Recent Faculty Publications, Awards, News, Op-Eds, etc.

Bethany Albertson: Winner of the Southern Political Science Association 2020 Erika Fairchild Award

Joe Amick, Terry Chapman, and Zach Elkins: “On Constitutionalizing a Balanced Budget,Journal of Politics

Dan Brinks (and co-authors): The Politics of Institutional Weakness in Latin America, Cambridge

Jason Brownlee: 2019-20 President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Award

John Gerring, Kyosuke Kikuta, and Daniel Weitzel (with co-authors) “Why Monarchy? The Rise and Demise of a Regime Type,Comparative Political Studies

Ken Greene: Campaign Effects and the Elusive Swing Voter in Modern Machine Politics,Comparative Political Studies

Stephanie Holmsten and Rob Moser (and co-author):  Winners of the Leon Weaver Award for the best paper in APSA’s Representation and Electoral Systems section, for their paper, “The Election of Minority Women: Ethnic Parties, Ethnic Seats, and Gender Quotas.”

Nathan Jensen and Calvin Thrall: “Elon Musk got millions in tax breaks,Washington Post

Bryan Jones: Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Bryan Jones, Michelle Whyman and Sean Theriault: awarded the 2020 Richard F. Fenno, Jr., Prize by the Legislative Studies Section of APSA for their book, The Great Broadening: How the Vast Expansion of the Policymaking Agenda Transformed American Politics

Bob Luskin (and co-authors): “Does Deliberation Increase Public-Spiritedness?” (forthcoming in Social Science Quarterly); (and co-authors): “Deliberative Distortions? Homogenization, Polarization, and Domination in Small Group Discussions” forthcoming in British Journal of Political Science

Eric McDaniel: “Why are People Dying to go to Church?Soujourners

Scarlett Neeley, who worked with Sean Theriault and Alison Craig as an undergraduated, was a semifinalist in the University Co-op George H. Mitchell Student Awards competition, for her project, “Problem Solvers or Problem Creators: The Problem Solvers’ Caucus and Polarization in the United States House of Representatives.”

Thomas Pangle: Socrates Founding Political Philosophy in Xenophon’s “Economist”, “Symposium”, and “Apology”, University of Chicago Press

David Prindle made the Alcalde‘s “Texas Ten”

Devin Stauffer: “Locke on the Limits of Human Understanding,Interpretation

Jeffrey Tulis: ongoing, in The Bulwark

Jeffrey Tulis: “The Traditional Interpretation of the Pardon Power is Wrong,The Atlantic

Jeffrey Tulis and Nicole Mellow: “The Inheritance of Loss: A Symposium on Jeffrey K. Tulis and Nicole Mellow, Legacies of Losing in American Politics,” Political Theory

Hannah Walker: Mobilized by Injustice: Criminal Justice Contact, Political Participation and Race, winner of the 2020 APSA Racial and Ethnic Politics Section Best Book Award

Kurt Weyland: “Populism’s Threat to Democracy: Comparative Lessons for the United States,Perspectives on Politics

Scott Wolford: “War and diplomacy on the world stage: Crisis bargaining before third parties,Journal of Theoretical Politics

 

 

All is Not Lost: Online Education in an Era of Social Distancing

By Patrick J. McDonald, Robert G. Moser, and Sarah Reed

The pandemic triggered by the spread of COVID-19 is rapidly changing the social, political, and economic landscape of the world.  We are just beginning to feel these consequences in higher education. Public health guidance associated with social distancing has created a nationwide push to move most instruction online.  This shift will disrupt classrooms as instructors and students adjust to a significantly different learning environment while simultaneously coping with the broader everyday anxieties posed by this pandemic.

