R for Political Data Science Week 8: Four Parties in America? Probably Not Anytime Soon

Voters are too partisan for America to have four parties.

By G. Elliott Morris / February 22, 2019

 in R for Political Data US Politics R-Posts

This is part of a series of short posts about politics that seeks to show how we use data science to learn more about the real world. Follow along here.

The time has come: I have become one of those people that reads the New York Times Opinion page regularly just to find hot takes to rebut on the internet. This week, Thomas L. Friedman has an Op-Ed asking “Is America Becoming a Four-Party State?” that promotes some … dubious… understandings about American politics. I lay out a quick reading of his article for you here and provide an abbreviated rebuttal.

  1. Friedman argues: Because of ideological diversity on the left, and an ongoing split on the right (conservativism vs Donald Trump), America has the capacity for four political parties.
  2. However, these divides are exaggerated in (a) magnitude and (b) frequency among the public. Plucking a few left-leaning/establishment Democrats and Trumpist/conservative Republicans is not the proper measurement tool. In polls, the divide is muddier — and ideology matters less.
  3. Even if Friedman was correct there were a large block of Democratic voters that are as liberal economically as they are socially — like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, his favorite example of the new Democratic party — they wouldn’t abandon the party; loyalty to the label is just too strong compared to the importance of ideology in voting behavior.
  4. Finally, EVEN IF a substantial number of uber-liberal Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans peeled off to form a third and fourth political party, the US electoral system is not designed to support more than two parties. The combination of a first-past-the-post electoral system and Electoral College means that a vote for someone other than a major candidate is just throwing your vote away.

I’m going to crunch some numbers to illustrate my point. Let’s look at ideology and partisan loyalty, the latter measured by whether or not someone feels represented by their political party.

# Step 1: Import survey data -------------
# https://www.voterstudygroup.org/publications/2018-voter-survey/2018-voter-survey-top-lines)

vsg <- VSG_2018;rm(VSG_2018)

