration—is generally associated with higher taxes, higher spending, and larger family assistance and workers’ compensation payments.”

In a previous Demos blog post, I briefly explored some international evidence supporting this argument. Here, I’d like to briefly explore some historical precedents.

  • John Lott and Lawrence Kenny find that extending the franchise to women increased the state government expenditures.
  • Kenny Whitby and Franklin Gilliam Jr. find that southern Democrats shifted their voting patterns on civil rights because of the mobilization of the southern black electorate.
  • Thomas Husted and Lawrence Kenny find that the elimination of poll taxes and literacy requirements lead to a “sharp” rise in welfare spending.

In none of these cases did one party permanently declare victory. Rather, the electoral calculus of one or both parties shifted. The reason we should have universal turnout is not to give one party permanent hegemony. In fact, Timothy Besley, Torsten Persson and Daniel Sturm find that party competition boosts growth, “political competition have quantitatively important effects on state income growth, state policies, and quality of Governors.” They estimate that the Voting Rights Act boosted long-term per capita income by 20 percent in states that were affected.

Universal voting would make democracy better by increasing the representativeness of politicians to the needs of those who currently don’t vote.

Note: Franko also replicated his study using validated data in the wake of Ansolabehere and Hersh.

This article originally appeared on Policyshop.

The Proposed Payday Regulations Are a Good First Step, But More Needs to Be Done

Today, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau released a blueprint for new regulations pertaining to payday loans and car title loans. The regulations will not include an interest rate cap, the holy grail for advocates, because industry allies watered-down the provisions (I discuss the fight over payday lending in my recent Atlantic article). These regulations are still important.

The proposed regulations include two major options and payday lenders would choose which to follow. Both are aimed at preventing borrowers from falling into “debt traps,” where they constantly roll over their loan.

  • The first are “prevention requirements.” In these, lenders would determine before lending the ability of an individual to repay the loan without re-borrowing or defaulting (and verify would a third party). Borrowers taking three loans in succession would have to wait over a 60-day “cooling off period.” A customer could not have another outstanding loan before receiving a new one.
  • The second are “protection requirements.” Under this regime, a loan could not be greater than $500, carry more than one finance charge or use a vehicle as collateral. Payday lenders would be prevented from rolling over an initial loan more than twice before being fully paid off. In addition, each successive loan would have to be smaller than the initial loan. The borrower could not be in debt for more than 90 days in a year.

In addition, CFPB is considering regulations to require that borrowers are notified before a payday lender could withdraw money directly from their account and prevent multiple attempts to successfully withdraw from a borrowers account.

The Center for Responsible Lending considers the first option superior. In a press release, president Mike Calhoun notes that the “protection” option, “would in fact permit payday lenders to continue making both short- and longer-term loans without determining the borrower’s ability to repay. The industry has proven itself adept at exploiting loopholes in earlier attempts to rein in the debt trap.” CRL is urging CFPB to make the “prevention” option mandatory.

These regulations are still preliminary, but they come after CFPB determined that 22% of new payday loan sequences end with the borrow rolling over seven times or more. The result is that 62% of loans are in a sequence of seven or more loans.

The industry relies on a small number of  borrowers continuously rolling over loans, trapped in a cycle of debt. As I noted in my piece, payday borrowers tend to be low-income and desperate:

The industry is ripe for exploitation: 37 percent of borrowers say they would have taken a loan with any terms. These borrowers say they are being taken advantage of and one-third say they would like more regulation. Chris Morran of Consumerist notes that, “the average payday borrower is in debt for nearly 200 days.”

Payday lenders concentrate in areas with young people, low-information consumers and large populations of color. The CFPB regulations are a good step forward, and these regulations have teeth. Because a few large payday lenders are responsible for most of the lending, CFPB can pursue real enforcement action (as they recently didwith ACE Cash Express in Texas).

Some of the most successful regulations have come out of the ballot-initiative process, rather than the legislature. In many cases, the ballot initiatives had bipartisan support.

