Thursday, April 15, 2010

On tonight's election debate

Britain will be hosting it's first ever televised leaders' debate this evening. It should be great, if for no other reason than that British politics prizes the parry and thrust so much more than our own. 

As for the debate, I point to this old post and repost the abstract of a paper by Blais and Perella on the effects of debates. 

Almost an entire generation of election survey data was pooled together from the United States and Canada to assess the systemic effects of televised debates. Four questions were posed: (1) Is there a general tendency for evaluations of candidates to improve or deteriorate after a debate? (2) Do evaluations of one candidate negatively correlate with changes in evaluations of opponents? (3) Do debates disadvantage incumbents? (4) Do debates advantage less popular candidates? Using "feeling thermometer" items to measure voter evaluations, four patterns are revealed. First, candidates generally gain points.The supposed mudslinging that characterizes a debate appears not to feed into any notion of cynicism. Instead, voters appear to gain an appreciation for the debaters. Second, a candidate's gain is not earned at the expense of those deemed to have "lost" the match. Third, a debate does not disadvantage an incumbent. A candidate with a record to defend stands about as much chance of benefiting from a debate as a challenger.And fourth, any evaluation gaps before a debate become narrower following a debate. This final effect, which is particularly true of American presidential debates, may reflect a debate's ability to raise awareness of less popular candidates.

Why private members business matters

This morning, Ron Bruinooge is holding a press conference about some private members bill he is introducing in regards to what he calls 'coerced abortion.' I'll say nothing on the merits of the bill, other than that Coyne's Contradiction must be noted here.*

That is an aside. The main point is that Bruinooge is introducing a private members bill, which he will no doubt use to raise funds for his next election. Opponents of restrictions on abortion will similarly trumpet this. The media will ask whether Bruinooge has any chance with this bill. The truth is, he does. He sits 79th on the list of consideration. This means 78 members get a crack at introducing bills which will be debated and will actually have a chance at passage. (It's a rather good chance, actually, and nothing like popular account suggest). So, he has some wait before his time. But, as it happens, we're now at that moment. Only James Rajotte sits ahead of Bruinooge on the list. So, this is going to come up for debate, it will be voted on for second reading, and will then possibly be referred to committee. If it makes it through committee, it will be voted on again by the entire house.

This is also a time for me to highlight the importance of this legislation generally. Private members business matters for at least three reasons:

First, it demonstrates that party discipline is not as strict as we like to think. Members regularly introduce legislation which their party leadership would rather they not.

Second, private members business matters for reelection, at least for government members. I have a paper with Koop and Fowler (recently rejected from a top science journal, if you need to know), that shows that the right to propose legislation is worth about 2.5 percentage points to members of the governing party. Ask Rahim Jaffer if he'd take that 2.5 points now!

Third, government members routinely use private members legislation to propose bills of national interest, and to push forward preferred policies. Kelly Blidook has shown, in a rather convincing fashion, that this matters for policy outputs. In a short, overly chatty piece, Koop and I extend this line of thinking.

In short, private members business gives representatives a small sliver of time in which to be legislators. It tells us about their preferences, and it allows them to lobby for the wishes of their constituents. This is what politics are about. Members should be praised when they make the most of these opportunities.

*Coyne's Contradiction goes something like this: we have no law in Canada on abortion, despite the fact that we heavily regulate almost every other aspect of health care. Some will say there is no need for a law, because there is a consensus. If there is a consensus, this should be easily put into law in the Commons. Some of those same people will then say that this cannot be debated in the Commons, because it is too contentious. If it is contentious, there is likely no consensus. If there is no consensus, then how else do we deal with this? Well, it is the stuff of politics and it should be dealt with by our politicians. I note that politicians have shown sufficient courage to deal with other issues of fundamental rights in the Commons, with same sex marriage being but the latest example.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Dear Sports Writers

I think it's pretty obvious to everyone that the new Nike ad isn't actually Tiger's father speaking to him. He's been dead four years. Move on.