IAmA Presidential Elections Expert at the Brookings Institution. Polls open in less than 24 hours! Ask me questions about the presidential election/campaign and its implications. Then GO VOTE!
My name is John Hudak, and IAmA presidential elections expert. Currently, I am a Fellow at the Brookings Institution. My research focuses on the executive branch, presidential power, elections, and Congress. I have a B.A. in political science and economics from the University of Connecticut (go Huskies!), and I hold a M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from Vanderbilt University. Tomorrow, between 160 and 170 million Americans will head to the polls and elect a president. I know there are a lot of questions on this topic, and I am excited to answer them. I'll start at Noon (Eastern time).
ID Confirmation here: https://twitter.com/JohnJHudak/status/265463534270423043/photo/1/large
THANKS EVERYONE FOR A GREAT DISCUSSION. WITH OVER 500 QUESTIONS/COMMENTS I COULDN'T GET TO ALL OF THEM. I HOPE THIS WAS AS FUN FOR YOU AS IT WAS FOR ME. NOW BACK TO WRITING AND BEING A TALKING HEAD FOR ME!
GO VOTE!!! AND IN THE MEAN TIME ALL OF BROOKINGS PERSPECTIVES AND REACTIONS WILL BE ON OUR MAIN ELECTION 2012 PAGE http://www.brookings.edu/research/topics/2012-us-presidential-election
Voter ID laws--specifically photo ID laws-- are being enacted in many states throughout the US. the basis for this is to prevent voter fraud. An admirable undertaking as voter fraud can undermine a democracy and has in many nations in the world. The challenge however for this movement is that there is little evidence of in-person voter fraud in the US. If it does occur it more likely occurs through absentee balloting. As a result, the proposed solution does not well-reflect the realities of the problem. What's more, and I dont know how I feel about this from an ethical perspective, but I pose it to you. If photo ID laws stop 100 cases of voter fraud, but also stop 1,000 legal and valid voters from voting, is it worth it? That is a question no one ever poses, but I think its a critical one to ask and for people to give thought to.
I think you did a good job being neutral, which I appreciate. Thank you!
I agree. The neutrality was much appreciated. This is a very divisive and emotional issue. Presenting it fairly is always a challenge!
Even your thank you's are neutral. I believe a stern look of approval is in order.
HA! My last response was thanking the OP for neutrality in his/her question, not patting myself on the back.
What are the odds that the Electoral College is dissolved or removed as an actual mechanism during an election?
Or, if the Electoral College stays, are there any plans for more states to portion their electoral votes rather than have an all-or-nothing system like many have now?
The odds of the Electoral College being dissolved is essentially zero. It is incredibly difficult to amend the US Constitution. The founders made it purposefully so to ensure stability in the institutions of government and the rights provided to individuals and to states, therein.
All the Founders' interests are great, but this is actually a political issue. From time to time, parties build up electoral college firewalls whereby they are able to lock large portions of the electoral college. The Republicans managed this post-1980 and but for Mr. Perot, would have likely continued it well into the 1990s. Republicans (and Republican states would have never done away with it). Now, as demographics change, Democrats are in a very good position in many traditionally red states (VA, NC, etc.) and are moving toward making other states (AZ, and maybe eventually TX) competitive as well. Now they will not want to do away with it. Because it takes a supermajority to amend the constitution, there is likely always a sufficient number of states who enjoy the position the Electoral College puts them in (party control, swing state status, etc.) so as not to allow amendment.
More to this point, being in a swing state has benefits. There is work from Boris Shor at the University of Chicago, and my own work that suggests that swing states receive disproportionate amounts of federal funding. In addition, a recent piece I have on the Brookings website with Brian M. Faughnan notes that uses of executive power can benefit swing states. (see here: http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2012/11/02-us-colombia-election-hudak ) Why would swing states want to give that up? I wouldn't
How do you feel about the methodology used at FiveThirtyEight blog? They've got the total chances of an Obama win at over 86%, and show states that everyone says are tossups, like Virginia and Pennsylvania, as relatively sure Obama wins. Is that way off, or is it more correct than what the conventional perception is?
