Saturday, March 16, 2013

On Libertarians and Tea Party supporters

A colleague at ACC and I have been conversing via a departmental Google+ site about the Tea Party and the positions of its members on social issues. We agree that Tea Party members are economic conservatives and that economic issues are most important to them; however, we disagree on whether Tea Party supporters are conservative on social issues (my position) or that many of them are liberal on social issues (and thus libertarians), which is his position. I am familiar with Abramowitz’s argument that Tea Party supporters are conservative on both economic and social issues and a similar finding by the Pew Center study, which states that “In addition to adopting a conservative approach to the economy, Tea Party supporters also tend to take socially conservative positions on abortion and same-sex marriage.”

My colleague did not provide the basis for his belief, but I subsequently found the following sources, which support his position. David Kirby and Emily Ekins wrote a report for the Cato Institute that claims that one-half of Tea Party supporters are libertarians. Emily Ekins had made a similar claim in an earlier working paper.  David Kirby had also collaborated with David Boaz on a Cato Policy Analysis that considered the voting behavior of libertarians. The Boaz and Kirby policy analysis also provides the framework for their typology of ideologies, which is from Maddox and Lilie’s Beyond Liberal and Conservative: Reassessing the Political Spectrum (1984), which greatly influenced my ideas about ideologies in the United States.

So, do these studies actually substantiate their claim that one-half of Tea Party supporters are libertarian ideologically (that is, economically conservative but socially liberal)? By their measure of what constitutes a libertarian, they come close to substantiating their claim. But the rub is that their measure of libertarianism is very lax. In fact, I would contend that because of their methodology, their results are flawed. Here’s what I mean. By definition, an ideology involves a set of consistent and interrelated attitudes on a particular public policy dimension. Thus, any measure of ideology should include several questions on a particular dimension of public policy. Maddox and Lilie, for example, used three questions relating to government’s economic role and three questions relating to government’s social role to determine a person’s ideology. In most of the surveys that Kirby and Ekins use, they consider only one question relating to the social role of government. How can consistency be demonstrated using only one question? Second, that one question is whether government has a role in promoting moral values or not. This question is highly abstract. In only one survey do they use a specific question about a social issue, and the so-called “liberal” response on same-sex relationships is whether civil unions—not marriage—should be permitted for same-sex couples. In American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, Putnam and Campbell note that two issues are most important to the Religious Right: abortion and same-sex marriage. These issues with whether one supports same-sex marriage and a women’s right to choose an abortion should have been used to determine whether there is a 50/50 split between libertarians and conservatives among Tea Party supporters. I contend that the so-called libertarians in the Tea Party are not really “liberal” on social issues; they are, by the most generous standards, somewhat less conservative on the social issues. Thus, they are not truly libertarian.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

On the Texas Republican "Nanny State"

Texas Republicans are known for their support of individualism and the idea that the government should not meddle in one’s personal affairs. However, a recent bill authored by Republican House members Jodie Laubenberg, Jeff Leach, Cindy Burkett, and Greg Bonnen and co-authored by Republican House members Dan Flynn, Larry Phillips, Kenneth Schaefer, and James White demonstrates two characteristics of Texas Republicans that infuriate me: (1) their disregard for science, and (2) their willingness to use government to invade the most personal of personal space.

The bill is HB 2364, which prohibits abortion at or after 20 weeks post-fertilization. Here is the first section of the bill and constitutes the justification for the act:

SECTION 1.  (a) This Act may be cited as the Preborn Pain Act.
(b)  The legislature finds that:
(1)  substantial medical evidence recognizes that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by not later than 20 weeks after fertilization;
(2)  the state has a compelling state interest in protecting the lives of unborn children from the stage at which substantial medical evidence indicates that these children are capable of feeling pain; and
(3)  the compelling state interest in protecting the lives of unborn children from the stage at which substantial medical evidence indicates that an unborn child is capable of feeling pain is intended to be separate from and independent of the compelling state interest in protecting the lives of unborn children from the stage of viability, and neither state interest is intended to replace the other.

This demonstrates the Republican Party’s disregard for science. Is the “medical evidence” clear that a fetus experiences pain by not later than 20 weeks after fertilization? Apparently, in an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2005, the authors indicated that a fetus perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester. The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) issued a rebuttal to the JAMA article. An article in Slate indicates that there are three legitimate concerns raised by NRLC about the JAMA article: (1) two of the researchers did not disclose potential conflicts of interest; (2) the article offers “no new laboratory research;” and (3) it consistently errs on the side of doubting pain. Information provided by Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), a research group at the University of California (San Francisco), states: “Based on the best available scientific evidence, a human fetus probably does not have the functional capacity to experience pain until the 29th week of pregnancy at the earliest.” It also provides additional sources here. From all of these sources, I would contend that research on fetal pain does not constitute “substantial medical evidence that an unborn child is capable of experiencing pain by not later than 20 weeks after fertilization,” as the bill proclaims. Furthermore, although I can understand a desire to make a woman who is contemplating an abortion aware of the possibility that her fetus may feel pain, there does not seem to be sufficient evidence of the existence of pain to support a policy of prohibiting a woman from having an abortion. And that’s what the bill does.

HB 2364 prohibits a woman who is 20 weeks or more after fertilization from having an abortion, except where the continuation of the pregnancy would endanger the life of the pregnant woman. This is my second objection. What happened to the Republican Party’s desire to limit government’s role, especially in the areas of one’s life that are personal? Doesn’t this make the Republican Party the real proponent of the “nanny state,” where the government is going against what a person, his or her family, and a trained physician thinks is in the person’s best interest? I would definitely say that it does. The decision to have an abortion is difficult enough and is rarely made after the 20th week. Only 1.4 percent of abortions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, occur at 21 weeks or beyond. Furthermore, a woman seeking an abortion later in her pregnancy often does so because of a life-threatening medical condition or a fetal abnormality of which she has become aware only recently. Should the government force a woman to carry an abnormal fetus to term or is that a decision that she, her family, her doctor, and others in whom she has confidence should make? I think that the answer is clear. The situation I just described is not far-fetched. In this Mother Jones article, Kate Sheppard describes the following incident:

"So far, only Nebraska's fetal-pain law, which passed in 2010, has taken effect. The others are expected to be implemented next year. But already women have been affected. Thirty-four-year-old Danielle Deaver of Grand Island*, Nebraska, told The Des Moines Register the painful tale of how, at 22 weeks, her water broke prematurely. The fetus, she and her husband learned, wouldn't be able to develop lungs and would die at birth. But because of Nebraska's new law, Deaver's doctor would not perform an abortion. Instead, she had to wait to give birth, then watch for 15 agonizing minutes as her underdeveloped baby slowly slipped away—an experience Deaver described as 'torture.'"

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Recent Texas Party ID Figures

The February UT/Texas Tribune poll contains new party identification results for Texas registered voters. There isn't really much difference, but as I've stated before, one wouldn't expect much difference, given the nature of party identification. Here's the chart:

Republicans (SR & WR) are 35 percent of registered voters, and Democrats (SD & WD) are 32 percent of registered voters. Independents (including leaners) are 34 percent of registered voters. In party identification, registered voters in Texas are very similar to the way they were in 1990.