2003 October 09 Thursday
Wilson And Bowman Examine Ideological Splits On Iraq War

James Q. Wilson and Karlyn Bowman have a very interesting article in the fall 2003 issue of The Public Interest about public attitudes toward the war in Iraq and larger trends in attitudes in the US populace.

Those who were strongly opposed to our invasion of Iraq were indifferent to the role of the United Nations. About one-fifth opposed our military activity regardless of whether the United States had U.N. support or Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. A Gallup poll taken in early April 2003 showed that 15 percent of the respondents opposed the war "even if the U.S. finds conclusive evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction." One-tenth of all voters said that we should "never" have attacked Iraq. In another poll, about one-tenth of all Americans said that they are "antiwar in general." And in yet another public-opinion survey conducted in March 2003, almost one-fifth said that war is "never morally justified."

The peace party's composition may depend in part on which political party is in power. When we fought in Korea and Vietnam, two wars begun under Democratic presidents, political scientist John Mueller found that Democrats supported the war more than Republicans did. Democratic opponents of the war in Vietnam began to equal or outnumber Republican critics only after Richard Nixon became president in 1969. We have no way of knowing whether Nixon's presence caused this shift (after all, the war had made critics among both Republicans and Democrats by that time), but it is striking that Democratic opposition shot up around the middle of 1969 while Republican opposition remained relatively constant.

People are more likely to be opposed to the same policy if the policy is being implemented by members of the opposing party. Republicans opposed US interventions in the Balkans while most Democrats defended Bill Clinton. The same pattern can be seen with the 1997 Operation Desert Fox airstrikes in Iraq.

Wilson and Bowman argue that a larger pattern is at work as the nation as a whole becomes more partisan.

For one, votes in Congress have become markedly more partisan over the years. In 1970, about one-third of all House and Senate votes pitted the majority of one party against the majority of the other, but by 1998 more than half of the votes were of this sort. In 1970, about 70 percent of each party's congressional members voted on partisan lines when a majority of one party was opposed by a majority of the other. In 1998, that number had risen to 90 percent. When President Clinton was impeached, 98 percent of House Republicans voted for at least one of the four impeachment articles, while 98 percent of House Democrats voted against all four. Even in House districts where most voters opposed impeachment, almost all Republican members voted in favor of it.

Anyone who thinks that the era of mass communications and lowered cost of transportation would reduce the size of differences in belief needs to reconcile that belief with the empirical evidence found all around us to the contrary.

Both Gary Jacobson and fellow political scientist Larry Bartels have produced data suggesting that, in comparison to 20 or 30 years ago, voters today are more comfortable with ideological labels and more ready to identify with a particular party on the basis of its ideology. This is especially true of more educated voters. Anyone who doubts these findings need only listen to radio talk shows or compare Fox News with public-broadcasting news to encounter daily evidence of a profound market segmentation in the media-a segmentation that could only exist if there were large numbers of ideological voters to whom different programs could appeal.

The argument has been made (I think by Virginia Postrel among others) that people are moving around the country in ways that make each region politically more distinctive. If I am recalling a Postrel column (which I haven't managed to find googling but I think was in the NY Times a few years back) correctly she quoted some political scientists to the effect that the average person moving out of the Old South region has political attitudes less like the majority of the Old South than the average person who is moving into that region. So migration is not erasing regional differences, it is accentuating them. People move to be around other people more like themselves. We also see evidence for heavy regional differences even within states. Vinod's post on the Gray Davis recall election leads to links to county level results. While San Francisco went 63.5% for Cruz Bustamante versus 18.9% for Schwarzenegger Kern County went 61.7% for Arnie versus 18.8% for Cruz, and Yuba County went 62.3% Arnie, 16.7% Cruz. There are enormous political differences within the state of California.

