Sites for Exploring Government Through Data

I’m going to begin a post dedicated to curating sites that are aimed at facilitating learning about government through data and/or data-driven simulations.  I will update this as I find more sites. I’m aiming here at quality more than quantity. For starters, I know of only three:

 

Disturbing American (and Global) Decline in Support for Democracy

Polyarchy, a political science blog now at Vox.com, recently summarized data showing a disturbing decline in support for democracy in the United States and around the world. Younger Americans are less likely than older Americans  to say that living in a democracy is “essential.” Americans overall (but particularly those who are among the top 15% of income earners) are increasingly likely to agree that Americans would be better off with “a strong leader” instead of “elections.” Americans, and democratic citizens throughout the world, have become more likely than in the past to say that “army rule” would be a good way to run the country. Clearly, education about the advantages of democracy, and the abundant disadvantages of nondemocratic alternatives, needs to become a top priority of civic educators.

 

 

U.S. Territories and Voting Rights

Richard Gardiner, a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at Georgia State University, produced this nice map showing the seven inhabited territories over which the United States claims sovereignty around the world. Those inhabited territories are American Samoa, Guam, Midway Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Wake Islands. (The uninhabited territories, which are not depicted on this map, include Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Navassa Island, and Palmyra Atoll.)

U.S. Territories

As John Oliver recently discussed on his show, a longstanding question has been over whether or not citizens of the inhabited U.S. territories ought to have the right to vote.

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What does “Politics” mean?

I have long been fascinated (and sometimes amused) by the different definitions given by political scientists, political theorists, political leaders and other commentators of the word “politics” (or “the political”). I have decided to start compiling these definitions here. For now, they will be in no particular order, but I may eventually try to bring a little method to the madness (and maybe even take a stab at offering my own definition). And in a few cases, I will list quotes about politics and/or politicians if I think they say something relevant about the meaning of politics (or if they are too funny not to list).

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Useful Blog Post for Provoking Critical Thinking about Civil Liberties

I find Radley Balko’s blog, The Watch, to be a generally useful source of materials for discussing current events pertaining to civil liberties. The fact that his blog is highly opinionated is, in my view, an asset insofar as discussion questions encourage students to critically evaluate his perspective. But at the end of 2014, Balko offered an especially useful post entitled “Horrifying Civil Liberties Predictions for 2015.” The entire post reads, as the title would suggest, as a set of predictions for 2015, but it is actually a roundup of the stories and developments chronicled on The Watch in 2014. I would think this is a wonderful way to get students thinking about civil liberties.

 

How a Bill Becomes a Law Today (and Why Most Bills Never Do)

Vox.com, Ezra Klein’s  “explanatory journalism” venture, is off to a great start. So far, my favorite “articles” have been one called “40 Charts that Explain Money in Politics” and another entitled “Beating the Odds: Why One Bill Made it Through a Gridlocked Congress — and So Many Don’t.” Both are packed full of useful insights into the present state of our political system and policy making process. I highly recommend following the links to these articles and, for that matter, perusing the wealth of insightful content provided at Vox.com. But here I provide an example of the kinds of content they are providing. This is a video they describe as “an updated Schoolhouse Rock lesson for our polarized, dysfunctional Congress.”

Local Explanatory Journalism at its Finest

Anna Clark, at Columbia Journalism Review, reports on “an exhaustive, densely analytical, data-rich four-part series (one, two, three, four) on partisan polarization in metropolitan Milwaukee, produced this month by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.” As Clark, notes, this series presents a serious challenge to the conventional wisdom that says high quality, deeply explanatory and data-driven journalism is only possible at the national level.

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State-Law-Abiding Citizens Facing 10 Years in Prison for Violating Federal Marijuana Law

Nicole Flatow reports:

More than six months ago, the U.S. Department of Justice once again changed its position on marijuana. In the wake of Washington and Colorado laws legalizing recreational marijuana and the proliferation of medical laws, the agency that oversees federal prosecutors called on its U.S. attorneys to avert prosecution of those growers and distributors complying with state law.

U.S. Attorney General Holder also decried the impact of mandatory minimum drug sentences, and directed his prosecutors to avert them in non-violent drug cases — even cases already pending. But in a case set to go to trial next week, federal prosecutors in Washington will seek a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence against a family of individuals with medical marijuana cards who say they were growing marijuana for their own use… (read the rest at ThinkProgress)

Democratic Party Expected to Have Significant Electoral College Advantage in 2016

Political Scientist Ben Highton explains:

If the 2016 presidential vote is evenly split between the parties, which one is more likely to win the Electoral College and therefore the presidency?  I estimate that the Democrats’ chances of winning the Electoral College vote are between 83 and 89 percent, giving them a significant advantage.  This argument contrasts with those who are cautious of a Democratic advantage, such as Jonathan Bernstein and Harry Enten.  The reason I predict such a significant advantage is because of ongoing, long-term trends altering the electoral outlook in a number of key swing states… (keep reading)

Highton offer a more technical explanation of his methodology here.

