If you can "vote with your feet," can you vote with your key strokes? Sebastien Wiertz, Flickr CC.
If you can “vote with your feet,” can you vote with your key strokes? Sebastien Wiertz, Flickr CC.

Originally posted on Jan. 19, 2016

In every election cycle, news stories tout the potential of online activism to engage people who have historically been less engaged in offline politics – particularly young people, women, and people with less education and income. Could this be true? If so, there would be new possibilities for enlarging American democracy – in an age when one in three eligible U.S. adults skips voting in presidential elections and two thirds of potential voters fail to show up in midterm elections.

But what if online activism mainly offers ways for citizens who are regularly politically active offline to amplify their already loud voices? In that case, online political opportunities would largely reinforce existing political inequalities.

Using national data on Americans who engage in various types of online and offline political participation, our research examines the evidence about these competing “new mobilization” and “reinforcement” perspectives on the impact of online activism. more...

Shoppers at North Bonneville, WA's "Cannabis Corner," a municipally-owned retail marijuana shop. Image via TheCannabisCorner.org.
Shoppers at North Bonneville, WA’s “Cannabis Corner,” a municipally-owned retail marijuana shop. Image via TheCannabisCorner.org.

Originally posted on April 25, 2016. 

Don Stevens is the mayor of North Bonneville, Washington, a town of about 1,000 people on the banks of the Columbia River near the Oregon border. Using authority granted by a state statute, Stevens established a retail marijuana outlet owned and operated by the town. He wears a shirt that says “Reefer Madness is not a documentary,” and his business cards list his job title as “The Marijuana Mayor.” Stevens thinks North Bonneville’s outlet is the only one of its kind in the country, but that is likely to be only temporarily true. North Bonneville’s initiative is part of a broader movement to legalize marijuana, regulate its distribution, and reap benefits for governments.

The Spread of Marijuana Legalization

As of January 2016, the states of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska had authorized the sale and consumption of social marijuana. Twenty-three other states permitted use of marijuana for medical purposes. Governments benefit, not just by reducing crime but also from new revenues. According to the Washington Post, Colorado expected revenues of over a billion dollars in 2016. The realities of economic competition suggest that legal marijuana eventually will become as commonplace as alcohol.

Legalization also makes sense as good public policy. In his 2016 state of the state speech, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin proposed to allow the sale and possession of small amounts of marijuana. He acknowledged that drug addiction was a threat to Vermont’s social fabric and blamed pharmaceuticals such as OxyContin “which lit the match that ignited America’s opiate and heroin addiction crisis.” But Shumlin argued that marijuana falls into a different category and “should be authorized and regulated by the state.” He asked lawmakers to cooperate with him to develop legislation “that thoughtfully and carefully eliminates the era of prohibition that is currently failing us so miserably.”

Outright prohibition fails because demand for marijuana distorts the economics of legal production. A January 2016 report from the Associated Press described the exportation of marijuana from Colorado to other states, noting the various creative methods used in this distribution, such as “the one in which authorities say 32 people used skydiving planes and posed as licensed medical marijuana caregivers and small business owners to export tens of thousands of pounds of pot grown in Denver warehouses, usually to Minnesota.” This operation made more than $12 million in four years according to criminal indictment, because profits follow the trail of illegality. As Governor Shumlin argues, legalization will reduce the economic incentives for marijuana smuggling. more...

I Voted Photo courtesy Letta Page
Photo courtesy Letta Page.

A Scholars Strategy Network Scholar Spotlight. Originally posted on November 3, 2014

In a democracy, the equal right to vote should be sacrosanct, but across the country many states are throwing up new obstacles to voting.

