Friday, March 13, 2009

New Gallup Polls - Congress and Climate Change

It’s Friday, March 13, 2009. Here’s what we’re looking at:

Two new polls released by Gallup lately give interesting signs about the American electorate.

The first is Congressional approval ratings. This month, Americans gave Congress a four-year high mark. 39% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing.

Republicans were quick to point out that is was Democrats that were particularly supportive of the 111th Congress. One GOP aide told Politico

"It seems to show a widening of a partisan divide, not the post-partisan Nirvana we were promised. The increase is all from Democrats,” the aide said. “Gallup has another poll out today that shows eight out of 10 Democrats trust government more than they trust the private sector. So it’s little wonder that Democrats like this Congress — they’re making government bigger each and every day."

It is partially true. Democratic approval of Congress has surged from 17% in the beginning of the year to 57% in March. Independents, however, are also giving Congress higher marks - up from 17% in January to 34% in March.

Even Republican approval hasn’t dropped too much - down just 1% from the beginning of the year.

Pleased with these numbers, the DNC launched a new "Party of No" clock on their website. It features a picture of John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Mitch McConnell wearing “no” buttons. The goal is to pressure the Republicans into offering an alternative to President Obama’s proposed budget, or to get in line and support it.

The second Gallup poll released Wednesday found that Americans are becoming more skeptical towards the severity of global warming. 41% of Americans now believe that the seriousness of climate change is exaggerated by the news media.

Republicans and older Americans are among the most skeptical.

There is also a significant drop in the number of people who believe the effects of global warming have already began.

The “Bottom Line” according to Gallup:

Americans generally believe global warming is real. That sets the U.S. public apart from the global-warming skeptics who assembled this week in New York City to try to debunk the science behind climate change. At the same time, with only 34% of Americans saying they worry "a great deal" about the problem, most Americans do not view the issue in the same dire terms as the many prominent leaders advancing global warming as an issue.

Importantly, Gallup's annual March update on the environment shows a drop in public concern about global warming across several different measures, suggesting that the global warming message may have lost some footing with Americans over the past year.

This may have interesting implications to Government action on green technology and climate change legislation over the next year.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Who Lead Healthier Lives - Democrats or Republicans?

A recent letter to the editor of the International Journal of Epidemiology argued that Republicans lead healthier lives than Democrats.

The authors of the referred study - a doctoral student and a professor of health studies, both at Harvard University - suggested that:

"The observation that [R]epublicans enjoy better health status may reflect the core [R]epublican value of individual responsibility, which could translate into increased adherence to health-promoting behaviours."

Overall, the study controlled the factors of age, sex, race, marital status, religious service attendance, highest educational degree, and total family income (all of which have their own implications towards an individual’s health) and found Republicans were 25% less likely than Democrats to be in poor health.

In making these observations, they analyzed General Social Survey data from 1972-2006. The number one factor they found in contributing to this difference in health and political ideology was smoking. Democrats, they found, were 15% more likely to be smokers.

The study also found that Republicans might enjoy greater well-being because of a greater sense of spirituality "which may lead to health promoting social conditions such as enhanced social ties and networks."

Andrew at took issue with these findings. In a post last night he wrote:

"I think a lot more could, and should, be done here, for example using the full four-point scale for self-reported health and having a better understanding of the transition from raw comparisons to the regression model."

He also mentioned a cause-and-effect issue at hand - as people get sick and need access to health care they may find themselves aligning more with the Democrats - although he was not totally convinced of that notion himself.

So are Republicans really healthier than Democrats?

As we mentioned in our post from Tuesday, there is an interesting new database published by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) - a lobby group for the Health Insurance industry - that looks into healthiness of Americans by state and congressional districts.

So we compiled some of the data from these "Resource for Well-Being" reports and compared them to the 2008 Election Results on a state-by-state basis.

We looked at four areas along the lines of the Harvard study - Healthy Behavior, Physical Health, Emotional Health, and the overall Well-Being Index (a function of the previous three areas, as well as Life Evaluation, Work Quality, and Basic Access to health care). Here is what we found:

The general trend here seems to be that the residents of blue states tend to adhere to healthier lifestyles. The more Democratic they vote, the better they tend take care of themselves. The top 5 states in this category were 1) New Mexico; 2) Vermont; 3) Montana; 4) Hawaii; and 5) California.

Again, the general trend here appears to be better physical health for states that vote more heavily Democratic. However, the top 5 states in this category were 1) Montana; 2) Wyoming; 3) Hawaii; 4) Colorado; and 5) North Dakota - only one of which is seen as a regular “blue state”. More telling is the bottom 5 states: 46) Oklahoma; 47) Arkansas; 48) Mississippi; 49) Kentucky; and 50) West Virginia - all of which are consistently red.

In terms of emotional health, we didn’t even bother trying to put a line on the graph - it’s too scattered. It seems there is almost no correlation between emotional health and political ideology. The top 5 states in this category were 1) Hawaii; 2) Alaska; 3) Wyoming; 4) Minnesota; and 5) Montana.

What is more interesting is that, of the top 10 states here, six of them were northern Prairie / Mountain states. Hawaii - which was by far the most Democratic-supportive state in 2008 (at 72%) - was also by far the most emotionally healthy state (though probably because people tend to be happy when they live in a tropical paradise).

