Chat about the 2006 election with political scientist Bob Beatty

October 30, 2006

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Bob Beatty is an Assistant Professor of Political Science. His interests, research, and projects in Kansas Studies focus primarily on Kansas history and politics. Beatty is also the producer and moderator for Public Affairs programming on KTWU and WUCT in Topeka. His programs focus on in-depth discussions with Kansas' political leaders (such as Senator Sam Brownback, Senator Pat Roberts, Congressmen Jerry Moran and Dennis Moore, etc.) and in election years forums between candidates for key Kansas offices such as Governor, U.S. Senator, and U.S. Congress. On Saturday, he moderates a gubernatorial debate; Monday, he takes your questions about the races, the polls, the advertising -- and who is likely to win.

Moderator:

Hi folks! I'm Joel Mathis, managing editor for convergence, and I'll be moderating today. Bob Beatty joins us from his office in Topeka. Dr. Beatty -- you moderated the gubernatorial debate over the weekend. How'd that go?

Bob Beatty:


Thanks for having me Joel and greetings to Lawrence Journal World readers. It's been a busy and hectic election season for any observer of Kansas politics. While at first the Governor's race was the most interesting, it's now the Attorney General race and 2nd Congressional District races that are causing the most heat.
Indeed I was the moderator of the final debate between Governor Sebelius and Senator Barnett. It aired on state-wide TV Saturday evening and nationally on C-SPAN later that night. The debate went very well. Both candidates answered questions on a lot of different topics and even got to rebut each other in 30 second rebuttals. I'm very interested in people's impressions of the debate from among any LJ World readers who watched it.

Larzia:

Do you think moderate republicans are emerging as a new political force, especially in Kansas?

Bob Beatty:


Larzia - Good question. In Kansas moderate republicans have always been an important group. If you look at Kansas Governor elections, for example, you see that in the past 50 or so years we've had five democratic governors and five republican governors. And in terms of years served over those fifty years, democrats have served longer. Obviously democrats don't get elected without moderate republican voters. And we do see that the wider the electorate, the more moderate the candidate in Kansas (this doesn't hold true for Senator Brownback, but Senator Brownback ran inititally on a much more focused cut government platform when first elected; and after being elected to the US Senate as a republican in Kansas, there's pretty much a lock on the job). But in smaller constituency races, such as state school board and the state legislature, we do see the influence of conservative republicans.
One sign of the power of the moderate republicans this election will be whether Morrison defeats Kline. Another interesting sign of the influence of the moderates in the party is that the party is not losing members (looked at via voter registration numbers) to the democrats. So it could be that moderates disaffected by the conservatives don't see fleeing the party as the way to go but would rather stay in the party and vote for moderates.
The numbers for Kansas voter registration by party are interesting. As of July you had the GOP at 46%, unaffiliateds at 26.9% and Democrats at 26.5%.

justthefacts:

Many people say they do not like negative political ads. However, there is no lack of such ads in each season (and in my opinion both sides do it, and it's getting worse every year). Has there actually been an increase in the use of such ads (and if so why) and do you think the majority of voters truly do not like them? What can those of us who do not like such ads do to encourage candidates to not use such tactics?

Bob Beatty:


Justthe facts: Boy have you hit a hot research topic in political science there! First, research has shown, and campaigns know from results, that negative ads work. Second, yes, there's been an increase in the use of such ads. It's estimated that over 80% of the ads for Congressional races by both parties this year will be negative. 80%! Now, I should add a caveat: Research has found that some negative ads, those called "contrast" ads, are actually probably good for the electorate. Usually, these ads highlight a vote or issue for one candidate and then talk about how the other candidate feels about that isue. Those kinds of ads are the norm in a high intensity campaign and according to some research can increase turnout and increase voter learning and interest in candidates. The candidates usually throw in a bad picture of their opponent, but overall those ads do help people learn more about the issues. An example of that kind of ad is Jim Barnett's second ad, where he talks about Sebelius' record on the economy and also what he wants to do. Negative? Sure. But also informative. What does turn people off, and suppresses turnout, though, are the personal attack ads, that bring up salacious item and sometimes make borderline or outright deceptive claims (an example of that kind of ad is one that ran in Tennesse that had a actress that looked like a stripper calling up Congressman Harold Ford for a "date"). Kansas hasn't really seen ads that fall in that realm until this current AG race.
As for what you can do, well, one thing would be to press our legislature to discuss legislation that puts some sort of rules on those ads, allowing for more clear identification of who's running them, like they have to do at the federal level.

