Religion and presidential elections

Library of Congress

Source: Library of Congress

by William Adler

There’s been a lot of talk lately among a certain segment of Republicans claiming that President Obama is a Muslim; or that maybe he’s too sympathetic to clock-building “terrorist” teenagers; or that, perhaps, Muslims are unfit to be considered for higher office altogether (article VI of the Constitution notwithstanding). Sadly, virtually none of this is surprising (something something history repeating itself).

Interestingly, though, this isn’t the first time in U.S. history that a president’s political opponents have accused him of lying about his true religious faith. When Thomas Jefferson ran for president in 1800, preachers and Federalist hatchet-men called him a “confirmed infidel,” who professed “disbelief in the Holy Scriptures” and was in fact a “howling atheist.” At best, some argued, Jefferson was a closeted Deist who rejected the active hand of God in the world. William Linn, a Dutch Reformed minister in New York, authored a pamphlet entitled, “Considerations on the Election of a President: Addressed to the Citizens of the United States,” in which he stated:

“No professed deist, be his talents and achievements what they may, ought to be promoted to this place by the suffrages of a Christian nation… Would Jews or Mahometans, consistently with their belief, elect a Christian? Shall Christians be less zealous and active than they?”

Jefferson won the election, of course, but the smear campaign against him left a mark. Federalists spent most of Jefferson’s two terms in office continuing to find new ways to impeach his character: that he was too much of a philosopher, or too professorial in bearing, to make a good president; that his attachments to France and the French way of living made him all too likely to foment an American version of the French Revolution; that he was attempting to become a dictator; that he opposed the Constitution and secretly despised the national government; that he wanted to weaken the U.S. military for the sake of inviting foreign powers in; and that he slept with his female slaves who then gave birth to his unrecognized children (probably true).

For both Jefferson and Obama, these smears are linked to the broader critique their political opponents have had of their policies and governing projects. Jefferson, a committed Enlightenment rationalist, believed strongly in a strict division between religion and state, famously calling for a “wall” between them. Obama entered office in strong opposition to George W. Bush’s policies on the Iraq War and the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. As a result, it’s easy for those so inclined to re-read these political stances as the product of some deeper, hidden motivation that supposedly disqualifies them as leader of the nation. In a nation where religion occupies such a central part of our political discourse, it’s all too easy for political opportunists to use this kind of moral denigration to eat away at someone’s political legitimacy.

Sources/further reading

Joanne B. Freeman, “The Election of 1800: A Study in the Logic of Political Change,” The Yale Law Journal 108:8 (June 1999): 1959-1994.

Frank Lambert, “’God – and a Religious President… [or] Jefferson and No God’: Campaigning for a Voter-Imposed Religious Test in 1800,” Journal of Church and State 39:4 (Autumn 1997): 769-789.

Charles O. Lerche, Jr., “Jefferson and the Election of 1800: A Case Study in the Political Smear,” The William and Mary Quarterly 5:4 (Oct 1948): 467-491.

William D. Adler is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northeastern Illinois University.  His research interests include American political development and the presidency.  He has published articles in the Journal of Policy History, Studies in American Political Development, Presidential Studies Quarterly, Political Science Quarterly, and Polity.

Rethinking state capacity in the face of crisis

By Lama Mourad

By Mstyslav Chernov (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo via Wikimedia Commons; Women and children among Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 4 September 2015.

The current migrant crisis,[1] primarily fuelled by the ongoing civil war in Syria and parts of Iraq, has been the subject of much writing over the last few weeks. The vast majority of the focus has been on how this crisis is affected by, and affects, politics in Europe (and to a lesser extent Canada and the USA). While for Europe, it appears that this “crisis” is a recent one – with this summer seeing a remarkable increase in numbers of asylum claimants and refugees attempting to come into Europe – for neighbouring countries, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, it has been a reality for years now.

Contrast, for example, the most generous commitment of any European country by far, Germany’s decision to take in 800 000 refugees by year’s end, with the more than 1.1 million refugees[2] already in Lebanon, a country with a population twenty times smaller and with a fifth of Germany’s GDP. Jordan and Turkey host, by the most conservative estimates, over 600 000 and 1.9 million refugees respectively.

Therefore, as we look for lasting solutions and responses to the migrant crisis, we should be aware not to reproduce the general emphasis on South-North (as opposed to South-South) migration by focusing on refugees and asylum seekers who aim to settle in Europe. Rather, we should remember that the vast majority of migrants remain in the Middle East, either displaced within their country or in neighbouring countries — a trend that holds true in other regions and major cases of displacement. Therefore, we would be well served — both as a discipline and as citizens — to look at learning from these cases and to ensure that they do not slip out of the limelight when they do not directly impact on politics of Western states.

While the issues of concern for political scientists in this crisis are many, including the importance of what we teach in our syllabi, there has been little discussion of how this crisis should force us to rethink some of our most basic assumptions regarding state capacity and strength — critical concepts in the field.

