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Author Page for Dave Brockington

Born in San Jose, grew up in Seattle, received a Ph.D. in poli sci from University of Washington, worked for three years at Universiteit Twente in Enschede, Netherlands, and have worked at the University of Plymouth for eight academic years now in Plymouth, United Kingdom.

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Majority-Minority Districts

[ 2 ] March 26, 2011 |

This is an area that I used to know a lot about earlier in my academic existence, but has nothing to do with the paper I’m trying to  finish today opposed by my daughter’s best efforts (the effect of EU Framework I grants on turnout to European Parliament elections).  As I haven’t examined majority-minority districting in well over ten years the following is based on memory (hence corrections are not only welcome, they’re invited).

While I now vote in OR-5 based on our opulent Lake Oswego Estate, I voted in WA-7 for over 20 years, a shift I find satisfying as OR-5 is a swing district, whereas WA-7 is a very safe Democratic seat such that the Republicans often do not bother running a candidate.  There is a proposal to carve out a majority-minority district based in large part on the extant 7th District.

My initial reaction is that this is a bad idea.  I am not opposed to majority-minority districts per se.  However, this proposal fails to achieve the goals of majority-minority districting on two criteria.  First, to my knowledge every existing majority-minority district concentrates a single minority in said district, be it African-American or Latino.  The goal here is to afford political minorities the ability to elect a member of their community — in effect, to guarantee their election.  This proposed district, however, “wouldn’t give a majority to any single ethnic or racial minority — rather it would treat all of them as a single bloc.”

It doesn’t work like that.

Second, due to differences in turnout rates, in order to guarantee the election of a minority, they usually need to constitute around 55% of the district’s population (there are exceptions; see NC-12, made famous by Shaw v Reno).  The proposed district, at 50.1%, barely qualifies under an expansive definition of “majority-minority”, let alone one that achieves the primary goal.

There are other critiques of such districts, both normative (usually they require creative gerrymandering; see IL-04 as an example), and political.  The latter is problematic from a Democratic perspective as to achieve the goal of minority representation, an atypically high number of Democratic voters have to be packed into the district, thus mitigating their influence in neighbouring districts.  This reason is why the Bush 41 Justice Department was quite keen on majority-minority districts under the pre-clearance provisions of the VRA.  However, given that Washington has a new 10th district following reapportionment, in this case it’s not a zero-sum game.

There are positive ramifications as well.  Descriptive representation is a key result, and this is one reason why the demographics of the House come close to national percentages.  For example, in the 111th, African Americans held 9.5% of House seats (against 13% of the national population); Latinos did considerably worse, however, at 5% of the House against over 14% of the population.  There is also empirical evidence suggesting that descriptive representation enhances the sense of external efficacy amongst minority populations (not only from the United States, but also concerning the Maori in New Zealand).  Of course, descriptive representation does not necessarily equate into substantive representation.

I have a couple other observations on this article (written by Jim Brunner, whom I have known since my undergraduate days and is an excellent reporter).  First, it’s suggested one of the criteria employed by Washington’s redistricting panel is to avoid splitting cities “wherever possible”.  Maintaining the geographic integrity of Seattle clearly plays into Republican hands; furthermore, I’m not sure why retaining municipal integrity in House districts is at all important.  One of the dysfunctions of the US House is that a small minority of districts are ever truly competitive in any given election.  While I am a big fan of Jim McDermott, it would be more democratic if he faced credible opposition once in a while.  Second, Brunner writes that

Federal voting-rights laws do encourage states to avoid drawing boundaries that dilute the political clout of minorities. In many states, extra care is given to drawing districts that ensure African Americans are majority, for example, due to the historical efforts to disenfranchise them.

This is true, but to expand on what Jim’s written, the real teeth of the VRA as applied to representation is the requirement of pre-clearance under Section 5.  Washington is not one of the states or jurisdictions that require Justice Department pre-clearance of its electoral rules.

I find the entire notion of single member districts problematic from a representation perspective, and have long agreed with Lani Guinier that there are better remedies to representational disenfranchisement than gerrymandering.


This Has to be a Fake

[ 23 ] March 25, 2011 |

Not even freedom-hating anti-choice wingnuts could fail to see the irony in this, unless they don’t understand history.

Oh.  Hang on.

Poll at The Stranger here (update: correct link now) to vote this “the worst ad placement ever”.  h/t Richard Elgar.

