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24 April 2006

MPSA Buzz?

Here's a space for those of you who attended this Midwest meeting last week to chime in about what grabbed your attention. What was the buzz in panels or hallway conversation about the political behavior field? Any new topics out there? Controversies? Dead lines of inquiry? Post your thoughts in the comment section.

Posted by Barry Burden at 11:01 AM | Comments (1)

PPBW: Burch on Felon Voting and Partisanship

The final Political Psychology and Behavior Workshop paper of the academic year comes this Friday in the form of Traci Burch's "Estimating Voter Registration, Turnout, and Party ID among Current and Former Felons in North Carolina." Felon disenfranchisment is obviously a timely issue. It has been the source of inaccuracy in voter turnout statistics and a possible contributor to the 2000 election outcome in Florida. To give away the punchline, here is Burch's conclusion:

This analysis attempts to estimate the political participation of felons and ex-felons in one state, North Carolina, in an effort to see the extent and causes of felon participation. The findings indicate that even former felons in North Carolina have low rates of current voter registration (13.8 percent); the lack of registration in large part reflects the impact of socioeconomic disadvantage and legal disenfranchisement policies. Among comparable groups such as misdemeanants and felons prior to the start of their last sentence, registration levels are about 30 percent, suggesting that in the absence of felon disenfranchisement policies, felon political participation would have been much higher. Moreover, older felons and felons with a high school education are much more likely to be registered to vote.

Posted by Barry Burden at 10:09 AM

15 April 2006

Harding and Alexander on Beliefs About Terrorism

Marcus Alexander and Matthew Harding recently presented "Beliefs Over the Unknown: Understanding The Threat of Terrorism" at the Political Psychology and Behavior Workshop. The authors argue that extant models describing how rational actors forecast the future are inadequate for explaining the way humans think about terrorist attacks. Alexander and Harding propose an ingenious new model, which allows actors to carry out a series of counterfactual thought experiments in order to place a non-zero probability on yet unrealized events occurring. They concluded their paper by arguing that democratic deliberation results in groups placing insufficient weight over the unknown. The implication suggested is that classic results about the efficiency of aggregating decision-making (i.e. Condorcet Jury Theorem) do not apply in the case of envisioning the future.

Studies examining the roles of terrorist attacks in shaping American political behavior represents a new literature with both theoretical and policy implications. One theory is that the public, while frightened from a terrorist attack, will cede civil liberties for a heightened sense of security. For example, Darren Davis and Brian Silver in “Civil Liberties vs Security: Public Opinion in the Context of Terrorist Attacks on America�? show that commitment to Democratic norms is highly contingent on the perceived threat from terrorism. Alexander and Harding’s model shows that immediately after a terrorist attack, individuals may overweight the probability of an attack in the future, particularly while engaging in democratic deliberation. Subsequently, one could easily imagine the dire consequences for a democratic society.

Posted by Justin Grimmer at 1:40 PM

14 April 2006

EPOVB News: MPSA Edition

The latest newsletter of the Elections, Public Opinion, and Voting Behavior (EPOVB) section is out. In addition to looking for committee and award nominations, there's news of a competition to produce the best forecast of this year's congressional elections. There are also some great panels at MPSA next week.

Posted by Barry Burden at 1:42 PM

12 April 2006

PPBW: Alexander and Harding on Terrorism

This week's Political Psychology and Behavior Workshop features a paper by Marcus Alexander and Matthew Harding titled "Beliefs over the Unknown: Understanding the Threat of Terrorism." Rose McDermott of UCSB is serving as discussant. We hope to the paper posted soon. The abstract says that democracy might have liabilities when it comes to beliefs about threats:

When faced with the imminent threat of terrorism, people draw on their own experience and imagination to assess the security risk. We develop a behavioral economic model of belief formation under the threat of terrorism, and explore how economic forecasting, assesment of terrorist threats, and democratic concensus are shaped by the people’s ability to combine rationality and immagination to understand the previously unknown. Due to the behavioral biases that arise in this process, the main implication of our findings on democratic politics is that free deliberation may lead to public concensus that further inflates biases, presenting a problem for decisions under the shadow of terrorism.

Posted by Barry Burden at 7:31 PM

11 April 2006

Fear and Loathing on the Italian Campaign Trail: Election Debriefing

There is, indeed, such a thing as being too smart for your own good. Yesterday's Italian elections, in spite of an amazing, improbable comeback engineered by Berlusconi in the last few weeks of the campaign, gave the Center Left coalition a victory that far exceeds, in seats, the infinitesimal margin of votes by which it edged the Center-Right. For the Left, the sweetest of ironies is that its majority in both chambers was manufactured by the features of the new electoral law that were designed to inflict the most damage to it. When a rambling Romano Prodi emerged from his trailor at 3 o'clock in the morning - after already having cancelled two victory speeches - he said, rather crudely, "they even changed the electoral law to make us lose, but we won anyway." Quite so.