State strength is generally understood as a function of two main factors: capacity and sovereignty. Based on the Weberian definition, strong states are those who hold the monopoly of power over their territory, and provide a core set of political goods to their citizens, not least of which is security. In contrast, weak states are understood to either lack the capacity to provide a set of core goods, and/or are unable to do so independently. This broad definition has a number of scholarly and policy implications, namely an emphasis on ‘state-building’ through a focus on the central institutions of the state, such as strengthening the capacity of security institutions, legislatures, and judiciaries.

Based on these notions, international rankings of state strength, such as the Fragile State Index (FSI) (formerly the Failed States Index) serve to tell scholars and policy makers which states are most likely to buckle under pressure or to experience greater instability. Under this rubric Lebanon – which now hosts the largest refugee population per capita in the world – has consistently ranked among countries with a high or very high warning on the FSI. This, along with its history of civil war, has led many to warn of its (imminent) collapse or, at the very least, of the reemergence of civil conflict.

In light of this, it’s rather remarkable how resilient the Lebanese state appears in the face of the most recent crisis. While “strong”, prosperous states in Europe and North America frequently speak of a limit to their absorptive capacity, despite the relatively low numbers of refugees most of these countries anticipate hosting, otherwise “weak” states such as Lebanon bear an exponentially larger burden and continue to function, admittedly not without problems.

It is with this in mind that I suggest that we look beyond the emphasis on state-level (macro) indicators when trying to understand a country’s capacity to cope with crisis. In doing so, it may be fruitful to look from the bottom-up to see how the communities most affected by the crisis are adapting and coping with the major changes of the last few years. For instance, as has been noted, one village in Lebanon is currently hosting more Syrian refugees than the entire United States. In the absence of a central policy to deal with the refugee crisis – with the exception of the major decision to not build refugee camps – local communities and municipalities, with the participation of local and international NGOs and actors, are creating and implementing initiatives and policies that most directly affect the lives of both citizens and refugees.

Considering these cases should cause us to rethink some of the taken-for-granted assumptions about what makes states otherwise “weak” or “strong,” and help us move away from this entrenched dichotomy. In this regard, local-level resilience and adaptability may have important effects on macro-level patterns and state strength.

Lama Mourad is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto, where she researches migration and local governance in the Middle East. From 2012-2015, Lama was a CGS-Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) doctoral fellow, and is currently a fellow at the Trudeau Centre for Peace, Conflict, and Justice. She will be returning to the Middle East as an affiliate of the Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies at the American University of Beirut in the fall of 2015.

[1] Debate surrounding the terminology used to define the crisis has abounded over the last few weeks. I choose to retain the broader category of migrant to characterize the crisis, as many of those fleeing do not fit the overly-restrictive Convention definition of refugees, and denying this reality would serve to reinforce an extant hierarchy in the international migration regime. For more on this, please see a recent piece by Kelsey Norman and I in Muftah.

[2] By official estimates. Due to challenges in registering refugees, the unofficial numbers are higher, with some estimates as high as 2 million.

John Boehner resigns


Photo Source: Wikipedia

by Chera LaForge

It’s been a big week for the United States Congress. On Thursday, they hosted Pope Francis in a joint session, an event possible only because of the long-time efforts of Speaker of the House, John Boehner. On Friday, Boehner announced his resignation from his leadership position and congressional seat in a closed door meeting of the Republican caucus. Boehner’s resignation ends an interesting and tumultuous period for the Republican leadership. In 2014, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA) lost his Virginia primary race to an unknown economics professor and Tea Party candidate, Dave Brat, the first sitting majority leader to lose his position. And while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would eventually win handily in both races, he faced an expensive primary battle from the right and a highly qualified Democratic challenger in the general election. The electoral challenges leadership has faced in the past two years mirror the increasing difficulty of managing the increasingly conservative Republican rank and file.

The resignation of Boehner isn’t actually as abrupt as we might expect. Vote View predicted that Boehner may be “one casualty of this fight over Planned Parenthood” on September 19 and rumors were floating that Boehner supporters in Congress were trying to prevent his ouster until after the Pope’s visit. Yet, Boehner’s challenges reach back much farther than the most recent threat of a government shutdown. In July, House Freedom Caucus member, Mark Meadows (R-NC), filed a motion to vacate the chair, arguing that Boehner had tried to consolidate power, punish members that voted against his wishes, limited the power of the legislative branch, and bypassed the wishes of most of the Republican caucus. While the motion didn’t move beyond being referred to the House Rules Committee, it did cap off two cycles where an increasing number of Republicans voted against his campaign for the speakership. At the start of the 114th Congress, 25 Republicans voted against him, casting ballots for a wide array of other members including Louis Gohmert (TX), Jeff Duncan (SC), Daniel Webster (FL), and Kevin McCarthy (CA). At the start of the 113th Congress in 2013, nine Republicans had voted against Boehner.