Boston’s Remarkable Experiment with Youth Engagement through Participatory Budgeting

Peter Levine reports:

On Friday, I had the opportunity to observe about 50 Boston young people at work on the city’s youth Participatory Budgeting initiative. I will write the whole story for GOOD Magazine, so this is just a teaser. In essence, volunteer young people (ages 12-25) have brainstormed more than 400 projects that the city could support out of its capital budget. I watched committees of youth come together to study, refine, and screen these proposals. In June, as many youth as possible will be recruited to vote for their favorite proposals at meetings across the city. The city will then allocate $1 million of its capital budget to fund the top-scoring projects.

This is an example of Participatory Budgeting, a process that began in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 and has since spread to 1,500 locations in many countries, according to the Participatory Budgeting Project. It bears some resemblance to other processes, including the New England town meetings that began in the 1600s and still survive in some towns in our region, not to mention the 265,000 village councils of India and other participatory government mechanisms around the world. It is nevertheless an innovation. . . . (Keep Reading)

Great Resource on the U.S. Federal Budget

The National Priorities Project, which just celebrated its 30th anniversary and was nominated for the 2014 Noble Peace Prize, has earned distinction for being “the people’s guide to the federal budget.” The Project’s website is packed full of useful information and resources, but its Federal Budget 101 is the most concise yet informative guide to budget basics I have seen.

When / Why do People Choose to Contribute to Public Goods?

Are people mostly self-interested egoists who are unlikely to help achieve common goals unless somehow forced or induced to do so by government or other powerful agencies?  Although a lot of people (and the assumptions of traditional economics) suggest the answer is yes, there is reason to doubt this is so. Or, to be more precise, there is good reason to doubt it is true of all or even most people. For example, why does anyone voluntarily vote when there is essentially zero chance that doing so will promote the individual voter’s narrow self-interest? And why do people voluntarily recycle or work with others to help out a neighbor in need? At least some people seem to be motivated by a sense of social obligation or some motive(s) other than narrow egoistic self-interest.

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Does it Matter that Congress is a Millionaire’s Club? Does it Have to Be that Way?

Political scientist Nicolas Carnes answers “yes” and “no”. I highly recommend reading both posts, but here’s a taste:

[L]awmakers from different classes bring different perspectives with them: how they think, how they vote, and the kinds of bills they introduce often depend on the classes they came from. The shortage of lawmakers from the working class tilts decisions about the distribution of economic resources, protections, and burdens in favor of the more conservative policies that affluent Americans tend to prefer. Social safety net programs are stingier, business regulations are flimsier, and the tax code is more regressive because working-class Americans are all but absent from our political institutions. . . .

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Is this an Economic Reform Agenda Conservatives and Liberals can Endorse (and Millennials Should Fight for)?

Recently, Jesse A. Myerson has defended five economic reforms that he thinks fellow members of his Millennial Generation should “start fighting for, pronto, if we want to grow old in a just, fair society, rather than the economic hellhole our parents have handed us.” Myerson’s proposal is ambitious, including “Guaranteed Work for Everybody” and “Social Security for All [aka universal basic income]”. As one might expect, conservatives and libertarians have been highly critical. One fellow Millennial accused Myerson of trying to convince their generation to have “their livelihoods funded and assigned by the state,” thus completely ignoring the lesson they all were taught by “Lois Lowry’s The Giver in middle school.”

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Know Thy Political Self?

 

The website “I Side With” offers a fun and interesting way to learn which political party best represents your (current) political views. Similar to “Political Compass,” which helps you to better understand your ideological orientation, I Side With tells you the percent of issues on which you agree with five U.S. political parties: Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, and Socialists.

How well do you know your political self? How well do other Civitas readers know their political selves? Let’s find out! Take a minute to fill-out this survey and then spend about five minutes taking the I Side With quiz. After completing it, report the results of that quiz on this form. Once there are enough responses, I will post the results of the two surveys so that all can see how well, on average, Civitas users know their level of agreement with those five political parties.

[Photo is of the temple of the Delphic Oracle, upon which (of course) is inscribed “Know Thyself.”]