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Informed Weekend: 10 Links I Learned From This Week (Vol. 12)

Here are the ten(ish) links I learned from this week:

  1. Video: What Can People Do to Get Better at Learning? (The Atlantic)
  2. How to change someone’s mind, according to science (The Washington Post)
  3. Every single Democratic superdelegate, in one chart (Vox)
  4. Is Guantanamo a Terrorist Recruitment Tool? (The Atlantic)
    1. Further Reading: The fatal flaw in Obama’s plan to close Guantanoamo Bay (Vox)
  5. Caucus and Primary Updates
    1. Nevada Democratic Caucus, February 20: Winner = Hillary Clinton
    2. Nevada Republican Caucus, February 23: Winner = Donald Trump
    3. South Carolina Republican Primary, February 20: Winner = Donald Trump
    4. South Carolina Democratic Primary, February 27: Winner = Hillary Clinton
  6. Discussion: Can Republicans Stop Trump?
    1. The rise of Donald Trump is a terrifying moment in American politics (Vox)
    2. Republicans’ Last-Ditch Hope To Stop Donald Trump (FiveThirtyEight)
    3. The Republican Party is broken (Vox)
  7. An Elegy for the Jeb Bush Campaign (The Atlantic)
    1. Further Reading: Jeb Bush’s Path to Defeat Began a Year Ago (FiveThirtyEight)
"Donald Trump" by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

“Donald Trump” by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Informed Weekend: 10 Links I Learned From This Week (Vol. 11)

Here are the ten links I learned from this week:

  1. Read Justice Ginsburg’s moving tribute to her “best buddy” Justice Scalia (Vox)
  2. Outside spending for 2016 hits $200m (OpenSecrets)
  3. 9 questions about Cuba you were too embarrassed to ask (Vox)
  4. The remarkably different answers men and women give when asked who’s the smartest in the class (The Washington Post)
  5. Why it’s So Hard to Prove Zika is Causing Birth Defects (FiveThirtyEight)
  6. Hillary Clinton’s Candidacy Reveals Generational Schism Among Women (The New York Times)
  7. Why the Congressional Black Caucus endorsement of Hillary Clinton is a really big deal (The Washington Post)
  8. What are Democratic superdelegates? A cartoon explainer. (Vox)
    1. Further Reading: Everything you need to know about delegate math in the presidential primary (The Washington Post)
  9. Every presidential 7th year ranked, from Washington to Obama (Vox)
  10. Get up to speed fast on the giant political fight over replacing Antonin Scalia (Vox)
    1. How Scalia Compared with Other Justices (The New York Times)
    2. How Scalia’s death reshapes four Supreme Court cases (BBC News)
    3. Scalia Was Almost Never the Most Conservative Justice on The Supreme Court (FiveThirtyEight)
"Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia" by Stephen Masker (CC BY 2.0)

“Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia” by Stephen Masker (CC BY 2.0)

Why Rick Perry Wore Glasses

Written by Jakob Miller

This is former Texas Governor Rick Perry. He was in the 2016 presidential race, but only briefly. If you think back to the 2012 election, however, you almost certainly remember him for this (much to Mr. Perry’s annoyance):

His opponents had a field day with that clip, and the image of Perry as “unprepared” or “unintelligent” was fixed in the public mind. More than a few political pundits blamed that moment on the Michigan stage for the death of Perry’s campaign.

So, when Mr. Perry decided to throw his hat into the rather crowded 2016 ring, he did so with a plan. A strategy. A way to shake off the images that still dogged him from the past campaign, and ensure that this time he’d be taken seriously.

He bought a pair of glasses.

Rick Perry in Glasses
Photo by Kent Williams. (CC BY 2.0)

Now, you might, at this point, be amused at the transparency of this attempt1 but it’s unlikely that you’ve given it anymore thought than that. So step back a moment and consider.

A very competent2 and powerful person, while preparing to mount a serious effort to become one of the most powerful people in the world, decided to spend time and effort on a fashion accessory to counteract the effects of a flubbed line on a cable show four years ago.

