Researchers Quantify the Role of the Pandemic in the 2020 U.S. Elections

In the media, a prevalent narrative is that Donald Trump lost the 2020 elections because of the way he handled the COVID-19 pandemic. Several researchers determined that Trump would have won the electoral vote and lost the popular vote, as he did in 2016, if the pandemic had not occurred or if it had been mitigated.

Interestingly, not all the evidence supports the thesis that the handling of the crisis hurt Trump’s re-election, and quantitative evidence to support this narrative is limited.

In a new paper, Quantifying the role of the COVID-19 pandemic in the 2020 U.S. presidential elections, in the European Physical Journal, a team led by Maurizio Porfiri, Institute Professor at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, put forward a spatial, information-theoretic approach to critically examine the link between voting behavior and COVID-19 incidence in the 2020 presidential elections. While they concurred with prior research that there were correlations between the two factors, they found that such an association points in the opposite direction from the accepted narrative: in counties that experienced fewer COVID-19 cases, Trump lost more ground to Joe Biden.

“A tenable explanation of this observation is the different attitude of liberal and conservative voters toward the pandemic, which led to more COVID-19 spreading in counties with a larger share of Republican voters” said Porfiri.

Key to the analysis is a way of quantifying uncertainty in statistical models. By using a novel spatial data modeling approach, and computing conditional mutual information between two processes (a target process like voting behavior and a second process, in this case, COVID-19 incidence), Porfiri, et. al., were able to infer spatial (geographic) connections.

This approach enabled them to determine the influence that epidemiological and economic processes might have had on voting behavior, as well as the spatial interactions that encapsulate the social and political fabric of the country.

From the analysis of county-level data, the investigators, including Pietro de Lellis of the University of Naples Federico II and Manuel Ruiz Marín of the University of Cartagena, Spain, uncovered a robust association between voting behavior and prevalence of COVID-19 cases.

The researchers determined that COVID-19 cases were negatively associated with the variation in the total vote count, whereby a larger increase in participation was observed in counties that were less affected by the pandemic, and a smaller increase in those that suffered the most from COVID-19. When it comes to the difference in votes between the two parties, they found that Biden’s margin was higher in the counties that suffered the least from COVID-19. However, counties where Biden gained the largest margin were not identified by COVID-19 prevalence.

They also found that there were more likely to be large increases in the electoral participation and in Biden’s margin in counties that suffered more job losses; likewise, they found less participation and more support for Trump in counties that experienced smaller increases in unemployment rate.

“Our work demonstrates the value of spatial information-theoretic tools towards uncovering the mechanisms underlying government elections and, more generally, the socio-political fabric of a country. This is critical to support decision-making processes in urban sciences, in a context where our cities face dramatic changes due to environmental and sociotechnical stressors, such as climate change and social justice,” added De Lellis.

The research was partially supported by the National Science Foundation. It was also part of the collaborative activities carried out under the programs of the region of Murcia (Spain): “Groups of Excellence of the region of Murcia, the Fundaci ́on Seneca, Science and Technology Agency.” De Lellis was supported by the program “STAR 2018” of the University of Naples Federico II and Compagnia di San Paolo, Istituto Bancodi Napoli — Fondazione, project ACROSS. M. Ruiz Mar ́was supported by Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovaci ́on y Universidades.

Why Independent Redistricting Commissions Should Draw Electoral District Maps

The drawing and redrawing of electoral districts – which happens every ten years after the Census – is a hotly contested ritual in American politics. At the center of these disputes is partisan gerrymandering, a process in which elected officials draw electoral districts to increase the likelihood their own party will win more seats in the legislature. The redistricting cycle following the 2010 Census has cast a bright light on such practices. After most states drew districts to one party’s advantage, some 240 legal challenges have been filed against the resulting district maps. Critics of partisan gerrymandering are pushing for more neutral ways to draw electoral districts, while defenders of the current system argue that redistricting is always an inherently political exercise.

Are there ways to ensure that districts fairly represent communities and avoid extreme political contentiousness about the drawing and redrawing electoral districts? My research shows that independent commissions present one viable option for eliminating extreme partisanship and serving the public interest in drawing neutral maps.