In light of this shock, we would like to share some of our experiences—both successes and mistakes–associated with our large-scale transition to online instruction at the University of Texas at Austin.  Since the Fall of 2014, we have taught an online topics course on American Government (U.S. Foreign Policy) that meets a general education requirement. Our annual enrollment in this course across the Fall, Spring, and Summer sessions now approaches about 4,000 students.  We have offered multiple variants with individual class sizes ranging from 175 to 1900. One includes synchronous instruction that asks students to log in to our learning management system (LMS) at a common, set time to watch a video feed and interact with us. Other asynchronous versions make all instructional content available to students via an on-demand basis so they can “attend” class when it best fits their schedule.  We have successfully incorporated graded, online discussion sections of 15 to 25 students into these classes. And we have used a range of assessments including live quizzes, short writing assignments, longer essays, take home exams, live in-person exams in a common room with hundreds of students, and online exams proctored through a third-party testing service.

Benefits and challenges of online courses. While it is difficult to see a bright side to a sudden shift to online courses in the middle of an academic year, some attributes of online courses can offer real advantages. Even in classes that exceed one thousand students, attendance in our online class is surprisingly high. More than 90% of students watch recorded lectures and complete lecture quizzes on time. This participation rate substantially exceeds standard attendance rates of our large in-person courses with several hundred students. Many of us are legitimately concerned about the loss of direct personal contact in the online setting. However, online discussion sections and interactive question-answer exercises allow more widespread participation in our course, particularly by reserved students who will submit comments or questions online but not speak up in a live class. Online courses with recorded lectures also preserve course material for students that is lost in live, in-person lectures. Students that miss a class can easily recapture that content by watching the recording.  They can also control the pace of a lecture by pausing to take notes and rewatch segments they find challenging.

Despite these benefits, online instruction also creates new challenges for students. They interrupt the traditional routines of academic life. Students are accustomed to physically attending class and have a difficult time adjusting. Without the structure of in-person class meetings, students may have trouble organizing their consumption of course material online. They may not read reminders posted online or sent over email. Small things like finding the links to lecture recordings or assignments on the course website can frustrate them. Online courses require that students initiate these changes independently, requiring a greater degree of organization and self-discipline. If too much content is provided at once, students are tempted to procrastinate and binge-watch lectures prior to exams or other assignment deadlines.

Fortunately, there are ways that instructors can organize and present course material to mitigate these challenges. However, we should not underestimate the differences between online courses and in-person courses. Students will need to develop different skills and habits to succeed in online courses.

Synchronous vs. asynchronous online courses.  When moving online, instructors first need to decide between a synchronous or asynchronous offering. There are pros and cons to each.

Synchronous online courses more closely resemble live in-person courses. Students log in at a specified time and collectively watch a live broadcast of an instructor delivering content. They offer interactivity among instructors and students. Students can ask real-time questions through direct messaging or video conferencing.  Instructors can use live quizzes, discussion sections (with or without video), and polls to support student concentration and engagement.

Asynchronous online courses provide pre-recorded instructional or lecture content to students.  These recordings expand their access, effectively shifting to on-demand delivery. This generally provides greater flexibility for students, an important consideration in light of the radical changes to everyday routines.  Asynchronous courses are particularly helpful for working and non-traditional students who need to take courses outside of normal business hours. Students also do not have to worry about course scheduling problems such as choosing between two desired courses that meet at the same time with asynchronous courses. This may be important in the current crisis when many instructors are rescheduling course lectures and assignments without coordination. Recording asynchronous lectures also can be less stressful for instructors. An instructor can stop and start over if something goes wrong or simply edit out a mistake. One can also lecture for shorter intervals, take a break, and then record another segment.

This flexibility imposes some costs.  Such courses lose the coordination benefits of interacting simultaneously.  Students cannot get their questions answered in real-time. Students lose the opportunity to learn from each other through discussion.  Instructors cannot field pop quiz questions or live student polls to increase student engagement.

The choice between a synchronous or asynchronous online course involves weighing these tradeoffs. Of course, an instructor can blend the two alternatives, pushing lecture content into an asynchronous format while preserving synchronous meetings for questions and discussion. However, such combinations require clear communication that inform students of log-in times for live broadcasts and the deadlines associated with asynchronous content.

