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Measuring up the Republican Field

June 13, 2011 3 comments

(Co-written with Kevin Collins)

What will the field of candidates for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination look like? Presidential primaries tend to highlight divisions within parties, and the press has focused on moderates versus conservatives, social conservatives versus business conservatives, party insiders versus Tea Party insurgents, electable candidates versus long shots.

Some commentators, notably Nate Silver in his visualization of the potential Republican field, have depicted these dimensions as orthogonal. Specifically, he graphically depicts candidates ideological placement, status as insiders, and chances of winning.  However, while Silver uses Intrade values as a measure of candidate chances, his placement of candidates on the other two dimensions is based on his judgment alone. Based on his judgment, these three dimensions appear to be unrelated to one another. However, drawing on data from federal and state campaign finance records, we can more reliably estimate both candidate ideology and reliance on large donors, which we take as a proxy measure of insider status. Based on this analysis, we show that these dimensions are in fact strongly correlated.

The figure below summarizes the 2012 Republican presidential field. The upper panel plots the proportion of funds raised from donations of $500 or less (including unitemized contributions) against candidate ideology. As is evident, more conservative candidates, particularly those affiliated with the tea party, raise a greater proportion of their funds from small donors. The circle sizes are proportional to the Intrade share prices for the respective candidates as of June 13th. The circles are colored coded based on candidacy status. Those who have officially announced their candidacy are red, those who have not yet announced are purple, and those that have decided not to run are green.

The bottom panel overlays two kernel densities drawn from the 2010 Election cycle. In red is the ideal point distribution of Republican candidates. This gives a sense of how the presidential candidates locate with respect to the party as a whole. In gray is the distribution of Republican donor ideal points, each weighted by the total amount donated during the 2010 Election cycle. This characterizes the fundraising landscape with respect to ideology.

The Republican Field: The upper panel plots the proportion of funds raised from donations of $500 or less (including unitemized contributions) against candidate ideology. The circle sizes are proportional to the Intrade share prices for the respective candidates as of June 13th. The circles are colored coded based on candidacy status. Those who have officially announced their candidacy are red, those who have not yet announced are purple, and those that have decided not to run are green. The bottom panel overlays two kernel densities drawn from the 2010 Election cycle. In red is the ideal point distribution of Republican candidates. This gives a sense of how the presidential candidates locate with respect to the party as a whole. In gray is the distribution of Republican donor ideal points, each weighted by the total amount donated during the 2010 Election cycle.

The idea underlying measuring the ideology of candidates from campaign finance records is relatively straightforward. Contributors are assumed to prefer ideologically proximate candidates (i.e., those who share their views). A model then conditions on the ideology-based research conducted by the millions of political donors to provide estimates of candidate ideology.

When we compare the measures with those created by Nate Silver (link), reprinted below, we find that the rankings are correlated but exhibit a few large discrepancies. Silver ranks Ron Paul among the most moderate candidates, whereas the donors place him on the far right. (Paul may technically agree with Democrats on several key issues but has his own reasons.) He identifies Santorum as the most conservative candidate in the field, but Santorum’s donors place him nearer the center of the Republican Party. In both cases, the candidates’ DW-NOMINATE score reflects his CFscore–that is, roll call voting records consistently place Paul on the far right and place Santorum somewhere in the interior wing of the party.

Mapping candidates in this way highlights what we gain from quantitative measures of ideology. Cultural issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage happen to be strongly correlated (a pattern confirmed by looking at who donates to ballot campaigns), but they take a back seat to explaining how ideological preferences map onto political behavior and outcomes. In the end, traditional left-right economic issues best explain how a member votes and which candidates donors support.

As a point of reference, we include in the figure past Republican presidents. One of the advantages of measuring ideology from contribution records is that both candidates and contributors are typically active across multiple election cycles, which facilitates more reliable across-time comparisons (see the discussion here). If they were running today, both Bush’s would locate to the left of the mean ideal point of the Republican Party, which has become steadily more conservative over the last three decades, whereas Reagan would be slightly to its right.

Candidate positions are typically stable but are subject to change, especially for candidates seeking to reinvent themselves when competing for a new office. This certainly describes Romney predicament. Romney’s ideal point shifts dramatically over the course of his political career. Romney began his career with a score of 0.59 during his failed 1994 senate bid against Edward Kennedy, adopted a centrist position while running for governor, bringing his score to 0.48, and has currently settled near the center of his party with a score of 0.78.