It’s unclear which regulatory regime will end up being law. As Ben Walsh writes, “The rules are likely to face strong opposition from the payday lending industry, as well as Congressional Republicans.” The industry is influential, and has several influential supporters.

This piece originally appeared on Policyshop.

Rubio Will Likely Be The Republican Nominee

Barring a massive strategic blunder, Marco Rubio is well-positioned to become the Republican nominee for President in 2016. The Florida senator is the ideal candidate to expand the Reagan coalition while holding on to the conservative base and he can take shots at Clinton that would sound hypocritical coming from Bush. While his power as a candidate has yet to emerge in the polls, a misstep by Bush will send him straight to the top.

Right now the Republican party is deeply fractured, and its coalition, at least at the presidential level, is weak. Republicans have failed to win the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 elections, and when they were successful, it was largely because of George W. Bush’s modest success with Latinos. The problem Republicans face going into 2016 is that the rise of the nativist Tea Party makes it difficult for them to woo Latino voters without losing their base. Rubio offers them such a bridge candidate.

Before exploring why Rubio could act as a bridge between conservatives and Latinos, it’s important to explode a key myth — that Republicans simply can’t win Latino voters; as I’ve noted before, there are indications that they can.. The problem is that appeals to Latino voters will often alienate the more nativist Tea Party portions of the Republican base. Thus, the GOP needs to find a candidate that can perform well enough to neutralize the Latino vote but also ensure that the conservative base turns out to vote.

According to data from a recent Economist/Yougov poll, while no Republican candidate has a net favorability with Latinos, Rubio dramatically outperforms Bush. The split among conservatives is perhaps even starker: Rubio holds a 37 percent net favorability and Bush holding a 15 percent net favorability.

Republicans will also want to make inroads with the poor, the middle class and youth. Here again, Rubio has a distinct advantage, polling strongly with young people and the middle class (those making between $40,000 and $100,000). Among those making less than $40,000, Bush and Rubio are at a dead heat. (Scott Walker polls significantly better than both in this category, however.)

It could be that as Rubio becomes more well known, he’ll become less popular. This has clearly happened to Bush, who has seen his net favorability drop from negative 5.9 points in February 4, 2013, when 42 percent of respondents said that had “not heard enough” to judge him, to negative 16.2 points on April 21, 2015, with only 16.8 percent of respondents saying they had “not heard enough.” But even this argument doesn’t sink Rubio. In the same Yougov poll, Rubio’s “do not know enough” score is only 4 points higher than Bush among Latinos, 6 points higher among young voters (18-29) and 8 points higher with the middle class. Even assuming all of these “don’t knows” dislike Rubio (unlikely) his net favorability would still be higher than Bush’s.

As the chart below from Sam Wang shows, as a Republican becomes more well-known, he also becomes less popular. Bush fits perfectly on the trend, while Rubio is slightly above it and Walker is slightly below it. In a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC Poll, completed before Rubio announced his candidacy, 56 percent of Republican primary voters said they could see themselves supporting Rubio, with only 26 percent saying they couldn’t. Only Scott Walker, with 53 percent and 17 percent respectively, had better numbers, and Jeb Bush pulled in a squalid 49 percent in favor, 42 percent against.

Republicans consider who their nominee will be must also consider how they are going to run against Clinton. It’s likely that they will prefer three major criticisms: First, that she’s dynastic; second, that she’s too old (an argument with sexist undertones, to be certain, but it may still resonate with voters); and third, that her Washington-insider status should disqualify her. Each of these arguments will be muted in the case of a Bush nomination, but could be much more persuasive coming from Rubio — the son of a immigrant father and a working class mother with strong Tea Party connections. He’s young and he’s targeted much of his rhetoric towards benefitting the middle class (no matter their dubious merit).