# we only want panelists
vsg <- vsg[!is.na(vsg$weight_panel),]

# and remove duplicate cases
vsg <- vsg[!duplicated(vsg$case_identifier),]

# Step 2: Choose policies and recode as 1: liberal 0: conservative -----------
# Policies chosen are same as Drutman's: https://www.voterstudygroup.org/publications/2016-elections/political-divisions-in-2016-and-beyond
vsg.coded <- vsg %>%
    # The View That Politics is a Rigged Game
    # Elections today don’t matter; things stay the same no matter who we vote in.
    RIGGED_SYSTEM_1_2016 = case_when(RIGGED_SYSTEM_1_2016 %in% c("Agree","Strongly agree") ~ 0,
                                     RIGGED_SYSTEM_1_2016 %in% c("Disagree","Strongly disagree") ~ 1,
                                     TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # People like me don’t have any say in what the government does.
    RIGGED_SYSTEM_5_2016 = case_when(RIGGED_SYSTEM_5_2016 %in% c("Agree","Strongly agree") ~ 0,
                                     RIGGED_SYSTEM_5_2016 %in% c("Disagree","Strongly disagree") ~ 1,
                                     TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Elites in this country don’t understand the problems I am facing.
    RIGGED_SYSTEM_6_2016 = case_when(RIGGED_SYSTEM_6_2016 %in% c("Agree","Strongly agree") ~ 0,
                                     RIGGED_SYSTEM_6_2016 %in% c("Disagree","Strongly disagree") ~ 1,
                                     TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # The Importance of Social Security/Medicare
    # How important is Social Security to the respondent?
    imiss_m_2017 = case_when(imiss_m_2017 %in% c("Very Important","Somewhat Important") ~ 1,
                             imiss_m_2017 %in% c("Not very Important","Unimportant") ~ 0,
                             TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # How important is Medicare to the respondent?
    imiss_s_2017 = case_when(imiss_s_2017 %in% c("Very Important","Somewhat Important") ~ 1,
                             imiss_s_2017 %in% c("Not very Important","Unimportant") ~ 0,
                             TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Attitudes on Foreign Trade A battery of questions on the costs/benefits of free trade.
    free_trade_1_2016 = case_when(free_trade_1_2016 == "Increase" ~ 1,
                                  free_trade_1_2016 == "Decrease" ~ 0,
                                  TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    free_trade_2_2016 = case_when(free_trade_2_2016 == "Increase" ~ 1,
                                  free_trade_2_2016 == "Decrease" ~ 0,
                                  TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    free_trade_3_2016 = case_when(free_trade_3_2016 == "Increase" ~ 1,
                                  free_trade_3_2016 == "Decrease" ~ 0,
                                  TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    free_trade_4_2016 = case_when(free_trade_4_2016 == "Increase" ~ 1,
                                  free_trade_4_2016 == "Decrease" ~ 0,
                                  TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    free_trade_5_2016 = case_when(free_trade_5_2016 == "Increase" ~ 1,
                                  free_trade_5_2016 == "Decrease" ~ 0,
                                  TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Attitudes On Gender Roles A battery of questions on the role of women in society.
    sexism1 = case_when(sexism1 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 0,
                        sexism1 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 1,
                        TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    sexism2 = case_when(sexism2 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 0,
                        sexism2 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 1,
                        TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    sexism3 = case_when(sexism3 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 1,
                        sexism3 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 0,
                        TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    sexism4 = case_when(sexism4 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 0,
                        sexism4 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 1,
                        TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    sexism5 = case_when(sexism5 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 0,
                        sexism5 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 1,
                        TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    sexism6 = case_when(sexism6 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 0,
                        sexism6 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 1,
                        TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Pride in America
    # How proud are you of America’s history?
    proudhis_2016 = case_when(proudhis_2016 %in% c("Very proud","Somewhat proud") ~ 0,
                              proudhis_2016 %in% c("Not very proud","Not proud at all") ~ 1,
                              TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # I would rather be a citizen of America than any other country in the world.
    amcitizen_2016 = case_when(amcitizen_2016 %in% c("Agree","Agree strongly") ~ 0,
                               amcitizen_2016 %in% c("Disagree","Disagree strongly") ~ 1,
                               TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # The Perception That “People Like Me” Are Losing Ground
    # Life in America today for people like me is worse compared to 50 years ago.
    Americatrend_2017 = case_when(Americatrend_2017 %in% c("Better","About the same") ~ 1,
                                  Americatrend_2017 %in% c("Worse") ~ 0,
                                  TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # In America, the values and culture of people like me are becoming rarer and less accepted.
    values_culture_2017 = case_when(values_culture_2017 %in% c("Generally becoming more widespread and accepted","Holding steady") ~ 1,
                                    values_culture_2017 %in% c("Generally becoming rarer and less accepted") ~ 0,
