2nd Annual Darrell West Lecture in American Politics

Former United States Representatives Steven T. Kuykendall (R.CA) and Lincoln Davis (D.TN) will deliver an address, as part of the Darrell West Lecture Series in American Politics and the Congress to Campus lecture series, on “Changes & Challenges in the U.S. Congress”. Representative Kuykendall represented the 36th District of California from 1999-2001 and Representative Davis represented the 4th District of Tennessee from 2003-2011.

The address will be held Tuesday April 15, 2014 from 2:30-3:45 pm in 204 Harrison Hall.  The address is free and open to the public, and is sponsored by the Department of Political Science.

Published in: on April 4, 2014 at 9:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

2014 Department of Political Science Awards Banquet

The Department of Political Science at Miami University will hold its annual awards banquet Tuesday, April 15 at 5 pm in the Heritage Room at the Shriver Center.  The banquet will follow the Darrell West Lecture featuring Representative Steven T. Kuykendall (R.CA) and Representative Lincoln Davis (D. TN). Both are former members of the U.S. House of Representatives and will be speaking on the “Changes and Challenges in the U.S. Congress.”

The Awards Banquet will honor juniors and seniors in the Department of Political Science for their academic achievements.

Published in: on April 4, 2014 at 9:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Standing On The Edge Of A Cliff?

This post comes to us from Katie Troller, a Political Science major and a 2008 graduate of Miami University.  Katie currently works as Deputy Chief of Staff and Rules Committee Associate for Congressman Rich Nugent (R-FL).

There are certain buzzwords that come and go in Washington.  They move with the political tide, one moving to the forefront of debate and then ebbing as the next hot button issue rolls in.  Since the election, everything has focused on “the fiscal cliff.”  

The fiscal cliff is the simultaneous expiration of temporary low tax rates and popular deductions; implementation of multiple new healthcare reform taxes; and budget sequestration- $1.2 trillion in federal spending cuts that lawmakers agreed to last year in case the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction couldn’t find the same savings some other way.  All going into effect on January 1, 2013, these taxes and cuts come together to create an economic perfect storm. 

If nothing is done to avoid the fiscal cliff, then taxes increase on everybody, federal spending takes a nosedive, unemployment goes up, and the markets respond poorly.  Economists agree this chain reaction sends the economy into a double dip recession.  Alternatively, Congress could pass a series of bills to turn off all the legislative mechanisms that created the cliff to begin with.  As a result, revenues and present spending levels could continue where they are today.  However, the public debt would increase to 90 percent of GDP by 2022 and keep rising rapidly thereafter.  These grim options leave policymakers searching for an alternative: a way to avert the immediate cliff while also addressing the long-term debt and deficit crisis. 

Seeking this middle ground, negotiations began.  President Obama, Speaker Boehner, and the Senate leaders are the only parties in these meetings.  As Rep. Steve LaTourette explained, for rank and file members of Congress, the fiscal cliff talks are like electing a new pope: if you’re not at the table, all you can do is wait for the white smoke signaling that a decision’s been made.

But getting a deal is only half the battle.  Speaker Boehner also needs to sell that compromise to his members.  Unfortunately for the Speaker, finding solidarity within Republican House over the last two years has been like herding cats.  From a leadership perspective, the Speaker can’t afford to agree on a deal with the President only to have his own members reject it after the fact.

Acknowledging this hurdle, Boehner has taken the untraditional step of including the Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Budget Committee Chairmen (Dave Camp, Fred Upton, and Miami’s own Paul Ryan, respectively) in his leadership meetings on the cliff.  By bringing the Chairmen into his inner circle, the Speaker is trying to build an early consensus among the most influential House Republicans.  He can use their feedback on the talks and any proposed deal as a bellwether for Republican sentiment as a whole.  If these three don’t bite, nobody else will. 

All of the involved parties have been relatively quiet in the media the last few days.  This silence is a small but encouraging sign for the most round of recent talks.  As a general rule of thumb, when negotiators are quiet, it means nobody wants to put a potential deal- no matter how tentative or fledgling- in jeopardy.  It’s when they’re leaking information, making public admonishments, and talking to the press instead of each other that things have gone awry.  So with less than three weeks left, negotiations continue for the White House and Speaker Boehner.  In the mean time, all the rest of Capitol Hill can do is wait for the white smoke.

Published in: on December 14, 2012 at 3:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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It is the State’s Stupid!