SSN experts probe why this is happening – and explain how constructive reforms could enlarge voter participation and insure the integrity of U.S. elections

In 2013, in Shelby v. Holder, a divided Supreme Court invalidated a section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that had required states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to seek federal approval before making changes to their voting rules. Given a free hand, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina and other states jumped to pass new rules that have the effect of making it harder for many minority and low-income citizens to vote. The impact will be felt immediately in those states, but the issue matters to Americans everywhere. As Yale University’s Marcus Anthony Hunter explained in the Washington Post on Martin Luther King Day, “Voter Suppression is a Threat to All.”


Fraud by individual voters in the modern United States is vanishingly rare, so the claim that new voter restrictions are necessary to combat such fraud does not hold water. Yet just because an idea is demonstrably false does not mean that it cannot powerfully shape public policy. New SSN briefs unravel what is really going on.

The Misleading Myth of Voter Fraud in American Elections
Lorraine C. Minnite, Rutgers University-Camden

A review of thousands of prosecutors’ records and media reports shows that the average American is more likely to be hit by lightning than to commit individual fraud at the polls.

Convincing Evidence that States Aim to Suppress Minority Voting 
Keith Gunnar Bentele and Erin O’Brien, University of Massachusetts Boston 

New voter restrictions are most likely in Republican-controlled states where growing groups of African American and Latino voters are turning out to vote in increasing numbers. more...

Photo by Sarah Goslee, Flickr CC https://flic.kr/p/drck21
Photo by Sarah Goslee, Flickr CC

Originally published on March 28, 2016.

Strict voter identification laws are proliferating all around the country. In 2006, only one U.S. state required identification to vote on Election Day. By now, 11 states have this requirement, and 34 states with more than half the nation’s population have some version of voter identification rules. With many states considering stricter laws and the courts actively evaluating the merits of voter identification requirements in a series of landmark cases, the actual consequences of these laws need to be pinned down. Do they distort election outcomes? more...

Posters in Washington D.C display a popular photo of Hillary Clinton texting while she served as Secretary of State

Originally posted on Oct. 14, 2015

Nearly 175 women ran for House and Senate seats in the 2014 congressional elections, and enough of them won to push women’s ranks to a record high of 104 members in Congress. More women are running for U.S. political offices then at any other time in history, but they remain underrepresented at all levels. Women hold only a fifth of seats in Congress, a quarter of state legislative posts, and six out of fifty gubernatorial seats – and of course no woman has as yet been nominated for the presidency by a major party. Female candidates face many obstacles – including lack of support from party gatekeepers. My research focuses on the role of gender stereotypes as a potential source of bias among voters. more...

Bill O'Reilly of Fox News is among the most influential of outrage mongers. Photo via FutureAtlas.com
Bill O’Reilly of Fox News is among the most influential of outrage mongers. Photo via FutureAtlas.com

Originally posted in December 2015

Pundits regularly bemoan “incivility” in American politics, but the coarseness of political discourse has moved far beyond mere incivility, generally understood as showing lack of respect. The acrimony and intensity of much political speech and behavior today is best understood as outrage talk – political speech that uses theatrical rhetorical tactics such as ad hominem attacks, slippery slope argumentation, belittling, and mockery in an effort to provoke emotional responses from the audience such as anger, fear, and moral indignation.


Photo by Andrea Barisani via Flickr.com
Photo by Andrea Barisani via Flickr.com

In the early morning hours on June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen killed dozens of patrons in a horrific mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Mateen was a U.S.-born citizen of immigrant parents from Afghanistan, and during the attack he pledged allegiance to the international terrorist group Islamic State. The reaction of Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump was to reiterate his previously declared concerns about Muslims entering the United States.

Not only did Trump promise to suspend immigration from parts of the world tied to terrorism against the United States, he also charged that Muslim Americans were complicit, maintaining, “They know what is going on. They know that he was bad. They knew the people in San Bernardino were bad. But you know what, they didn’t turn them in and we had death and destruction.” Trump continued, “people who know what was going on, they knew exactly, but they used the excuse of racial profiling for not reporting it. Which was probably an excuse given to them by their lawyer so they don’t get in trouble.” A few days later, he called for increased surveillance of American mosques, saying, “We have to maybe check, respectfully, the mosques and we have to check other places because this is a problem that, if we don’t solve it, it’s going to eat our country alive.”