Finally, we found that the general trend (in terms of the Well-Being function) was that states that were more Democratic-supportive tended to have higher well-being among their residents. However, there were yet again several peculiarities. The top 5 states in this category were 1) Utah; 2) Hawaii; 3) Wyoming; 4) Colorado; and 5) Minnesota.

It is important to mention that, unlike the Harvard study, we analyzed our data on a state-by-state basis rather than at the micro level. This might have important implications. For example, in California the suburban, GOP-voting Orange County resident might be getting more exercise than the inner-city, Democratic-voting, single parent of Los Angeles.

We also did not perform a control on factors such as age, race, gender, etc. There is no question that this accounts for a lot of differences between our figures and those of the Harvard study. It would not be farfetched to say that this is a shortfall in our analyses.

For example, men are more likely to vote Republican than women, and men have a shorter life expectancy than women. African-Americans are generally more susceptible to diseases such as cancer and diabetes, they are by far the most Democratic-supportive race in the United States, and the black population is not as widespread among the states as Whites or Latinos.

However, we doubt that the Harvard study made realistic conclusions. First of all, they used a lot of outdated data. For example, it is prudent to assume that smoking has decreased significantly among Democrats since 1972, and that Republicans may very well be smoking more than Democrats these days.

While we generally find that Democrats lead healthier lives in our own simulations, the most realistic conclusion to make is that political ideology has little-to-no bearing on the well-being of an individual. A more obvious trend is healthiness by region - those living in the Western states tend to be particularly healthy while those living in the Rust Belt and Appalachia are among the unhealthiest of Americans.

That being said, finding correlations between party-affiliation and things like healthiness are very interesting, and we hope to see more studies and discussions like this in the future.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Little Hope in Sight for Virginia Republicans

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from Virginia.

On February 28th the Virginia General Assembly adjourned for the year - not to meet again until January 2010. Until then they will be fighting for their seats as state elections come in November.

As we’ve mentioned before, the House of Delegates is among the last pieces of Government still controlled by the Virginia GOP - and keeping that institution red may be difficult in 2009.

On Monday, Republican Delegate Clarke Hogan announced he would retire from the House, citing the responsibilities of owning and operating a business during tough economic times. But his decision to not seek a fifth term may be due to a sign of the times - a commonwealth quickly turning Democratic, and the possibility of having to serve in the minority.

Hogan will soon be speaking to Republicans considering a run to replace him, but from the look of things, Democrats are already eyeing the seat.

David M. Guill, a member of the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors, has filed his certificate of candidate qualification with the State Board of Elections. And House Minority Leader Del. Ward L. Armstrong, (D-Henry), said that other people expressed interest in the seat upon Hogan's unexpected announcement Sunday.

"We look to field a strong candidate and that's clearly a seat that we're interested in," Armstrong said. "That's what I would call pretty much a swing district [now]."

And Hogan is not the first, but the fourth Republican delegate to recently announce retirement.

If that’s not enough somber news for the Virginia GOP, then this surely should be - Delegate Jeff Frederick, chairman of the state party, is facing the prospect of a coup. Following a string of embarrassing stunts that put the party’s credibility at risk (or rather in disarray) a vote for his removal has been scheduled for April 4th.

Six GOP state Senators signed on to the coup yesterday, citing a blog post Frederick made on Twitter that released confidential GOP plans to turn a Democratic state Senator into a Republican.

But despite these GOP implosions, the question of whether or not Virginia is yet a “blue state” is up in the air. Two contributors to the Perpetual Post took two different stances on the question back in January.

The extent to which ideology has shifted in this traditionally-red-state is unclear. However, the Commonwealth’s GOP certainly appears to have some internal problems which are putting the party’s chances at retaining the House of Delegates at serious risk. In order to complete Virginia’s blue revolution, Democrats can only hope these problems persist.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Struggling GOP and the Healthiest Americans

It’s Tuesday, March 10, 2009. Here’s what we’re looking at:

Who is the true leader of the Republican Party? According to a new poll, more than two thirds of Americans say the GOP has no real leader.

Republicans are finding it difficult to attack Obama - especially the three dozen or so who represent districts that he won.

Finally, what Congressional Districts have the best well-being? Which ones are the happiest? Which ones have the most poverty? Which ones are the most educated? You can find out here.

Above is one example - the Congressional Districts by Work Quality.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Local Politicians to be Held to Higher Standards

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from Louisiana.

In a humorous bit of news last week, the Jefferson Parish Council unanimously approved a measure to have elected officials in the local government face drug tests.

The measure is meant to hold politicians - including the Parish President - to the same standards as parish employees, who also undergo drug testing.

According to the Times-Picayune, the American Civil Liberties Union has already compared the new policy to an “illegal search warrant,” despite the lack of opposition.

Councilman Chris Roberts - who pitched the idea - claims to have no target in mind among the eight elected officials in parish government.

It is also unclear what penalties an elected official might incur if they fail a test.

Why make such legislation at all?

It does not appear that there is any sort of widespread drug problem among Louisiana’s elected officials. Even if there were, studies show that Americans are generally becoming more accepting of illicit drug use - especially marijuana.

But socially-conservative politicians in states like Louisiana may be trying to make a point about civil liberties. The idea that your privacy is only important when you have something to hide is the idea that won last week in Jefferson Parish.

And Roberts said he had heard from state lawmakers that there could be legislation in Baton Rouge soon to make his policy change a state law.