One of the commenters in one of the threads I pursued to track down the original source indicated that the photo is from the Northern KY / Cincy area.  This is the chain.  Fortunately, LGM has a field office in the area to investigate the veracity of the photo.

Workers of the World Unite!

[ 27 ] March 24, 2011 |

Or, at least, “tens of thousands” of middle-class ivory tower academics across the United Kingdom.  Judging by the comments to this BBC article about the one-day walkout, it’s not a universally popular position.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t support the strike action, but would find it abhorrent to cross a picket line.  Hence, I’m at home today . . . working.  I get an unscheduled research day that I’m using to finish up my conference paper for the MPSA and progress on my paper for the WPSA next month (as well as an unplanned and un-budgeted day of unpaid leave).

Which, of course, is ironic, opens the question: is the nature of work as an academic compatible with the idea of withholding one’s labor through strike action?  I know several of my colleagues here at LGM experienced first-hand the organizing of graduate student TAs at the University of Washington, which I just missed out on due to having the temerity to graduate.  Unionizing graduate students and adjunct lecturers makes sense to me.  Here in the UK, we don’t have the benefit of a tenure system, and aside from those who have achieved the rank of full professor, we’re all on the same nationally negotiated pay scale (and poof, there goes my 0.4% pay increase this year) so I am somewhat swayed by the suggestion that a union can be beneficial in this context.  Yet, here I am working regardless, although I’m not giving the two lectures I was scheduled to deliver today.


Time to Read Fever Pitch Again

[ 7 ] March 19, 2011 |

And remember what it was like when Arsenal had no hopes, dreams, or aspirations.  West Brom 2 – 2 Arsenal.  WTH?


[ 12 ] March 18, 2011 |

In the absence of our experts on International Relations, I’ll put this out there for discussion:  the UN security council resolution surprises me (note the abstention of both China and Russia).  What surprises me more is the reaction of Gaddafi.

Ideology in the Name of Austerity

[ 25 ] March 17, 2011 |

(aka Ramblings in the Name of a Coherent Blog Post)

As I’ve argued here before, the policy proposals of the recently ascendant right, in both the United Kingdom and the United States, disingenuously uses the excuse of austerity in order to sell impose a blatantly ideological program of spending cuts (and paradoxically in the United States at least, tax cuts as well) .  Dionne writes about this in his Post column this past Sunday:

A phony metaphor is being used to hijack the nation’s political conversation and skew public policies to benefit better-off Americans and hurt most others.

In the UK this has been, and will continue to be, a watershed in the rolling back of the state.  Examples include wholesale “reform” of the NHS (opposed by no less than the British Medical Association), and large scale job losses in the public sector (132,000 in 2010 alone, and this represents only the leading edge of the cuts).

Universities are not immune.  Given the job losses elsewhere in the economy, a sound long term approach would be to enhance, rather than stifle, universities.  Cuts for the 2011-12 academic year have been released, and it’s not a relaxing read  — only one university will not see an overall reduction in financing — with more dramatic cuts on their way.  My august institution of higher learning enjoys a 4.9% cut for next year.  The coalition government perseveres, even though data from the IMF suggest that perhaps this isn’t the most prudent approach.  (See additional warnings by an IMF-convened conference here, and a warning by the US Ambassador to the UK that the spending cuts proposed by the coalition government as bonkers here.)

The same is true in the US, with wide ranging ideologically motivated cuts suggested (e.g. Planned Parenthood, NPR) that promise an insignificant reduction of the deficit (the stated goal, remember).  At least the US has an empowered opposition to this ideology, with the Democrats holding the executive branch, and on paper at least, half of the legislative branch.  Or does it?  The Democrats, as genetically determined, are disorganized according to this account.  At least Labour here in the UK have found their voice, but it’s a toothless voice: Labour are powerless to do anything at all.

So, it looks as though we’re taking to the streets.  Public sector unions are planning a million-strong strike this June, including the university union, in the name of pensions.  Additionally, all universities in the UK will be striking for, I think, one day only next Thursday.  At least I hope it’s only one day, as by carefully tended recklessly expended personal finances can’t afford much more than a single day.

But hell, this is one way to get out of a couple lectures.