Renewed Interest in Districting by the Courts

On one hand, the courts have been willing to step in and strike down maps that dilute the ability of a minority group to elect a representative, or when a map violates the standard of equal population. On the other hand, the courts have been reluctant to overturn maps on partisan grounds. While judges have expressed unease about district maps drawn to favor one party over another, they have been unable to articulate an objective standard for evaluating when these maps create unfair advantages for one party over another.

Recent legal challenges, though, may present the courts with sufficient evidence to evaluate the partisan skew in a given district plan. The Supreme Court recently heard a case from Wisconsin where the legislative map was challenged, in part, because social scientists have developed a new set of indicators that suggested the map unfairly advantaged the Republican party. One such indicator, called “the efficiency gap,” is the ratio of a party’s “wasted votes” to the total number of votes cast – where a “wasted vote” is a ballot cast for a candidate who lost or a surplus ballot cast for a candidate who was already going to win. When the efficiency gap is very large, it indicates that one party wasted a large portion of its votes, often because the districts were unfairly drawn. Evidence of a large efficiency gap was persuasive enough that a lower court declared the Wisconsin map unconstitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court has also heard a challenge to one congressional district in Maryland on the grounds that Republican voters were deprived of First Amendment rights to free association by a district plan that advantaged the Democratic Party.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently threw out the congressional map there and drew a new map for the 2018 midterm elections. In a novel development in redistricting litigation, the map was rejected solely on the basis that it violated sections of the state constitution, with no reference to the U.S. Constitution. This decision could usher in a new era of state-level judicial review of district plans, realizing Justice Felix Frankfurter’s famous concern about the courts entering the “political thicket” of adjudicating district plans. Perhaps the most tangible risk is that the state courts could be inundated with partisan challenges to redistricting plans.

Why Independent Commissions Make Sense

Rather than depend on the courts, history teaches that independent commissions can help avoid partisan conflicts or favoritism in district plans. Examples abound. Concerns that elected officials might manipulate monetary policy led to the creation of the independent Federal Reserve, and the Interstate Commerce Commission was set up to parry interferences by partisan and railroad interests. Congress handed reapportionment authority to the Census Bureau after politicians failed to reapportion the House after the 1920 Census.

The power to draw districts after each Census could be delegated to an independent redistricting commission. As they exist in Arizona and California, such commissions are completely divorced from the state legislature and therefore able to produce maps without the pressure to further or hinder the electoral fortunes of particular representatives or parties. Such concerns are always front and center when legislatures draw district plans. In contrast, social science research shows that commission-drawn plans set the stage for fairer and more competitive elections, and tend to avoid legal challenges.

How can the states institute independent redistricting commissions? Citizens in Arizona and California created their independent commissions directly, through ballot initiatives passed between 2000 and 2010. Most commissions in the West were created through ballot initiatives. Efforts to reform the redistricting process are currently underway in 18 states, and the possibility of creating independent redistricting commissions should be part of these discussions.

But many states cannot proceed by ballot initiatives or referenda. Creating an independent commission in Pennsylvania, for example, would require two consecutive legislatures to pass an identical bill which would then be submitted to the voters for their approval. Beyond a purely state-by-state approach, Congress could amend the Uniform Congressional District Act of 1967 and mandate that all U.S. House districts be drawn by an independent commission with rules and procedures to safeguard the public interest – such as having unelected civil servants select commission members and stipulating that districts must respect the integrity of cities and counties. New federal legislation could take lessons from pioneering states. The Arizona and California commissions demonstrate the value of independence, but the Arizona commission in particular focuses too much attention on a single nonpartisan commission chair. The California commission, by contrast, has four members of the commission that are neither Democrats nor Republicans and the position of the chair rotates among all members.

Digital.com Survey: Most Consumers Unlikely to Buy from Companies with Opposing Political Views

Digital.com, a leading independent review website for small business online tools, products, and services, has published a new study to assess consumer behavior towards companies that express political views or affiliation. The survey report examines responses from 1,250 Americans ages 18 and older and highlights key points on how politics and social issues influence their buying decisions.