There is a larger lesson here: different people want different things from government. The kind of people who move to or from a country or state affects who wins elections, what policies are enacted, how high taxes are, and what governments do. Lower costs of transportation and communications may not bring all people together. A larger variety of choices in types of news programs that are available on radio and TV may simply allow people to tune in to sources of information that match more closely their own preconceptions and prejudices. Just as people migrate in order to be around people who want to live in more similar ways people will also virtually migrate to choose media sources that fit more closely with their predilections. If you don't agree with me I figure you haven't even read this far and have instead clicked to some place where you can read more agreeable arguments. So to all of those who have gotten this far: you have excellent judgement, great taste, and style.

Update: Jim Miller offers some comments on the California Governor Gray Davis recall election results and includes a link to an excellent map of California recall votes by county. The counties most heavily for the recall were Sutter 78%, Kern 76%, Glenn 76%, Lassen Colusa 75%, 75%, Modoc 74%, Orange 73%, and Tehama 73%. At the other extreme against the recall we have San Francisco 80%, Alameda 70%, and Marin 68%. The state average was 54.6% for the recall. That is a huge range and demonstrates large regional divisions.

Steve Sailer reports that a large white GOP turn-out was what swung the vote for the recall.

In each of these elections, according to exit polls, the GOP candidate failed to win a majority of the white vote. On Tuesday, however, the two main Republican candidates combined to win a crushing 65 percent of the non-Hispanic white vote. That's the kind of enthusiasm for Republicans normally seen among whites in the South, not in California.

In Davis' landslide first victory in 1998, whites who voted Republican made up 28 percent of the electorate. In Davis' narrower re-election last year, GOP-voting whites comprised 35 percent. This year, they comprised 45 percent of the voting public.

The Republicans did better among Hispanics than they do on average. But McClintock and Schwarzenegger combined still got only 39% of the Hispanic vote. So the gap in GOP performance between whites and Hispanics was 26 points. That gap is the thing to watch in my view. If the popularity of the GOP has to be so high that 65% of whites vote for them in order for 39% of Hispanics to vote for them then it is clear that the GOP is making no specific gains among Hispanics. Though expect Karl Rove to fantasize otherwise.

Update II: There is one other point to make about the Wilson/Bowman article: for the most implacable opponents of the war in Iraq the debate was not about the size of Saddam's WMD development program or whether the United States and its allies had UN approval. The size of the WMD program could have been bigger or the UN could have approved the war and they still would have disapproved.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 October 09 03:55 PM  Politics American Domestic

Trent Telenko said at October 10, 2003 7:55 AM:


There is more to this election than race.

Joel Kotkin writes the following in the New Republic:

"Which raises the question: With each party's base so loyal to its preferred
candidate, how on earth did Arnold manage nearly 50 percent of the vote?
The answer hints at the emergence of a new and potentially critical force
in California politics.

In the broadest terms, Arnold's victory came courtesy of a large and growing
constituency of younger and middle-aged, middle-class voters, mostly living
in the suburbs. They were attracted not only to the star power of the onetime
Terminator, but also to his combination of fiscal probity and moderate social
positions. In the run up to the election, several hundred thousand of these
voters registered for the first time, many of them as Independents. To a
large extent, they don't exist in the political "base" of either party,
meaning they can't be rallied effectively either by labor union organizations
or conservative political action committees. But, according to exit polls,
nearly half of them supported Schwarzenegger; three in five voted in favor
of the recall.

Perhaps the best way to see the new patterns--and the emerging new constituency--is
by looking at the geography of the election. The election's geographic key
was those parts of the state where young families, seeking job opportunities
and affordable housing, have been flocking. Ground zero for this trend lies
in what's known as the Inland Empire, which covers the counties of Riverside
and San Bernardino, abutting Los Angeles County but tucked away from the
bulk of national reporters, who tend to congregate in west Los Angeles and
San Francisco. Yet with roughly three million people, it has more than twice
the voting power of San Francisco and its environs. So how did the residents
of the Inland Empire vote yesterday? Roughly 60 percent of them favored
Schwarzenegger, and a remarkable 70 percent voted for the recall.

