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Off Topic blog

Stop procrastinating and get back to work!

The U.S. presidents song and the Utah governors song

So, if you’ve got time to kill over the weekend, you could always memorize the order of the U.S. presidents to the tune of “Yankee Doodle.” After that, if you’ve still got time to kill, you could memorize the order of Utah’s governors to the tune of “Come, Come ye Saints.” Just a thought.

BYU students, it’s time to vote!

Voting is like smoking. Once you start, it’s hard to quit. Voting is habit-forming .But unlike smoking, voting is good for you. Every citizen has not only the right to vote but the responsibility to do it intelligently.

Too often, university students think they somehow have a pass from voting while they’re in college. That belief is not only false but unfortunate. During your college years, you ought to be learning how blessed you are to live in a peaceful, prosperous nation. You enjoy more rights than most people in the history of the world have, but those rights are meaningless if you neglect them.

People have fought and died for the right to vote. I’m not asking you to fight or die. I’m asking you to find half an hour, read the voter guide , and go cast your ballot. If any of the ballot issues or candidacies confuse you, come by and I’ll try to help you figure out what’s going on.

And if you want more motivation to go vote, here’s more you can read.

Orrin Hatch is scared

Is it really a coincidence that Hatch’s first-ever email newsletter came out three days after Bennett’s defeat?

Last week, Utah’s Republican delegates denied Senator Bob Bennett the Republican nomination despite efforts over the past several months to move hard to the right . Utah’s other senator, Orrin Hatch, claimed that this upset did not scare him ; he’s confident that he’ll do fine when he’s up for reelection in two years.

I don’t believe him.

Today, I received Senator Hatch’s first-ever email newsletter to constituents in my mailbox. I’m not sure how I ended up on his mailing list. I sure didn’t give him my email address. But if you look at the contents of his newsletter, you can see that he’s trying hard to shore up his conservative credentials. The screenshot (click to enlarge) below shows only part of the newsletter, but it’s filled with references to Tea Party favorites like Glenn Beck, Greta Van Susteren, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and so on.

Is it really a coincidence that Hatch’s first-ever email newsletter came out three days after Bennett’s defeat?

Orrin Hatch spam

Orrin Hatch's spam

Students need to vote

If more BYU students actively participated in Provo politics, their living situation would improve immeasurably.

A reporter for the BYU Daily Universe emailed me with several questions about student participation in Provo politics. I don’t know whether any of this will make it into his article, but here are my answers about student political involvement (or the lack of it) with some minor edits.

1. Student turnout was fairly abysmal in the 2009 municipal elections, with fewer than 10 people turning out in some student-heavy precincts south of campus. Why do you believe students simply don’t turn out to vote in local elections?

Students tend to stay home from local elections for one of three reasons. First, local elections don’t attract high turnout from any voter group; in a sense, low student turnout in 2009 reflected a broader disengagement with the city elections. Second, many out-of-state students decide not to register in Utah so that they can pay in-state tuition for graduate school or law school when they return to their home states after BYU.

Third, and most depressing, many students stay home because they do not feel that they are an important part of Provo’s community. Provo is a college town, and students are its lifeblood. Provo city policies directly affect the quality of housing, parking, and entertainment options available to students.

If more BYU students actively participated in Provo politics, their living situation would improve immeasurably. Some students do understand their importance to Provo but would rather endure their four years as a student than invest time in making Provo more attentive to student needs. That’s a shame.

2. Is there any feasible way student turnout could be increased? Is it realistically possible? What would it take?

Any effort to boost student turnout needs to keep in mind the constraints listed above: Mobilizing any group (student or not) is hard, out-of-state students might be smart not to register in Utah, and students might prefer to endure Provo’s treatment of students than work to make them better.

These are significant obstacles. Still, there are certainly ways of getting students to participate. The first step would be to target voter registration drives toward students. If students are not registered, they will never vote. Many people interested in boosting student turnout focus on educating and motivating students, but that approach puts the cart before the horse. Unless students are first registered, they will not vote.

If any group wants to mobilize students, they should bring voter registration cards to students, wait while students fill them out, then submit the card on the student’s behalf. The next step is to educate students about the candidates and, especially, remind the students where and when to vote.

3. What role do you think an organization like the Student-Provo City Alliance, a non-profit that aims to get students involved with local government, can play in mobilizing students and increasing turnout? From your point of view, do you believe an organization like the SPCA has the ability to make a pronounced difference?

