Wednesday, April 18, 2012

People, Not Places

Back around 1990, there was much talk among political commentators about the Republican "electoral lock" on the White House. The idea was that Republicans had won the last three elections relying on a solid bloc of votes in the Sunbelt. Many of these states had gone Republican all of the last five elections. Moreover, their electoral significance would continue to rise, as they were growing rapidly in population while Democratic strongholds were shrinking. So the situation would only get worse.

To anyone who bothered to think about it, it was obvious that this was nonsense. Places don't vote, people do. If a lot of people are moving from Democratic strongholds to the Sunbelt, the normal assumption would be that the Sunbelt is becoming more Democratic. People don't check their politics at the door when they move, or get a new party registration when they close on a house.

And so it turned out. When Clinton ran in 1992, the Republican electoral lock was nowhere to be found. Clinton won both the popular vote (a plurality) and the electoral vote.

Now this thinking seems to be making a comeback. In a column in Tuesday's New York Times, Timothy Egan talks about how Karl Rove's strategy for a "durable Republican majority" is being undone by demographics. Rove's plan included a focus on the "exurbs," fast-growing areas located far from city cores. But now central cities are growing faster than exurbs, and, since central cities are Democratic territory, this is bad news for Republicans. See the fallacy?

There are, of course, some legitimate reasons why city residents might vote differently just by virtue of being  city residents. They're likely to be less concerned about gas prices, for instance, and more concerned about support for public transportation. But that's a long way from changing one's party affiliation.

There are also real demographic trends that are worrisome for Republicans. They do badly among young voters; since people tend to stick to the way they voted in their first few elections, this is a long-term problem. They also are unpopular among non-Cuban Hispanics, and there's no obvious reason why new voters in this fast-growing group would like them better than old voters. But these are people trends, not place trends.

It may be true, as Egan seems to believe, that "demography is destiny." But geography is not demography.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Defending Marriage?

One thing that's odd about the anti-gay-marriage discourse is that it's so often phrased as a "defense of marriage," as in the Defense of Marriage Act, which bans any Federal government recognition of same-sex marriage. Why "defense of marriage"?

Granted, a title like the Guys Kissing Is Gross Act would lack a certain gravitas. But are people really lying awake at worrying about the state of marriage? I decided to look into what effect gay marriage was having on divorce rates.

Unfortunately, the Census Bureau's 2012 Statistical Abstract only has data up to 2009, and at the beginning of 2009 only Massachusetts and Connecticut had same-sex marriage. But it's still interesting to look at the pattern that emerges. States that currently have same-sex marriage are shown below in italics.

Divorces per 1000 people, 2009
West Virginia  
New Hampshire 
United States
District of Columbia
New York

Of the six states that had the lowest divorce rates in 2009, five now have gay marriage. Of the six states with the highest divorce rates, four now have constitutional prohibitions of gay marriage (West Virginia and Wyoming have statutory prohibitions).

What are we to make of this? Beats me, but maybe people in states where marriage is weakest are most concerned about defending it. If so, I doubt they're following an effective strategy.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

L'Esprit d'Escalier, Supreme Court Edition

It's French for "staircase wit," meaning all the clever remarks that occur to you immediately after you leave the party. Not being notably quick verbally, I can sympathize with Solicitor General Verrilli for sometimes having trouble, at the Supreme Court's recent health-care jamboree, fielding questions from out of right field. Herewith, some wittier answers.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Could you define the market -- everybody has to buy food sooner or later, so you define the market as food, therefore, everybody is in the market; therefore, you can make people buy broccoli.

CLARITAS: [All the law students listening to the audio have a drink at the first mention of broccoli. Some of them will end up under the table; the index to the transcripts lists eight occurrences of the word.] No, Justice Scalia, that would be a good analogy if the health care law said that people had to have heart transplants, but it doesn't.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Mr. Verrilli, you could say that about buying a car. If people don't buy cars, the price that those who do buy cars pay will have to be higher. So, you could say in order to bring the price down, you're hurting these other people by not buying a car.

CLARITAS: No, we're saying that by not buying insurance, they're shifting costs onto other people, just like when a car doesn't have pollution control equipment. There's been an extraordinary amount of energy devoted to the claim that this law is completely unprecedented, that it's making people buy a product, that it's regulating "inactivity." Actually, it's no different from when the government makes drivers buy catalytic converters, which is clearly Constitutional. The only difference is that people can, in theory, choose not to drive, but everyone uses health care. 

It's also true that the problem is worsened by not allowing insurance companies to exclude people for preexisting conditions, which leads to higher prices, but it's hard to think of a car analogy there.

GENERAL VERRILLI: No. It's because you're going -- in the health care market, you're going into the market without the ability to pay for what you get, getting the health care service anyway as a result of the social norms that allow -- that -- to which we've obligated ourselves so that people get health care.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, don't obligate yourself to that. Why -- you know?

CLARITAS: Justice Scalia, since you've said you'll resign if there's ever any conflict between your duties as a justice and your Catholic faith, I hope it's not true that your best solution to this Constitutional question is, "Let 'em die!"

JUSTICE SCALIA: An equally evident constitutional principle is the principle that the Federal Government is a government of enumerated powers and that the vast majority of powers remain in the States and do not belong to the Federal Government. Do you acknowledge that that's a principle?

CLARITAS: So what you're saying is that the Constitution reserves to the states the power to make people buy broccoli?