Monday, November 10, 2008

US politics: It pays to be analytical

Washington Post:
...campaign contributions may actually play an overlooked -- and salutary -- role in politics. Kevin Esterling of the University of California at Riverside matched the size of political contributions to 203 members of Congress with how the lawmakers operated in the House. He found that money systematically flowed away from those who grandstanded before cameras and constituents, and toward "workhorses," the lawmakers who immersed themselves in the minutiae of policy.

Esterling evaluated a large number of congressional committee hearings. He coded each sentence that lawmakers spoke to see if it reflected analytical ability -- statements that probed the antecedents and consequences of policy, in contrast to statements designed to make good sound bites. Esterling quickly established a clear pattern: Lawmakers who were the most analytical at hearings received the largest campaign contributions. In turn, they were more likely to be elected.

Effectively, Esterling argued, campaign contributions increase the number of workhorses in Congress and reduce the number of "show horses."

The relationship between analytical ability and campaign contributions was significant: If all the lawmakers are put on a single line going from the least analytical to the most analytical, each jump in analytical ability -- as measured by what statisticians call a standard deviation -- resulted in about $435,000 more in campaign contributions.

In last week's elections, Esterling found that campaign contributions appeared to mediate a clear relationship between analytical ability and the odds of reelection: Both Republicans and Democrats with above-average analytical capability received significantly more in campaign contributions than their show-horse colleagues. In turn, lawmakers who were below average in analytical ability received 7 percent fewer votes on average than those who had above-average analytical skills. In the 2006 elections, reduced analytical ability lowered a lawmaker's vote share by nearly 10 percent. The same patterns held true in the 2004 elections as well.

"If you have competing arguments, the better argument tends to prevail," Esterling said, explaining why he thought it was good that campaign contributions appeared to help lawmakers with analytical minds. Thomas Jefferson "said truth prevails if you engage in give-and-take behavior."


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