To test whether Rubio might be a better foil to Clinton, we can look at the Real Clear Politics General Election Match-Ups. The current average suggests that in a head-to-head election with Clinton, Rubio would lose by 7.5 points. The three most recent polls show Clinton up by 14 points, 2 points and 4 points respectively. In all three, Rubio loses. However, his margin is still lower than Bush, who loses by 8.9 points on average, and 17 points, 7 points and 4 points respectively. Walker loses by 8.6 points on average (22 points, 5 points and 6 points, respectively).

The most recent polls, taken from March and April, are shown below, where each bar corresponds to Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory in a hypothetical matchup:

The other conceivable option on the table is Scott Walker, who does poll well with blue-collar Americans. The problem is that his strategy for winning the White House relies entirely on maintaining the old Republican coalition, which won’t be appealing to party elites. Recently, for example, he signaled opposition to immigration reform, which isn’t surprising given his vision of the party’s future, but will ultimately doom him as a candidate. Without making inroads into the Latino vote, Republicans will never take back the White House.

The arguments against Rubio, meanwhile, are melting away. Worried about his embarrassing SOTU response? Witness his energetic and moving announcement speech. Worried he won’t get the support of big backers? Sheldon Adelson may back his campaign. The failure of immigration reform in 2013? No support among party elites? Rubio just got kind comments from Brooks and Douthat. Stagnant wages and stunted upward mobility? Marco Rubio said it best in his announcement:

My candidacy might seem improbable to some watching from abroad. In many countries, the highest office in the land is reserved for the rich and powerful. But I live in an exceptional country where even the son of a bartender and a maid can have the same dreams and the same future as those who come from power and privilege.

Indeed, Rubio’s biggest problem seems to be that his impressive qualities show up everywhere but in the polls: Real Clear Politics still puts him below Walker and Bush. However, Rubio offers a perfect embodiment of the Republican vision of the American Dream. He’s offering a vision that may can win enough Latinos, working-class white, youth and Republican regulars to credibly threaten Hillary. He’ll likely be the Republican candidate.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

Obama Is Right: America Needs Universal Voting

Yesterday, President Obama said, in a speech at the City Club of Cleveland, “In Australia, and some other countries, there’s mandatory voting. It would be transformative if everybody voted.” Obama is right to point to voting as a mechanism to fight elite domination of politics.

The fight against payday lending has been most successful when it gets out of the legislature and is placed on the ballot box. There is strong evidence that bolstering voter turnout would lead to more progressive outcomes.

On many issues, particularly those related to class, nonvoters are more liberal than voters.

The ANES shows that across income groups non-voters are more liberal than voters. Two different studies find that states with higher class bias in turnout also have greater income inequality. Other academics have shown that class bias in turnout can explain tax regressivity, social spending and minimum wages across the states.

Internationally, research shows a similar trend. A recent study by Vincent Mahler, David Jesuit and Piotr Paradowksi studied 14 countries and found that higher turnout among the poor increased redistribution. Henning Finseraas calculated the class bias and “anti-redistribution bias” of 13 countries and found that the U.S. was the highest on both measures. (A higher class bias indicates higher voting levels among high-income voters, while a higher anti-redistribution bias indicates that those who vote are more opposed to redistribution than those who don’t.)

In Australia, the implementation of mandatory voting boosted the seat share for the Labor party and the share of spending on pensions. A study of Swedish elections findsthat higher voter turnout leads to more public expenditures. A study of the Venezuelan election system finds that when the country abolished compulsory voting it lead to rising income inequality.

Another way that Obama could foster more liberal policymaking would be to strengthen unions. As I’ve noted the American Prospect, unions not only boost turnout, but are more successful in slowing the rise of inequality than left-leaning parties. It’s possible that people who are politically active might join unions.

Daniel Stegmueller and Michael Becher find that even after controlling for factors that might lead someone to vote, joining a union will increase an individual’s chance of voting by ten percentage points. Using international data, as well as research at the state level, Patricia Davis, and Benjamin Radcliff show that by increasing turnout and organizing workers, unions hold liberal parties accountable to the working class.

So Obama is correct: compulsory voting would indeed dramatically change the country. It would push policy in a progressive direction and force both parties to put more emphasis on policies that benefit the working and middle classes.