"The people who opted for Arnold are those who are post-student but pre-big
money making," explains economist David Friedman, who has studied California
economic trends over the past decade. "The gap between them and the [traditional
Democratic] alliance of the government dependent and the latte liberals
is what's shaping politics now in California." These voters, Friedman suggests,
had no shortage of economic reasons to detest Gray Davis and the legislative
Democrats. Regulatory burdens imposed on builders have forced up the price
of housing, typically their key concern. They were especially hard hit by
the state's recently-increased car tax, since many own multiple cars. Burdens
on business, imposed at the behest of labor unions, trial lawyers or environmentalists,
were seen as threats to their jobs or the enterprises they own.

Many of the new constituency voters, although not strict social conservatives,
also objected to the Democrats' social agenda, which had shifted from mere
"tolerance" to an aggressive program of social engineering in favor of gay
rights and illegal aliens. For example, state Democrats recently passed
legislation to protect the rights of "crossdressers" and to force prospective
foster parents to prove they weren't homophobic. Particularly damaging was
the Democrats' support for illegal alien drivers licenses, which polls showed
roughly two-thirds of voters opposing. In previous elections, running against
zealots like 2002 GOP candidate Bill Simon, Democrats could hide their extremism
behind support for such things as choice and gun control. But against Arnold,
who embraced these mainstream positions, the Democrats had no effective
weapon on social issues, and their defiantly counter-cultural stances became
all too evident to voters.

But perhaps the most intriguing part of this new constituency is its racial
component. One cardinal principle of Democratic Party politics in California,
and in the nation as a whole, has been that Latinos, like African-Americans,
will remain loyal Democrats regardless of what the party does. Yet even
with a prominent Latino on the ballot, Schwarzenegger was able to win upwards
of 35 percent of the Latino vote, better than any Republican candidate in
a decade. The population of the Inland Empire is nearly 40 percent Latino,
many of whom are middle-class, second generation California residents. Beyond
that, the fact that heavily Latino Los Angeles County voted for Schwarzenegger
and split 50-50 on the recall suggests that the "core" may not be as solid
as many Democrats suppose.

For Democrats, the most ominous development in all of this may be the fact
that the Inland Empire represents the demographic future of California.
At a time when domestic migrants have been leaving Los Angeles and San Francisco
in droves, notes Bill Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer, they have
been flocking to the Inland Empire: The region is experiencing population
growth of 2 to 3 percent per year, compared with San Francisco's loss of
about 4 percent of its population between 2000 and 2002. The Inland Empire
region has also lost far fewer 25-to-34 year-old voters in the last decade
than either California or the nation in general, and has gained an impressive
number of people in the 35-to-44 year old category.

All of this has helped make the Inland Empire the fastest growing part of
the state both economically and demographically; its share of the state's
electorate is rising rapidly as well. Together with the state's other growth
areas, notably the Central Valley, Orange and San Diego counties, it now
accounts for over 40 percent of the California electorate, almost matching
the combined heft of the Bay Area and Los Angeles County.

And, of course, the demographic trends on display in the Inland Empire aren't
that different from the trends remaking much of the Sunbelt. Beyond California,
the emergence of a contestable, multi-racial "new constituency" marks a
challenge to both parties. On the left, an emphasis on the "Democratic wing
of the Democratic party"--fervently loyal to union, gay, feminist, and environmentalist
orthodoxy--could alienate the middle-aged, middle constituency that threw
Davis out of office and put Schwarzenegger there in his place.

Republicans, too, have something to learn. If they wish to expand outside
of their right wing and southern base and become competitive among the new
constituency in key states like California, they must adopt a less strident
position on social issues and a more humane face in general. Arnold's political
positioning helped turn many of these voters into "Schwarzenegger Republicans."
But whether they remain Republicans for George Bush and other party candidates
will depend on how much the GOP learns from the Terminator's California

Trent Telenko said at October 10, 2003 8:51 AM:

I also picked this (see below) up on the 'Jim Miller on Politics' blog on the CA Recall and wider political trends with this as the key point:

"To me, the most curious thing about this shift of rural areas toward Republicans is how indifferent Democratic leaders have been toward the change. Few seem willing even to listen to the complaints from the rural areas. They would rather, it seems, lose their majorities than try to get in touch with rural voters."

