Thursday, June 16, 2011

Governors as Assets in Presidential Elections

John Sides has a good item today on the weak statistical basis for assertions that presidential candidates are helped by same-party governors in swing states. This is one of those chestnuts of American politics that's been asserted forever, and may even for all I know been true once upon a time, but is almost completely unlikely to be true now, or recently.

My biggest question about these claims have always been the mechanism for how it's supposed to happen. Sure, once upon a time, in at least some places, there were big party machines that were labor-intensive and fueled by jobs provided by the public payroll. Ah, the good old days.* Go back to the 19th century, and both parties and elections were very different, so I wouldn't want to make any claims without looking at further evidence. But these days (and John cites an article that finds no effect back through 1932), labor-intensive portions of campaigns are supplied by volunteers easily mobilized by online networking, which can be activated rapidly without needing government jobs as a reward. Other parts of the campaign are nationalized (and have been increasingly for decades now) in ways that render local organizations, to the extent they exist and are tied to in-party control of state government, largely irrelevant. Does anyone think Barack Obama would have raised more money in California in 2008 if a Democrat had been governor there?

The one thing that Reid Wilson mentions that I do think might make some difference would be changes in election law and enforcement. To the extent that Republicans change state laws or practices to make it harder to vote, or conversely to the extent that Democrats in the states where they've had control have made it easier to vote, that may have a real effect. Assuming, that is, that the parties are good at targeting their laws for the intended effects. Even then, however, we're probably just talking about changes at the margins (although Wilson doesn't really claim anything much stronger).

Mostly, though, I don't see any reason to expect it to matter whether a party controls the statehouse or not.

*Note: while I don't advocate a return to classic Tammany-style machines, in large part because the belong with the technology of their time, in general I think there's a very good case to be made for those sorts of parties and the "corruption" that goes with them, ably defended by G. W. Plunkitt in the linked book.


  1. The one thing that Reid Wilson mentions that I do think might make some difference would be changes in election law and enforcement.

    Yes, e.g. Florida 2000 and Ohio 2004, the latter maybe a little less blatant but not entirely insignificant...and to be fair I don't have any evidence re: Jeb and whoever was governor of Ohio in 2004, but I definitely remember the Ohio Secretary of State being pretty upfront about undersupplying voting machines in (presumably) Democratic precincts.

    As for Jeb, again, I've not done any research and have no evidence, but the (geez, I was about to say spadework as in garden prep, but maybe that's a little too close to being misinterpreted) anyway, the prep work Harris undertook in removing voters couldn't have been done without at least some knowledge--right?

  2. I renew my theory that Kasich of Ohio, Scott of Florida, Walker of Wisconsin and Snyder of Michigan are going to turn out to be assets in the presidential election of 2012.

    For Barack Obama.

  3. Didn't the GOP manage to throw thousands of African Americans off the voting rolls in the runup to 2000? Can't remember the details...

  4. I love Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, and have owned more than one copy over the years. This is the first time I have seen it suggested that the book "ably" defends machine politics to the modern sensibility.

    I enjoy the book because Plunkitt is a good storyteller and because the things he recounts are so outrageous that he makes me laugh. I am going to assume you were being very subtle with your humor so I am not going to launch into stories about land deals or paving stones.


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