rhd99:

Mr. Beatty, on the Attorney General race, why is Phill Kline so popular, even though he has conducted himself in a questionable manner on many fronts as of late? If Kline isn't that popular, how can Paul Morrison capitalize on Kline's weaknesses & win in November? Thank you.

Bob Beatty:


rhd99: Well, Morrison's banking that Kline isn't so popular! First, the more information people have on a candidate the less they rely on party ID as a cue for their vote. So, that's why we'll see possibly over 30% of republicans voter for Governor Sebelius on Nov. 7 - they have lots of information on her. In down ballot races, when people don't know a lot about candidates, 2/3 of them or more will vote party line. So, that's why many were very surprised when a relative unknown, Chris Biggs, came within 1/2 a point of beating Kline four years ago for Attorney General. Usually, for non-Governor statewide races such as Attorney General, the republican, whoever he or she is, is a lock. So, that told Morrison that Kline might not be very popular among moderate republicans and unaffiliated voters. In the only poll on the race, done a few weeks ago, Morrison shot up to a 15 point lead statewide after he was able to get his TV commercials going and introduce himself to voters, indicating that given information on Morrison, the voters seemed to be wanting to vote for him. I dont' have a poll so I have no idea how this whole sexual harassment thing will effect that lead, but to me it's surprising Morrison hasn't responded with a TV ad. Either they're stumped as to what to do, or their polling is showing him holding his lead. If you see a TV ad in the next week where Morrison directly addresses the harassment attacks, then I think that could mean the race has really tightened up.

rhd99:

Mr. Beatty, what is your prediction for the Kansas Attorney General race this year? Thank you.

Bob Beatty:


rhd99: I'm not sure if a prediction is useful, but we can look at analytical factors as mentioned above. First, Morrison decides to challenge Kline because he thinks he can win based on pledges of fundraising dollars from moderate republicans and democrats and, as he told a Washburn audience months ago, "very high negatives" for Kline in his polling. In the first poll of the race done about a month and a half ago, Kline leads 51%-48%, with huge leads in Wichita and Western Kansas but Morrison up by 13% in Eastern Kansas. Then a month later a new poll out shows Morrison ahead by 15 points, having erased Kline's leads in Wichita and Western Kansas. Professor Chapman Rockaway from Ft. Hays State notes that he was probably able to do this via his TV advertising in Wichita and the West.
And, let me know quickly comment on Morrison's first TV ad, the one that would be introducing him to voters in Western Kansas. It was a humorous ad that featured his family. In the context of so many negative ads in American politics, humorous ads are rare, but often very effective (the most famous being Paul Wellstone's ads for the Minnesota Senate). So it could be that not only the ads, but the type of ads, helped him introduce himself where people didn't know him.
The key question is whether the sexual harassment issue cuts that 15 point lead. I have no idea, but again, if it has, and Morrison isn't responding, then they're not doing what many campaign consultants would advise, which is to counter the attacks. So, it could be -and I stress could be - that the attacks are not cutting into his lead.

oscarfactor:

My question concerns the Ryun/Boyda race. Why would challenger Boyda put so much political stock and effort into the so-called "NAFTA SuperCorridor" issue when even KDOT officials - led by an appointee of the Democratic Governor - say that it is a myth? Why would Boyda use this scare tactic, when it is apparent that most people realize that it is simply the folly of a bunch of Internet nutballs?

Bob Beatty:


oscarfactor: The theme of Boyda's campaign is that Congress is out of touch and that Jim Ryun in particular is part of the Washington crowd that is ignoring people's problems. When she announced she was running again she got scant attention from the media and didn't have very much money to run TV ads and the Ryun campaign would not agree to the TV debates that marked the race two years ago. Strategically, I think she had a take a gamble on an issue that would catch some attention. Looking at Ryun's response in light of the theme of her campaign (that Ryun is out of touch), Ryun calling it a myth actually fell into her theme in a way ("See, I told you he'd deny knowing about it...). I do think it helped her get some attention in a race that was teetering on not getting any at all.