The speaker’s role is not an easy one, especially in an era of increasing polarization both within the chamber and across the country. With the growth in the number of conservative, Tea Party Republicans in Congress, Boehner’s position became increasingly imperiled. These members pushed for hardline responses on issues like defunding Planned Parenthood, primarily because their personal ideology and district make-up allowed for it. However, as Speaker of the House, Boehner had to balance multiple strategic considerations. The move to defund Planned Parenthood has been described as “quixotic” by The Washington Times, primarily because it faced no chance of passing the Senate (and, in fact, the Senate vote failed 47-52 yesterday) and President Obama had threatened to veto the legislation even if it had. Forcing a government shutdown because of the issue could be disastrous for the Republican Party moving into an election season, a point Boehner was well aware of. During the last government shutdown in 2013, Gallup found favorability for the Republican Party fell to a record low of 28 percent, a much lower rating than the Congressional Democrats held (43 percent). While the members who pushed for Boehner to hold a vote on the issue may have been safe, vulnerable Republicans in more moderate districts might not have been. The speaker’s role is to ensure those members and the party hold the majority.

The question still remains why Boehner chose to resign from not only the speakership, but also the Ohio District he has held since 1991. Career decisions often involve multiple calculations and it’s difficult to know exactly what Boehner was thinking. Perhaps he was inspired or chastened by the Pope’s message to seek compromise and collaboration. More likely, however, Boehner’s retirement and resignation was a strategic one. It seems likely that Boehner would have faced an increasingly hostile Republican caucus, one that seemed dead set on removing him from his position. Whether the removal was a voluntary one or a high profile conservative coup to vacate the chair, Boehner would have been in a weakened position heading into the 2016 elections. While the Ohio 8th District is solidly Republican, it wouldn’t have prevented a strong primary challenge from the right. Boehner’s resignation removes him from the ensuing battle over the shutdown and helps to maintain some of his legislative legacy. Who will replace him and what effect his resignation will have on the potential shutdown is still up in the air, however.

Chera LaForge is an assistant professor of political science. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her main research interests lie in Congress and legislative behavior. Specifically, she looks at how progressive ambition impacts the quality of representation and campaign behavior.

Bernie-mania and the Democrats

by Aaron Shapiro 

The run up to the 2016 election has been full of surprises, and the persistence of Bernie Sanders’ popularity has certainly been one of them. The steady rise of support for the self-described independent socialist continues to chip away at the Hillary Clinton leviathan. Making sense of Sanders’ run remains difficult. What historical analogy is there– if any– for his candidacy; and what impact might it have on the Democratic Party?

When Sanders began talk of running, his forceful leftism seemed to relegate him as a marginal protest candidate. Yet ambivalence toward Clinton within the party base and a dearth of alternatives quickly upped his profile. Still, it is tempting to shrug him off, given the failures of past insurgent-reformers, who also made an appearance around this time in the presidential campaign cycle. These are candidates like fellow Vermonter Howard Dean, Bill Bradley, and Gary Hart, who catch fire early, threatening the “establishment” choice, only to eventually fade away. As sure as their rise, narrow appeal and often weak organization dooms them long before the convention. Indeed it’s easy to assume that Sanders, with his New England pedigree, and white middle-class base, will also endure this fate.

However, Sanders, and the uniqueness of the political moment surrounding him, deserve more credit. As the least compromised articulator of full-throated economic populism, he would seem a compelling choice for the Democratic zeitgeist. Really, one shouldn’t have to strain too hard to imagine a scenario where a candidate with the right narrative for the moment upsets Hillary Clinton. Though Sanders has thus far struggled to assemble a coalition broad enough compete widely amongst all Democrats, this is not intrinsically damning. Barack Obama himself, spent the summer of 2007 suffering from lackluster polls, fending off accusations of being a ‘wine-track’ phenomenon, as his would-be coalition (especially African-Americans) remained leery of throwing their support behind such an apparent longshot. It was not until Obama proved viable with his victory in Iowa that his national numbers began to reflect his latent appeal.

If this suggests Sanders may still be far from his apex and have a different fate than past insurgents, there are at least two reasons to remain cautious. First, is whether he is a skilled enough politician to carry his coalition through the primary. Sanders’ uneven dealings with the #BlackLivesMatter movement have already previewed how his at times unpolished demeanor could weaken his ability to lead a more broad Democratic coalition through an election season. Aware of his deficit amongst African Americans, Sanders did head to the South last weekend with well known Black Studies professor Cornell West. Second, and more concretely, is the organizational gap. There is little evidence that Sanders has built the sort of state-by-state field apparatus characteristic of the Obama campaign. What separated Obama from grassroots darlings past was a superior field organization tethered to the magic number of delegates necessary to carry the nomination. So far in 2016 it is Clinton, who learning her lesson, has assembled a staff comprised of Obama veterans, frontloading resources toward building up her field program for the long march through primary season.

