With all of the hyper-partisanship of the primaries weighing us down, we decided to daydream a little today and look at where the ideal 2012 presidential candidate would stand on economic and social issues. To figure that out, we relied on recent Gallup survey data (July 2011 to the present) and our understanding of the median voter theorem.
In short, the median voter theorem—probably best explained in the political sense in Anthony Downs’ An Economic Theory of Democracy –states that in a two party system like the United States, the competition is for the voter whose opinions are at the median. The candidate who gets the closest to that point without alienating his or her base will win the election.
Below, we took several pertinent economic and social issues that Gallup has polled on since July 2011 (the issue text links to the Gallup survey) to create our ideal median voter candidate. We used a 51% rule to construct our ideal; that is, the ideal median voter candidate will support (or oppose) an issue when at least 51% of those surveyed also support (or oppose) that issue.
So what does the median voter look like? Let’s take a look:
Favors laws requiring information about abortion risks, parental consent for women under 18, a 24 hour waiting period, a ban on partial birth abortions and strongly opposes a law prohibiting abortion clinics from receiving federal funds.
Favors increasing taxes on corporations and on individuals with incomes above $200,000 and families with incomes above $200,000.
In an upcoming article we’ll look at how our current crop of candidates compare with this theoretical Median Voter Candidate. But until then: what do you think? Join the discussion below or let us know via Facebook or Twitter.
Yesterday marked the start of Black History Month, and to celebrate we decided to look at how things have changed since 1968 (when most scholars agree the second phase of the Civil Rights movement ended). One way of looking at the question is to see how representative government is of African Americans today compared with then.
In 1968, the United States population was 11.1% African American, compared to 12.9% today. But in terms of representation in Congress, African Americans made up a mere 1.4% of the House and 1% of the Senate in 1968. In the subsequent 44 years, representation has improved significantly in the House, where it increased to 9.9%, while actually worsening in the Senate, where there is currently not a single African-American Senator. The chart below shows representativeness of Congress then and now:
In short, the results when looking at the legislative branch are mixed, with the racial make-up of the Senate being extremely homogenous, and the House being much more diverse.
But what about the other branches of government? In 1968, there were eight white men on the Supreme Court and one African American man. Today, the Court is far more diverse, with five white men, two white women, one African American man, and one Hispanic woman. Interestingly, the Hispanic woman and one of the white women were appointed by the first African American president in the history of the United States, Barack Obama.
Clearly, America has come a long way in opening up the branches of government to minority representation over the past 44 years. At the same time, one look at the Senate shows just how far we have left to go.
As anyone who even remotely follows politics knows (or at least suspects), the U.S. Capitol building is a veritable magnet for lawyers. In both the House and Senate, representatives with a legal background (e.g., those who have earned a JD, LLB, or consider themselves as a lawyer by profession) are everywhere. And the situation is no different when looking at the office of the Presidency: 26 of the 44 presidents (59%) were lawyers by occupation.
But how overrepresented are lawyers in Congress compared to lawyers in the general population of employed U.S. workers? Before we get to that, let’s look at some numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2008, there were 759,200 lawyers working in the United States out of a total employed civil labor force numbering approximately 145 million. In other words, in 2008, lawyers composed a mere 0.52% of the working population.
However, a very different picture appears when looking at the percentage of lawyers in Congress compared to other professions. In the current (112th) Congress, 152 out of 441 members of the House (34.47%) and 55 out of 100 (55%) Senators are lawyers by trade. And it should be mentioned that this is far from a new phenomenon: as others have shown, Congress has been dominated by lawyers as far back as 1780, when two-thirds of Senators and around half of the House were lawyers.
The question then remains: so what? Does this overrepresentation of lawyers in Congress (not to mention the presidency) have any affect (positive or negative) on the functioning of our democracy? Is there something inherent in those who have studied law that makes them more capable leaders? We’ll leave that to our readers to discuss.