Note: Bartels writes, “income-related disparities in turnout simply do not seem large enough to provide a plausible explanation for the income-related disparities in responsiveness documented here.” Gilens finds, “the disproportionate responsiveness to the preferences of the affluent cannot be attributed to their higher turnout rates.”

This piece originally appeared on Policyshop.

What the Republican Nominee Says About the Party

The GOP coalition is increasingly useless at the presidential level.

Gerrymandering and residential segregation in the House of Representatives, depressed turnout in off-year elections, and the disproportionate influence of small, rural states in the Senate and the electoral college have largely hid this reality from view. The American political system is uniquely designed so that a party with very little popular support can effectively stymie the will of the majority at every turn and still remain electorally competitive long after they’ve become broadly disliked. But the story is different in presidential politics, where the socially conservative, middle- and upper-class, white and Christian coalition that delivered the White House to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush are no longer enough to bring Republicans a general election victory.

Examining the stark numbers is useful: The Republican nominee for president has lost the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 Presidential elections. The most recent Pew data show that 48 percent of Americans say they identify as Democrat or lean Democrat, compared with 39 percent on the Republican side. The 2016 Republican primary then, necessarily hinges on how the GOP candidates might be able to adjust to this reality.

There are three broad strategies that Republicans could conceivably follow, and two of them are plausible: shrink the electorate or broaden the base. The other — energizing the silent conservative majority — is absurd, but does have some adherents. Each of the Republican candidates are executing variations of one of these three strategies; who gets nominated will largely determine which way the Republican Party is headed.

Let’s address each of these strategies in ascending order of plausibility:

Strategy #1: The Silent Conservative Majority

The unserious candidates in the GOP primary all adhere to some version of the Silent Conservative Majority thesis. The core idea is that most Americans accept the conservative ideology, and would vote for a truly conservative candidate. The reason Republicans have lost the last two elections, according to this idea, is that the party sold out to moderates. Only a true conservative will bring out conservative voters and bring a victory. Ted Cruz, the leading proponent of this idea, puts it this way: “Today, roughly half of born-again Christians aren’t voting. They’re staying home. Imagine, instead, millions of people of faith all across America coming out to the polls and voting our values.” While Cruz is the leading proponent, the campaigns (or theoretical campaigns) of Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee all include some version of this thesis.

There are several main problems with this thesis. First, most Americans are less conservative than the Republican party. Very few aren’t voting because the Republican party isn’t conservative enoughI’ve noted numerous times that the non-voting population is significantly more liberal than the voting population. As the data below from Pew Research Center shows, non-voters are significantly less conservative than voters.

Non-voters tend to be younger, less white, less education and poorer than voters, all of which (with the possible exception of education) skew more liberal, not more conservative. Candidates espousing this thesis tend to frequently cite Ronald Reagan as the heyday of serious conservatism, and hearken back to him wistfully. But more recent political science research suggests that the Reagan White House maintained an extensive internal polling operation to ensure that he could maintain the appearance of a center while still pulling policy in a more conservative direction.

Candidates espousing the Silent Conservative Majority thesis will throw up a lot of dust and energize many very conservative voters, they may even garner some money and a few delegates, but none are serious candidates. They are running to: (1) make money and increase their profile; and (2) to ensure the GOP doesn’t move too far to the center to appeal to voters.

Strategy #2: Shrink The Electorate

The broad goal here is to go on the offensive: Rather than bringing in new voters, the Republican Party would seek to use its fundraising advantage and reduce the Democratic turnout advantage. This strategy involves: giving business and big money more influence, crushing unions and erecting barriers to voting. The most successful proponent of this strategy is Scott Walker, who has successfully deployed the strategy already in Wisconsin. As Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes, “Since they came to power in 2011, Walker and his party have not only changed the way the state is governed, but they have changed the political playing field. In a few big ways and lots of little ways, they have seemingly made it easier for Republicans and harder for Democrats to win elections.”