The wider political splits in the USA is a matter of regional (North East vs South vs. West) and urban/rural polarization than anything else. Democrats are systematically abandoning segments of the old FDR coalition starting in 1972 and accelerating in 1984 (Reagans re-election) and again in 1994 (The Republican take over of the House). It is looking more and more like Clinton was a classic, and now almost extinct, southern populist one-off exception to this trend.

Given this new regional alignment, the only way that the Democrats are going to win the Presidency is with a populist white southern governor at the top of the ticket.


Trading Places: This map, showing the California counties that voted to recall Davis, is another example of the shift that has taken place in the last generation. Davis lost all the rural counties, many by margins of more than 70 percent. He lost the Central Valley, which used to be a source of Democratic strength. A generation ago, these rural areas often supported the Democratic party, in California and elsewhere.

There's a book that shows these changes vividly, The Historical Atlas of Political Parties in the United States Congress 1789-1989, by Kenneth Martis. As you flip through the pages showing party control during the last generation, you see the parties trade places. In 1972, Democrats held most of the rural California House seats; by the election of 1982, Republicans had taken almost all of them, and the map of House seats in California looks much like the map of the recall vote. You find very similar shifts in rural districts in Washington and other western states. In 1972, Republicans held just one of the Washington House seats, a suburban district north of Seattle. (It may actually have included part of Seattle, hard as that is to believe now. The map is not detailed enough for me to be sure.) Now they hold two, both rural districts in eastern Washington.

It is not hard to understand why rural areas shifted Republican; they are culturally more conservative than urban areas. When the McGovernites took over the Democratic party in 1972, they shifted it sharply to the left on cultural issues such as gun control and abortion. Rural Democrats, who might have agreed with much of the party's economic program, began leaving the party in 1972 and haven't stopped since.

Economic issues are beginning to hurt the Democrats in many rural areas. Their urban voters give strong support to environmentalists. This often leads Democrats to back proposals that damage rural areas. In this state, the Seattle City Council resolution to tear down dams in Eastern Washington is still hurting the party. Almost everywhere, growth (mis)management plans cause serious problems in rural areas. The hostility to automobiles so common among Democrats is one of their biggest disadvantages in rural areas, where cars are essential. Light rail may be useful in the Seattle area—though I very much doubt it—but even its strongest proponents would admit that it won't work in towns like Asotin, Chewelah, Gold Bar, Forks, Humptulips, Ilwaco, Omak, Peshastin, Selah, and Zillah. Davis was hurt greatly by his increase in the car tax, which hits the rural poor hardest.

To me, the most curious thing about this shift of rural areas toward Republicans is how indifferent Democratic leaders have been toward the change. Few seem willing even to listen to the complaints from the rural areas. They would rather, it seems, lose their majorities than try to get in touch with rural voters.
- 9:44 AM, 8 October 2003

Randall Parker said at October 10, 2003 11:13 AM:

Trent, I already linked to that post by Jim Miller in my own post.

As for Kotkin on the Hispanic vote: Arnie did no better than Reagan with the Hispanic vote. There is no trend for the Hispanics to become Republicans. They vary up and down around about 33% or 35% plus or minus 5 points from election to election. Analysts who compare a low year to a more recent higher year are fantasizing a trend that is not there. A look at their longer term voting patterns shows this to be the case.

As for rural voters being Republicans: that only helps if the rural areas grow more quickly than the cities. Perhaps that is the case. I haven't looked closely at the long term demographic trends with regard to population density. But it is my impression that the suburbs continue to grow most rapidly.

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