These data come from the most recent available campaign finance records for each candidate, which do not include any current presidential exploratory or candidate committees but do include state records (for current and former governors) and older records, when the person in question has been out of office for a substantial period of time. These variations in source data could potentially bias the measures in a number of ways. First, if candidates have shifted their ideology since their last campaign record, their previous donation pattern may not reflect their current ideology. For example, Newt Gingrich’s fundraising as a Member of Congress may not perfectly reflect his ideology today.

Second, states have different campaign disclosure thresholds than do the federal government. While the Federal Elections Commission reports the individual records of all donations made by any individual who donates to a candidate over $200 in total, this disclosure threshold is lower in most states. In MN and IN it is $100, and in UT it is $50.  Since small dollar donors tend to be more ideologically extreme than large dollar, access seeking donors, if state candidates are receiving substantial amounts of donations in between their state and the federal disclosure thresholds, these amounts could make them appear more ideologically extreme. However, since the candidates for whom state records are used are distributed roughly evenly across the space, these differences in disclosure thresholds may not be a significant source of bias here.

Our measure of proportion raised from small donors is also in part a function of campaign finance laws. This matters for past candidates for president who fundraised subject to the $1,000 limit on individual contributions in place prior to the implementation of the BCRA during the 2004 Elections. This discrepancy make past president look as though they raised slightly more funds in small amounts than they actually did.

Variation in campaign finance laws matters much more for governors turned presidential candidates. Pawlenty, Daniels, Perry and Huntsman campaigned for governor under state laws that foster very different fundraising environments. (We rely solely federal contribution records for Romney and Palin). Minnesota’s contribution limits favor fundraising from small donors whereas limits in Indiana, Texas and Utah have no limits on the amount an individual can donate to a candidate, thus favoring fundraising large amounts from a smaller set of donors.# This highlights that Pawlenty has experience fundraising in small amounts but is not particularly informative when making comparisons to other candidates. Fortunately, this will no longer be a problem as future FEC filing deadlines approach.

The Changing Politics of Health Care Professionals

June 6, 2011 1 comment

The New York Times published a fascinating article last week about the changing politics of physicians. The article reports that as more physicians abandon practices for salaried positions their politics have trended to the left. This trend is also present in the contribution patterns of health care professionals.

The figure below tracks the changes across time in the ideological giving patterns of four groups of health care professionals: surgeons, nurses, mental health care professionals (restricted to psychiatrists and clinical psychologists), and all other physicians. The trends track the mean ideological position (ideal point) of donors within each group. For each election cycle, I take the subset of donors from each group that gave at least once during that cycle and calculate their ideal points based on all donations made during that cycle and cycles prior. This permits the ideal point estimates to update with time.

Here are some helpful summary statistics for interpreting the scale. The mean ideal point for the entire sample of 2.5 million individual contributors (which includes health care professionals) is -0.16. The mean ideal point is -0.66 for Democratic candidates and 0.82 for Republican candidates.

Surgeons are by far the most conservative. They are also the group that was, on average, more conservative in 2010 than in 1990. The other three groups trend to the left in varying degrees.

I included nurses to emphasize that the industry has been changing as a whole. I also included psychiatrists and clinical psychologists to emphasize that differences between groups is probably better understood as a function of self-selection into a given profession than anything else. Whatever differences in pay and work conditions exist between mental health professionals and other physicians, they would not be sufficient to explain the differences in ideology. That mental health professionals are significantly to the left of nurses reinforces this point.

Ideological Giving Patterns of Health Care Professionals: The trends track the mean ideological position of donors from each group. The means are calculated from the subset of donors within each group who gave at least once during a given election cycle.

Although revealing, the trend line for physicians leaves out much of the story. The mean ideological position is relatively stable, but there is plenty of action in the distribution. The 1994 and 2010 midterm election cycles represent the closest thing to electoral deja vu that we can expect to see in our lifetimes. This makes these cycles useful points for comparison. The figures below show the ideological distributions for surgeons and physicians in 1994 and 2010. The distribution for surgeons fills out a little on the left over the years but remains unimodal. In contrast, the distribution for physicians changes quite a bit. Ideologically speaking, physicians have become more evenly divided and more polarized.