In the Chamber of Deputies, the new law turned a 25,000 vote (or 0.07%) margin into a 340-277 seat majority. Berlusconi's people expected a close result all along, but were banking on the expectation that they would edge the opposition - if narrowly - and could then profit unduly from the majority premium that confers upon the largest coalition 55% of the seats. They gambled and it blew right in their faces. In the Senate, the victory of the Left was engineered, in another ironic twist, by a post-fascist - Mirko Tremaglia - who after years of lobbying finally found someone foolish enough to listen to his argument that Italians abroad should be able to vote, in no small part because they are widely believed to be more right-wing than the Italians living in Italy. The result? At the end of the night, when only the seats within the national territory had been assigned, the Right led by one seat: 155-154; the next morning, when the votes from all over the world had been counted, the Right had won only 1 of the 6 outstanding seats reserved for Italians abroad. Tremaglia's cleverness gave away the majority to a blundering Left that ran an entire campaign on the catchy slogan "seriousness in government". Had Berlusconi only given the Left enough rope with which to hang itself, he would have found them to be only too happy to oblige. But Berlusconi, who could have had a victory or at the very least a tie if he had only played it straight, couldn't resist the temptation of tricking his way back into the premiership.

For the country, the distorsion introduced by the majority premium is quite possibly a blessing. After this kind of a campaign, a tie in seat shares would have in all lilelihood failed to produce any workable government. For months, Left and Right exchanged the most brutal and grotesque of insults. Along the way, Berlusconi has called Romano Prodi "a useful idiot," leftist politicians the heirs of the Chinese cultural revolution - during which, he added, "children were boiled to make fertilizer" - and leftist voters "coglioni" (important components of the male anatomy). For good measure, during a televised debate with a homosexual, leftist politician, the reliably classy Alessandra Mussolini cried: "I'd rather be fascist than gay." And the Left's ad hominems weren't that much more restrained. Prodi compared Berlusconi to a drunk and defined his government's economic policy "criminal." A Communist politician even went on record to spout that the 20 Italian servicemen killed by Iraqi insurgents in Nassiriyah "had gotten what they deserved." Indeed, this is hardly fertile soil for a grand coalition of the kind that the far more civilized German parties have recently put together. Not that we should put jumping the fence - always a popular sport among Italian politicians - beyond anyone, especially Christian Democratic politicians that still harbor the not-so--secret dream of piecing together the shards of the Democrazia Cristiana, shattered by corruption scandals in 1992.

Whatever the case may be, the Left must figure out what to do with Berlusconi's gift, now that it has won the election in spite of its own best efforts. Again, a babbling Romano Prodi offered some disturbing insight into the state of the soon to be governing coalition during his barely more than half-hearted victory speech last night. He announced that after winning national and local elections, the Left will now turn to stopping the constitutional reforms introduced by the Right in the last two years. Only then, he said, "will our work be done." Done? Prodi's gaffe might well have been due to exhaustion, but it is quite indicative of the fact that the only goal the Left could agree on was to get rid of Berlusconi and whatever he happens to stand for. Now that this objective has been accomplished, it remains to be seen, in the first place, how long a coalition "uniting" the clerical with the anti-clerical, Communists with Catholics, the Greens with the business community, the Euro-enthusiasts with the Euro-skeptics, and the Kennedy left with the street fighters of the anti-globalization movement can stay together. Even more uncertain is whether they will waste their time - and ours - hanging on and muddling through, or whether they will really get to work to implement the reforms of which the Italian economy, government, and educational system are so desperately in need.

Posted by Federico Ferrara at 9:31 PM | Comments (1)

10 April 2006

Fear and Loathing on the Italian Campaign Trail: Total Coverage of the Results

Tuesday, 14:45 (Italian time)
It's over! The Center-Left scores an amazing 5-1 victory on the Senate seats elected by Italians abroad. It therefore wins a 159-156 majority in the Senate.

Final results for the Chamber: Center-Left 49.80%, Center-Right 49.73%. Turnout is 83.6%. The Left wins 340 seats; the Right 277. The margin of victory is just 25,224 votes out of about 40 million cast. Here's a list of parties that will receive seats, as well as their vote shares:


The Center-Right announces that a full, nationwide recount will be demanded. Where have I seen this before?

"Abbiamo vinto!" The Center-Left leaders come out to declare victory, claiming that the margin for the Chamber is now large enough. Oddly enough, Prodi is improvising the most incoherent of victory speeches. Hard to believe he didn't have one ready after waiting 12 hours for the results to be tallied.

Final Senate results: Right 50.2%, Left 49%. As anticipated, the Right has a 1 seat majority: 155-154. The 6 seats reserved for Italians abroad are still to be allocated.

The Chamber elections get closer by the minute. With 60792 precincts reporting out of 60828, the Left leads by 49.80-49.73%. The margin is now 26,000 votes. Other than Florida 2000, I've never seen anything like this.