                                    TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Attitudes Toward African-Americans A battery of racial resentment questions toward African-Americans.
    race_deservemore_2016 = case_when(race_deservemore_2016 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 1,
                                      race_deservemore_2016 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 0,
                                      TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    race_overcome_2016 = case_when(race_overcome_2016 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 0,
                                   race_overcome_2016 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 1,
                                   TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    race_tryharder_2016 = case_when(race_tryharder_2016 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 0,
                                    race_tryharder_2016 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 1,
                                    TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    race_slave_2016 = case_when(race_slave_2016 %in% c("Strongly Agree","Somewhat Agree") ~ 1,
                                race_slave_2016 %in% c("Somewhat Disagree","Strongly Disagree") ~ 0,
                                TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Feelings Toward Muslims
    # Favoring or opposing temporarily banning Muslims from other countries from entering the U.S.
    immi_muslim = case_when(immi_muslim %in% c("Strongly favor","Somewhat favor") ~ 0,
                            immi_muslim %in% c("Strongly oppose","Somewhat oppose") ~ 1,
                            TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Feeling thermometer rating toward Muslims.
    ft_muslim_2017 = case_when(as.numeric(ft_muslim_2017) > 50 ~ 1,
                               as.numeric(ft_muslim_2017) < 50 ~ 0,
                                TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Attitudes on Immigration
    # Whether illegal immigrants contribute to American society/are a drain.
    immi_contribution = case_when(immi_contribution == "Mostly make a contribution" ~ 1,
                                  immi_contribution == "Mostly a drain" ~ 0,
                                  TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Favoring or opposing a legal way for illegal immigrants already in the United States to become U.S. citizens.
    immi_naturalize = case_when(immi_naturalize == "Favor" ~ 1,
                                immi_naturalize == "Oppose" ~ 0,
                                TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Whether it should be easier/harder for foreigners to immigrate to the U.S. legally than it is currently.
    immi_makedifficult = case_when(immi_makedifficult %in% c("Much easier","Slightly easier") ~ 1,
                                   immi_makedifficult %in% c("Slightly harder","Much harder") ~ 0,
                                   TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Attitudes on Moral Issues
    # View on abortion.
    abortview3_2016 = case_when(abortview3_2016 %in% c("Legal in all cases","Legal/Illegal in some cases") ~ 1,
                                abortview3_2016 %in% c("Illegal in all cases") ~ 0,
                                TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # View on gay marriage.
    gaymar_2016 = case_when(gaymar_2016 == "Favor" ~ 1,
                            gaymar_2016 == "Oppose" ~ 0,
                            TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # View on transgender bathrooms.
    view_transgender_2016 = case_when(view_transgender_2016 == "Should be allow to us the restrooms of the gender with which they currently identify" ~ 1,
                                      view_transgender_2016 == "Should be required to use the restrooms of the gender they were born into" ~ 0,
                                      TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Attitudes on Economic Inequality
    # Whether our economic system is biased in favor of the wealthiest Americans.
    RIGGED_SYSTEM_3_2016 = case_when(RIGGED_SYSTEM_3_2016 %in% c("Strongly agree","Agree") ~ 1,
                                     RIGGED_SYSTEM_3_2016 %in% c("Disagree","Strongly disagree") ~ 0,
                                     TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Whether we should raise taxes on the wealthy.
    taxdoug = case_when(taxdoug == "Yes" ~ 1,
                        taxdoug == "No" ~ 0,
                        TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Whether distribution of money and wealth in this country is fair.
    wealth_2016 = case_when(wealth_2016 == "Distribution is fair" ~ 0,
                            wealth_2016 == "Should be more evenly distributed" ~ 1,
                            TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Attitudes Toward Government Intervention
    # Whether we need a strong government to handle complex economic problems.
    gvmt_involment_2016 = case_when(gvmt_involment_2016 == "We need a strong government to handle today's complex economic problems" ~ 1,
                                    gvmt_involment_2016 == "People would be better able to handle today's problems within a free market with less government involvement" ~ 0,
                                    TRUE ~ NA_real_),
    # Whether there is too much/too little regulation of business by the government.
    govt_reg_2017 = case_when(govt_reg_2017 %in% c("Too little","About the right amount") ~ 1,
                              govt_reg_2017 %in% c("Too much") ~ 0,TRUE ~ NA_real_)
  ) %>% 
  select(RIGGED_SYSTEM_1_2016, RIGGED_SYSTEM_5_2016, RIGGED_SYSTEM_6_2016, imiss_m_2017, imiss_s_2017, free_trade_1_2016, free_trade_2_2016, free_trade_3_2016, free_trade_4_2016, free_trade_5_2016, sexism1, sexism2, sexism3, sexism4, sexism5, sexism6, proudhis_2016, amcitizen_2016, Americatrend_2017, values_culture_2017, race_deservemore_2016, race_overcome_2016, race_tryharder_2016, race_slave_2016, immi_muslim, ft_muslim_2017, immi_contribution, immi_naturalize, immi_makedifficult, abortview3_2016, gaymar_2016, view_transgender_2016, RIGGED_SYSTEM_3_2016, taxdoug, wealth_2016, gvmt_involment_2016, govt_reg_2017,case_identifier)