Walker has crushed a key liberal base, unions, and made it a centerpiece of his presidential run (e.g. by comparing union workers to ISIS). He has also pushed through a Voter ID law and cut early voting, while loosening rules for campaign finance. All of these laws will work to shift the playing field in favor of Republicans. I’ve documented extensively already how low turnout benefits the right. And unions are a key base of progressive support, so crushing them will similarly benefit conservatives.

However, the obvious problem with a strategy of suppressing the vote, aside from the constitutional problems it raises, is that it alienates voters of color who are targeted.

Strategy #3: Broaden The Base

The strategy here is to win enough Latino, Asian and Black voters that the decreasing share of older whites in the voting population doesn’t decrease Republican electoral chances. Indeed, this was George W. Bush’s strategy (he also appealed to social and business conservatives) and, had he been able to pass comprehensive immigration reform, Republicans would be in a much better position today.

While many on the left may feel that this strategy is unlikely to succeed, there are reasons to believe Republicans could indeed peel off some Latino or African-American votes from Democrats. I’ve previously noted, the work of political scientist Spencer Piston, who shows that lighter-skinned Latinos and Asian-Americans are more likely to support the Republicans.

As Slate’s Jamelle Bouie explains:

On party identification, the difference between the darkest- and lightest-skinned Latinos is the difference between a strong Democratic partisan and a relative independent. For the 2012 Senate races, however, darker-skinned Latinos were much more likely to vote Democratic than lighter-skinned Latinos, who split their votes between the two parties. The differences are less stark for Asians, but they’re still noteworthy: Light-skinned Asians were less likely to vote Democrat in the 2008 national elections, and more likely to identify as independent or Republican.

Piston says it’s “striking that across two different ethnic groups, two national datasets, and two different modes of measuring skin tone, lighter-skinned individuals are more likely than dark-skinned individuals to prefer Republicans.” He’s right, and it’s a testament to the role skin color (and racism) can play in social integration.

Further, recent Pew polling suggests that younger voters of color are slightly more open to the Republican Party.

The most prominent Republicans are implicitly endorsing this strategy, with both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio promoting their ability to speak Spanish and reach out to working class voters.

What Will Happen

Obviously, the winning candidate will try to deploy all three of these strategies to some extent. However, the strategies conflict with each other. Attempts to shrink the electorate will upset Latinos and Blacks, who will justifiably be angered by attempts to suppress their vote. On the other hand, most attempts to broaden the base, say with immigration reform, will anger the most conservative whites. The strategies above, however, offer a coherent way of thinking about elections that emphasizes strategy, rather than the vagaries of horserace politics. They also offer the key to understanding who will the nomination.

The best strategy above is to broaden the base. Shrinking the electorate has simply reached a point of diminishing returns. Democrats have a robust fundraising operation and a strong get-out-the-vote capacity. Broadening the base led to the only one popular vote win Republicans in two decades — when Bush captured the White House in 2004 with 40 percent of Latinos. (Claims that he had a higher share are incorrect). Republicans will work to broaden their support during Presidential elections while during midterm elections they will try to reduce turnout and mobilize partisans.

What does it all mean? Either Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio will be the likely nominee. Two factors point to Rubio being stronger. First, because Republicans will want to hit Hillary for being dynastic, a second Bush candidate is risky. (Even if Hillary’s history could also make Bush’s family name less of the deal-breaker it might otherwise be.) Second, Rubio has strong Tea Party ties that Bush lacks, meaning that he could expand the base without losing too many true conservatives. At this point, he offers Republicans the best chance at winning in 2016.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

How To Create a More Progressive America

Barring a dramatic scandal or an unforeseen event, Hillary Clinton will be the 2016 Democratic party nominee for president. While many on the left have complained about her close ties to banks and her past unwillingness to tackle inequality, such complaints are unlikely to be solved by any challenger. Progressives should instead begin creating the infrastructure to shift American politics in a more progressive direction — and do so while supporting Clinton in 2016.