Delivery of instructional content.  The presentation of lecture content differs significantly in an online environment.  We lose most nonverbal visual cues that help us to make inferences about communication effectiveness and whether students are actually engaged.  Students are deprived of mild social pressures that help sustain concentration when inhabiting the same physical space with an attentive audience.  When watching a lecture online, a more exciting alternative is literally a click or swipe away.

These challenges, though, are not insurmountable.  Through trial and error, we implemented the following adjustments.

First, we divided up longer lectures into a series of short segments of eight to ten minutes or less, generally organized around one central question or argument.  In a synchronous environment, this means stopping repeatedly to ask for questions or the completion of a brief exercise, such as a quiz, poll, or short, written response.  In an asynchronous environment, this means a formal halt to the taping of a lecture segment, preceded by a brief conclusion or review.

Second, if lecturing to a camera on your computer, avoid long stretches where students are just watching you speak to them.  Our students report difficulties sustaining concentration in this situation. Moreover, many of us have nonverbal cues that distract students when forced to focus on a screen dominated by a single person.  Toggle back and forth to a powerpoint presentation (with pictures, definitions of key concepts, and brief explanations) if possible. Lecture in front of a whiteboard if one is available. Integrate a clip from Youtube or an interactive graphic found on the web.

Third, be aware that many of your most conscientious or diffident students will respond to having access to recording of your lectures by watching or listening to them multiple times.  Worried about missing something important, they focus on the details and can miss the forest for the trees. These anxieties can be reduced by repeating core themes over the course of a lecture and encouraging them to email questions or post them on a central discussion board.  Such anxieties also place a premium on effective communication. These students, in particular, will struggle with wandering video lectures that jump around from idea to idea.

The benefits of smooth student consumption of online, instructional contentThe costs of poor time management manifest multiple times every semester when we see sleep-deprived students sitting for an exam after trying to learn five or six weeks of content with two days of cramming.  These temptations can grow when students lack the formal check-ins provided by the in-class setting. Absent regular deadlines, some students will treat lecture content and readings like bingeing something on Netflix.  Our own internal tracking suggests such practices hurt the middle 70% of students in the grading distribution. If they binge watch online instructional content in the days leading up to an exam, their final grades are a half letter grade lower, on average, than the student who did some work for class over more regular intervals like 3 or 4 days a week.

The good news is that students will respond positively to low stakes assessments or check-ins encouraging smooth consumption of instructional content.  Preserve regular deadlines that correspond to your class schedule with small check-in assignments like a paragraph response to a discussion question or a brief online quiz through your LMS.

Online discussion sections.  When appropriately structured, the integration of synchronous, online discussion chats can be an excellent instructional device that deepens understanding through targeted questioning of students while enabling them to learn from each other.

These chats can be implemented through a simple discussion online discussion board or even a google doc or sheet.  We broke students into groups of 15 to 25 and distributed questions in advance. We graded them on a low-stakes basis (credit, half credit, or no credit).  Students were required to post their comments in complete sentences, detailing some claim or argument. We told students to imagine the structure of these conversations as resembling a party.  Even though there might be twenty people in the same room, they didn’t all have to participate in the same conversation. Instead, students were free to break up into smaller groups on their own by directing questions and responses to each other, say with an @Joe or @Jane query.  We began these discussions by posting one of the discussion questions circulated in advance and then intervened repeatedly in multiple conversation threads to get students to specify their claims or arguments in more detail.

While many students described these discussion forums as chaotic at first, they quickly adjusted after our encouragement to concentrate on the posts of a handful of students.  They reported feeling liberated by not worrying about being called on in an in-person, single conversation setting. When we “called” on them in the chat, they didn’t feel the pressure of everyone in the class looking at them while waiting for an answer.  Instead, they knew that others were simultaneously focused on their own conversations. They were more comfortable, knowing they had time to think through their responses to our queries or those from fellow students.