If this should lead one to be skeptical of Sanders’ chances, it should also lead one to question the prevailing logic of his detractors within the Democratic Party. The anti-Sanders argument rests on the presumption that a prolonged primary battle will harm Clinton in the general election, forcing her to expend valuable campaign that could otherwise be hoarded for battle with the GOP. This argument rests on an anachronistic assumption that campaign resources are “expended” in a zero-sum context. This may well be true if they were primarily focused on television advertising. Indeed, if Clinton were forced to spend $50 million dollars on ads implying Sanders suffers a deep hatred for puppies to discredit him, this would be unlikely to give much help to Democrats in the general election. However, 2008 showed that competitive primaries waged through voter mobilization might in fact be a boon to whomever winds up the party standard-bearer. In an era in which data has become an increasingly important campaign resource, having a multitude of candidates appealing to different slices of the party’s potential electorate may indeed be of long term benefit to the party as well as its eventual nominee. Primary campaign field organization efforts were a down payment on scaling the apparatus for the 2008 general election.

As Daniel Kreiss has illustrated, this template can be traced back to Dean’s campaign in 2004, which married traditional grassroots insurgent enthusiasm to the potential of digital campaigning strategies. By harnessing the power of the Internet (yes, in 2004, the internet was still viewed by campaigns as wielding powers both strange and exhilarating), Dean made tremendous advances in small donor fundraising and the cultivation of grassroots activists, creating a model that Obama with greater sophistication would ride to victory four years later. It is this ability to use digital tools to cultivate grassroots resources with virtually no transaction costs that has been integral to Sanders’ success.

Even if Sanders’ falls short, the networks and resources he has generated may still be of lasting impact. The appeal of particular politicians to the base can help them leverage their power in government, and this is where Sanders’ greatest opportunity might lie. This has been certainty true for Elizabeth Warren, whose fast-rising star as a legislator can be largely attributed to the electoral support she has provided for fellow Democrats and ability to garner public support for pet issues such as the Trans Pacific Partnership. Sanders’ has a unique opportunity in the high salience of a presidential campaign combined with a prominent institutional position in government. While Warren had to climb the ranks as a freshman senator, Sanders will return to congress as the Democrats ranking member on the all-important Senate Budget committee.

If Sanders can transition his campaign’s support to assistance for Democrats in 2016, it could be a win-win both for Sanders’ progressive policy preferences and the party. He could tempt activists unenthusiastic about supporting the Clinton campaign to still help vital party efforts. The impact of this would be most dramatic in states that might have more competitive congressional races than presidential ones. These candidates are unlikely to benefit from the organizational resources dedicated to mobilizing for the Democratic ticket in presidential battlegrounds. Sanders’ support could help him increase his influence by returning Democrats to the majority and winning the often-cantankerous senator friends among both a new class of Democrats in the senate and party leadership.

The story of party organization over the Obama years is one that has pitted a presidentially led party apparatus most sensitive to presidential battleground against other party electoral prerogatives that have felt the short shrift, including on the congressional level. Further, given the senate’s penchant for being the elected branch of the federal government most resistant to progressive change, the implications of creating more leverage for its more liberal members is vital, maybe even more so than a staunchly progressive president.

The question is whether such a strategy is in Sanders’ plan. Party building has after all never seemed at the fore of his concerns. Implicit in his worldview is that participatory linkages must be detached from the broadly coopted Democratic Party, not strengthened to overcome both special interest influence within the party and the veto powers that obstruct its agenda. Yet perhaps Sanders’ run as a Democrat suggests a new amenability for working within the party. It may in fact be far more consequential to both the party and Sanders’ long term goals than the fate of his presidential campaign.

Aaron B. Shapiro is a PhD candidate at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is currently working on his dissertation, a study of Democratic Party organization in the Obama era. He can be reached at

APSA 2015: what we do when we’re not on fire

by Julia Azari*

As I contemplate how to write up a conference where thousands of blazer-clad political scientists carrying $6 cups of coffee stepped over homeless drug addicts in order to attend a conference called Diversities Reconsidered, it occurs to me that I could probably just end the post there.**

But we all know I won’t do that. When political scientists come together and go out into the world (at least, accidentally on the way to the Hilton lobby), it’s worth considering what we’ve learned about the politics of producing knowledge about politics. There were two big controversies that got a lot of attention: APSA’s policy on children at the conference, and the new DART initiative. I’m not going to write about those here, because DART deserves a post on its own, preferably after I’ve had a chance to get informed on the topic. Charli Carpenter has a smart piece on the child care issue, so go read her instead. Instead, I’m going to focus on a few issues whose broader implications may be less immediately apparent.

