Category Archives: Interest Groups

Let the “Battle” Begin–The Targeting of States and Voters in 2012


BATTLEGROUND STATES 08 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The direction of the 2012 presidential election will become increasingly apparent in the days and weeks to come as the candidates and their supporters target important battleground states.  Battleground states are states that are considered to be contestable in the upcoming election; in other words, the state is worth visiting and investing substantial resources in.  Non-battleground states are states that candidates do not expect to win, making them less likely to receive much attention from candidate or their surrogates.  The identification of battleground and non-battleground states begins just as the election results of the previous presidential election are being tallied.  Campaign managers, political scientists, journalists, and others have been studying campaign maps for decades; especially Electoral College maps for presidential elections going back to the 1960s.

Battleground states are more likely than not to be states that have a history of voting democratic or republican.  Battleground states can also be determined by the margins of victory by various statewide elected officials (governors, etc.) in recent elections.  For example, if republican candidates have won recent elections in a state by what are considered wide margins the state is not likely to be considered a battleground state by the democratic party (they will basically write it off).  Once the battleground states are identified the process shifts toward identifying swing voters in battleground states that can make all the difference in a close election.  Hispanics, women, younger voters are likely voting blocks that will be targeted by candidates in the 2012 election.  What do you think about candidates for the Presidency targeting some states and ignoring others?  Should all fifty states receive their fair share of attention?  Is this even possible given the costs associated with national elections?



Politicos are Running or Ruining the Show

Politicos are the political animals that both eat and serve up the real red meat of politics.  They are the insiders inside “The Beltway,” they are the government and party faithful that play the game of politics day-in and day-out, 365 days out of the year.  Many textbooks use the term primarily in reference to theories of representation (i.e., “trustees” are legislators who act in what they believe are the best interests of their constituents while “delegates” are those who act in accordance with their constituents’ expressed wishes).  In this usage politicos are the wheelers and dealers in and out of government who best epitomize the expression that “politics is the art of the possible.”  Details related to right and wrong, and questions related to what is in the best interest of the nation, are not central considerations to the politico.  It’s not what they do.

A politicomay not be a type of person, maybe its best described as a trait that all political actors possess to some degree or another.  Maybe it’s the part that prompts an elected official to be coy when answering—or not answering a question posed by a reporter.  Maybe it’s the purposeful pivot that a

Capital Beltway

Capital Beltway (Photo credit: JohnRiv)

Congressperson makes when debating an opponent and the need to change the subject arises to avoid an embarrassing moment.  In any event, ‘tis the season of the politico; when every statement, every speech, every step, every stop, every chance to score a point against the opponent is seized like the last piece of meat on the platter.  For the rest of us it would be smart to remember another well-known expression: never get between a dog and its bone.  What do you think about the current political climate of the nation?  Do you believe the people in charge of the action are presenting us with the amount and kind of information people need to make good choices?


Race and the Hispanic Vote

English: White Hispanic and Latino Americans

English: White Hispanic and Latino Americans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the second in a series of blogs focusing on what some like to refer to as the Hispanic vote.  It is intended to edify those elements of the MyPoliSciLab community that may just be learning of the increasingly important role Hispanic voters will play in American politics.  This installment will consider the significance of race as a factor influencing our understanding of the emerging Hispanic vote across the country.

First of all, the term Hispanic does not actually discriminate according to race (although many researchers do take race into account when studying Hispanics).  Hispanics born in the United States as part of the baby boom generation (and for decades before that) would have been designated as “White” or “Caucasian” on their birth certificates.  Of course, Hispanic newborns with parents or a parent displaying “Black” or African American features or characteristics would have likely been designated as “colored” or “Black” depending on the particular time in history.  In actuality Hispanics can be White and Black—or both as in the case of a bi-racial individual.  Given the state of political science research on the matter, traditional voting models that take race into account and predict that White voters are more likely to support republican candidates and African American or Black voters are more likely to support democratic candidates, are problematic when we take into account Hispanic voters.  The current state of the discipline suggests that including Hispanics in the models is reasonable based on the understanding that Hispanics represent a different population.  I am suggesting that they do not.

Hispanics, as we currently understand the term, come from the nations of North, Central, and South America.  They are White, Black, and Indian (indigenous, indígena) and every possible iteration you can think of.  Discussions regarding the Hispanic vote in both the mainstream and new media are still likely to follow in the footsteps of those who have an over-simplified understanding of their Hispanic brothers and sisters.  What do you think?  Should political scientists lead the way in terms of changing the way we talk about Hispanic political behavior?  Can the media make heads or tails of the issues involved?


The Hispanic Vote—Myth, Monolith, Mystery

Garth Brooks singing the Don McLean song "...

Garth Brooks singing the Don McLean song “American Pie” at the We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial concert. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the race for the White House moves along Hispanic voters will show up on the radar for both democratic and republican candidates. More experienced and knowledgeable commentators will know enough to differentiate between largely republican Cubans and Cuban Americans in Florida, from the deeply divided Texas contingent of Mexican cowboys that listen to Garth Brooks and those that stencil Michoacan on the back windows of their trucks. The Hispanic vote also includes the diverse block of socially conservative Catholic and growing evangelical Christians across the nation who believe in marriage between one man and one woman and their relatives who marry and divorce often—and sometimes with the same people. And don’t forget the urban Latino professionals who have managed to make it out of college and graduate programs to take very good jobs in every industry you can imagine. The so-called Hispanic vote is there for the taking.