Clear communication and organization. With this ongoing classroom disruption, clear communication and accessibility is vital to success. Moving from a classroom to online mid-semester may heighten anxiety as students have been socialized to a specific process throughout the preceding weeks. Good communication can ease this stressful situation and provide guidance in creating a new normalcy.  Use your LMS’s announcement or email feature to let your students know about any changes to the syllabus and assignments as early as possible. Collect all these announcements in a central location. Your LMS may also let you post announcements or information on your course home page. Prompt responses to any issues or questions will set a supportive tone and provide the necessary guidance.

It is also a good practice to create a clear lesson structure in your LMS. Try to provide all instructional content–such as readings and lecture videos–in a single tab or page so students can access them easily.

The importance of starting strong. We have learned that it is vitally important for students to “start strong” in online courses. At the beginning of the course, they need to understand what is expected, know the schedule of the course, and get into a successful routine of completing assignments by their deadlines to succeed. As we already noted, online courses disrupt traditional academic routines. When taking an online course, students need to develop new routines early on so that they do not fall behind in class and get discouraged.

Instructors can help students make these adjustments by following two crucial steps. First, at the beginning of class, provide frequent reminders of upcoming deadlines so students quickly acclimate to the flow of the online course. We also recorded an introductory lecture that explained the content and schedule of the course so students could hear it from us rather than simply read the syllabus. Second, early intervention can help students who fall behind to catch up rather than fail or drop the course. Online courses are particularly well suited to help students recover from initial missteps. We use short low-stakes quizzes after each lecture segment to incentivize students to watch the lecture videos and reinforce the material. These quizzes allow instructors to identify students who do not understand the material or are simply not attending class. Check your LMS to see if it provides data on student usage, such as durations and daily distribution of page views.  These enabled us to monitor student engagement with the course. We also implemented an early intervention program that emailed students who were not watching lectures or completing assignments. These students responded very positively to these interventions, appreciated the outreach, and often managed to establish successful routines and complete the course.

The challenges of collaboration.  All instructors have to make decisions about the appropriate level of collaboration in their classrooms.  Online instruction can heighten the challenges associated with regulating collaboration, particularly during high-stakes exams.  We have typically solved these problems through the standard monitoring of in-person tests that bring students together twice or three times in a semester.  Obviously, this option is no longer available.

Asynchronous assessments that rely on multiple-choice or true/false questions can be particularly susceptible to cheating.  Some students will simply coordinate among themselves, taking turns to get the questions (and answers if provided to them) before sharing with others.  Some of these challenges can be alleviated with large question banks that most will not have time to write during this rapid transition to online instruction.

Instructors might consider the following remedies.  For smaller classes, take home essays, graded online discussion sections, and timed, short answer exams (with a large number of definitional terms or concepts that can be substituted for each other) work really well.  This semester, we will replace our remaining high-stakes, in-person exams with a series of synchronous, timed, open notes, low-stakes quizzes. We will limit the duration of the testing window and shuffle questions with a larger than normal question bank to heighten the challenges of collaborating.  This format is also aided with cheating detection software supplied by our university.

Online proctoring. You can also use a third-party proctoring service to give high-stakes exams in an online course.  They confirm the identity of students and monitor them through a computer’s camera over the course of an exam.  We encourage the consideration of several tradeoffs with this alternative. Students will be rightfully concerned about their privacy.  Many could also face hurdles associated with cost and technical requirements.   Students may not have access to the same technology at home that they did on campus.  They may lose their internet connection in the middle of an exam or try to do things like taking an exam while in a moving car! This can increase frustration for all sides and impact continuity within the class.  You may see if your university already has an online proctoring service that could be seamlessly implemented. However, we learned that staff oversight is usually necessary to act as a liaison between the student and the proctoring service.

The current crisis is a defining moment for higher education.  As a community, we have never experienced this type of disruption to our daily work and studies.  Unlike some other industries that must simply shut down during this crisis, we are being asked to continue our core academic mission using technology and a virtual learning environment.  While online education is relatively new, it has been used to provide high-quality instruction to millions of students. We can use these tools to continue to teach our students remotely.  In the process, we may learn to harness the advantages of online tools to enhance our classes even after the crisis ends.