To understand why progressives should push Hillary, rather than run against her, it’s important to understand some important lessons from political science. First, long periods of liberal control tend to make voters more conservative (and vice-versa). As Larry Bartels recently noted, James Stimson’s Policy Mood indicator shows that Americans are “more conservative than at any point since 1952.” (Shown in the graph below.)

 This graph demonstrates how policy mood tends to move in the opposite direction as the sitting President, becoming more liberal under Bush/Reagan and more conservative under Obama. It’s not inevitable that Americans will choose a Republican; arguments that Americans simply won’t put another Democrat in the office after two years of unified party rule are based on only a few data points.

(And it bears repeating, of course, that Al Gore won the popular vote after two Clinton terms in 2000.)

In the case of Obama, an unabashedly progressive President, Americans may well seek a slightly more moderate candidate. With Obama’s presidency domestically defined by healthcare, it’s likely voters won’t want more spending in that area; however, there could be interest in higher spending on childcare or education, two areas that Clinton has built her political career around.

In a recent Economist/YouGov Poll, about 40 percent of independents said Hillary Clinton was too liberal, and only 13 percent said “not liberal enough.”

However, Hillary benefits from having the highest net favorability among Democratic respondents, and all respondents, in fact. (Net favorability is the total favorable minus total unfavorable, the smaller bars for Webb, O’Malley and Sanders, shown below, come from their relative obscurity.)

The graphs above show two things: One, progressivism faces roadblocks in the immediate future, as the country angles for moderation after what is perceived as an emphatically liberal Obama administration; and, two, Hillary Clinton, like it or not, is in the best position of any Democratic candidate to mobilize the progressive base. This is where it becomes important to recognize that the best chance for a progressive agenda lies not in challenging Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, but in making sure she gets the White House, and then holding her accountable once there.

In modern politics, parties have far more power than politicians. As the parties have become increasingly polarized, and their constituencies increasingly divided by class, it’s harder for middle-class or working-class voters to justify a Republican vote. The vast chasms between the two parties are so deep now that the difference between the leftmost Republican who could win the presidency and the rightmost Democrat is still large. I’ve illustrated before the massive differences in results between Republicans and Democrats in terms of promoting economic growthreducing inequality and reducing racial disparities. It’s more important to get a Democrat in office than nitpick over ideology.

Most importantly, a large portion of what Presidents do goes entirely under the radar. I’venoted before the extensive political science literature showing how Presidents affect policy by staffing bureaucratic positions, enforcing regulations and appointing judges. Many important policy choices elide journalists and many small changes, such as executive orders go unnoticed but have dramatic impacts. Further, Presidents have someinfluence over whether monetary policy focuses on boosting employment or reining in inflation. Together, these policies have dramatic impacts on growth and inequality.

All of this means that progressives should focus on ensuring a candidate that will listen to their interests wins the Presidency, rather than the perfect candidate. There’s a good case for Hillary being that candidate. Clinton has a higher favorability rating than any serious Republican contender (only Bush, Rubio and Walker have a chance of winning the nomination) and she has a dramatically high recognition rate. She’s won support across the party elites, from both the liberal and conservative wings. Given the current playing field, the only credible challenge to Hillary would likely come from someone to her right, and likely one that couldn’t win an election.

This calculus means progressives need to make sure Hillary addresses our concerns. Already, Hillary has indicated a possible move to the left, criticizing overpaid CEOs and hedge fund managers in a recent Iowa visit. But it will take sustained pressure to ensure Clinton pursues a progressive agenda once in office. For that progressives need to learn from their enemy: the Koch brothers.

In 1980, David Koch ran for President on the libertarian ticket and won a mere 1.1 percent of the vote. Chastened by his loss, he and his brother realized that the way to shift policy would be to create a libertarian infrastructure aimed at pushing Republicans to the right. Certainly, there are other factors maintaining right-wing ideology: Grover Norquist and his anti-tax pledge, Newt Gingrich and his Republican revolution, and the brutal political savvy of Mitch McConnell. However, the massive network of think-tanks, foundations, universities, fellowships that the Koch’s finance, in addition to a sophisticated polling and market research apparatus, all keep Republican politicians in line.