First, stay with me here for some organizational politics. I promise there’s a point. APSA is generally understood to have a very low acceptance rate for proposals,  lower than many good journals. The process by which proposals are selected involves the forty-six organized sections, which reflect the ways in which political scientists organize themselves by field of study. Each section is given a certain number of panel slots based on membership, attendance, and rejection rate (the formula keeps changing). For example, the Comparative Politics section, which is very large, had 45 panels on the program. The Presidency and Executive Politics (PEP) section, of which I am an active member, had 9. In the past, sections could create co-sponsored panels that would only count as half a panel. So the PEP section could co-sponsor a panel on, say, Latin American presidential politics with the Comparative section, or a panel on gender and the presidency with the Women and Politics section. PEP would then be left with 8 panels, not seven. This increases the number of proposals that can be accepted, which is important for smaller sections, but it also allows for some conversations across the usual professional boundaries. It’s important for scholarly arguments to be pressed by different methodological approaches and assumptions.

This year, co-sponsored panels counted as an entire panel by the main sponsor. What this meant in practical terms is that people backed away from co-sponsored panels, of the sort that I’ve described above, that they’d been planning to do. This is entirely consistent with basic collective action models about cooperation. What’s the incentive to bear all the costs of a co-sponsored panel with another section? It’s a very basic paradigm used by the vast majority of the discipline.

What’s even better is that the stated reason for this was that the new software couldn’t handle the idea of a half a panel in the allotment formula. There’s another wing of the discipline whose research draws on the idea of path dependence – that a change at a particular moment can shape the course of what happens later. The decline of co-sponsored panels isn’t going to reshape the discipline, of course. But it might contribute to an even more pronounced “silo effect” in which even people interested in similar ideas rarely cross paths, and groups of researchers become more insular. People interested in the rigorous production of knowledge should be concerned about this. As we come off a year of various scandals that have arisen in the social science research community, one lesson was that research benefits from more perspectives, more eyes, more tests. Insular research communities in which people’s professional fates are all tied together and people think in similar ways do not provide ideal conditions for catching mistakes, abuses, and faulty reasoning.

The organization’s decision to let the technical glitch drive this particular policy also suggests a couple of dispiriting possibilities about the relevant political science theories. Possibility 1: the people making these decisions don’t know about collective action issues or path dependence. Possibility 2: they know, but they don’t really think that the organization and its members are susceptible to them – or they know we have these theories but don’t actually believe they work in the real world. Possibility 3: they knew, accepted that these institutional changes would shape professional behaviors in these ways, and couldn’t or didn’t care enough to figure out another solution. As we think more about how political science theories can not only illuminate but also improve the world, it might be hard to make the case that others should take this stuff seriously when our own professional organization does not.

On a lighter note, I gave a great deal of thought this weekend to the perfect way to dis someone at APSA. There’s always a lot of focus on senior scholars who aren’t responsive to junior scholars’ attempts to network, and on the infamous scanning of name tags while deciding who is important enough to talk to. But I think the matter deserves more systematic thought.

Let’s admit it, part of APSA is showing off that you’re too important to talk to everyone, and maybe getting a dig into the person who called gave you a hard time about your uncorrected heteroskedasticity at Midwest, or who criticized you for  paying insufficient attention to intersectionality at Western. Or maybe they cut in front of you in line for drinks at Southern.

So now you’re at APSA. How to best give that person the cold shoulder? We tend to focus on the out and out ignoring when it comes to dissing people at APSA. But like so many things we mismeasure, this may not be linear. So here are your options, carefully considered by me:

Pretend you don’t know them at all

Much of the offense that people take at “ignoring” – not recognizing or failing to acknowledge – is probably lack of understanding of the other person’s perspective. When someone ignores you, there’s a decent chance they’re preoccupied with trying to remember where there panel is or which excuse they gave about why they skipped the business meeting. Or they genuinely don’t remember you – which isn’t flattering, but may not be overtly hostile. Out and out ignoring, while the coldest way to treat someone, lacks important signaling information.

Look at the name tag, then ignore

 Does your Tinder bio say you love walks on the beach? So cliché. Be original.

The lame excuse

 This is an insult, not your grad school friend’s panel. Don’t say it’s great to see them but you need to call your spouse/go back to your room to decompress/have a meeting with an editor. Own it.

The name-and-pass

So if you really want to diss someone at APSA, you need to signal a bit that you are doing so. Look them in the eye, call them by name, and keep walking. No excuse or further comment. Message: I know exactly who you are, I saw you, you know I saw you, and I am choosing not to stop to talk to you.

In sum, we are social scientists. We’re supposed to understand human behavior – but sometimes what happens at APSA isn’t great evidence of that.

This will probably be my last post at the New West for awhile, as I get my bearings with Mischiefs of Faction at our new home –

Here at New West, we’ve got a great team and we are looking forward to publishing some great content this fall. We welcome guest posts from scholars in political science and related disciplines – please contact me or Meredith Conroy if you’d like to submit a guest post.

*Readers should note that our blog disclaimer applies especially to this post – all opinions, obnoxiousness, silliness and loving jabs at other organizations are solely the author’s, and not the official opinion of the Western Political Science Association.