Moderator:

A follow-up: Is the 2nd District race really that competitive? It seems counterintuitive that a candidate who had big-money backing two years ago -- yet still lost by a significant margin -- could win taking a more grass-roots approach? Is there something else that's changed, or are we in the media trying to create some heat where there is none?

Bob Beatty:


It's impossible to know how close it is. In many congressional districts there's a certain percentage of voters, maybe 10%-15% who don't pay much attention to the congressional race and vote for the incumbent because of party ID or because they think he/she is "nice" (which explains why two years ago you had Congress at about 45% approval but 98% of incumbents were re-elected). That 15% voted largely voted for Ryun two years ago, and he won easily. But this year there's a general grumbling about Washington over how its handled Katrina, Iraq, illegal immigration, energy, etc. and in previous mid-term elections, that grumbling has led to anti-incumbent voting (like in 1994). So, if that grumbling is in any way real, like many national analysts are saying it is, then this race not only is, but could be very close. If it's not a heartful grumbling and disaffection, then Ryun wins like he has and the incumbency advantage holds true again.

justthefacts:

If Attorney General Kline is defeated and Governor Sebelius wins, the state will have an Attorney General and Governor who are members of the Democrat party. Has that ever happened before, and if so, how long has it been since that was the case?

Bob Beatty:


I don't know when we've had Democratic AG's in the past in Kansas. But, we shouldn't read too much into possibly having a Democrat Governor and Democrat AG. Why? Because the Governor's Lt. Governor was a Republican just a few short few months ago and so was Paul Morrison! What the Kansas Democrats probably should have thought about doing (and I guess could still do) is to revamp and re-name their party to try to not only get some politicians to switch parties, but to get republicans to switch parties. For example, in Minnesota the Democrats are the DFL party (Democratic Farm Labor). You can have some fun thinking of a new name that could incorporate moderate republicans...

Larzia:

Mr. Beatty... Does it appear to you as it does to me and many others that the mainstream parties are pulling further to the left and right, leaving moderate Americans behind?

Moderator:

We're going to post one more question after this, then let Dr. Beatty get back to his day job.

Bob Beatty:


Larzia - First, let me highly recommend a book to you. It's by Morris Fiorina and its called "Culture Wars?" He argues through extensive polling that the majority of Americans are politically moderate and want and look for compromise solutions to the "divisive" issues, but that political elites/parties/politicians are highly polorized but the public isn't. Why is that? Well, for one, where do we get our candidates? From primaries, which often feature very low turnout and activists from the left or right voting in high numbers. And we also see it in gerrymandering in Congress, where states are putting in "safe" congressional districts that elect extreme partisans, making compromise more difficult in the House.
When you look at Governor's seats, though, you don't see this: Schweitzer, a Democrat in Montana. Romney, a Republican in Mass. Napalitano, a Dem. in Arizona. etc. etc.

Lethargic_Bureaucrat:

Are the conservatives going to be able to continue to dominate the Kansas GOP if they lose both the Governor and AG race? At some point aren't the conservative Republicans going to have to make peace with the moderates?

Bob Beatty:


Lethargic - Well, sure, I think its very possible the conservatives could continue to dominate the Kansas GOP. As I've mentioned in some other answers, those with the energy and passion for certain issues can do very well in getting out their votes or voters in smaller constituency elections. So conservatives will mobilize in primaries and party office elections in Kansas and do well just as liberals can do the same in California. And I don't think they want to make peace with the moderates. They believe their ideas are better and the moderates are in the wrong party (remember the Carter-Praeger primary? Carter told Praeger to leave the party).

Moderator:

Thanks for joining us! A reminder to political junkies: KU political science professor Allan Cigler will join us next Monday, the eve of the election, to offer up last-day thoughts before Kansans go to the polls. Join us then: http://www2.ljworld.com/chats/2006/nov/06/allan_cigler/

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