As someone trained in statistical analysis and methodology, I think Nate Silver's blog does a very good job. Is it perfect? Of course not. Is any statistical analysis? Absolutely not. That is why statistics offer "estimates" with ranges of precision. That said, Nate takes a common sense approach to building a model that includes key forces that both affect voting and illustrate voting to create probabilities (estimates with ranges of precision) about outcomes. The critique in pointoflaw makes decent arguments, but dramatically overstates poll biases. However, as much as Nate is painted as a dark liberal destined to reelect the president, the market forces will paint his future. If he supplies good product, demand will be there. If he is dramatically off, no one will buy his product (including the NYT). That said, I buy Nate's product as someone who understands statistical analysis. It's honest and done well.
In your opinion, is this race as close as most people believe it is?
The race is not as close as media are claiming. Justzisguyuknow has it about right. A horserace draws attention and media outlets need that. That said, they're not lying at all. The national polls are tight. The problem is the US President doesn't face a national election. He faces a series of 50 state-level elections that are aggregated. Those polls are not "close" in the sense that the president is ahead in more than enough states to gather 270 electoral voters. However, he is not ahead but overwhelming margins. The movement of 3% of voters in 5-7 states, changes the election dramatically. So, in sum, it's not "nearly tied" but it's not a landslide either.
For the love of God why (WHY?) dont the e-voting machines print out a simple hard copy receipt?
one copy for the voter, another for gov. this allows computer tabulations to be checked against real hand counts.
so simple, so common sense.
ATM;s have them...why not vote machines?
This, too, is a complicated issue that draws many reactions. The paper copy makes some people more comfortable because there is a "paper trail" of voting. Others are bothered because of fear that the "paper trail" can lead back to the voter. In reality, if some sinister force wanted to trace voting to voters, they could likely come up with machine programs that affect electronic voting. That said, I think this is all a fuss for nothing. When I lived in TN I voted on electronic machines with no paper trail. It never bothered me. I feel very confident in the honesty of the machines used and I think most people should as well.
Is it really a waste of a vote to vote 3rd party? I look at it more like getting a message across about what I want in a candidate. What is your opinion on this topic? I hope you get the chance to answer this, it's an ongoing debate between everyone I know. Thank you!
It is tough to justify a vote for a 3rd party candidate because they will absolutely not win. That said, some political scientists find it hard to justify voting at all given the likelihood that your vote will matter. That said, on the off chance it will matter--a state that pushes a candidate over the 270 mark is decided by one vote--it will surely be for a Democrat or a Republican (sorry, Governor Johnson). But the nature of our electoral system is such.
My question is not related to politics.
How do you keep your beard so neat and tidy? Do you use a professional service or do it yourself?
This I like, and it is a critical question that our Democracy depends heavily on. Beard hygeine and how to do it well. I absolutely have a barber do it. A combination of minor OCD, a non-steady hand, and a wife who puts immense demands on my beard looking just right ensures that I do not dare leave this important task up to an amateur such as myself. BARBERS 2012!!!
He uses a product called "Manliness"
Also, yes, manliness is a critical component.
Lately I've been hearing people say "If I can do my taxes online, I can vote online". Do you think we will ever get to the point where people can vote as easily (ease is a very relative word here) as they can do their taxes online?
How do you feel about electronic voting, given the fact that digital information is pretty easy to change/corrupt/hack?
Do you believe "old school" methods of voting are more effective in stopping possible voter fraud?