** The author is guilty of the stepping but not the blazers.

The Progressive Ideological Coalition and the Crisis of Housing Affordability in San Francisco

By Jason A. McDaniel

San Francisco City Hall and War Memorial Opera House lit up for SF Pride

The housing affordability crisis in many of America’s most successful and ideologically liberal cities raises some important questions for those who are interested in the politics of urban America. How will the political coalitions that govern these cities adapt to the politics of growth? Is it possible for liberal-progressive urban political coalitions to challenge local NIMBYism and break away from slow-growth politics? A recent debate in San Francisco about whether progressive politics is to blame for the housing crunch illustrates the difficulties that many liberal-progressive governing coalitions will face in adapting to an era of urban growth.

The debate was kicked off in CityLab by Gabriel Metcalf, the President of SPUR a San Francisco urban planning organization, who argues that progressives are to blame for the crisis primarily because of an “enduring alliance” they made with local NIMBY homeowners to prioritize historical preservation and neighborhood character rather than growing the supply of housing. Understandably, self-identified progressives reject the idea that they are the cause of the current crisis. Robert Cruickshank recounts some of the history of progressive opposition to specific redevelopment projects, arguing that the goal was to stop displacement of existing tenants, and that several progressive political leaders were actually “pro-supply.”

Although there are several major areas of agreement between the two, they seem to be talking past each other; a not uncommon situation when it comes to debates grounded in political and ideological disagreement. One reason may be that Metcalf does not share a common understanding of what it means to be ideologically progressive in local politics with those in San Francisco he criticizes. Deeper insight about what it means to be progressive in San Francisco illustrates that support for limiting growth and development was key to the emergence of the progressive movement in local politics. Understanding this in the context of the underlying institutional structures of urban politics can help explain the conflict over the origin of the housing crisis and point towards potential solutions that are consistent with progressive ideology.

What does it mean to be progressive in San Francisco?

Most people would suggest that being progressive means having a commitment to a certain set of values and beliefs about the world, and applying those values to political realm by supporting specific policies and politicians. Problems arise when conflicts inevitably emerge about which specific values, beliefs, and policies should be prioritized. There is no Pope of Progressivism who possesses the authority to enshrine certain ideas into a Progressive Canon.

Hans Noel, whose work traces the development of liberal and conservative ideology in America, argues that it is better to think of an ideology as a coalition of ideas forged by interested groups, activists, and intellectuals. These ideological “coalition merchants” are highly motivated and engaged in a competitive process to shape the meaning of an ideology in order to influence public policy. The progressive ideology in San Francisco brings together several ideological streams.

Which groups form the core of the progressive ideological coalition in San Francisco?

In the essential book Left Coast City, political scientist Rich DeLeon shows that the modern progressive movement in San Francisco is a coalition forged by three core ideological tendencies: liberalism (commitment to civil rights, social equality, and economic redistribution), environmental protection (support for greater controls on growth and development), and left-wing populism (a theory of power that is distrustful of elites and entrenched interests). DeLeon argues that the alliance over slow-growth policies was key to the emergence of the progressive movement because it provided a common agenda that appealed to all three strands of progressivism: environmentalists interested in historical preservation and neighborhood quality, liberals interested in economic justice and opposition to residential displacement, and populists animated by opposition to the power of developers and corporations.

Left-wing populism is a theory of power that is concerned with identifying political opponents, such as corporate and political elites, that are responsible for corrupting the political system and oppressing the community. Populists tend to be distrustful of “establishment” politicians, preferring to utilize majoritarian democratic procedures, such as ballot initiatives, to enact their preferred policies, such as campaign finance reform and non-partisan elections, which they believe will remove the corrupting influence of entrenched elites.

The populist component of progressivism provides the key to understanding the specific ways that the progressive coalition has pursued its goals, and the specific role that the coalition played in creating the conditions for the current crisis of housing affordability. According to DeLeon, the 1986 passage of Proposition M marked the revival of the progressive movement following the tragic assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Proposition M sharply limited office space development, required increased citizen participation in the planning process, required developer linkage fees, and created specific policies to prioritize neighborhood preservation.

The politics of land use was the essential fulcrum of progressive politics in San Francisco. Ideological activists organized to include opposition to growth as a defining element of the progressive ideological coalition. Identifying as a progressive in San Francisco means aligning oneself with a political coalition that includes activists who fight to preserve tenants rights and prevent evictions and displacement as well as local NIMBYs who oppose increased housing supply out of a desire to preserve neighborhood character.

The Problem is Left-Wing Populism

The cause of the current crisis of housing affordability can be located in the specific arrangement of political rules and planning procedures that govern land-use decision-making, as Matt Yglesias recently pointed out. Those rules and procedures largely emerged as a result of the coalition of liberals, historical preservationists, and left-wing populists that forged the modern progressive movement in San Francisco.