Progressives can’t replicate the strategy, but they can create structures that will ensure that politicians are incentivized to pursue progressive policies. That will involve focusing on three areas that will bring about a more progressive America:

1) Voter turnout

The importance of voter turnout for a progressive American cannot be understated. The chart below, created with data from Vincent Mahler shows the relationship between voter turnout and redistribution. The relationship is powerful, and as I’ve extensively documented, cross-national studies and studies within the states find that higher turnout lead to more progressive policies.

To boost turnout, progressives should invest in get-out-the-vote operations and same-day registration. In addition, stricter enforcement of motor-voter requirements could increase the number of registered voters by 18 million.

2) Labor mobilization 

For a long time, the mainstream left has taken unions for granted. Unions were seen as parochial, narrowly interested in advancing their own interests. In reality, unions provided an important check on the Democratic party, making sure it didn’t move too far to the right. Unions partially filled this role by boosting turnout. In a study with Patricia Davis, Director of the Office of Global Programs at the Department of State, Radcliff shows that their election day mobilizations push candidates and parties by increasing turnout and organizing workers, unions hold parties that benefit the working class and middle class to the left.

However, unions are currently besieged by right-to-work laws being instituted across the country, which dramatically reduce union density, and as a result, union influence. All the while, national Democrats have largely remained silent.

One of the criticisms of the idea that unions increase turnout is that the causation is actually reversed: That it isn’t a matter of union membership making people more likely to vote, but rather that people who vote are more likely to join unions in the first place. However, political economists Daniel Stegmueller and Michael Becher find that even after controlling for this effect, joining a union will increase an individual’s chance of voting by 10 percentage points. Ryan Lamare, an Assistant Professor of Labor and Employment Relations, studied the effects of unions in Los Angeles County and foundthat unions boosted turnout, particularly among Latinos.

3) State and local activist infrastructure

Finally the progressive movement needs to invest in an intellectual and advocacy infrastructure. Here, the Kochs aren’t the only people who have used this strategy; evangelicals have successfully ensured that Republicans stay steadfast on the culture war because of their extensive and well-maintained an advocacy structure. The NRA has done similar. Now, the left needs to massively mobilize at the local and state level. Here, progressives face a disadvantage: Conservatives were able to make use of Evangelical churches, gun clubs and politically active chapters like the Tea Party. Progressives have only a few similarly mobilized coalitions; but they can still be potent, as the environmental movement has recently shown.

Historian Erik Loomis recently wrote the obvious: “If progressives push [Hillary Clinton] to the left through consistent organization, she’ll swing left. If she feels more pressure from Republicans, she’ll swing right. This shouldn’t be all that hard to figure out, yet it constantly surprises us how politics actually work in this nation.” He’s correct. The problem is that movement-building is difficult. Waiting for Godot is easy.

This article originally appeared in Salon.

Professionalizing Legislatures Is a Progressive Policy

In recent years, many political scientists have released eye-opening data suggesting that policymakers simply aren’t very responsive to low- and middle-income Americans. There are likely many reasons for this — partially owing to voter participation, partially owing to differences in education and very likely owing to the influence of money over politics. However, one other important factor that generally goes under the radar is legislative professionalism.

A professionalized legislature differs from a citizen legislature in several ways: Professional legislatures generally meet for a more extended period of time and are paid enough that they do not have other careers. Professional legislators have larger staffs, more money to research policy and more time to deliberate and hold hearings. Professionalized legislatures also tend to attract politicians interested in working their way to higher levels of government.