Chamber of Deputies: With 550 precincts still out, the two coalitions are separated by less than 40,000 votes nationwide; the Left leads 49.82%-49.71%. Unbelievable.

Senate: My numbers indicate that the Right is ahead in the Senate by 255-254 seats. There are still 6 seats elected by Italians abroad to be assigned; nobody quite knows which direction they will go. Those are the only results still out. The Senate also has 7 lifetime appointees, who will in all likelihood be critical.

Romano Prodi comes out for the delayed victory speech but tells everyone to have more patience.

The Political Behavior Blog is now ready to call the regions of Campania (Center-Left) and Piedmont (Center-Right). Lazio probably goes Right too.

Fear and Loathing at the Northern League: the secessionist wing of the party occupies national headquarters. Federalists and separatists exchange insults and shoves. This is the most entertaining election ever held in Italy.

The latest projections for the Chamber of Deputies: Center-Right 49.8%-Center-Left 49.7%. That fraction is profoundly consequential because whoever gets the most votes wins 340 seats out of 630.
In the Senate, it remains too close to call. The result hinges on 3 regions: Piedmont, Lazio, and Campania. In each of these, official results have margins of less than 30,000 votes with about 90% of the precincts reporting.

Nobody seems to be able to make sense of what's going on. In the Senate, it looks like the Center-Left has more votes but less seats. In the Chamber, the difference between the two coalitions is about .4%. Prominent politicians are already talking about the possibility of holding new elections soon. Others sound open to jumping the fence; of course, in the interest of preserving the country's governability. What a mess...

New projections give the Center-Right ahead by 49.9-49.6 in the lower house. The Center-Right is now ahead by 7 seats in the Senate, too. Looks more and more confused by the second.

Romano Prodi cancels his victory speech in light of the latest results.

Do we have a tie? The Center-Left appears to have won a wide majority in the Chamber (thanks to the majority premium operating at the national level). In the Senate, however, their lead is only 7 seats. The difference is due to the fact 1) At the Senate, majority premiums are given at the regional level; 2) Some regions that exit polls gave to the Center-Left have either flipped or remain too close to call.

Turnout is projected to be an astounding 85%; about a 5% increase since 2001. The Center-Left is now projected to receive 340 lower house seats; 277 for the Center-Right. For the first time in the history of the country, the Left seems to have recived an absolute majority of the votes (52.2).

One thing that seems to be certain in that Berlusconi's Forza Italia took a big hit: exit polls give it 20-22.5%. If the results hold up, that's a loss of 8-10% compared to the 2001 elections. Some of these votes seem to have gone to coalition partner UDC (Union of Centrist Democrats), which might have received as much as 7% (doubling its 2001 votes), but the other parties in the Center-Right are very close to their 2001 vote shares.

The polls have closed 45 minutes ago; the first exit polls give the Center-Left 50-54%; the Center-Right 45-49. As usual, at this point this doesn't mean a thing.

Posted by Federico Ferrara at 9:48 AM

2 April 2006

Berinsky on Group Attachments and War

During the spring break edition of PPBW, Adam Berinsky of MIT presented a paper entitled "Group Attachments and Public Support for War." That voters use group attachments to structure their political attitudes has a long history in political science. Converse found that while the mass public did not exhibit any ideological sophistication, group attachments could be used as a proxy to guide voters when making decisions. Although this idea has been applied to areas of domestic policy, Berinsky argues that it may be also useful in explaining public opinion about foreign affairs, specifically attitudes toward World War II.

According to the paper, dislike of German and Italian citizens was clearly associated with increased support for pro-intervention policies. Similarly, respondents whose parents were born in Axis countries were less likely to support helping England during 1940 and 1941. Moreover, Berinsky finds that these ethnic differences in attitudes persist even after Pearl Harbor - those of German and Italian descent continued to trust England and Russia less than those whose parents were born in Allied countries. He also presents evidence that group attachments might help explain attitudes on foreign policy matters other than war. Attitudes toward blacks were an important predictor of support for sanctions against South Africa during apartheid, and attitudes toward Asians were an important predictor of whether respondents blamed Japan for economic difficulties in the early 1990s.

The paper responds to several literatures - including those who argue that foreign policy attitudes are shaped largely by events (such as battlefield causalities). Some questions were raised about whether events might structure attitudes towards groups rather than the other way around. For example, it is possible that the dislike of Mussolini led to anti-Italian sentiment, but Berinsky shows that such feelings existed even during the 1920s. Many suggestions were offered about additional cases to help solidify the argument. One obivous case - attitudes towards Arab Americans shaping public opinion about the war on terrorism - seems to suffer from lack of adequate data, as most relevant questions were asked post 9/11, making it difficult to separate the theory of group attachments from the event-driven hypothesis. Nevertheless, there are other cases where group attachments seem promising in explaining attitudes toward foreign policy.

Posted by Ian Yohai at 11:30 PM