A Decline in Divided Government in the States

The Thicket at State Legislature, a blog from the National Conference of State Legislatures, pulled together some interesting stats in a story (“A Significant Decline in Divided Government“) that reveals that fewer states now have divided government. After the 2012 election, 23 states have “divided government” when a state has a governor of one party and at least one chamber of the state’s legislature in the hands of the opposite party. As their graph indicates, 23 states with divided government is the lowest level in 50 years. In fact, the drop in divided government in the states is pretty dramatic in since peaking at over 30% in the 1980s.

In a previous post (“The President had Coattails, However Short, in 2012 State Legislative Elections“) they noted that after the 2112 election, Republicans controlled 26 legislatures, the Democrats control 19 Democrat, and 4 legislatures are split (Nebraska has a nonpartisan Legislature). This was similar to the results after the 2010 election except that 4 states moved from split to the Democratic column.

Did Americans voted to continue divided government in Washington while leaning toward unified government in their states? It’s not clear that Americans really wanted a divided national government. In fact, a recent Gallup poll showed support for divided government plunging. It may be the voters are tired of gridlock and will accept one party in control of the federal government if it helps us move ahead. This sentiment might have been muted through the effects of partisan redistricting that made it harder to oust some incumbents.  If so, voters will eventually find a way to create unified government with one party. The question is… which party will it be?

Gallup poll results


“In Texas where Oil is King”

Here’s one of the oilfield photos from SMU Central University Libraries’ photostream proclaiming as early as 1930 that oil was “King” in Texas.

Oil is King in Texas

How the FEC can stop the tidal wave of secret political cash – The Washington Post

For several years Trevor Potter has been helping Stephen Colbert demonstrate the absurdity of campaign finance law through the creation of Colbert’s “super PAC.” (On November 12, Colbert dissolved his PAC.)

Now, Potter has written an op-ed piece telling us that we shouldn’t blame the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision for the excesses of this year’s election spending (“How the FEC can stop the tidal wave of secret political cash“). We’ve written a little about Colbert’s Super PAC in the third edition of the textbook and in a blog entry. In addition, I’ve argued that the impact of the Citizen’s United decision will not be as great as some people feared. Still, the flood of money into the political system casts a shadow over the fairness of our elections.

According to Potter, the Citizens United opinion assumed that the contributors behind these political action committees would be rapidly disclosed in a way that allowed shareholders to hold corporations accountable for political donations and allowed voters to decide if elected officials are indebted to donors. This unraveled when the FEC’s permissive rules allowed such close connections between candidates, political parties and political action committees that the “independence” of “independent expenditures no longer assured.

Potter makes clear the degree to which there is a problem in both parties:

We saw candidates travel or meet privately with the individuals who provided 90 percent or more of the funding for some of the “independent” super PACs. Candidates could appear at their events, endorse their work and even solicit money for them. Mitt Romney spoke to a meeting of donors to a super PAC that supported him; a super PAC backing President Obama was run by two former White House officials and was publicly endorsed by the president.

As a former Chair of the Federal Election Commission, Potter knows the gray area of campaign finance law as well as anyone.. The FEC became a joke inside Washington long before Potter and Colbert let the rest of the nation in on the joke. When one of the watchdogs of democracy’s integrity is doubt, American democracy is diminished. The question is whether the President and Congress will work to fix the problem.

Revenge of the nerds

We learned several things about political consultants on election day. Neither bodes well for Karl Rove and his generation of consultants.

First, the statistical math nerds beat the old-school consultants. Viciously.

Nate Silver, Sam Wang, Drew Linzer, and a new generation of analysts took to the Internet with election forecasts based on polling and other data. When their predictions showed Obama winning the electoral college with over 300 electors they faced a storm of attacks from old school political talking heads. MSNBC on-air personality Joe Scarborough insisted the race was too close to call and proclaimed: “Anybody that thinks that this race is anything but a tossup right now is such an ideologue, they should be kept away from typewriters … because they’re jokes.”  Former Clinton pollster Dick Morris predicted a landslide in favor of Romney and Senate Republicans. Peggy Noonan made a similar prediction. Election night as vote totals were matching the predictions of Silver and company, Rove was melting down on live television as he tried to get Fox News to reverse their call of Ohio for Obama.Sam Wang even offered to eat a bug if his prediction was wrong. We’ll see if the people who were proven wrong offer anything similar.

The game has changed. Today there is a huge array of data that can be put to work it you know how to corral it. The consultants who tried to pick the race on their “gut” instincts were left looking foolish. As Jeff Greenfield conceded, “the ability of the Obama campaign to target supporters and lure them to the polls and the ability of analysts like the New York Times’ Nate Silver to predict the outcome of a race with near precision, means that those of us who got into politics because we were told there’d be no math have got to get a clue.”

Real political experts will need to understand politics and probability. And, students need to understand that this new world of “big data” will apply to politics, business, and a host of other endeavors. The tools needed to understand the modern world will include knowing how to pull together and analyze the data available. Arm yourself with those skills now or resign yourself to serving in a supporting role.

You can see some of the bad predictions become the laughing stock in this highlight reel of election night humor.


Election night humor