More recently, groups and politicians aligned with the progressive movement in San Francisco have doubled down on left-wing populism through their willingness to use “ballot box planning” to overturn previously approved development projects and threaten future proposals. The so-called “Mission Moratorium,” a ballot initiative that slated for the November ballot, would place a halt on the issuance of new building permits for housing projects that exceed five units in the Mission neighborhood.

Although motivated by a sincere desire to protect existing tenants from displacement and preserve the quality of neighborhoods, the progressive “ballot-box planning” agenda reflects populist distrust of development “elites” that they view as self-serving, and of public planning and land-use decisions that they view as inevitably corrupted.

In opposing new building and development, progressives invoke populist critiques of “luxury” development, arguing that it is “gentrification” that displaces existing tenants and corrodes the quality of existing communities. Moreover, progressives argue that such “luxury” development cannot possibly be a solution to the crisis of housing affordability because it increases the demand for high-priced housing. Only publicly subsidized “below-market rate” development can be truly affordable according to this perspective. Because of the populism at its core, the progressive ideological coalition sees the problem of housing as a crisis of displacement of existing tenants and disruption of existing neighborhoods, rather than a crisis of available housing that is affordable to all who want to live in San Francisco.

The populist impulse towards identifying political enemies and its distrust of legislative politics and planning bureaucracies makes it difficult to craft political solutions. Adherence to left-wing populism makes it more difficult for progressive politicians and activists to possibilities for compromise with their political opponents. Being willing to compromise requires challenging the populist impulse to stand athwart all attempts to increase housing supply and yell “stop!”

Progressive Politics Without Populism

The progressive movement is an ideological coalition shaped by political activism rather than an inflexible commitment to specific ideas and values. Left-wing populism does not have to be the animating principle of progressive politics in San Francisco. The progressive commitment to slow-growth policies will erode if the groups and activists within the progressive coalition change their stance on the benefits of those policies. Environmental activists and organized labor might organize to shape progressive ideology in San Francisco in a way that is more accommodating to increased supply of housing. For instance, environmental groups are increasingly likely to extol the virtues of urban density, especially with regards to increased energy efficiency, reducing water usage, and as a means of combating global climate change by reducing reliance on cars. As the environmental movement in America concentrates more on the dangers of global warming, it may lead environment groups in San Francisco to abandon their previous support for historical and neighborhood preservation in favor of increased density of housing and development.

The politics of housing and development can change if progressive-oriented groups alter their perception of the benefits and costs for the people that they represent. Such a change in one of the core elements of the progressive ideological coalition may give local elected representatives a reason to resist the NIMBYism, and make major reform at the state and municipal level more likely.

Jason McDaniel is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at San Francisco State University.

‘Toughness,’ Pull-ups, and the Race for the Presidency

By Meredith Conroy

Ann Telnaes, editorial cartoonist, Washington Post

On Friday, The Week published an opinion piece entitled, “American presidential elections used to be ‘manliness’ competitions. What happened?” by journalist Paul Waldman. This piece was inspired by remarks from Donald Trump to the Daily about Texas Governor and Presidential candidate, Rick Perry. Trump has been insulting his way through the Republican presidential field, as the media has been rabidly covering; of Rick Perry, Trump remarked, “I think that he’s trying so hard, but it’s not about trying. It’s about energy, it’s about brainpower, it’s about toughness.” A few hours later, Perry chose to respond to that which he is most likely to have an edge (toughness), and challenged Trump to a pull-up contest: “Let’s get a pull-up bar out there and see who can do more pull-ups.” While its unlikely that a pull-up contest will result from this verbal tiff between Trump and Perry, as spectators of presidential politics we should expect to see many more attempts by the candidates to assert their manliness. Because unlike the assumed premise of Waldman’s article, manliness is now, as it has always been, inextricably linked to campaigning for, and media coverage of, presidential elections. Here, I review some of the political science scholarship on the topic, present original insight from a larger project of my own, and discuss consequences of this routine political certainty.

In the minds of many Americans, presidential leadership and masculinity (or manliness), are tacit synonyms. This connection looms large due to the belief that more masculine characteristics and traits, such as independence, resolve, and in particular, toughness (as mentioned by Trump) are necessary to handle issues of national security and defense, which presidents are most notably prone to deal. Whereas characteristics and traits that are more feminine, such as compassion and collaboration, while valuable, are less necessary. And when voters are asked to name traits and characteristics they want in a president, they list mostly gender neutral traits such as honesty, and masculine traits, such as assertiveness. This tendency to favor more masculine qualities is heightened in times of war and security crises.