Student organizations, including the Student-Provo City Alliance as well as campus clubs like the College Republicans and College Democrats, can and should get students involved with local government. Research shows that political participation is deeply habit forming. If student organizations can get BYU students voting now, then those students will be more likely to continue voting throughout their lives. The LDS church urges its members to participate actively in politics ; we do our fellow students a huge favor by getting them involved now.

4. In your personal opinion, do you believe students should become involved in Provo (and Utah) politics and government, even if they’re not from here? Do you believe it would be worthwhile? Why or why not?

Regardless of whether students plan to make Provo their permanent home, they should participate in local politics. Some out-of-state students will refrain from registering in Provo to avoid forfeiting in-state tuition in graduate school later on, and that’s wise. But that’s a small minority. Most students have no excuse not to participate in local politics. Participation in the political process is both a civic and a religious duty.

What March Madness tells us about voter turnout

Much of the “paradox” of voter turnout is overlooking a simple point: Most folks who bother to vote do so because they like voting

Ask a political scientist whether it is rational to vote. Go on, do it. If they’re honest about what most research says, they’ll say “no.” That’s because most research on turnout is weird.

For 53 years, political scientists have had trouble explaining turnout. First Downs (1957) , then Riker and Ordeshook (1968) argued that if voting entails any costs at all, then voting is not rational. Consider:

  • What’s the benefit of voting? Well, how (un)happy would you be having a Democratic president instead of a Republican? If your vote determines whether the president is a Democrat or a Republican, then the benefit of voting is your difference in happiness.
  • The problem: Your vote does not determine the outcome. The probability that your vote will determine whether you get a Republican or Democratic president is basically zero. Thus, the benefits of voting are basically zero.
  • So if voting has any costs at all, then you shouldn’t vote. And voting does have costs: It takes time to learn about the candidates, time to go to the polling place, time to fill out your ballot, etc.

Since 1957, political scientists have wasted barrels of ink trying to resolve this “paradox” of turnout.1 But really, this is a weird line of research. Suppose we used the same sort of logic to explain why people cheer for their favorite sports team. If doing so entails any costs, then March Madness is, indeed, madness. Read More »

A scout is loyal? Incivility starts at home.

I held up the picture of Obama. The scouts reacted as though Medusa herself stood before them.

Boy Scouts are supposed to love their country, not hate it. So when I visited a group of 11-year-old scouts recently, I was more than a little surprised to find the opposite.

As one of their requirements, scouts are supposed to discuss their “rights and duties as a citizen” with a community leader or teacher. Since I’m a political science professor, I apparently fit the bill. I was invited in to have this chat with a dozen or so 11-year-olds–who, as it turns out, already have a surprising ability to hate. Read More »

State legislator database

Some state legislators have law degrees; others didn’t finish high school. Some are in their 20s; others have a foot in the grave.

Over 7,000 Americans serve as state legislators. Some state legislators have law degrees; others didn’t finish high school. Some are in their 20s; others have a foot in the grave.

The largest state legislative chamber is New Hampshire’s House of Representatives. Its 399 representatives represent an average of only 3,298 constituents. The smallest chambers have only 20 or 21 members–although California’s Senate, with 40 members, has the largest districts. Each of California’s 40 senators represents 918,917 people.

Ever wanted to know how educated (or not) typical state legislators are? Ever wanted to know how many women serve in government? Ever wanted to know how old state lawmakers are?

Behold: The state legislator database. Enjoy.

What do General Authorities Read?

Aggregating across all 9 conference sessions being analyzed here, the Articles of Faith is definitely the most cited book.

Here’s a post that won’t appeal much to non-LDS readers. But for the Mormons out there…

The Bible’s a big book, so Christians have their work cut out them. My copy is 1,590 pages long. (Of course, it would be much shorter if it didn’t also have a bunch of footnotes.)

But Latter-day Saints (Mormons) also treat the Book of Mormon (531 pages), the Doctrine and Covenants (294 pages), and the Pearl of Great Price (61 pages) as scriptural. That’s a lot to read. Some Mormons try to read them all, some focus on a small chunk, some give up and don’t bother.

Lately I got to wondering: Of all these books to choose from, what do the church’s general authorities read? It occurred to me today that there was an easy way to find out.

The answer is below the jump… Read More »