[Editor’s Note: The following blog post comes to us by way of Dr. Darrell West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at The Brookings Institute and the Director of the Center for Technology Innovation. Dr. West is a 1976 graduate of Miami University, where he majored in Political Science.]

The most important thing to remember is that the campaign is not a national one, but a series of 50 simultaneous state elections.  Due to the winner-take-all nature of the Electoral College at the state level, it is important to focus on what is happening in the states.  For most of the states, the election outcome is predictable.  Between past years and current polls, we pretty much know how they are going to decide.
For the remaining half-dozen states, the candidates are locked in a tight race that will decide the ultimate outcome of the campaign.  The swing states are the large states of Ohio and Florida; the Rocky Mountain locations of Colorado and Nevada, and the small to mid-sized states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
As the Fall advances, it is important not to get bogged down in national surveys or national unemployment rates, but to monitor state conditions.  Obama has been running about a point better across all the swing states, compared to his national average.  Ohio, for example, has a jobless level of 7 percent, more than a percentage point below the national average, and this has helped the President stay competitive even when Romney surged nationally into a lead following the first debate..  Indeed, several of the swing states have an unemployment rate far below the national rate.
If the raise remains close, there is the very real possibility of a split outcome between the popular vote and Electoral College.  For example, it is possible Romney could win the national popular vote while Obama carries the Electoral College.  All he has to do is hold the traditionally Democratic states and carry Ohio, Nevada, Iowa, and Wisconsin.  That would be enough to put him over the top even if Romney gets more popular votes across the country.
Of course, a split outcome would not be good for governance.  Opponents would consider the victory questionable or even illegitimate, and it would be hard for the President to accomplish much in his second term.  It could be a long four years for Obama.

Published in: on October 30, 2012 at 10:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sampling and Weighting and Polling, Oh My!

This post comes to us by way of Dr. Monica Schneider, faculty in the Department of Political Science at Miami University.

This past week, in addition to the first Presidential debate, the election news was focused on polling (watch Stephen Colbert for a light-hearted discussion).  Why polling?  It seems that many Republicans have concerns over the polls ‘oversampling’ Democrats (see here).  First, let’s talk a little bit about how polls sample and how they weight responses and then we’ll address the claim that polls are incorrectly predicting a higher margin for Obama than they should.


Good polling companies (see below for links) try to conduct what we refer to as a ‘random sample’ – meaning that each person in the group of interest has an equal and independent chance of getting contacted by a pollster.  The companies all have different methodologies of how to do this, but it usually involves calling landlines and cell phones through random digit dialing. 


When pollsters get their results back, how do they know if they are correct?  We know, for instance, that every time you flip a coin, you have a 50% chance of getting heads, so if you flip a coin 100 times, you should get 50% heads.  But we also know that we don’t always get 50 heads; sometimes, we get 51 heads, 53 heads and it would even be possible to get 60 heads.  A pollster must figure out if their results are in the wacky category (60 heads) or close to the range of the actual percentage (51 heads). 


One way to correct for any unknown errors is to weight the poll.  That is, we can use what we know about the demographics in the population to adjust our sample to make sure it is in line with the demographic percentages in our population.  For instance, we can find through the Census and the Current Population Survey that the percentage of women in the population is (for example) 55%. If our poll then comes back as having 45% women, we know that our results are off.  Good polling agencies have predetermined weights based on demographic data that they use to adjust their responses.  Since demographics and party identification are related, weighting based on demographics should correct for any accidental oversampling.


Are the polls skewed towards Democrats?  Party identification, unlike demographics, isn’t necessarily stable.  If we find that 60% of the electorate claims to be a Democrat, how do we know that isn’t the truth or a fluke?  We don’t.  Most polling agencies would not weight based on party identification because, unlike demographics, there is no objective data stating what party identification is on any given day or at any given time.  It seems to me that the claim that Democrats are oversampled is based on examining historical data showing that Democrats have not in the past made up this much of the electorate.  Historical data, in this instance, might not be accurate.  As I mentioned, party identification can change if Romney has a bad day and Obama has a great one.


It’s always easy to complain about the polling or say it’s inaccurate when it’s not in your favor.  But remember, polling companies make a living by correctly predicting elections.  Have you ever heard of Literary Digest?  They correctly predicted the outcome of the presidential election for years, until one year they were wrong.  Now, that magazine no longer exists. 


Gallup You can search for relevant public opinion polls on any topic.