Kurt Weyland and Raul Madrid: Liberal Democracy Stronger Thank Populism, So Far

Kurt Weyland and Raul Madrid argue in The American Interest that Trump is not the threat to America’s liberal institutions that many fear.

Weyland and Madrid conclude: “In sum, international experiences suggest that President Trump lacks important preconditions that would allow him to win overwhelming support, relentlessly concentrate power, and undermine liberal democracy. Populist leaders like Berlusconi and Orbán, Fujimori and Chávez encountered open doors and unusual opportunities. By contrast, the U.S. President faces four sets of interlocking obstacles. Firm checks and balances limit his power. The unreliable backing of his own party prevents him from overriding these institutional and political constraints. Ideological polarization and the absence of an acute crisis restrict his mass support. For these reasons, he cannot make an end run, grab power, and weaken checks and balances, as Fujimori and Chávez did by convoking government-controlled constituent assemblies. By international comparison, President Trump confronts an unfavorable environment for establishing populist hegemony.”

Nate Jensen: NYT and Monkey Cage

On the heels of his new publication, Incentives to Pander, Nate Jensen published an op-ed in The New York Times, and a co-authored Monkey Cage post.

From the Times: “There is a role for government in economic development. State and local governments can help businesses without access to finance survive and expand, provide worker training that is valuable to residents and companies, and invest in traditional education from pre-K to college. There are certainly worthy investments that can be made. But $7 million for Carrier, $3 billion for Foxconn and billions for Amazon is just using the public coffers for political theater.”

There are 4 big barriers to the populist model in America (and your democracy is safe)

Kurt Weyland authored a piece for Monkey Cage, arguing that Trump’s populism is not capable of upending America’s liberal democracy.

He writes, “Good governance and an independent press have long offered a foundation for U.S. democracy. Therefore, Trump’s actions leave many observers concerned. But my research on the broader international experience with populism, especially in Latin America, suggests these worries may be unfounded. Here’s why: Trump faces four important obstacles to gaining the widespread support he would need to upend liberal democracy in the United States.”

Read the full article here.

And mark your calendar for the Sept. 22 conference, “Trump’s Populism: Lessons from Latin America and Europe.”

Bahrain Defence Force: The Monarchy’s Second-to-Last Line of Defense

The Bahrain Defence Force: The Monarchy’s Second-to-Last Line of Defense
by Zoltan Barany

Bahrain is a key ally of the United States that provides key naval and air facilities for U.S. forces, and is the location of the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet. It is also a troubled country, with deep divisions between its ruling Sunni elite and Shi’ite majority, and one troubled by Iranian interference and ties to some elements in its Shi’ite population.

Read the full text at CSIS or as PDF.

Zoltan Barany: Armed Forces and Democratization in Myanmar

Armed Forces and Democratization in Myanmar: Why the U.S. Military Should Engage the Tatmadaw
by Zoltan Barany

Even after the November 2015 landslide electoral victory of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy the armed forces of Myanmar (Burma) continue to be the country’s most powerful political institution. This is hardly surprising. The Burmese military—also known as the Tatmadaw—has been the most influential political player since the country’s independence from Britain in 1948, and outright ruled it from 1962 to 2011.

Read the full text PDF.

Jason Brownlee: Turkey Shakes up Democratic Theory

Jason Brownlee’s Monkey Cage post discusses how Turkey’s authoritarian descent shakes up democratic theory.

Brownlee writes, “Wealthy democracies don’t become dictatorships. For a generation that adage has provided one of the firmest laws of modern democratization … Turkey’s experience suggests that the economic forces that previously bolstered democracy appear to be weakening, perhaps dramatically. The causes of this shift — and whether it can be offset by stronger opposition parties and tighter constraints on executive power — remain to be determined.”

Terry Chapman: Greece and the Politics of Lending

Terry Chapman on the LSE Blog: Greece illustrates how the politics of lending can undermine its effectiveness

Conclusion: “Our study indicates that the politics of lending can sometimes undermine its effectiveness, and this helps to explain why success is so elusive in important cases. In the Greek case, it will be difficult to rebuild the confidence of a market shaken by several failed attempts at stabilisation, and it will probably require another round of debt relief.”