Aggregated, the Hispanic vote largely goes to democratic candidates in percentages that make the gender gap look ridiculously trivial (anywhere from sixty-five to over seventy percent). In a good year, a republican candidate can get close to forty percent of the Hispanic vote. That translates into an unpopular democratic candidate getting just over sixty percent of the Hispanic vote. Over a decade ago I worked as a researcher for the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute (one of the most important Latino think tanks in the nation). Our research routinely led us to conclude that Hispanic voters shared many of the same characteristics as other democratic groups of voters. Some care more about social issues. Some care more about immigration issues. Some care quite a bit about crime and the environment. Most care an awful lot about the economy and jobs and their children’s education. To make a long story short, candidates on both sides are going to have to work this one out on their own. The term “Hispanic” was actually first used by the Census Bureau as a term to capture the growing Spanish surnamed population in the United States. It’s an arbitrary and largely artificial term used to identify a very real and very complicated assortment of peoples and experiences that have contributed greatly to the American experiment. What do you think? Will the Hispanic vote help determine the winner for 2012? Will democratic and republican candidates figure out how to play the Rubik’s Cube of the Hispanic vote?


Electioneering and Interest Group Activities


Tax (Photo credit: 401K)

Interest groups engage in electioneering when they become involved in the electoral process. During actual electoral cycles many interest groups channel resources usually committed to efforts to influence government policy to activities immediately intended to promote particular candidates and causes. The differences between electioneering and regular interest group activities may be only a matter of degree. For example, Californians will be voting soon on a new tobacco tax that has predictably spawned a television campaign to defeat the initiative paid for by tobacco interests and anti-tax groups.

Both groups would be involved in the political process even without an actual campaign to focus their efforts. Elections do provide opportunities to participate in very election-based activities that are unlike the industry norms of lobbying and general fund-raising. It might be argued that what electioneering activities a particular group may become involved can provide valuable insight as to the actual and concrete interests of the group. In the case of the California tobacco tax it is unlikely that the tobacco interests currently funding anti-tax commercials will spend any money to support the other side (it is not uncommon for interest groups to spread their money around as a form of hedging their bets). What do you think? Is electioneering actually a different form of interest group behavior or is it, as suggested above, simply a shift in emphasis during election cycles?


Food Stamps, Government Subsidies, and Elections

Why have food stamps become a political football in the 2012 election?  The first high profile punt came from Republican candidate and former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, when he referred to President Obama as the “food stamp President.”  The dynamic and diverse new media world of tweeting and blogging could be partly responsible; along with the never ending search for the ultimate sound-bite.  But explanations that focus on the nature of the media today forget to acknowledge that political parties and their candidates have made use of such socially and politically-charged symbolism for decades—if not since the early days of the Republic.

In a larger context, food stamps are just one form of federal and state public assistance to families with incomes that are too low to adequately provide for their needs.  In one form or another, food stamps have been a staple of the social welfare safety net that has protected the poor since the New Deal.  But as a form of government subsidy, food stamps are a symbol of the relationship that exists between government and people.  In that sense, food stamps and tax incentives that benefit home owners (i.e., the deduction of interest paid on home mortgages) are equal—both represent public policies intended to benefit very real constituencies in the political process.  More importantly, the actual impacts of such policy choices are never as one-sided as some might suggest.  A dollar spent by way of food stamps in part keeps farms, dairies, grocery stores, truckers, importers, and even members of Congress at work (just as tax breaks to home owners keep mortgage brokers, banks, tellers, and ATM companies at work).

Public policies generally don’t just benefit one person, group, or class.  And they probably don’t just capture a narrow range of intentions on the part of the policy-makers that pass them.  What do you think?  Are food stamps the issue as some would suggest?  If so, then shouldn’t all government subsidies become symbols during elections?  Can you imagine a way of talking about such programs that does not lend itself to vilifying particular communities in the name of political expediency?


Anonymous Money and Campaign Financing

Abuses in the electoral processes associated with American democracy often result in the passage of legislation and regulations that are represented to the public as “reforms” that will correct the problems.  In fact, there is a relatively stable pattern of abuses, public outcry, and reform that many believe began in the early 1970s and continues to this day.  Specifically, campaign financing and the role of big money in the electoral process has been the focus of many such reform efforts.  Most recently, McCain-Feingold attempted to reign in “soft money” and issue ads—among other things—leading indirectly to the most significant change in American elections since sliced bread.  Just over two years ago the Supreme Court, in Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission ruled, in essence, that corporations had the same rights as individuals to spend their own money as a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment.  Alas, we have witnessed the birth of the latest round of abuses and reforms that will dominate the money and politics debate for the next ten years (if we last that long).

The “baby,” the Super PAC, is the instrument being used by big money to influence the outcome of the 2012 federal election cycle.  Donors are giving money to non-profit corporations that have been established to serve some basic cause, which in turn are collecting and funneling money to Super PACs that have been created to promote particular candidates.  Because the donations are going directly to non-profit corporations donors do not have to be identified to the media or federal campaign finance regulators.  In other words, anonymous money, the complete and absolute opposite of transparency and reform has found a welcome and protected place in American electoral politics.  Any attempt to sell this as good for America can only be judged for what it is, the outright abandonment of one-person one-vote in the United States and the ascendency of government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich.  To claim as some have that there has always been a place for secrecy and privacy in American politics, citing examples such as the secret ballot and the use of aliases by the authors of the Federalist Papers can only be characterized as the most shameful sophistry.  How’s this for an example of anonymity, wearing a white hood and sheet to protect my right to privacy?  Why not, seems there are no limits after all.

What do you think?  Is there any way to keep money from corrupting the political process?  Is money an integral and unavoidable feature of democracy  in the United States?