Roper Center for Public Opinion Research. .  Access is limited.

Pew Research Center. Click on “survey reports” or do a general search.

National Annenberg Election Survey.

Ohio Poll.  


New York Times

LA Times Poll

USA Today

Washington Post 



Published in: on October 6, 2012 at 1:37 am  Leave a Comment  

The Master Narrative

Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism produces some very good studies on the media’s coverage/effects of/on presidential elections.  What the Pew researchers attempt to do is to identify the press’s master narrative of the two candidates, and how that narrative influences public thinking and the outcome of the race.

The master narrative stems from the ideal that the press does not just dispense with raw facts, but instead puts facts into story form.  And stories need an arc–they need to be compelling–and they need a central message that helps the audience understand and comprehend the complexity of the campaign by relating it to something they know.

The problem with the master narrative is two-fold–first, they are overwhelmingly negative, leaving voters with a bad impression of the candidates. Second, they drive out facts that contradict the central message.

To give you a sense of just how powerful the master narrative is, Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman found in their book, The Press Effect, that the narratives of George W. Bush and Al Gore in the 2000 presidential campaign had a great deal in the outcome of the race.  George W. Bush’s master narrative was that of a class dunce–a not so bright guy who got by in life through the good fortune of being born a Bush.  The narrative was set early on when in 1999 Governor George W. Bush failed a pop quiz on the names of international leaders. This was followed up with an examination of his less than stellar academic record as a college undergraduate, followed by his mangling of the English language, captured so well in the on-going Slate column, Bushisms.

For Al Gore, the master narrative set was of a scheming liar–someone who would do or say anything to get elected, including lying about his record and his history.  This of course was set off after Gore gave a late 90s interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer where it was claimed that Al Gore said he invented the Internet.  From there it was downhill–Al Gore claiming he was the central character in the book Love Story. Al Gore claiming that he cleaned up Love Canal. Al Gore claiming that his grandma sang “Look for the Union Label” to him when he was just in his crib, even though the song wasn’t published until the 1970s.

The problem with the narrative is that it pushed out facts that would have altered the perception of the narrative itself. For instance, George W. Bush generated a lot of attention on the late night comedy shows when we learned that his favorite childhood book was “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, even though the book was published in 1969 when Bush was in college.  The facts, however, showed that Bush didn’t answer the question at all, but rather one of his campaign aides, who read the question as if it were asking him what his favorite childhood book was.  And for Gore, the dismissal of counter facts were far more egregious. For instance, in the famous “I invented the Internet” quote, Gore is misquoted. Instead he said when he was in Congress, he took the initiative to invent the Internet, which is true, though probably taking more credit than necessary. And several high school students lobbied the mainstream media to correct the quote that Gore said he fixed Love Canal, which is something he did not say at all!

In the 2008 Election, Pew’s findings suggested that perhaps a new day in press coverage of presidential elections were upon us.  In the 2008 Election, the narrative of the two candidates were either mostly positive or barely negative–a break from the past. 

So what has Pew found so far in the 2012 election?  The master narratives of Obama and Romney are very negative, with Obama receiving more negative coverage than Romney.  For Obama, the narrative is one of three things: that his policies have failed our economy and America, that his policies have prevented things from becoming worse than without them, and that Obama’s policies are against capitalism and American individualism.  For Romney, the three narratives include: that he is a “vulture capitalist” who does not care about workers; that he is an out of touch elitist; and he is gaffe-prone and awkward.

Pew found that the dominant of the three narratives for Obama have been that his policies are a failure and are hurting America, while Romney gets hit with a mix of vulture capitalist and out of touch elitist. What we know about the narrative is that it not only influences public perceptions about the candidates, but also captures the candidates in playing toward the narrative itself.  For example, in 2004, the central narrative of John Kerry was that of flip flopper, which proved devastating when he tried, in a campaign stop, to explain how he was for a war supplemental that he voted against.  In 2012, the narrative has caught the candidates as well–in Obama’s comment that the “private sector is doing fine” and Romney’s comment about 47% of the American public dependent on government support.

One other thing jumps out in the Pew study.  And that is how little journalist involvement in setting the master narrative. Pew argues that shrinking resources in the newsroom and overworked journalists, coupled with the fragmented media environment, has actually given the campaigns the bigger role in setting the narrative, meaning that the press is no longer an intermediary between the campaigns and voters, but instead a campaign surrogate, vulnerable to the public relations skills employed in the modern political campaign.