Well, That’s One Solution to the Immigration Non-Problem

[ 32 ] March 16, 2011 |

When I first saw this, I briefly thought that I had wandered into the Onion by mistake.  Kansas state rep Virgil Peck (R, of course) suggested that the “immigration problem” could be solved with a method similar to that proposed for feral hogs in the very same state legislature: execution by helicopter.  When the story was elaborated upon at TPM, I took it seriously — this is the sort of thing that can’t be made up.  Peck even offered a response:

Asked about his comment, Peck was unapologetic. “I was just speaking like a southeast Kansas person,” he said.  He said most of his constituents are extremely upset with illegal immigration and the state and federal government response.

Because Kansas suffers from a crippling number of illegal immigrants.  At an estimated 47,000, if banded together they could almost fill the Kansas Jayhawks Memorial Stadium.  Of course, what Peck and his ilk are likely more concerned about is this mass of immigrants descending upon historic Lawrence-Dumont stadium in Wichita, capacity 6400, home to the Wichita Wingnuts baseball club.

Yes, the Wichita Wingnuts.  Peck’s home town of Tyro is only about 130 miles from Wichita; he might even be a fan.

Labour Rising?

[ 9 ] March 11, 2011 |

The latest YouGov poll has Labour on an 11 point lead.  Don’t get too excited, for the past couple of weeks this daily poll has had Labour around six to seven points up, so it’s likely an outlier.  However, it’s still not the best news for the coalition.  The government continues to suggest policies that don’t exactly excite the electorate, against a backdrop of an economic rebound that isn’t.  In response to the “it’s not about saving money, it’s about fairness” reform of public sector pensions, there’s a decent chance of a strike action of up to a million public sector employees will happen in June (including my union, balloting is currently underway).

Electorally, it wasn’t a surprise that Labour held Barnsley Central in the by-election last week.  The media were excited about the Lib Dems falling to sixth place, and UKIP finishing a strong second, but that’s not analytically interesting.  As the LSE blog correctly suggests, the real news is the cratering of the coalition partners’ joint share of the vote; it collapsed from 35% in the May general election to just 12.5% last week.  This calls the sustainability of the coalition into question.

If this were a normal single-party government with a healthy majority, this wouldn’t be an issue: it would ride out the storm and hope for better news in two or three years.  However, this is a different scenario.  There are two possible bordering on plausible ways that the government can fall.

First, this is an awkward coalition with deep internal divisions within the junior partner.  There is a possibility that over some issue, the Lib Dems leave the coalition, or more likely given Nick Clegg’s stubborn vanity, they fracture, with backbenchers breaking from supporting the government.  Second, as they perceive the Liberal Democrats to be unreliable, fickle coalition partners, there’s a rumour that the Tories will call a snap election in May, coinciding with the Local elections and the AV referendum, in order to achieve their own working majority.

A snap election won’t happen.  I agree with my former students over at Britain Votes that there is no rational basis for calling an early election; indeed it would be counter productive for the Conservatives, and the appeal of a snap election only diminished with the result in Barnsley Central.  It would also be ill-advised for the LibDems to break from the coalition.  They’re averaging around 10% in the polls, down from the 23% they won in the 2010 election.  They would be forced to defend policies unpopular with the electorate, and more salient, very unpopular with their own electoral support.  The LibDems would hemorrhage seats, and sitting LD MPs shouldn’t be expected to embrace the promise of unemployment that at least half, and more likely 75%, would face.

I suspect that the coalition will stubbornly solider on.  While both scenarios above are possible, they’re not rational.  It’s marginally more likely that a disgruntled segment of LibDem backbenchers withdrawing support from the government on principle, not electoral calculation, but lacking this, the government has four years to persevere in the hope of a more forgiving electoral and economic context by 2015.


[ 3 ] March 11, 2011 |

This can’t end well.

When is Terrorism not Terrorism?

[ 41 ] March 9, 2011 |

This is an easy question for Represenative Peter King, current Chair of the Homeland Security Committee and defender of the Irish Republican Army, to answer:

“I understand why people who are misinformed might see a parallel. The fact is, the I.R.A. never attacked the United States. And my loyalty is to the United States.”

That’s just great, Pete.  While my proclivities on the Irish question are of a clear nationalist bent, this is ludicrous.  The majority of incidents on this list, limited to Great Britain (it takes no imagination to suggest that a similar list for Ireland would be considerably longer), were done in the name of a “legitimate force battling British repression”.  I find it difficult to accept a definition of these events that does not only include, but is limited to, the word “terrorism”.

