Sunday, July 15, 2012

Political Arithmetic - Voter ID laws

Update: Link fixed

Last week I put up a post slamming an infographic on fair market rent between states.  I was interested in the AVIs response, which end with "These are advocacy numbers.  Not the same as actual reality."

Advocacy and other political skewings of data are one of those things that shouldn't bother me, but do.  

I read headlines, knowing that I'm going to be driven nuts but the presumptions and projections, and yet I read things anyway.  It's a bad habit.

All that being said, I truly enjoyed Nate Silver's examination of the real effect voter ID laws might have on voter turnout in various states. 

He attempts to cut through all the partisan hoopla and to do a one person point-counterpoint.  An example:
But some implied that Democratic-leaning voting groups, especially African-Americans and Hispanics, were more likely to be affected. Others found that educational attainment was the key variable in predicting whom these laws might disenfranchise, with race being of secondary importance. If that’s true, some white voters without college degrees could also be affected, and they tend to vote Republican.
He also makes a fascinating point about the cult of statistical significance:
Statistical significance, however, is a funny concept. It has mostly to do with the volume of data that you have, and the sampling error that this introduces. Effects that may be of little practical significance can be statistically significant if you have tons and tons of data. Conversely, findings that have some substantive, real-world impact may not be deemed statistically significant, if the data is sparse or noisy.
On the whole, he concludes it will swing in the Republican direction for this election, but reminds everyone:
One last thing to consider: although I do think these laws will have some detrimental effect on Democratic turnout, it is unlikely to be as large as some Democrats fear or as some news media reports imply — and they can also serve as a rallying point for the party bases. So although the direct effects of these laws are likely negative for Democrats, it wouldn’t take that much in terms of increased base voter engagement — and increased voter conscientiousness about their registration status — to mitigate them. 
The whole article is long but a great read about how to assess policy changes if you're trying to get to the truth, rather than just prove a political point.


  1. Here is an excerpt from good article on the effect of Voter ID law in Georgia.

    The overall turnout in Georgia increased 6.7 percentage points from the 2004 election -- the second highest increase in turnout of any state in the country. According to the JCPES, the black share of the statewide vote increased in Georgia from 25% in the 2004 election, when the photo ID law was not in effect, to 30% in the 2008 election, when the photo ID law was in effect.

    By contrast, the Democratic turnout in the neighboring state of Mississippi -- which has no voter ID requirement but also has a large black population similar to Georgia's -- increased by only 2.35 percentage points.

    Makes you wonder why the Democrats are so goshdarned against Voter ID- except when it is to come to hear AG Holder speak.

    1. To me the most surreal part has been hearing a whole lot of Dems assert "we should make sure this is really a problem before we pass a law about it". Oh, is that the standard now?

  2. Link repair needed: The link to "Nate Silver's examination on the effect of voter turnout..." goes to your July 9 post on fair market rent.