# only keep observations with below avg num missing
num_missing <- apply(vsg.coded,MARGIN = 1,FUN = function(x){length(x[is.na(x)])})

vsg.coded <- vsg.coded[num_missing < mean(num_missing),]

vsg.coded <- as.data.frame(vsg.coded)

# save case ids: later we'll want to get some contextual variable
row.names(vsg.coded) <- vsg.coded$case_identifier

ids <- vsg.coded$case_identifier

vsg.coded$case_identifier <- NULL

# Step 3: Impute responses -------------

imputed <-mice(vsg.coded, method='pmm',m = 1,maxit = 5,printFlag = FALSE)

vsg.coded <- complete(imputed)

# Step 4: Compute euclidian distances from most conservative position ---------
# distance measures
euc.dist <- function(x1, x2){
  sqrt(sum((x1 - x2) ^ 2))

jaccard.dist <- function(x1, x2){
  a <- sum(x1==x2) * 2 
  b <- length(x1) + length(x2)
  c <- a/b
  d <- c * 100


# find the most conservative voter among dims 1 & 2
most_conservative_votes = 
  data.frame(vote = rep(0,37),
             dim = c(1,1,1,2,2,1,1,1,1,1,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,1,1,1,1,1))

euc_distances <- 
         # get their votes
         person <- as.numeric(vsg.coded[x,])
         # break down into dimensions
         economic <- person[which(most_conservative_votes$dim==1)]
         social <- person[which(most_conservative_votes$dim==2)]
         # get most cons economic & social positions
        economic_cons <- most_conservative_votes$vote[which(most_conservative_votes$dim==1)]
        social_cons <- most_conservative_votes$vote[which(most_conservative_votes$dim==2)]
        # get two distances
        dim_1 <- jaccard.dist(economic[!is.na(economic)],
         dim_2 <- jaccard.dist(social[!is.na(social)],
        # adjust the euclidian distance because it exaggerates spread -- take the sq root
         # just get the mean -- euc distances aren't normally distributed and look wonky
         #dim_1 <- mean(economic,na.rm=T)
         #dim_2 <- mean(social,na.rm=T)
       }) %>% do.call('rbind',.)

# Step 5: Add contextual variables -------------
# join back up with the vsg. data. We want 2016 pres votes 
euc_distances$case_identifier <- ids

# join up with original vsg, so we can get pres vote
vsg.ideo <- vsg %>% 
  left_join(euc_distances, by='case_identifier') %>%

# recode pres vote, trump approval
vsg.ideo <- vsg.ideo %>%
  mutate(vote_2016 = case_when(presvote16post_2016 == "Donald Trump" ~ "Trump",
                               presvote16post_2016 == "Hillary Clinton" ~ "Clinton",
                               presvote16post_2016 %in% c("Gary Johnson","Jill Stein","Evan McMullin","Other") ~ "Other",
                               TRUE ~ NA_character_),
         trump_approve_2 = case_when(trumpapp_2017 %in% c("Strongly Approve","Somewhat Approve") ~ "Approve",
                                     trumpapp_2017 %in% c("Somewhat Disapprove","Strongly Disapprove") ~ "Disapprove",
                                     TRUE ~ NA_character_),
         trump_approve_4 = case_when(trumpapp_2017=="Don't know" ~ NA_character_,
                                     grepl("pprove",trumpapp_2017) ~ trumpapp_2017,
                                     TRUE ~ NA_character_),
         trump_approve_4 = factor(trump_approve_4,
                                  levels=c("Strongly Approve","Somewhat Approve","Somewhat Disapprove","Strongly Disapprove")),
         dem_primary_2016 = case_when(pp_demprim16_2016 == "Hillary Clinton" ~ "Clinton",
                                      pp_demprim16_2016 == "Bernie Sanders" ~ "Sanders",
                                      pp_demprim16_2016 == "Someone else" ~ "Other",
                                      TRUE ~ NA_character_),
         rep_primary_2016 = case_when(pp_repprim16_2016 == "Donald Trump" ~ "Trump",
                                      grepl("Kasich|Rubio|Cruz|else|recall",pp_repprim16_2016) ~ "Other",
                                      TRUE ~ NA_character_),
         # self-assigned party
         pid_lean = case_when(grepl('Democrat',pid7)~'Dem/Lean Dem',
                              grepl('Republican',pid7)~'Rep/Lean Rep',
                              pid7=="Independent" ~ "Pure Ind"),
         pid_lean = factor(pid_lean,levels=c("Dem/Lean Dem","Rep/Lean Rep","Pure Ind")),
         # represented by own party
         coparty_repn = case_when(pid_lean=="Dem/Lean Dem" & 
                                    grepl('well-represented',represent_dem) ~ "Well-represented",
                                  pid_lean=="Rep/Lean Rep" & 
                                    grepl('well-represented',represent_rep) ~ "Well-represented",
                                  pid_lean=="Dem/Lean Dem" & 
                                    grepl('poor',represent_dem) ~ "Poorly represented",
                                  pid_lean=="Rep/Lean Rep" & 
                                    grepl('poor',represent_rep) ~ "Poorly represented",
                                  TRUE ~ NA_character_),
         coparty_repn = factor(coparty_repn,levels=c("Well-represented","Poorly represented"))