Ideological Distributions of Physicians and Surgeons Donating to Political Campaigns during the 1994 and 2010 Midterm Elections

 

These figures can help address one of the paragraphs from the article that caught my attention:

“Dr. Cecil B. Wilson, the president of the A.M.A., said that changes in doctors’ practice-ownership status do not necessarily lead to changes in their politics. And some leaders of state medical associations predicted that the changes would be fleeting.”

I strongly suspect that Dr. Wilson is correct in his assessment. The link between doctors abandoning private practices for salaried jobs and their changing politics is probably overblown. I attempted to get at this question by dividing the sample into physicians who report being self-employed and physicians who report having an employer. I found only a slight difference between the groups. On the other hand, I sincerely doubt that the changes will be fleeting. The changes appear to be responding to generational shifts—in particular, the influx of women doctors.

I was curious as to whether the rightward jump observed during the 2010 midterms resulted from 1) donors that had previously given to Democrats shifting their dollars to Republicans or 2) increased giving by Republican donors relative to Democratic donors. In other words, was it a case of changing minds or changing wallets? For each year, I categorize donors into one of six categories based on their giving patterns in previous cycles.

  • Strong Democrat – greater than 95% of donation dollars went to Democrats in prior elections
  • Lean Democrat – between 60% and 95% of dollars went to Democrats  in prior elections
  • Toss Up – between 40% and 60% of dollars went to Democrats  in prior elections
  • Lean Republican – between 5% and 40% of dollars went to Democrats in prior elections
  • Strong Republican – less than 5% of dollars went to Democrats in prior elections
  • New Money – first time donors/had not given in prior elections

Each bar displays aggregate amounts donated to each party. For example, the bar labeled “Strong Dem” in the 2010 panel shows that donors who in previous cycles gave 95% or more of their dollars to Democrats, gave $41 Million to Democrats and $1.5 million to Republicans.

 

Partisan defections by Democratic donors had little to do with the 2010 shift in favor of Republicans. (In fact, the defection rate was greater for Republicans donors.) Increased giving by Republican donors and slightly reduced giving by Democratic donors account for the lion’s share of the swing. Republicans also received a larger proportion of dollars from first time donors than they had in the past. Republicans won 62 percent of the dollars from first donors in 2010, up from 44 percent in 2008 and 57 percent in 2006.

Lastly, it is worth noting that the overall rightward shift during the 2010 midterms is no larger than what we saw in other industries. Hence, I caution against concluding that the shift was in direct response to the Affordable Health Care Act.

The University of Google: Was the decision to exit China ideological or business as usual?

March 30, 2010 Leave a comment

After years of unease about the Chinese government’s censorship policies, Google announced this month that it would be shutting down its Internet search service in Mainland China, citing the recent cyber attacks on its systems, widely believed to have been orchestrated by the Chinese government, as “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Instead of selling off their existing Chinese operations to the highest bidder and leaving town, Google pursued the more risky strategy of rerouting searches through its Hong Kong servers, which remain free from government censors.

Speculation surrounding Google’s motives seems to have generated as much media attention as the business implications of the fallout. While watching the story develop during the past week, I came up with three general perspectives on why Google really left China:

1) Google is making a principled stand against the Chinese government’s censorship and repression of free speech at the cost of its bottom-line;

2) Google is pursuing a strategy that appears costly in the near term but will benefit its business model in the long run;

3) Google was tired of being pushed around by what it saw as an increasingly hostile foreign government.

While it may be tempting to dismiss the first account as overly naïve, I think we would be remiss to discount the possibility that Google’s ideology was central to its decision. There are two reasons that I can think of to support this claim. The first is that Google has been upfront from the beginning that its decision had a major ideological component. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Google co-founder Sergey Brin invoked his personal experience with totalitarianism to characterize the decision as a principled stand against Internet censorship and government surveillance.