The study shows that 47 percent of consumers are unlikely to buy products or services from companies not aligned with their political views. Women are also more likely to make purchasing decisions based on political leanings. Fifty-three percent of women say they are unlikely to buy from companies with different political views, compared to 38 percent of men. The top reasons women consider politics when patronizing businesses are that they do not want their money to support causes they oppose, and they want it to have an impact beyond the purchase.

Similarly, women and Hispanic/Latino respondents are least likely to buy from companies that do not have stated DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) policies. The survey indicates that Forty-four percent of women and 50 percent of Hispanic/Latino shoppers will consider these policies when making a purchase. DEI policies are also important among Democrats, with 46 percent who say they are unlikely to patronize businesses that do not have them. Thirty-nine percent of independents and 29 percent of Republicans are against buying products or services from companies without DEI policies.

“Brand alignment and company values are crucial when it comes to attracting loyal customers, and this insightful data can help businesses effectively shape their policies and messaging,” says digital marketing executive Huy Nguyen. “Our study proves that American consumers prefer to spend their money with companies that share their political views and support the same causes.”

Research findings also show that sustainability issues are more significant among specific age groups. Fifty-five percent of Gen Zers, individuals ages 18-24, say they are unlikely to buy from a company that does not have a published sustainability policy. Forty-one percent of respondents aged 25 to 34 years old and 47 percent of 45 to 54-year-olds also have similar views when it comes to sustainability issues and topics.

Digital.com commissioned this study to gain insight into how political and social issues can influence consumer spending habits. Respondents were surveyed regarding their political views and the importance of a company’s political alignment and policies when making purchasing decisions. The survey was distributed on July 21, 2021 via Pollfish, the online survey platform. To access the complete report, please visit here.

 

About Digital.com

Digital.com reviews and compares the best products, services, and software for running or growing a small business website or online shop. The platform collects twitter comments and uses sentiment analysis to score companies and their products. Digital.com was founded in 2015 and formerly known as Review Squirrel. To learn more, visit their website.

Americans Divided on Obamacare Repeal, Poll Finds

ST. LOUIS — As House Republicans labor to define a new plan to replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), public support for the 2010 legislation is at an all-time high, according to a national survey taken in January by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Among Americans in our sample, those opposing repeal now outnumber those favoring repeal, but the margin is small and the divisions are clearly defined by political affiliation,” said Steven S. Smith, the Kate M. Gregg Distinguished Professor of Social Sciences in Arts & Sciences. “The vast majority of Democrats oppose repeal; the vast majority of Republicans favor repeal.”

Summarized in a report issued this week by the university’s Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy, The American Panel Survey (TAPS) polls suggest that most Americans are in agreement about what they like or dislike most about the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The American Panel Survey (TAPS) is an innovative online survey that seeks opinions each month from a standing panel of about 2,000 people. The TAPS methodology is different from many national polls in that it goes back to the same respondents each month, allowing researchers to analyze how recent trends are influencing the opinions of individual Americans. For more information, including summary reports on interesting new findings, visit taps.wustl.edu.

Among the most popular ACA provisions: prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions; requiring certain preventative services to be provided without additional out-of-pocket charges; and allowing people to be included on parents’ insurance policies until age 26.

“These features increase the cost of providing insurance coverage and are proving to be a challenge to congressional Republicans’ efforts to create less expensive health insurance options,” said Smith, an expert on congressional politics and director of the Weidenbaum Center.

Meanwhile, a majority of Americans polled also expressed a great dislike for the ACA provision that places a tax penalty on people who remain uninsured, a provision designed to generate revenue and defray costs associated with ACA programs.

“Our findings confirm that the tax penalty for mandated coverage is unpopular,” Smith said.  “While a small majority of Americans oppose repeal of the ACA, the penalty for failing to acquire health insurance is opposed by a plurality.”

TAPS is a monthly online panel survey of about 2,000 people. Panelists were recruited as a national probability sample with an address-based sampling frame.

The survey is conducted by GfK Knowledge Networks for the Weidenbaum Center. Individuals without Internet access were provided a laptop and Internet service at the expense of the Weidenbaum Center. In a typical month, about 1,700 of the panelists complete the online survey.

More information is available at taps.wustl.edu.

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