Monday, December 15, 2014

Income, Turnout, and Inequality

The London School of Economics and Political Science's USAPP blog today features a post by Lucy Barnes explaining that higher voter turnout in the United States would be unlikely to change redistributive policies in the American states. She writes:
In recent research, I have looked at differences in government spending, and spending targeted towards the poor, across the American states. This also allows for detailed investigation of the income mechanisms involved, as the Current Population Survey provides data, representative at the state level, on both income and (reported) voter participation. From this individual-level data I constructed measures of the income of the median voter for every state-year from 1978 to 2002. In considering the relationship between median voter income, spending, and the typical aggregate measures of turnout and inequality, we can investigate whether the mechanisms purported to explain the macro-level relationships (that higher inequality and turnout drive higher spending).

First, does the income of the median voter matter for the level of government spending? I find little evidence that it does. Or rather, there is some evidence of a statistically discernible effect, but its substantive size is very small. For a thousand dollar increase in the gap between average income and the income of the median voter, annual public welfare spending per capita increases by $6! Total government spending declines with the decisive voter’s income shortfall, but again the size of these effects is tiny– around $40 for a $1000 change. This small effect size, more than the statistical insignificance of the effects, indicates that any impact of the income of the decisive voter on policy outcomes is limited. Second, if the income of voters as a whole, which depends on inequality and who turns out to vote, is the mechanism by which these factors affect spending, we should see the effects of these aggregate-level variables reduced once the direct measure is included as a predictor in the statistical model. I find no evidence that this is the case, either.
Dr. Barnes attributes the limited impact of turnout on policy outcomes to Americans' abysmal turnout rates in state elections. She argues that so many low-income voters abstain, even in high turnout states, that "the necessary relationship between higher turnout and greater equality in turnout may no longer hold." That seems plausible, but I would also add that there is some evidence showing that lower-income Americans and higher-income Americans tend to have very similar policy preferences and, as a consequence, that biases in voter turnout related to income may not produce significant bias in the policy preferences of the electorate.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Randy Balko on Eric Gardner

Eric Gardner's death and a New York City grand jury's decision not to indict the police office who caused his death by placing him a choke hold during an arrest for selling loose cigarettes demand serious reflection on the state of race relations and law enforcement. Randy Balko's thoughts on these matters are well worth your time. Among other things, Balko points out how the proliferation of regulation on our daily lives creates a opportunities for violent confrontations between police and civilians, especially in minority communities:
Every law, no matter how seemingly innocuous, is enforced with the threat of violence: If you fail to follow it, the state is saying it reserves the right to use violence to force you to comply and/or force you to submit to a penalty for violating the law. Every law passed also creates more opportunities for interaction with police officers, the people entrusted to use the violence necessary to enforce the laws. How a proposed law will be enforced, and potentially abused, ought to be considered in addition to the content of the law itself....[Moreover, l]ow-level offenses are a tool police sometimes use to do sweeps for outstanding warrants, or as part of a “broken windows” strategy of law enforcement. These are tactics overwhelmingly deployed on low-income and minority communities.
Again, the whole thing is worth your time.