Trump’s remarks were criticized for lumping together all Muslims, immigrants and citizens, mainstream and radicalized. In its coverage of the speech, the New York Times wrote, “he was wagering that voters are stirred more by their fears of Islamic terrorism than any concerns they may have about his flouting traditions of tolerance and respect for religious diversity.” Observers wonder whether Trump is making an effective bet about Americans’ views. Many elected Republicans have distanced themselves from their candidate’s remarks, but what about the American public overall? As a political scientist who studies public opinion about policies related to the nation’s changing ethnic composition, I have given careful thought to this issue. more...

Image from Mark Rain via Flickr Creative Commons
Image from Mark Rain via Flickr Creative Commons

One of the most important cases the Supreme Court reviewed this year was United States v. Texas, which ruled on challenges to two Obama administration initiatives – Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents and an expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – that would have affected up to five million people. In November 2014, President Obama announced Executive Actions that included additional temporary protections for immigrants who arrived as children (also referred to as “DREAMERS”) and a new program for parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. The programs would allow them to remain in the country and apply for work permits if they have been here for at least five years and have not committed felonies or repeated misdemeanors. These actions have been on hold since early 2015, when a district court issued a preliminary injunction in response to a challenge brought by Republican authorities in Texas and ultimately joined by 25 other states. The actual focus of the case was quite mundane: Texas argued that it would suffer significant financial damages if required to subsidize the cost of driver’s licenses to those qualifying for the s new programs. However, the larger context was an unwillingness to allow the President to enact policy change following years of blocked and failed efforts at immigration reform at other governmental levels.

The Supreme Court was unable to reach a decision in June. The case resulted in a 4-4 tie, an unusual but not unexpected result given the current makeup of the court following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia and reflecting the politically divisive nature of the case. This means that the decisions of the lower courts remain in place and the two initiatives are blocked, for now. more...

St. Agnes Medical Center, Fresno, CA. Photo by David Prasad, Flickr CC.
St. Agnes Medical Center, Fresno, CA. Photo by David Prasad, Flickr CC.

Catholic hospitals are a large and growing part of the U.S. health care system. Considerable public funding flows to these institutions, but they deny many reproductive health services and some kinds of end of life care to their patients. Catholic rules limit care in far-reaching ways, well beyond what many patients and health care providers understand or expect. These realities raise important issues about the future of religious restrictions in U.S. health care.

Restricted Care in a Growing Sector

Between 2001 and 2011, the number of Catholic hospitals increased by 16%, while public and secular not-for-profit hospitals decreased. One in six patients in the United States is cared for in a Catholic hospital, and in 2015, seven of the country’s 12 largest nonprofit hospital systems were Catholic. Although Catholic hospitals provide the same amount of charity care as non-Catholic hospitals, in terms of the percent of total revenues, they provide less care to Medicaid recipients than other kinds of hospitals.

Like other hospitals, Catholic institutions receive considerable public funding, yet they limit patient care to fit the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services written by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. As a condition of employment or medical privileges, doctors, nurses, and other clinical personnel are required to follow these directives when caring for patients in Catholic facilities. more...

Photo by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr
Photo by Fibonacci Blue via Flickr

Originally published in June 2013.

Immigration – and public policies to manage it – arouses strong emotions and fierce social and political battles, not just in the United States but in most other countries across the world. Why is this true? Each nation has its own issues that inspire or enrage, of course, but there are widespread, underlying patterns that can be identified and taken into consideration by reformers.

Reformers trying to facilitate immigration are often locked in battles with groups that want to place limits on international migration. Combatants start from very different world views – not only emphasizing different values but almost speaking different languages. To avoid destructive backlashes, reformers must understand and respect the values and perspectives of all groups involved in public debates, as we can see from a closer look at the United States. more...