Bonus existential question:
I've heard some pundits say that "high turnout is a good thing". But is more voter participation really a good thing? Argument: There's a certain threshold to voting in regards to motivation, if we make voting too easy (going with the online voting idea), wouldn't it mean that we have a bunch of really, really uninformed people with little election experience also throwing their votes in now? (That probably wouldn't have voted in the first place and didn't in the past)
Would it be better to have a smaller informed electorate than a large easily swayed one? I feel like one of the downfalls of mass democracy is you have a bunch of people who spend very little time following politics making the decision of which politicians to elect.
I'll bite at the bonus existential question. High turnout is a good thing is surely a judgment of some--or maybe many. But it's not a good thing for Republicans. Typically the people who do not vote are more likely to voter Democrat. They tend to be younger, often people of color, have lower levels of education and income. These groups trend moderately or strongly Democratic. So if you're a Democrat--particularly in many swing states you want a ton of turnout. If you're a Republican, you probably don't. I say that as a political calculus not the parties positions on democratic spirit.
How great is that intern who made pumpkin pie?
IT WAS AMAZING!!! Intern trolling.
Is it really worth it to go vote in a state that is neither a swing state or same party as yourself? Or even worth it to vote republican in a republican state
You're right that a single vote is very unlikely to change the outcome of an election. That is certain. This is particularly true in larger electorates. Presidential, US Senate, Gubernatorial, US House, State Supreme Court Justice, etc. However, because Romney will win North Dakota, doesn't mean North Dakotans (D or R) shouldn't vote. You have a really competitive Senate race there and no one knows that outcome. In California--a State O will win for sure--there are controversial and competitive House races and ballot initiatives. There is almost always something competitive to vote on.
If you could improve one thing about the entire voting system what would that be?
I would definitely work to expand early voting opportunities nationwide and to expand the number of days people have. It does benefit Democrats, and as a result, there would likely be much opposition. However, having lived in a state with no early voting (CT, VA) and one with fairly generous early voting (TN), I have to say, have the additional opportunities are ideal.
Media is a part of my job and I have several TV spots tomorrow. Fitting voting in is a challenge. But that's a weak excuse. However, for a mother or father working three jobs to feed their children and provide for them, its a much bigger challenge.
What would you think about a system (like Australia's) that makes voting mandatory?
I'm not a fan of mandatory voting. It's a choice people make, and I say let it continue. Is 60% turnout ideal? Maybe not. But if someone doesn't want to vote, I say let them do it. I guess I'm Voting Pro-Choice.
To me it seems that the whole concept of campaigning is anti-democratic. I understand that historically it was the only way to reach the voters, but now it looks like an anachronistic circus. Coming to people and telling them "Vote for me" or posting signs saying: "vote for <name>" seems wrong. Nobody should tell a citizen for whom to vote. Just giving the facts about the candidates and demanding that people perform their civil duty and educate themselves and then vote is about as much campaigning as appears to be compatible with real democracy.
Is there any movement to curb what seems to be an extremely costly voter manipulation?
Campaigning involves the spread of ideas and policies to the electorate. A lack of campaigning leaves voters up to their own devices to get info. In an age where absolutely anything appears on the Internet, that could be a disaster. While campaign ads can stretch the truth or be a bit far afield, typically when they are severly out of bounds there is a media reaction to it that further informs the public.
I think campaigning is a really strong component of our Democracy. My colleague, Darrell West has written recently about the most important campaign ads in this election cycle. Ads can be important for a variety of ways, and Darrell has a neat take. (see here: http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2012/11/01-romney-campaign-ads-west and here: http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2012/11/01-obama-campaign-ads-west ) In the end, they give us information abotu an important decision--and thats critical.
What would you say is the best source for me, as a non-US citizen (Living in Denmark) to view the election? I'm really interested in it, but I feel like it's hard to find an unbiased source.
Also, who are you voting for and why?
polychromie is right, I am not going to discuss who I will vote for. That, for me is a personal matter, and I take pride in that decision. That said, the Brookings Institution is a non-partisan policy organization. That does not mean we do not have Republicans and Democrats and Independents, we have people with strong political beliefs. But we are scientists. My political views don't inform my research or my analysis of politics. You could see the readings on my Brookings page and see I criticize the President and Gov. Romney, and give kudos to both when they're due. Because that's my job.