The fact is, Perry’s decision was the right call. We can break down the voting decisions the public makes fairly easily. Once you get past things like political parties and the current crop of hot-button issues, you have what William Jacoby3 euphemistically calls `personal evaluations’. In other words, once you get past the signposts and the substance, people start judging the candidates based on how they feel about them. That’s why, if you want to be president, it’s very important that you be tall and good-looking.4

And don’t dismiss all this as silly nonsense, either. Sure, picking `the leader of the free world’ based on height and hairdo might seem like a bad idea. But if you’re the average American voter, you’re not that politically sophisticated or well-informed. Asking someone like that to make a voting decision based on complicated policy issues seems unfair and unworkable: how can we expect Joe Average to adjudicate between competing foreign policy approaches to the Middle East based on the campaign ads he happened to see?

So the idea of picking a candidate based on personality traits isn’t that bad of an idea. After all, you’re only picking a party or an issue platform secondhand — what you’re really picking in an election, first and foremost, is a person. People have far more first-hand experience judging people’s personalities than they do evaluating issue platforms, and information about the candidates’ personalities is cheap.

But therein lies the rub. All that information is so cheap because there are multiple interested parties out there desperately competing to shape the public’s mind.

The media, for example, is in the business of glueing eyeballs to screens. So the events that make it to the public are the ones that are most “newsworthy”. That’s why celebrity endorsements are valuable, why the news reports campaigns the way they do horse races, and why you’ll see every insult the campaigners exchange but never hear them going over the fine print of their economic proposals.That’s why the story of the first President Bush not knowing how to use a supermarket scanner spread, despite the fact that it never actually happened. As one journalist said, it was just too good not to be true.

And don’t forget the opposition, either. Every presidential candidate has teams dedicated to twisting the public’s perception of them. Perry’s gaffe would likely have been quickly forgotten if his opponents hadn’t made sure that it was repeated.

The most famous example of this might be Dukakis and the tank:

Fun fact: Those braking noises you heard? Listen to them again.

Tanks don’t even make those noises! Those were dubbed in!

So, in self-defense, candidates employ their own image teams. These image managers are the ones who make sure that campaign supporters don’t wear ties when their candidate is trying to look down to earth. They agonize over every word of every speech — not always what it means, but how it sounds. They ensure that the candidate’s backdrop is microprinted with their slogans — if Joe Average is only going to get that one image of the president, then it had better be a good one.5 And, of course, sometimes they put their candidate in eyeglasses.

The only reason we all noticed Perry’s attempt was that it was slightly more obvious than most. But the next time you catch yourself having feelings about this candidate or that, remember that every image you have of them is the result of a three-way (candidate, opposition and media) war between desperate teams of professionals.

And if we all kept that in mind, then maybe they wouldn’t have to wear glasses.


1. Officially, the glasses were for medical reasons.
2. You don’t get to elected office in this country without either being smart or having people to be smart for you. Debate notwithstanding.
3. The Oxford Handbook of American Elections and Political Behavior.
4. Height, Appearance.
5. A journalist once put out a TV segment critical of Ronald Reagan: negative narration over stock footage of the president. She was surprised, therefore, to get a thank-you call from Reagan’s image team. The pictures she used, you see, had looked great — and as far as they were concerned, that was all that mattered.

Informed Weekend: 10 Links I Learned from This Week (Vol. 10)

Here are the ten links I learned from this week:

  1. College Freshmen Are More Politically Engaged Than They Have Been in Decades (FiveThirtyEight)
  2. Why People Cheat (The Washington Post)
  3. The White House’s new $1.8 billion plan to fight the Zika virus, explained (Vox)
  4. Women also Know Stuff
    1. Further Reading: Q&A with Founder of Women Also Know Stuff (Midwest Political Science Association)
  5. A Major Blow to Obama’s Climate-Change Plan (The Atlantic)
  6. Department of Justice Sues Ferguson, Which Reversed Course on Agreement (The New York Times)
  7. With second-place finish, Kasich is thrust into relevance (The Washington Post)
    1. Further Reading: New Hampshire primary results: John Kasich takes 2nd (Vox)
  8. Why Marco Rubio’s glitch was the rare gaffe that will matter (Vox)
  9. Obama to propose a $10-a-barrel oil tax (Politico)
  10. The End of the Oregon Standoff (The Atlantic)
  11. Bonus: The Black Establishment Chooses Clinton (FiveThirtyEight)
America Has The Right Type of Mosquito for the Zika Virus – Yale Epidemiologist" by Day Donaldson (CC BY 2.0)

America Has The Right Type of Mosquito for the Zika Virus – Yale Epidemiologist” by Day Donaldson (CC BY 2.0)

Everything you Need to Know About the 2016 Presidential Election

I’ve assembled everything you need to know about the 2016 Presidential race (post Iowa) so you don’t have to.