The second reason is that, despite its status as a Fortune 500 company, Google is among a growing group of powerful corporations closely aligned with the left. Based on my estimates, Google’s employees are the fourth most liberal of any U.S. corporation, behind Genentech, Apple Inc. and Starbucks (See figure above or click here to view in table format). A table with the  To put this in perspective, consider that during the 2008 election cycle, Google employees raised $20,800 for John McCain and $55,451 for Ron Paul; compared to $89,300 for Hillary Clinton and an astounding $803,436 for Barack Obama. In fact, in terms of political contributions, the employees at these firms more closely resemble faculty at liberal universities than traditional Fortune 500 corporations. In some ways, this makes sense. With the exception of Starbucks, each of the most liberal firms, in large part, deals in research and innovation, and each has a reputation of actively recruiting Ph.Ds.

This is the where I would usually caution against putting too much stock into what the ideology of employees reveal about a corporation’s decision-making, because it is the board of directors that ultimately decides issues of this magnitude. However, Google’s board of directors also appears to be decidedly liberal.

In total, seven members of Google’s board have contribution records that can be used to gauge their ideology. Two of the board’s members, Eric Schmidt (-0.71; view records) and John Doerr (-0.72;  view records) are major fundraisers for the Democratic Party and act as advisors to the Obama Administration. Ram Shriram (-1.78; view records) and Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman (-1.43; view records) are less active contributors but have contributed exclusively to Democrats. The only political contributions made at the federal level by Google co-founders Sergey Brin (view records) and Larry Page (view records) have been to Google’s corporate PAC. However, each has contributed heavily to California ballot initiatives. Although their ideological estimates cannot be directly compared to estimates recovered from FEC data, an ideological mapping of contributions in California places Brin and Page to the left of the average Democratic candidate for the California State Assembly. Lastly, Intel CEO Paul Otellini (0.02; view records) has given in roughly equal proportions to both parties.

Ideology aside, there is a case to be made that Google’s business model thrives on free, open and democratic societies, which is one of the arguments Google has used to justify its exit from China. It has even gone so far as to suggest to Congress that the U.S. should consider withholding development aid to counties that restrict access to certain websites. This has some merit, but it sounds suspiciously like a post-hoc rationale. While censorship is harmful to Google’s business objectives—especially the wholesale blocking of YouTube and Blogger—it is difficult to see how such laws are of a different nature than the types of regulation imposed on other industries. When faced with unfavorable regulation, as long as their operations remain profitable, corporations usually respond either by meeting the minimal requirements for compliance and lobbying for reform, or when feasible, moving their operations out of state or off-shores, which is essentially what Google ended up doing.

In the end, Google’s decision to leave China was likely a mixture of ideological and business considerations; which I think makes it much more likely that Google could actually begin exerting influence over U.S. foreign policy. A corporation’s efforts to influence policy are often most potent when its ideology and profit motives align. Perhaps the best example of this during the past century was the United Fruit Co., whose distaste for leftist regimes was matched only by its profit motive. It is the United Fruit Co. and its infamous history of involvement in Latin American politics to which we owe the term banana republic. The more idealistic view is that as Google expands, it will leave a handful of liberated Google republics in its wake. This is not the first time Google has openly defied a foreign regime. Last summer, Google rushed its Farsi translation tool to market in response to the pro-democracy protests. Then again, unlike the Chinese case, Google had little to lose by angering the Iranian government. It is an admirable thought, but making enemies of governments, foreign or domestic, has not yet proven viable as a long-term business strategy—and even Google is unlikely to change that.

Improved and Extended Industry/Occupation Plots

March 23, 2010 3 comments

I updated the industry and occupational rankings graph to include all repeat contributors in election cycles between 1990 and 2008. Anyone who has seen the previous figure will notice an overall shift the right for most industries and occupations. By including two-decades worth of election cycles, the estimates tend to smooth out the shift to the left caused by the unusually favorable climate for Democrats during the 2008 election. On the other hand, it tends to understate the extent to which certain industries have moved to the extremes in recent years.

I also added a few features to the plots in response to being rightly called out for the sloppy/incomplete presentation of the previous graph by an expert on statistical graphics. These new and improved graphs  include horizontal bars that represent the 40-60 percentile of each industry/occupation that are intended as rough measures of dispersion–most industries are bimodal, which would make wider distribution bands span nearly the entire graph, hence losing most of their informational content.  In addition, the y-axis now indicates the amount given by repeat contributors within each industry/occupation. These amounts would be much larger if non-repeat contributors were included in the sample as well.

Obviously, not all industry and occupational  categories could be included in the graphs. I plan to post a spreadsheet with a complete ranking of categories sometime in the near future.

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