Friday, December 31, 2010

Who gets or loses what? Santa Census 2010 arrived in our stockings

The Census results are finally in! These results mean we can see how many U.S. House of Representatives members will be gained or lost by the states. It also tells us which states gain or lose Electoral College members.

Here are the states that lose or gain House seats by redistricting.

States that lost 2 each: New York, Ohio
States that lost 1 each: Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Pennsylvania

States that gained 1 each: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, Washington
State that gained 2: Florida
State that gained 4: Texas

One thing that is useful when guesstimating who is going to win and who is going to lose is to look at who controls the state legislature. If the Republicans control the state legislature, they will likely redistrict the state to maximize wins for their party as well as losses for the Democrats.

If I use the 2010 election results....

Which state legislatures that gain or lose are controlled by Democrats?

New York, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Nevada, Washington

Which state legislatures that gain or lose are controlled by Republicans?

Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, South Carolina, Utah, Florida, Texas

Which state legislature has split control?

Louisiana


It should not come as a surprise that most of the states that lost seats (MI, OH, NY, MA, PA, IL, MO, IA) are all North of the 36°30′ parallel. If you don’t know the line, think Kentucky/Tennessee borderline. If you look at a map of the USA, that parallel marks the lower border for VA, KY, KS, CO, UT, and mostly MO except for the dangling bit. It was also the Missouri Compromise borderline for westward expansion of slavery.

In a more colloquial way, here's the deal... the North is losing people, and the South and West are gaining people. Your major exception is Louisiana, but the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina are likely the source of the population loss for Census 2010.

So… what do these results mean in terms of political parties?


States the Republicans Should be Happy about.

  • Ohio. Ohio has Republican Party control in the State legislature. The state went for Obama in 2008, but it was a close swing state with only a 4.6% difference between the two parties. The current U.S. House distribution for the state is 5 Democrats and 13 Republicans. Ohio is losing 2 seats, and with Republican dominated redistricting, I’ll guessing the Democratic Party will lose them leaving them with only 3 Democratic members of the U.S. House.
  • Massachusetts. Sure, Massachusetts is a solid Democratic Party state at the moment. They also have zero Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives. The seat the state loses is going to be Democratic Party seat. I predict there will be a lot of infighting among Democrats for which member is going to fall on their sword. The Republicans win one here without much work because the Democratic Party is going to lose a seat no matter what.
  • Missouri. It lost a seat, but this state was an extremely close swing state in 2008 with the presidential margin of victory less than 1%. They have a Republican controlled state legislature and the U.S. House seats are 3 Democratic and 6 Republican. One Democratic Party House member is probably going to get their seat taken away so this can be considered a potential win for the Republicans.
  • Michigan. The state legislature is under Republican Party control and the state voted for Obama in 2008. The current U.S. House seats in Michigan are 6 Democrats and 9 Republicans. Republicans are likely going to strip out a Democratic Party U.S. House seat when they redistrict to lose one seat.
  • Pennsylvania. See Michigan. Rinse. Repeat. (though they have 7 Democrats and 12 Republicans in the House)
  • Arizona, Georgia, Utah, South Carolina, Texas. The Republican Party gained seats in all these states. They also control the state legislatures and their states all voted for McCain in 2008. The 8 new electoral college seats they got (4 to Texas alone) will all probably be redistricted towards Republicans.
    Predictions: These states get more interesting if they decide to dig in and strip out existing Democratic Party seats in favor of more Republican Party leaning ones. The current rumor for Austin, Texas is that it will be re-cracked again in an attempt to unseat Lloyd Doggett who survived a similar effort in 2003 by the state legislature. Arizona, Georgia and Texas are the most likely targets for redistricting to lose existing Democratic Party seats. Utah and South Carolina only have 1 Democratic Party member each per state in the U.S. House so they may be more difficult to remove, though not impossible.
  • Florida. Florida is gaining 2 House members. They narrowly went for Obama in 2008 and they have a Republican controlled state legislature. My guess is the Republicans are going to go for the jugular in Florida and attempt to remove as many Democratic Party seats as possible during redistricting. Currently, Florida has 6 Democrats and 19 Republicans in the U.S. House. With substantial, but different minority populations in both in the North and South (Jacksonville/Miami), it will be interesting to see how the lines are drawn.

States the Democrats Should be Happy about

  • Nevada and Washington. Both states pick up a seat and have Democratic Party controlled state legislatures. They should probably be redistricted in favor of Democrats.
Yeah. That’s probably about it.
Electoral College Changes
If we use the 2008 Electoral College results, what is the difference between votes then and now when we readjust the Electoral College numbers?

In 2008, Barack Obama had 365 Electoral College votes and John McCain had 173. If the election was held with the new Electoral College distribution, Barack Obama would receive 359 votes and John McCain 179. Obama still wins, but there was a 6 Electoral College vote shift.