  1. What happened in the Iowa caucus?
    1. 2 winners and 3 losers from the Iowa caucuses (Vox)
    2. Bernie Sanders’s tie should be the biggest story of the Iowa caucuses (Vox)
    3. Trump’s humble pie and Clinton’s pseudo-crown: How cartoonists drew the Iowa caucus results (The Washington Post)
  2. Who has dropped out of the 2016 Presidential race after the Iowa caucuses (current as of 2/26/16)?
    1. After South Carolina Primary, Jeb Bush (Republican): An Elegy for the Jeb Bush Campaign (The Atlantic)
    2. After New Hampshire Primary, Chris Christie (Republican): Chris Christie drops out (Vox)
    3. After New Hampshire Primary, Carly Fiorina (Republican): Fiorina ends her Republican presidential campaign (The Washington Post)
    4. After Iowa Caucus, Mike Huckabee (Republican): Why Mike Huckabee Lost in 2016 (The Atlantic)
    5. After Iowa Caucus, Martin O’Malley (Democrat): O’Malley suspends presidential bid after a dismal showing in Iowa (The Washington Post)
    6. After Iowa Caucus, Rand Paul (Republican): Goodbye, Rand Paul: Goodbye, GOP Dovishness (FiveThirtyEight)
    7. After Iowa Caucus, Rick Santorum (Republican): Rick Santorum’s presidential campaign ends in a whimper (Vox)
  3. Who is still in the 2016 Presidential race and what are their chances?
    1. The 2016 U.S. Presidential Race: A Cheat Sheet (The Atlantic)
    2. Marco Rubio is Now Winning the Race for Endorsements (FiveThirtyEight)
    3. Which States Cruz, Trump, and Rubio Need to Win (The New York Times)
    4. How Bernie Sanders Could Lose but still Defeat Hillary Clinton (The New Yorker)
    5. We asked 6 political scientists who is more electable: Trump or Cruz (Vox)
    6. We asked 6 political scientists if Bernie Sanders would have a shot in a general election (Vox)
  4. What’s next?
    1. New Hampshire Primary (February 9th)
      1. Eight Days in New Hampshire (The New Yorker)
      2. What to look for in Tuesday’s New Hampshire Primary (Vox)
      3. 3 winners and 3 losers in the New Hampshire primary (Vox)
    2. South Carolina Republican (February 20th) and Democratic (February 27th) Primaries
      1. South Carolina Republican primary results 2016: 2 winners and 3 losers (Vox)
    3. Nevada Democratic (February 20th) and Republican (February 23rd) Caucus
      1. 3 winners and 2 losers from the Nevada Democratic Caucus (Vox)
      2. 2 winners and 3 losers from the Nevada Republican Caucuses (Vox)

What else would you like to know?

"Governor Martin O'Malley" by Gregory Hauenstein (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

“Governor Martin O’Malley” by Gregory Hauenstein (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Informed Weekend: 10 Links I Learned From This Week (Vol. 9)

Here are the ten links I learned from this week. For more on the 2016 presidential election, see here.

  1. Hard to say: A statement at the heart of the debate over academic freedom (The Economist)
  2. How Ted Cruz used good political science to design a disastrous mailer (Vox)
  3. Gender and Emotions on the Campaign Trail (Midwest Political Science Association)
  4. Obama’s Controversial Higher-Ed Legacy (The Atlantic)
  5. Six Degrees of Separation? Facebook Finds a Smaller Number (The New York Times)
  6. Americans want limits on their presidents – even the ones they voted for (Vox)
  7. Why are Americans so angry? (BBC News)
  8. Who killed the death penalty? (The Economist)
    1. Further Reading: A Record Number of Exonerations in the U.S. (The Atlantic)
  9. One party has decided. The other hasn’t. (Vox)
  10. Understanding the U.S. Primaries (The Everygirl)