The origins of this preference for masculinity in our leaders in the US is complicated, but is certainly related to the separate spheres ideology, which is the longstanding belief that women are best suited to the home and care-taking, and men to the public sphere, which includes politics. This is not to say that potential voters do not also value traits more characteristic of women, such as empathy, in their presidents. Mitt Romney had a major empathy deficit in 2012, after the publicity of some remarks he made suggesting that he was writing off 47 percent of the country who struggled economically; this empathy deficit contributed to his defeat. Yet, Romney also lacked the perception that he was capable of strong leadership. In other words, Romney had the perception of multiple character deficiencies. As I have argued, for voters it is more acceptable for a president to lack positive feminine qualities, but it is unacceptable for a president to lack positive masculine qualities in contemporary politics, especially those related to physical strength.

In addition to the public’s desire for manly presidents, there is a long history of the mainstream media to openly critique candidates who waiver from staunch, normative, masculinity. As Waldman notes in his article, for decades now New York Times Columist Maureen Dowd has been critical of a number of presidential candidates for being less than macho; it was Dowd who suggested that Al Gore was so feminine he could lactate. Another well-known debasement of a presidential candidate’s manliness is Newsweek’s Wimp Factor” exposè on George H. W. Bush, reprised in 2012, but applied to Mitt Romney.

Candidates also buy into the fixation on masculinity, as evidenced by the carefully crafted campaign photo ops, where they sport the appropriate attire, and handle the required accouterment–camouflage and a rifle, rolled up sleeves and a football. If the candidate gets it wrong, it can be catastrophic. The now famous misstep that befell John Kerry was a photo of him wind surfing. The wind surfing conveyed pompous effeteness, instead of regular guy manliness. Furthermore, it was not lost on the opposition that wind surfing served as a convenient metaphor for Kerry’s oscillating position on the Iraq War.

Ryan Hutton, AP

The sports metaphor is a common rhetorical device used by reporters to convey the conflict and drama of elections. Real election-time headlines during the 2008 race, for example, included, “In Final Debate, McCain Takes the Fight to Obama,” “Candidates Take off Gloves for Final Debate; McCain, Obama take Shots on Economy, Campaign Tone,” “Economy Again Is Front and Center; Candidates Spar Over Rescue Plans, Ad Tactics,” “McCain Seen as ‘Bare Knuckled Fighter’ Who Won’t Take No for an Answer,” “Round 2: No Big Flubs, No Knockouts; McCain Aims for Comeback; Casual Setting Can’t Dull Jabs,” and “Why Obama Needs to Fight Like Ali, and Not Louis.” All of these headlines were from articles published at USA Today between September 1st and Election Day.

The prominence of sports and sports metaphors in presidential campaign coverage has mostly been studied by political science and communications scholars to better understand why women have historically been barred access to the presidency. Sports metaphors treat men as the norm in politics, in that they focus on external dynamics that are more appropriate for men and perceived to be inappropriate for women, like a boxing ring (side note: obviously Ronda Rousey would take issue with this). Furthermore, sports metaphors assume a gendered narrative where physical strength is preferential, reinforcing the notion that politics is a “male preserve.” Yet, as our political history has shown, the focus on athleticism by candidates and media is also of major consequence for men running for office; it changes the dynamics of campaigning, and for those who are unable to portray themselves as masculine, their campaigns are hindered. Thus, gender plays a prominent role in political contests, regardless of the sex of the candidates.

In attempt to better understand the degree to which gendered discourse influences presidential candidate’s campaigns I executed a content analysis of print media coverage (New York Times, and USA Today) for the 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 general elections. As you might expect, where media was critical of the (all male) candidates, they described the candidates as not living up to masculine qualities. For example, being described as not tough enough, or strong enough. Furthermore, I found that where one candidate was feminized, the other was overtly masculinized. In a sense, a “gender conflict frame” emerged, within the context of individual articles. Closely related to this observation was the revelation that those candidates who saw a higher proportion of their character described in more feminine terms were less likely to win the election. For each individual election under analysis, the candidate with a higher proportion of their character described as feminine lost the election.

Beyond immediate electoral consequences for the candidate described in more feminine terms, the invocation of gender by media during presidential contests is meaningful and important to understanding political representation more generally in our governing institutions. In a political systems and societies where masculinity is consistently elevated and femininity is debased, women will have a more difficult time being elected. Moreover, women will be less represented in a system characterized by reverence for masculinity, in terms of policy outcomes. This is not only due to fewer women being elected as political officials but also due to fewer elected officials being willing to champion issues such as paid family leave, social welfare, childcare, and equal pay that may associate them with feminine characteristics. To enhance the true representativeness of our political institutions, we need candidates to diversify their campaigning tactics, and demonstrations of political character, while media would need to expand their metaphor glossary, and their descriptions of candidates beyond worn out gended dichotomies, like strong/weak, manly/wimpy, aggressive/passive, cool/warm, or decisive/indecisive.

Meredith Conroy is an assistant professor of Political Science at California State University San Bernardino. Her book, Masculinity, Media, and the American Presidency, publishes in September 2015. In this book, Conroy discusses the role of the media in perpetuating masculinity  as the norm and preference in presidential candidates and leadership.