# reclase dim from 0 = cons 1 = dem to -1 dem 1 cons
vsg.ideo$dim_1.rescale <- rescale(vsg.ideo$dim_1,c(-1,1),c(min(euc_distances$dim_1),max(euc_distances$dim_1)))
vsg.ideo$dim_2.rescale <- rescale(vsg.ideo$dim_2,c(-1,1),c(min(euc_distances$dim_2),max(euc_distances$dim_2)))

# Step 6: Crosstabs  ---------
vsg.svy <- svydesign(~1,data = vsg.ideo,weights = ~weight_panel)


# Step 7: Plots ---------
# trump approval
gg <- ggplot(vsg.ideo %>% filter(!is.na(coparty_repn)), 
       aes(x=dim_1.rescale, y=dim_2.rescale, col=coparty_repn)) +
  geom_vline(xintercept = 0,linetype=2) + 
  geom_hline(yintercept = 0,linetype=2) +
  geom_jitter(size=2,alpha=0.5) +
  labs(title="Most Democrats and Republicans Feel Represented",
       subtitle="73% of Americans report feeling well-represented by their party",
       x="Economic Dimension\n(-1=Liberal, 1=Conservative)",
       y="Social/Lifestyle/Elites Dimension\n(-1=Liberal, 1=Conservative)",
       caption="Source: 2018 VOTER Survey") +
  scale_color_manual("Feel represented by party?", values=c("Well-represented" ="#2ECC71",
                                       "Poorly represented" = "#DC7633")) +

Looking at data from the 2018 VOTER Survey from the Democracy Fund’s Voter Study group, the evidence is clearly against Friedman. The vast majority of most voters, regardless of party or ideology, feel well-represented by their party. See this graph, where each point is a voter placed along the left-right ideological spectrums for economic and social/elite attitudes and colored by whether or not they feel represented (green) or not (brown) by their party:

preview(gg, themearg = theme(legend.position = 'bottom')) ## my theme alternative to `print(gg)`

It’s just not the case, as some would argue, that moderate Democratic voters feel “left behind” by a Democratic party that is leaning more to the left year after year, or that those liberal Democrats might start their own party. The entire argument strikes me as the same misundersttandings of the Tea Party come back again, but on the left. And that’s if we’re equating the size of the two movements, which of course is not true.

Besides, we know from a plethora of political science research that a voters’ issue-based ideological proximity to a party — whether a voter who supports raising the minimum wage can find a candidate who supports raising the minimum wage — is not the end-all be-all for determining which party they will vote for. In fact, it’s not even close. Aside from the fact that your party affiliation can predict about 95% of your voting behavior, demographic characteristics such as race, age, income, and education as well as attitudes like racism, sexism, feelings toward your economic security and so-called “populism” are all predictive of vote choice.

The assertion that we could have four political parties in next year’s presidential election simply falls apart when stacked up against the evidence.

There’s more work to be done here, but I think this graph illustrates the point clearly enough to set aside more discussion in other channels (IE: my real job?).

If you’re here to learn R, be sure to check out the code on GitHub.





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