Thursday, November 26, 2020

Finding Agreement Suspicious

Here's a question for my loyal readers: Is there any position you can think of that you support but that, if you hear someone else supports it, you become more suspicious of them politically?

Perhaps intuitively that makes no sense. If you back a given stance, why would you look sideways at someone else who shares your view? But there are circumstances where I imagine it could make sense -- for example, when you have cause to believe most other people who hold your view do so for bad reasons, are using it as a stepping stone to enable policies you don't support, or that the view most commonly is a valid proxy for other positions one strongly opposes.

Imagine, for example, an African-American opponent of affirmative action, who believes that such programs engender White resentment while doing little to help the most disadvantaged in the Black community. Such a person might nonetheless conclude that most White opponents of affirmative action come to their opposition for other, less tasteful motivations, and so view them with political suspicion. If the person is generally liberal otherwise, they might recognize that most affirmative action opponents are politically conservative and that persons who loudly trumpet their opposition to affirmative action often are especially conservative (and even more especially-so on racial issues). Any of these could give cause to view your putative compatriots a bit askance.

One can imagine other circumstances as well. Someone who supports a ban on assault weapons but not a total prohibition on the sale of handguns might believe that many people who back the former do so in order to make the latter more palatable or feasible -- essentially a slippery slope argument. Where one has multi-peaked preferences (e.g., one prefers only an assault weapons ban > no gun ban > complete gun ban), then one might not want to empower who share your support for an assault weapons ban on the theory that they, unlike you, want  to go much further than that (see this article by Eugene Volokh for more on how these mechanisms work).

So I'll pitch the question again: Can you think of any policy areas where this applies to you? Positions that you hold, but where you're suspicious of most other people who claim to hold them? It's an interesting question, I think.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Who Does High Turnout Help?

For as long as I can remember, it has been accepted wisdom that Democrats benefit from higher turnout. This is the view that motivates "if we can just get more people off the sidelines, Democrats will win every election", as well as more pessimistic declarations of how Democrats fare in midterms, off-cycle races, and run-off elections in, oh, let's say, Georgia.

But is it true today? The 2020 election is giving me a bit of pause.

2020 was a big turnout year. We had record turnout -- the highest percentage in at least 100 years, in all likelihood -- and that's with COVID throwing a wrench in things. But while Joe Biden won, and won clearly in the national popular vote, it's not the case that the additional turnout was all a tidal wave of new blue voters. Trump, too, has shown himself to be a turnout machine for the red column. Texas is a good example, where Joe Biden added 1.4 million votes to Hillary Clinton's 2016 total, only to see Donald Trump roughly keep pace by stacking an additional 1.2 million votes on top of his performance in the prior election. That's a lot more people voting, but not a huge net gain for Democrats -- especially given the general "blue-ing" of the state that had been observed over the past four years.

So what's going on? One thing to consider is who the marginal non-voter is, and who they're likely to support if they do come out to the polls. Non-voters are likely less politically engaged and aware -- the classic "independent" voter (which is to say, low-information and ideologically incoherent), and probably exhibit less trust in and affinity towards American political institutions generally. In our current climate, it's far from clear that these aren't easier for a Trumpist style populist politician to win.

More than that, though, is the issue of the broader realignment we're seeing in partisan identity. Historically, the case for Democrats being aided by high turnout has I think relied on the notion that Democratic voters skew poorer, and poorer voters are less likely to turn out, so the marginal vote gained by heightened turnout is more likely to be a Democratic one. But while it is not the case, contra some lazy takes, that Democrats are now the party of wealthy coastal elites, it is the case that the biggest divide between the parties right now does not track class but rather education. Democrats are overperforming among college-educated voters (of all economic backgrounds), Republicans do much better among those lacking a college degree (again, regardless of economic background). And highly-educated voters are a high turnout group -- they're likely to hit the polls even when other actors do not.

So it's quite possible that reductions in turnout could end up, counterintuitively, aiding Democratic candidates. You can imagine dividing voters into different turnout "tranches", where the highest tranche turns out in every election (that is, even in ones where nobody else votes), the ones below that in slightly more active races, the ones below that in moderately high turnout affairs, and so on down the line until the final tranche which never votes at all. If Democrats are disproportionately represented among the highest tranches, they'd be better served if elections remain low-turnout affairs, since they'd be the only ones showing up to the polls.

Again, this is just a hypothesis and an oversimplification at that. But I do think the education realignment may require adjusting some of our assumptions regarding who benefits from high turnout.