Friday, December 21, 2012

Learn 2 R

I've been using R regularly, for W-NOMINATE and for other things. It's a free, open source programming language created to perform statistical analyses, and it's very popular in some academic circles.

I never got a good introduction to it, though, so I'm excited to see that Coursera is offering a course, Computing for Data Analysis, which is all about using R. I will definitely be taking this, and I recommend it to anyone else who does statistical analyses on a regular basis.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Data is online

I procrastinated a bit, but the W-NOMINATE data for the NH House from 1999 - 2012 is now online at Google Drive, if anyone wants to look through it. I just uploaded the entire file straight from my computer, so it also contains helpful notes that I kept for myself, the programs I wrote to make the process more manageable, and some other things.

Next on the agenda-

1) DW-NOMINATE, a program that allows direct comparisons between legislative sessions. I finally found the program online, but I'm having trouble using it. I'll have to email Keith Poole about it.

2) Party influence comparisons.
Seth Masket's fantastic book No Middle Ground, which inspired my NOMINATE project, includes graphs comparing legislators' ideological positions with the liberalness (or conservative-ness) of their districts. The idea is to see who legislators represent -- their party or their district?

I made a similar graph in 2011 using New Hampshire LDI's, though I didn't post it at the time.

You would expect to see a straight diagonal line if legislators were perfectly representing their districts. If they were perfectly representing their parties instead, you would see two horizontal lines, one for each party. In this graph, it looks like they might be representing their districts more than their parties, though it's hard to tell. They don't seem to be representing anyone very accurately.

It would be nice to compare this through the years, but it'll take some work to get the data.

3) Senate NOMINATE scores. I have the data, so I will get the older state senate W-NOMINATE scores sooner or later.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Will filibuster reform help working families?

Liz Iacobucci at The New Hampshire Labor News argues that it will:
Progress Massachusetts looked closely at Scott Brown’s voting record and came up with 40 bills that would have passed the Senate – if they hadn’t been killed by a Republican filibuster.  The list includes: 
  • Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 (the original financial regulatory reform bill);
  • Creating American Jobs and Ending Offshoring Act;
  • Emergency Senior Citizens Relief Act of 2010;
  • American Jobs Act of 2011;
  • Rebuild America Jobs Act;
  • Middle Class Tax Cut Act of 2011; and
  • The Buffett Rule (a 30% effective tax rate on income exceeding $1 million).
All of those bills would have passed the Senate – if they had ever gotten to the floor for a vote.

If you've ever studied game theory, though, that conclusion seems a lot less persuasive. Republicans are almost certain to change their legislative strategy in response to the new rules. The outcome in this scenario is impossible to predict without more information.

Sarah Binder at The Monkey Cage puts it this way:
It’s tough to turn on a new rule and  calculate the effects that are likely to follow because it’s hard to know how senators will react.  A new rules regime—particularly one curtailing the right of extended debate under Rule 22—could encourage senators to aggressively avail themselves of every procedural avenue in the Senate rule book for obstructing the Senate.  For instance, the minority could become less likely to agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed, preventing the majority from calling up bills high on its agenda.  Or senators could become more aggressive in the demands they make on a leader as a condition for signing onto consent agreements.   Both scenarios suggest that filibuster reforms could bring  unintended consequences.

If labor sympathizers want to help working families, they'll have to do it the old-fashioned way – by swaying public opinion and helping to elect more liberal politicians.

14 years of the New Hampshire House (in W-NOMINATE)

This is based on data taken from the General Court website, which only provides the most recent party affiliation of each legislator, so some legislators in earlier years may have incorrect party labels.

Watch as the middle slowly erodes. Independent and hybrid representatives are disappearing, too, another sign that party activists are gradually exerting more control over elections.

Friday, November 23, 2012

New Hampshire is "Pulling Apart"

According to a new study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, though we're doing better than most other states.

This is the best I could do with their .pdf flier (you can find the original at the link):

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The moderates of 1999

I'm working through older voting data right now, from 1999 to 2010. Over the past week I've been laboriously scraping that data from the General Court website.

Right off the bat, the results are striking. This is the House of Representatives in 1999:

There are so many moderates! There's supposed to be a gaping void in the middle!

So the hypothesis that the House is growing more polarized? Mark that one down as "confirmed".

Friday, November 9, 2012

Who votes for marijuana reform? And some predictions

Since this is a bit wonk-ish, I decided to put my predictions up front. The explanation (and some cool graphs) are below.

This is what I expect to see from the House of Representatives in the next two years on marijuana issues:

81% of votes in support of medical marijuana
54% of votes in support of marijuana decrim
32% of votes in support of marijuana legalization

According to this, decriminalization has a better than even chance of passing the house. I don't know what the margin of error is on these, so I can't say exactly how high the odds are, but higher than 50%, at least. (I'm sure my newly elected state representative -- drug warrior Delmar Burridge, from Keene -- will be upset about that!)

Legalization garnered much less support than decriminalization, and likely won't pass this session. But it's nearly a certainty that New Hampshire will have medical marijuana within the next two years, since Maggie Hassan has vowed not to veto it.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The New Hampshire Advantage: Nearly killed by Democrats?

So argues Jason Sorens at the Pileus blog:
The 2009-10 legislature, also under unified Democratic control, went on a spending and tax-hiking binge. They did this even as states like North and South Dakota were already strengthening market-friendly policies in many areas. As a result, New Hampshire will no longer be the freest state in the country — not by a long shot. ...

In the mean time, Alabama, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Tennessee have all passed New Hampshire for lower taxes.
Wait a second. I wonder why that would be. Sorens had just quoted himself saying "Under unified Democratic control in 2007-8, the state saw a respectable increase in freedom. A smoking ban was enacted, but so were same-sex civil unions. Taxes, spending, and fiscal decentralization remain over a standard deviation better than average, and government debt actually went down slightly." Why the sudden about face from Democrats?

It just so happens that I was creating this graph for another project. I think it provides a clue:

Do you notice anything weird in 2009? A sudden dip caused by a financial crisis, maybe?

Given that New Hampshire was being hit by the biggest recession since the 1930's, it's understandable that legislators would increase spending (to offset a temporary increase in poverty) and raise taxes (to offset a temporary decrease in the tax base). "[S]pending and tax-hiking binge" is not the best description of those years.

But what about the other states? Didn't Alabama, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Tennessee all have to deal with that as well?

Actually, not so much. Here's a helpful video of unemployment rates around the U.S.:

If you watch carefully, you can see that Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota were all less affected by the recession than New Hampshire.

So those "market-friendly policies" Sorens mentions in North and South Dakota? It all boils down to luck of the draw due to regional economic differences. They have more farms than we do, and thus don't suffer as much in financial recessions.

What about Oklahoma, Alabama and Tennessee? Alabama and Oklahoma seem to have an experience similar to New Hampshire's. Tennessee's experience looks worse. According to Sorens, Tennessee "seriously approached" New Hampshire already, so it would have taken little to push them ahead. For all we know this is random variation– regression to the mean, if you're familiar with the concept. Or perhaps Tea Party-style legislators were pushing both states in more low-tax directions. Or there could be an entirely different explanation. I don't know enough about those states to say.

In any case, the facts don't suggest the kind of orchestrated attack on economic freedom that Jason Sorens describes.

Update: A friend from Alabama tells me that the state government has resorted to spending it's trust fund, which is supposed to lower interest rates for government borrowing by guaranteeing state debts.