In a recent segment, John Oliver addressed the absurdity of state legislatures — and the concerns about professionalism he raises are important. As I’ve noted elsewhere, income inequality is shaped enormously at the state level. This influence has only increased in recent years, as the federal government has become more gridlocked. In a new study, Elizabeth Rigby and Megan Hatch estimate that If states had adopted more liberal policies, the increase in inequality (as measured by the Gini Coefficient) would have been 60 percent smaller — and the share going to the top 1 percent would have been halved. Inequality at the state level also has implications for representation; Patrick Flavin findsthat inequality of income is one of the most important predictors of inequality of representation. New evidence suggests that differences in legislature structure at the state level have important implications for representation.

In an influential study, Jeffrey Lax and Justin Phillips examined 39 policies in eight broad issue areas. They calculated the congruence of public opinion and government policy for each issue. Congruence is a measure of how responsive policymakers are to public opinion: a low congruence indicates that legislators aren’t very responsive, a high congruence indicates they are. Congruence ranges from a low of 6 percent on bilingual education to a high of 86 percent on legalizing state lotteries. The researchers also found that while state governments are “generally responsive” to public opinion, they also “effectively translate majority opinion into policy only about half the time. […] This is true even when majority are large and when salience is high.”

How can legislatures be made more responsive? The authors found, “A one standard deviation increase in professionalization increases the marginal effect of opinion by about 28 percent.” In addition, interest groups can work against the public interest, in the case that a strong interest group is opposed to a policy, the size of the majority in favor of the policy would have to be nine percentage points higher than otherwise. The opposite holds true: If an interest group favors a policy that the majority does, it will be more likely to pass. However, the work of Benjamin Page and Martin Gilens suggests that mass-based interest groups have only modest correlation with the views of most Americans and business interest groups have a negative correlation with the views of Americans, so it’s more likely that interest groups will be working against the democratic will.

Cherie Maestas finds that more professionalized legislatures are more responsive to public opinion. She finds that legislatures with the highest pay and opportunity have politicians that are most responsive to citizens. Somewhat unsurprisingly, legislatures that have full-time members with high pay are the ones where politicians are most incentivized and most able to respond to constituents. Political scientist Patrick Flavin has focused his attention on the question of equality of representation. He created an index of how equal legislatures were in responding to constituents across income groups. He tells me that his still-unfinished analysis suggests that professionalized legislatures might have more equal political representation. One reason may be that professional legislatures are less susceptible to organized lobbying interests.

In recent years, many conservatives have fought to weaken legislatures. Ben Boychuk of the right-leaning publication City Journal argues, “Priorities, ladies and gentlemen. Priorities. A Legislature with [only] 95 days to enact laws is one less likely to spend a great deal of time introducing and passing useless legislation.” Given that the economy of California is the eighth largest in the world and its legislature passes laws for nearly 40 million people, this argument is absurd. But conservatives would benefit deeply from a weaker, less organized and less well-funded legislature. Presidential hopefuly Jeb Bushendorsed a 2012 initiative to make the California legislature part-time; the initiative was also supported by Michael Reagan (son of Ronald).

It’s not entirely surprising conservatives support part-time legislatures — they want the rich and powerful to run over everyone else. This is exactly what happens. There is some evidence that professionalizing legislatures increases public spending, but it’s more likely that professionalization is a response to an increasing public sector. Research by Daniel M. Butler and David W. Nickerson suggests that when representatives receive accurate information about their constituents, they tend to vote more in line with the constituents’ preferences. It may be that a professionalized legislature can increase this responsiveness. In contrast, unprofessional legislators are more open to the influence of corporate-backed groups like ALEC. One recent study shows that in more professional legislatures with fewer time constraints, ALEC bills are less likely to be passed.

Although rarely discussed in popular media, legislative professionalism is an important way to promote representation. As inequality and policy is shaped more and more at the state level, the fact that many statehouses do not appear to well represent their constituents is important. Representatives at the state level often reject the will of the majority, and as Rigby and Wright show, this lack of representation disproportionately affects the poor. Although the citizen legislature has a certain appeal, seeming to reflect the democratic ideal, in fact such legislatures are more open to manipulation from professionalized interest groups.

This piece originally appeared on Salon