Yes, it was a “dirty war” on both sides (though I’ve yet to find an empirical example of a “clean war”), but denying that the IRA were terrorists is disingenuous as one chairs a hearing into the supposed “radicalization of American Muslims”.  Nearly 30 years ago, King once said: “We must pledge ourselves to support those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry”, but he forgot to mention Birmingham, London, Manchester, etc.  I’m further curious where he would place the Omagh bombing in his convenient taxonomy.

Coincidentally, one of my lectures tomorrow deals with the trade-offs between civil liberties and security inherent to the “war on terror” in a comparative framework.  I cover the four Prevention of Terrorism Acts from 1974-1989, the Acts of 2000 and 2006, and the much beloved PATRIOT Act in the US.  I may just have to bring up Rep. King tomorrow to see how my (mostly British)  students respond to his definition.

I Knew I Voted for Obama for Some Reason

[ 13 ] March 4, 2011 |

In addition to declaring the month of March Irish American Heritage Month (because we didn’t have enough positive attention?He needed to solidify the Irish Catholic vote?), Obama is to serve his own White House brewed beer on the 17th:

President Obama has officially declared March 2011 Irish American Heritage Month. More importantly the White House also announced that the president would be brewing his own beer called White House Honey Ale for St.Patrick’ Day.

Forget about health care reform or the repeal of DADT; as a brewer, beer judge, and beer writer of some repute in a former life, I can only see this as a positive development for the Republic.  (h/t Jamie Jurado)

Tactical Voting Under the Alternative Vote (UK Edition)

[ 27 ] March 3, 2011 |

The UK is scheduled to hold a referendum on May 5 to determine whether or not to adopt the Alternative Vote for Parliamentary elections.  This is the first UK-wide referendum since 1975, and to my knowledge (ergo my students’ knowledge) only the second referendum to apply to the entire United Kingdom.

I still hold the opinion that this was a sell out on the part of Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.  AV is not proportional representation.  While it’s also not a plurality system, it is in the end a majoritarian system.  For those unfamiliar with how AV works (and I can’t imagine that’s a particularly large percentage of the LGM readership), the blog over at the LSE has an excellent “simple guide” to electoral systems.

While AV is not PR, it does greatly diminish the incentive for a voter to vote tactically.  Of course, this incentive doesn’t entirely disappear, as Tom Clark writes at The Guardian.  However, Clark severely overstates his case, and seems to confuse the empirical presence of “wasted votes” with the behavior of tactical voting.  While AV does not ensure 100% sincere voting as a residue of incentive to vote tactically is left behind, his argument implies that this residue will translate into tactical voting in those contexts where it is present.  I don’t think this will be the case.

Tactical voting requires that a voter possess  a certain level of information about the choice set, and the relative standing of the various options.  The current configuration of Westminster elections is perhaps the most fertile ground for tactical voting: single member constituencies, only two parties with a realistic chance of forming a government, and the combination of a nationally strong third party (for now) with pockets of strength for regional nationalist parties (e.g. Plaid Cymru, the SNP).  Under AV, most of this goes away.  The vast majority of choice sets requiring a tactical calculation on the part of the voter are Conservative-Labour, Conservative-LibDem, or LibDem-Labour marginals.  Yet the following is typical of the examples offered by Clark:

Third-placed Labour supporters in Dwyfor Meirionnydd would very probably have suffered a similar fate in 2010. Chances are Ukip, independent and Lib Dem transfers would have handed Plaid Cymru a majority before they had any say.

This is “very probably” empirical reality, but for tactical voting to actually occur in this constituency under AV, it would require Labour supporters to have near perfect information regarding the chances of each of the six candidates running for the seat: Plaid Cymru, Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Independent, and UKIP, as well as reasonably solid information regarding the second choices of their fellow electors in this constituency, in order for these supporters to draw the conclusion that neither their first choice would matter, nor would any subsequent choices be counted: a classic wasted vote.  Such an assumption regarding the level, reliability, and validity of information is staggering.  Yet under the old rules, 14% of the electorate in this constituency still voted for Labour, presumably a sincere vote, when information should have been relatively cheap to acquire indicating that the seat was solidly Plaid (at 44%) and the Tories did finish second at 22%.

While AV will not completely eliminate the incentives for tactical voting, it does greatly diminish them.

I’ll have more to say about this in the near future, but it’s been a magnificently busy academic year for me and now I must rush off for another responsibility.  However, the end to the madness is in sight: term is over in a few weeks, and by the end of April two fresh conference papers will have both been written and presented.

Ideally, in that order.

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