Melodrama, but little mystery, in Texas election results

Run by Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project, the department hosted a post-election roundtable November 7, featuring Henson, professor Daron Shaw, Richard Murray from the University of Houston, and Mark Jones from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

election-roundtable

Henson and Josh Blank, the Texas Politics Project manager of polling and research, wrote the following analysis in the wake of the election:

The inevitable post-election finger-pointing among Democrats and chest-thumping among Republicans is unlikely to subside anytime soon given the margins of the GOP’s victories in Texas last week.

Amid all the noise, a deceptively simple central question underlies the results: Was the Republicans’ boat in Texas floated higher by the national tide that swamped Democrats almost everywhere else in the country, or was there something particular to Texas — partisan change, a particularly strong GOP campaign and/or candidates, an especially disastrous Democratic effort — that produced such large wins for Texas Republicans, and such favorable margins among important sub-groups?

A fair-eyed look at the numbers — set apart from the fault-finding and crowing of campaign advisers and consultants — suggests that 2014 was defined by relatively modest Republican success at increasing turnout coupled with Democratic failures that, while notable, don’t portend any large-scale shift in the underlying bases of Democratic support. While campaigns mattered, of course, Texas Democrats outperforming their 2010 effort would have been a far bigger surprise than their eventual 20-point losses — especially in light of Democratic troubles this year in places far more favorable to them than Texas, like Colorado, Virginia and even Massachusetts.

Low turnout combined with an electoral environment that favored Republicans defined the election in Texas, as it did most everywhere else. Turnout decreased across the state by about 4 points from 2010, according to early reports. A broad explanation for the Democrats’ decline in fortunes is based on the well-founded observation that low-turnout electorates tend to favor GOP candidates because of the unevenness with which different groups within the Democratic and Republican coalitions vote. Simply put, a decrease in turnout is likely to be concentrated in the Democratic Party, especially among the groups most likely to vote Democratic: young people, minorities and unmarried women. Another common structural observation is also based on years of political science research: Midterm elections always favor the party that doesn’t hold the presidency, and the sixth year of a president’s tenure is roundly known to be bad for his party.

Most post-game analyses of the 2014 Texas elections have understandably focused on the drubbing suffered by the Democrats and the GOP’s relative success among women and Hispanic voters. To recap, according to exit polling, Republican Greg Abbott won 54 percent of the female vote while Democrat Wendy Davis won 55 percent of the Hispanic vote. The female vote margin remained essentially unchanged from 2010, but the change in the Hispanic vote seems to represent a major backslide for Texas Democrats, who won that group by 23 points four years ago (compared with 9 points this year).

Texas Democrats’ poor performance is reflected in the numbers no matter how you slice them, and to such a broad extent that it’s fair to consider the extent to which Texas Democrats added some mass of their own to the gravity that pulled Democrats down nationwide. Democrats increased their 2010 vote count in only 14 of Texas’ 254 counties, and eight of those were counties where fewer than 11,000 votes were cast. (In Travis County, of their lone bright spots, Democrats increased their vote total by about 26,000 votes.) Compared with 2010, when Rick Perry beat Bill White, Democrats this year lost 1,080 votes per county on average and 274,000 votes overall. Most notably, they lost 76,000 votes in Harris County, 12,000 in Dallas and 3,000 in Bexar (their top three vote-getting counties in 2010). The number of Democratic voters in the counties with the top 10 vote counts in 2010 fell by an average of about 5,700 votes, meaning that on a percentage basis, the raw vote count in these counties was just on the negative side of stagnant. They also failed to increase their vote count in any of the top 10 counties that saw the most Hispanic growth between 2010 and 2014. Not exactly the stuff “destiny” is made of.