You can find the Pew study here.

Published in: on September 26, 2012 at 2:59 pm  Leave a Comment  

Judging the Ads

Every campaign season, Americans complain about the level of noise stemming from political ads.  If you live in a battleground state like Ohio (where we are), then you know it is almost impossible to escape campaign advertising.  Watching the Reds game on FoxSportsOH, there are ads from the two presidential candidates, the Senate candidates, as well as the affiliated SuperPacs.

Television advertising has been a staple of presidential campaigns since the birth of television.  Dwight Eisenhower cut a number of ads, produced by his dream team crew of Madison Avenue advertisers, that showed a down to Earth, homespun candidate (The Man from Abilene).

Of course, we all know that the birth of the negative ad (or so says conventional wisdom) came in the 1964 campaign, when the advertising team working for President Johnson produced the 30 second “Daisy Ad“, featuring a little girl plucking flower petals from a daisy, while counting down to 10. When she gets close to 10, the voice is from a man counting down the liftoff of a nuclear rocket, ending with a nuclear explosion, and the voice of President Johnson who extols: “We must either love each other, or we must die.” Robert Mann has produced a fascinating, behind the scenes book that takes us through the decision by the Johnson team to run the ad, titled “Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds.”

Since 1964, the volume and tone of campaign advertising has gotten greater and nastier.  But what separates those ads from the advertising of today is the addition of new players in the campaign, as well as the campaign’s exploitation of any medium where voters may be found–thus we get advertising on TV, Radio, and the Internet.  You can even get advertising on your cellular phone.  So Americans have been crying enough, and been crying out for some way to respond to all the ads.

Enter this nifty application for smartphones titled the “Super Pac app.” The Super Pac app works a lot like Shazam, the musical identification application that allows you to hold your cellphone to a musical source, and the application will identify the title and author of the song, as well as direct you to Itunes in case you wish to purchase it.

The Super Pac app allows you to hold your phone up to your television set when an advertisement comes on. It will then provide you with who is behind the ad, “third party objective information” on the veracity of the ad, AND the ability to rate the ad!

You can find more information about the Super Pac app by going here.

Published in: on August 22, 2012 at 4:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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More Convention News

Continuing with our discussion of elections, it appears that the cities–Tampa and Charlotte–in conjunction with the campaigns, are working to insure that outside the convention walls conforms to a script as well.  The cities are worried about the damage protestors will do to their respective images, and have produced documents that are designed to squelch a citizen’s right to exercise their First Amendment protections.  For instance, both cities have set in place “Free Speech Zones”–space set aside where individuals can protest.  The problem with these zones is they are often far away from the object of their protest, thus diminishing the whole purpose “speaking out”.

Emily Badger at The Atlantic has the complete run-down of what you can or cannot do if you come to the conventions uninvited.

Published in: on August 21, 2012 at 8:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Convention Season

The Republicans are set to hold their convention in Tampa, Florida one week from today, and the Democrats will follow with their convention in Charlotte, NC September 4-6. The conventional wisdom (or the wisdom from the media) is the conventions don’t matter and are a waste of time.  You may think there is some merit given that the Democrats have trimmed a day off their convention this go round (conventions are traditionally four day affairs).

It is a shame that the media have abandoned the conventions. Back in 1952, when TV first covered the conventions, the networks devoted 60 hours covering both parties gavel to gavel. In the last iteration in 2008, the networks spent less than 3 hours total on the conventions.  Cable news did a little better, but most of its coverage had the convention serving as a backdrop to the various pundit shows popular on cable news.

The lack of media coverage stems from two different forces: the need to sell advertising to appease corporate shareholders AND decisions by party leadership to make sure nothing newsworthy happens that isn’t part of a script. It is a shame since the American public still love conventions. C-SPAN still covers the conventions gavel to gavel, and notices a bump in viewership each convention summer. In fact, PBS, which reduced its coverage of previous conventions, has decided to go back to gavel to gavel coverage.

The Washington Post recently published “Five Myths about Political Conventions“, which is an instructive read to those who have a general interest in political conventions.


Published in: on August 20, 2012 at 10:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

2012 Elections

During the next 80 days, the Department will be discussing the upcoming election. To that end, we will be passing along relevant information about the election, which will include newspaper articles, journal articles, the thoughts of faculty, and posts from alumni who will write about their role/view on the election.

So please visit often.

Published in: on August 17, 2012 at 12:13 am  Leave a Comment