If you want the most non-biased free and available source for coverage, try cspan.org.
I've heard a lot of people talking about an electoral college tie. What would that mean for Americans, and what would it mean for American politics? Some are saying that we could end up with a Romney-Biden administration. I'm more concerned about what it would mean for the future of American electoral politics. What's your view on the mess?
If there is an Electoral College tie (though the likelihood of that is very very slim) it may be the only impetus that could challenge the Electoral College. That is, that could be the only result that motivates a good chance at constitutional amendement. (though i still doubt it's likely). The way it works is if there is a 269-269 electoral college tie. The new Congress, sworn in in Jan., would select the president and VP. The president would be selected by the US House with each state casting a single voter. Because the GOP will keep the Hosue and a majority of states, Romney will become president. The US Senate selects the VP, with each Senator receiving a vote. Here Dems will keep the Senate and almost certainly select Biden. Ironically, if it's a tie, Biden--the sitting VP--breaks the tie. And I doubt he likes Paul Ryan enough to vote for him. This would mean little for policy. It would simply mean the VP would be relegated to a ceremonial role, much like he was before the 1970s. Romney would still be in strong command of government--though with a very divided Congress.
Yes, the House and Senate respectively are bound by the ballots. The House must select from Presidential candidate. The Senate must select from Vice Presidential Candidates. My reading of the Constitution also means that only individuals who had received electoral votes are eligible for consideration in the House and Senate. However, that provision is a bit more vague (i.e., could a state delegation in the House cast ballots for Gary Johnson if he received no electoral votes). Of course, it is certainly moot, as the House would vote for D or R because they are all D or R.
I always hear from both sides. Well Kerry would of won Ohio if it had not been for voter fraud, or McCain got screwed by voting laws in Florida. Is there any real truth to rumors like these?
you guys are missng the point these are just 2 i commonly hear. Also i have never seen proof of voter fraud in ohio in 2004, or flordia for mccain.
Salacious (nice name, btw) is right. McCain would have lost anyways even if he won Florida....and Ohio and New Hampshire and Iowa and Nevada and Wisconsin....he lost pretty badly. The voting laws in Florida didn't hurt McCain--or anyone. A combination of anti-incumbent fervor, a tremendous economic collapse, a poorly run campaign, a VP choice who became a liability, and sycophantic support for the Democratic nominee hurt McCain.
Similarly, there were some challenges for sure for voting in Ohio. Some precincts that were predominantly black (thus, very pro-Dem) had very long lines to vote and had other challenges as well. That said, President Bush won Ohio by over 200,000 (if memory serves me)--I doubt these irregularities caused this. I think Sen. Kerry's behavior after his loss adds to that claim.
How much and what kind of voter disenfranchisement do we face in America? Is it direct or indirect?
And of course: who do you think will win?
Photo ID laws can disenfranchise people who do not have photo IDs or easy access to them. This is true of Democratic voters in urban areas and Republican voters in very rural areas. The difficult in this election was that when laws were passed to institute photo IDs they were implemented close to an election and came with limited information campaigns about how best to get photo IDs. This left a bad taste in people's mouths and reaked of purposeful disenfranchisement. A colleague of mine, Bill Galston wrote about this in The New Republic (http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2012/08/03--obama-voter-election-galston )
I argue that if there is something sinister in the race it is less photo ID laws and more efforts to limit early voting. Many states, particularly Ohio and Florida tried or did limit the number of days that voters could early vote in those states. I am unsure the democratic or constitutional argument behind this. Photo ID laws are meant to prevent fraud. I am unsure how restricting voting opportunities assists or preserves democracy. That is the biggest worry right now. Because Republican elected officials have spearheaded this and early voting tends to benefit Democratic voters, it appears overly political.