Summary
Census 2010 results did not hold any shockers. All the states (win and lose) were pretty predictable. Sunbelt and Western States are gaining while more Northern and Eastern states are losing. This is not a surprise and the trends have been here for a while.
Redistricting is likely going to be kinder to Republicans than Democrats but not super dramatic. Watch the state legislatures. After the 1990 Census, Democrats controlled most the of state legislatures. They shored up seats for themselves, but did not strip out existing Republican ones. Republicans did not adhere to the same model after Census 2000. They redistricted the states the controlled to remove as many Democratic Party seats as possible. My guess is the next couple years will feel like 2001-2002 all over again (at least for redistricting).
Back in graduate school, I did some research (but didn't publish it) looking at the Florida state legislature redistricting plans following the 2000. Republicans were pretty creative and detailed with their new districts. I remember the plan that was implemented played with redistricting as far down as the precinct level. Democratic leaning precincts close to district lines in central Florida were moved into areas of strong Republican control. At the time, the goal was to help ensure the new seats were Republican leaning while playing on incumbency advantages to swamp the Democratic precincts. The technology to dig this deep has only gotten better in the last 10 years. In addition, most of the plans in state legislature controlled redistricting were submitted by state reps who were angling to carve out their own shiny new House seat custom built for themselves.
It's going to be fun. Buckle up and get comfortable.

U.S. House members in states that lost seats are going to start sucking up to their voters but probably broaden their nets across more of the state in preparation for new district lines. They will be desperate and at risk for carpal tunnel from all the hands they will shake in photo ops across their areas.
For the states that gained, the state legislatures are going to be the ones receiving the sucking up to get those new shiny seats.

Top 5: Political Phrases of 2010

1. Shellacking: Obama's description of what Republicans did to Democrats in the 2010 elections.

2. Big F---ing Deal: Joe Biden's explains to Obama the significance of passing the health care reform bill. 

3.  Aqua Buddha: Jack Conway's version of "jumping the shark"; Voters were turned off by his desperate attempt to woo religious voters away from Rand Paul with this campaign ad.

4.  Man Up: Female candidates questioning the masculinity of their male opponents was a popular tactic in 2010.

5.  Small Business: In 2010, big businesses were the cause of all our nation's woes, while small businesses were going to be our saviors. Politicians of both parties seemed to agree on this. Yet, there is no common definition of "small business", and those medium businesses got left out of the discussion altogether. 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Do We Need a Heath Care Mandate

There is a great deal I don’t like about the health care bill. My primary concern is that it does far too little to control costs. As a result, it will end up creating yet another strain on our national budget and increase the already sizable budget deficit.

Ironically, despite a surplus of dubious provisions in the bill to question, the opposition is focused on the mandate that Americans buy health insurance. That was the provision struck down by a conservative federal judge this month. Ironically, the mandate is one of the more conservative and reasonable elements of an otherwise largely inaccessible piece of legislation. The fact that the GOP is opposed to the mandate suggests just how far the party has moved from conservative economic principles.

Consider the state of the current health care system. As it exists today, everyone with insurance pays to cover the uninsured. You don’t actually see that tax; it is applied in the costs of insurance and medical care. If a person without insurance is injured or sick, they go to an emergency room where they are treated, and the hospital covers the cost by increasing the charges to the insured population or from the taxpayers through a government program.

The current system is not only forcing the insured to pay for the uninsured, but it is remarkably expensive as it pays for health care at the emergency room, which is one of the most expensive points of delivery. Since we already have decided as a society that we will not allow people to be refused immediate medical treatment for lack of money, then we must figure out how to treat them in a way that is both evenhanded and efficient.

The preferred solution from more liberal quarters is a national health care system in which everyone is covered. This approach would be supported through a combination of premiums and taxes. A socialized approach to medicine like this is the favored method in much of Europe and Canada. As is evidenced by the debates in the last year, Americans have strong feelings both for and against this approach to health care.

The mandates are the conservative answer to the coverage problem based on private insurance purchased in a free market. It was proposed by Republican lawmakers in 1993 in response to then President Clinton’s healthcare plan. Mitt Romney used it as the centerpiece of his healthcare proposal naming it a personal responsibility principle while calling for the end of free riding on the government.

A mandate requires that everyone pay their own way by buying insurance. Those that fail to do so, pay a tax so that other taxpayers are not solely responsible for their care should they need it. To aid this, the bill creates a health care exchange for the purchase of private health policies. As the poor may not be able to pay the entire cost of insurance, the government helps subsidize their purchase. While not ideal, it does force people to be responsible for their own care and help redirect people from the expensive emergency rooms to doctors and clinics for primary care. Most importantly, it prevents those who could cover themselves from freeloading off of the taxpayers and the insured.

Conservatism is about doing for yourself, instead of having government do for you. It is about personal responsibility. A system that expects someone else to pay for another’s risky health choices is indefensible from either the left or the right. Yet, in striking down the mandate, we are returning to an extremely expensive, unsustainable system where the costs are almost entirely on the insured and hidden in high premiums. In rejecting the mandate to buy insurance, we are rejecting a private solution to the problem, and setting the groundwork for a large public one.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Public Opinion on Deficit Reduction

Americans want to reduce the deficit, but don't support policies that will reduce the deficit. This seems to be the case, at least, from a recent Washington Post poll.

