The Farm Bill’s odd couple: SNAP and agriculture

In January, I spent some time discussing SNAP in Virginia here and here; at the time, there was a lot of hypothesizing about what kinds of changes were in store for the program.

In early February, the Farm Bill was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. This bill reauthorized Federal funding to the SNAP program, and included an estimated funding reduction of about $8 billion that is projected to influence hundreds of thousands of SNAP recipients.  Virginia remained almost entirely unaffected by changes to the program, as did many other states.  For details about the changes the Agriculture Act of 2014 made to SNAP, check out this article, or this synopsis of the Farm Bill conference agreement.

Maybe you’re not all that interested in the outcome, or maybe you’re the type to review the summaries, ponder the formal text of the final act, or even pore over helpful timelines to figure it out.  Either way, you might still be wondering: why are food stamps included in an agriculture bill, in the first place? Continue reading

A map that shows what’s wrong with Washington

2008 Election Dot Map, NortheastThe recent government shutdown and flirtation with default has seriously deteriorated public trust in Congress, and in Washington more generally.  Disgust with Washington is often followed by bewilderment. How did things get this way?

While there is no single answer to this question, if I had to choose one, it would be current redistricting practices. There is a strong case to be made that political polarization (and associated intransigence and brinkmanship) are rooted in gerrymandered congressional districts.

Gerrymandering, the art and science of lawmakers choosing their own voters rather than the other way around, has ensured that most representatives in the U.S. House are safe from general election challenges.  Without those challenges, positions taken by elected officials are not exposed to debate and to the typically moderating effect of contested elections.  In contrast, in gerrymandered districts where it is clear that one party or the other has a more or less certain general election victory in hand, candidates from the opposing party opt out of running (or have little real chance of winning if they do). As a result, the only threats to these lawmakers come in contentious primary contests from the hard left and hard right.  Being “primaried” is now a common term among political strategists, and is often used to describe well-financed tea party challengers who unseat moderate Republicans. As moderation, from either side, is lost in primary challenges, the result is more rigidly ideological victors and the deadlock we see with increasing frequency in Congress.

This connection between redistricting, polarization, and legislative dysfunction is complicated, and as soon as political scientists start talking about the nuances of this subject the message sometimes gets lost.  So I decided to create a visual to help illuminate what is really going on…

Link to the full interactive Congressional Dot Map.

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Red State, Blue State: Demographic Change and Presidential Politics in Virginia

Today, the Cooper Center released a new report  on demographic shifts in Virginia and how they will impact the upcoming election.  Co-authoring this publication has provided me with the opportunity to connect some of the different topics highlighted in this blog and provide much more in-depth analysis on the demographic factors that will come to play a big role this November.  If you have been following us these last few months you will no doubt recognize some of the material, but I encourage our regular Stat Chat followers to take a look.  Michele and I have tried to paint an accurate portrait of the role demography has played in presidential politics in the Old Dominion and have made every attempt at putting all of the data and numbers into context for our readers.

Some of the questions we investigate:

1.  Was the 2008 Democratic victory in Virginia an aberration or a herald of change?

2.  Has urbanization and the growing influence of Northern Virginia finally tilted Virginia from a solidly “red” state to a “blue” state?

3.  Will minority turnout be the deciding factor in Virginia?

4.  Can young voters in 2012 match the electoral strength of their older counterparts?

Happy reading.

Update: First derivative Virginians

Quinnipiac University released its latest poll of Virginia’s registered voters and the news is not good for Obama.  Since 2011, Obama has led Romney in all trial heat match-ups that Quinnipiac released for the commonwealth, sometimes with leads well outside of polls’ margins of error.  This month’s release, however, shows that Romney has closed the gap with Obama and is tied with him 44 – 44 in a hypothetical match-up.

Quinnipiac Poll of Virginia Registered Voters:

If the election for President were being held today, and the candidates were Barack Obama the Democrat and Mitt Romney the Republican, for whom would you vote?

  July 2012 June 2012 March 2012 Feb. 2012
Obama 44% 47% 50%  47%
Romney 44% 42% 42%  43%

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The Individual Mandate stays, but what about Medicaid? Insights for Virginia

Today’s Supreme Court ruling has upheld the central piece of the Affordable Care Act, the individual mandate, but has deemed part of that act unconstitutional when it comes to another major piece, the Medicaid expansion.

Under the Act, Medicaid will expand to cover all persons under 133% of the poverty line. Under the original Medicaid rules, only certain “covered groups” were eligible; namely the aged, blind, disabled, children, or parents with dependent children.  No provision was made for poor childless adults.  The Affordable Care Act sought to change that, and conditioned all future Medicaid funding on states’ compliance with the new coverage rules.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in his majority opinion, deemed that the federal government forcing the states to comply with the expansion, lest they lose all Medicaid funding, was unconstitutional, stating, “In this case, the financial ‘inducement’ Congress has chosen is much more than ‘relatively mild encouragement’ — it is a gun to the head.”  Therefore, the Medicaid expansion under health reform is now optional; states can choose to accept or refuse the conditions for the Medicaid expansion without fear of losing current Medicaid funding. Continue reading

We like you…but could you please stop robbing us :)

The recent debate and negotiations this week in Congress over student loans has me fuming.  The primary question is whether or not to increase interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans, loans that go to students from families that earn less than $70,000 a year.  Regardless of whether they agree to raise or maintain interest rates on Stafford loans, it could very well be the case that young people will still get burned.  Graduate students may have to start paying interest on their loans while they are still in school and the government will no longer cover the interest on subsidized loans during the six month transition after undergraduate students graduate.  These changes could cost young people an extra $20 billion dollars over the next decade added on to a cumulative student loan debt that has surpassed $1 trillion.  Student loan debt is one of those things that haunts you well after you graduate, and as a person who is still trying to pay off a small part of that $1 trillion, I can imagine how much tougher it will be for these new lower-income students throughout their lifetime.  So, I am a bit angry; not only because of what this means for student loans but how this contributes to a troubling pattern in today’s policy making that only seems to be getting worse.  I must ask:

How long must the old continue to eat the young?

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Update: Romney’s economic advantage in Virginia?

Quinnipiac University released it’s latest poll of Virginia’s registered voters with President Obama holding a 47 to 42 percent lead over Republican challenger Mitt Romney in a match-up.  Obama has maintained a consistent lead over Romney in all Quinnipiac polls since the beginning of the year, but there is one question that I, and many other analysts, are looking at just as closely in trying to predict which way Virginia will turn this election…

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The nation’s changing political topography

For 2012 election-related commentary, please see these recent posts :

  1. Forget Ohio, it’s all about Virginia…and demographics
  2. Virginia Votes 2012
  3. Virginia Votes 2012:  Turnout across localities
  4. Lower turnout in 2012 makes the case for political realignment in 2008

After posting Climbing Mount NoVa in 2012 a few weeks ago, I had people ask to expand my scope outside of Virginia to the national level.  Using county-level election data for the contiguous 48 states from 1980 to 2008, I now track the major vote centers and growth areas in the national electorate.

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