But what of the triumphalist accounts of the Republican victory? Looking at the same measures, Republicans saw an average increase in vote count in their top 10 counties of about 3.5 percent, or 1,882 votes per county. Their results were also dragged down by dismal turnout in Harris County, where the Republican vote count decreased by over 30,000. But their vote count increased noticeably in Republican strongholds like Tarrant (9 percent), Collin (15 percent) and Denton (11 percent) counties. More broadly, the GOP saw modest (206 votes on average) though widespread (149 counties) gains across all counties, picking up roughly 54,000 votes more than their 2010 totals. This added up to a good night for a hegemonic party with all the advantages, but still suggests that much of the work was done by plummeting Democratic turnout.

Falling turnout also provides context for the ongoing discussion about where Hispanic voters landed. To begin with, for all the drama surrounding whether Abbott would win more than 40 percent of the Hispanic vote, Republicans’ improved performance among the demographic — 38 percent voted for Perry in 2010, while 44 percent voted for Abbott — shouldn’t elicit too much surprise. Much of the pre-election polling suggested that the Hispanic share of the likely voter pool was not breaking strongly toward the Democrats. But any decisive reading of the result should be tempered by the large margin of error associated with the exit polling of subgroups, particularly Hispanics.

The vote count also encourages tempering any interpretation of these results as a decisive shift in the party allegiance of Hispanics. Of the top 10 counties with the most Hispanic growth between 2000 and 2010, Democrats lost roughly 10,000 votes from their 2010 haul — but Republicans also lost roughly 4,000. These numbers are more indicative of continued low Hispanic turnout than of any significant shift in partisan preferences among Hispanics, including one toward Republicans. The ambiguity of these results certainly agree with a large body of polling data suggesting that the attitudes of Hispanics as a group often put them between the two parties, depending on the issue set, rather than squarely in one camp.

The GOP’s 20-point victory margins on Nov. 4 are not the stuff of heroic epics (“how the Republicans triumphed!”) or of high tragedy (“oh, woeful be the intertwined fates of Battleground Texas and Wendy Davis!”). In fact, they’re not even mystery material. Republican candidates entered this election season with significant and deeply rooted advantages in partisanship, organization and resources, which they ably and predictably exploited. Democratic efforts to overcome these advantages faced long odds from the outset, and were likely hindered by strategies informed by an excess of optimism in the face of a grim national environment and grimmer fundamentals within the state.

All of this was relatively predictable — much less so, as it turns out, than the impact of these election results on the looming legislative session.

Jason Brownlee on Withdrawal of Troops from Iraq

Jason Brownlee argues that the duration of US troop presence following military intervention is relatively insignificant to ultimate outcomes of US operations. Brownlee’s point: outcomes following intervention are chiefly a function of local power and politics, things US troops have historically been limited in their ability to influence.

Read the Monkey Cage Blog Post: http://wapo.st/1sCa533

Weyland Podcast On Latin America’s Authoritarian Drift

Listen to Kurt Weyland, on the Journal of Deomcracy’s podcast, discuss his article on Latin America’s populist left and the drift toward authoritarianism:

http://www.journalofdemocracy.org/sites/default/files/media/JODPodcast-Kurt-Weyland.mp3

Read the article: http://www.journalofdemocracy.org/article/latin-america%E2%80%99s-authoritarian-drift-threat-populist-left

Zach Elkins: Rewrite the Second Amendment

Associate Professor Zach Elkins published an op-ed in today’s New York Times: Rewrite the Second Amendment.

Elkins argues that the constitution should be amended to replace the current ambiguity of the Second Amendment with something concrete that simultaneously safeguards gun ownership rights and public safety.

Elkins writes: “Opinion polls suggest that a majority recognize a right to bear arms, subject to reasonable regulations protecting public safety. This strong dual commitment, if clarified and entrenched in our Constitution, could reassure most, though not all, of us … Zealots will scoff, but many reasonable people would find reassurance in a revised Second Amendment that was properly balanced. Those who propose responsible limits, like background checks, would welcome constitutional support for common-sense safeguards. Those who worry about the slippery slope of encroachments on gun rights would find comfort in an explicit reassertion and reinforcement of the general right to bear arms.”