A majority of respondents (56%) think we should start reducing the deficit now, rather than after the economy recovers. Yet, a majority (62%) also support the tax cut deal reached by Obama and Republican leaders, even after they were told it will add $900 billion to the deficit.

Also, other policies that would reduce the deficit got little support, such as increasing the gas tax (21%), reducing the rate of growth in Social Security benefits (36%), eliminating the tax deduction for children (34%), reducing defense spending (44%), reducing agriculture subsidies (44%), and raising capital gains taxes (43%). Only 3 proposals came close to receiving majority support: increasing the retirement age for Social Security (48%), eliminating the mortgage interest tax deduction for homes worth more than $500k and second homes (49%), and reducing Social Security benefits for wealthy retirees (49%).

These results show the difficulty in reducing the deficit. The message members on Congress hear from the public is "reduce the deficit, just don't make any cuts that effect me." Congress members often take a lot of criticism for our current financial mess. This criticism is partly deserved, but in a democracy the legislative body is simply responding to popular will, as it should. Therefore, (as I pointed out in a previous post) the blame ultimately lies with us, the voters.

Monday, December 6, 2010

NPR and Juan Williams, Part 3: Or, Should NPR be Defunded?

Previously, I wrote about NPR firing Juan Williams (here and here). Unsurprisingly, the controversy has come with calls for the withdrawal of government funds from NPR. When the issue of government funding was raised with NPR CEO Vivian Schiller after the Williams firing, she remarked that only 3% of NPRs budget comes from government grants, via the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). That is technically correct, but doesn't tell the whole story. Many of NPRs member stations also receive government support. So if government support were withdrawn from NPR and all the member stations, the impact on NPRs budget would be much larger than 3%--about 10% according to NPR.

Schiller is caught in a catch-22 on the funding issue. If the governments contribution to NPRs budget really were insignificant, as Schiller seems to want to claim, then why take any government money, especially if it will be accompanied by much public criticism, as has happened with the Williams incident? So, either the government's contribution is important or it is not, Schiller cannot have it both ways.

One of the arguments against NPR funding is its liberal bias. As you can imagine, conservatives are more likely to hold this view than liberals. I have been an avid listener of NPR programs for nearly two decades now, and to me NPRs liberal bias is as clear as the nose on my face. I'm often surprised, therefore, to hear others argue that NPR has no bias. Defenders point to the fact that NPR often has conservative voices on its programs and tries hard to explain different points of view when covering a news story. The problem with this argument is that it confuses a lack of bias with fairness. If one has no bias, it means they have no opinion either way on an issue. We all have biases. They are unavoidable. Fairness, however, is a more achievable goal. A news organization that is fair (and balanced?) will strive to provide differing viewpoints an opportunity to express themselves. NPR is better than most news organizations at being fair, but that does not make it unbiased. Clearly, from the news that NPR decides to report upon to its choice of language, NPR has a liberal bias. Additionally, none of its regular news analysts, or hosts of its afternoon programs, such as Fresh Air and The Diane Rehm Show, are conservative.

NPRs liberal bias, or its firing of Juan Williams, however, are not cause for cutting government funds. Since lacking a bias is an unachievable goal, it should not be the standard for receiving government funds. And, if fairness were the standard, NPR would get an A+, and thus should receive government funds.

The case against government funds, however, should not be about whether NPR is biased or unfair. Rather, it should be about the proper role of government in a free market economy. NPR, or any other media organization, should not receive government funds because the government should not show favoritism in the marketplace. A capitalist system needs a neutral arbiter to enforce the rules of capitalism. That neutral arbiter must be the government. No other entity can provide that role with the necessary authority. For the government to remain neutral, it must not favor some media organizations over others.

PBS's kids programming competes with that of other kids programing from Disney, Nickelodeon, ABC Family, and Cartoon Network. PBS's The Newshour competes with news programs from NBC, ABC, and CBS. And, NPR competes with other talk radio programs. When the government favors these programs by giving them money, it gives them an unfair advantage over their competitors. “But NPR and PBS are better than those other shows and programs,” one might argue. When you ask for tax support of the programs you prefer, however, you are asking those who don't share your preferences to provide financial support (through taxes) for your preferences. Also, it is not fair to the companies who compete with NPR and PBS, because they are not getting government grants. When you go to the grocery store, you might have a choice between buying diapers with Mickey Mouse (a Disney character) on them or diapers with Elmo (a character from PBS's Sesame Street) on them. PBS can promote its Elmo character with government support. Disney is forced to compete with PBS with no government support. The government distorts the marketplace, therefore, when it provides preferential treatment for certain media organizations over others. (Much of what the government does provides preferential treatment to certain groups, but I'll leave that issue for a another blog post).

Critics of NPR have reveled in the controversy surrounding the Williams firing. My own criticisms of NPR, however, are more from the view of a wounded lover than a critic. I want NPR to continue the great programming I've enjoyed over many years. My opposition to government funding is not based, therefore, on a dislike of NPR, but rather on a principled understanding of the proper role of government in the marketplace.