Hi John, my question is, What are the implications on the US-China relationship with each candidate? Thanks for doing this AMA!
I focus more on domestic policy and elections itself. But some of my colleagues here at Brookings do work very on point. Richard Bush wrote a piece "US-China relations under a Romney Presidency which is a great read! http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2012/10/22-romney-china-bush
What was your thesis for your PhD? I'm not really familiar with what a polisci PhD entails as far as research
The thesis is usually a book length project investigating one or a few original questions about your area of expertise. My dissertation was entitled "The Politics of Federal Grants: Presidential Influence over the Distribution of Federal Funds." It asks whether presidents use their administrative powers to direct federal funds to key constituencies (swing states) at key times (in the lead up to elections)? The short answer is a big YES.
Who do you think will win the election?
It is hard to see President Obama losing. He is performing very well in a host of swing states. Romney is trailing in a sufficient number of states to see him coming up far short of 270. Even if he has success in states like FL and NC and even VA, he still has a bit to go. Is the outcome certain? No. Is Obama looking as good on this election-eve as last time? No. But if I had to guess which campaign is feeling more confident, my guess is Chicago is a much happier place than Boston today.
Why has the voting system not been streamlined to only include swing states for presidential electons?
All jokes aside. Does a vote in a swing state "worth" more?
A vote in a swing state is not worth more. The only way people have really calculated the value of the vote is based on the ratio of turnout to electoral votes. States with low turnout still have the same number of electoral votes regardless so the power of the electoral vote per ballot cast is higher in a state with low turnout. Alternatively in terms a vote value being "likely to change the election," the likelihood of one vote changing it is VERY small. While it is higher in swing states, it is still the tiniest of fractions.
This is a neat point for Obama's cabinet. Several people will be leaving. But what has been remarkable has been the stability of Obama's cabinet. There has been little turnover. We've had the same Sec of State, Treatury, Atty General, Homeland Sec, Education, Labor, HHS, HUD, VA....These people are tired and ready to move on. Except hefty turnover. Most secretaries don't last this long. They surely won't last much longer.
What's going to happen to the NY and NJ voters who can't make it to polling places? How will the affect the popular vote if the Electoral College is a tie?
The situation in NY and NJ and even CT is a challenge. Govs and election officials are doing everythign they can to preserve the vote and guarantee people's access to polls. In a disaster that is a huge challenge. I am certain turnout will be depressed in these states. Even if Govs Christie, Cuomo, and Malloy set up the infrastructure to ensure everyone can vote, I think people would rather do all of the other things they need to do, before they will vote. That said because all three of those states are leanign strongly Democratic, it is tough to see it affecting the Electoral College.
It could hurt Senate races--particularly in CT, where the Murphy-McMahon race is very comeptitive.
How accurate do you feel the polls truly are at this point? Do you believe this election will be as close as they say it is?
Polls are everyone's friend and everyone's enemy depending on what they say about your candidate. If they say Obama is up, Republicans say they polls are biased. If they Romney is up, Democrats say they are underrepresenting voting demographics. In reality polling is highly scientific and while theyre imperfect they often reflect the preferences of voters. I have strong support for polling as I have friends who run or help run polls. For instance John Geer and Joshua Clinton conduct the Vanderbilt poll. A former colleague of mine, Jason Husser conducts the Elon poll. I have nothing but the highest respect for their work and ethics and I have faith they are telling us what the voters are telling them.
That said, when national polls come out in consecutive days and one says Obama is up 5 and the other says Romney is up 5, it is harder to heap praise on to. I suggest becoming acquainted with how Likely Voter screens/models are calculated to understand better how polls can diverge. (Too much to type here).
We've heard a lot about voter ID laws and voter fraud. Is it really a problem, and if so: what are the best, fairest ways to address it?
I'm trying to phrase this in a neutral way because I hope this AMA doesn't turn into a partisan bitchfest.
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