Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The politics of the Arpaio pardon

I haven't written about the Arpaio pardon yet because Trump hid it amid the hurricane news, and despite denials, that was the point.  As others have commented, controversial pardons are generally done at the end of a president's term.  For example, when Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich-- a campaign donor-- for no reason other than payback as far as anyone could tell, he did it during the lame-duck period just before George W. Bush's inauguration.  Trump wasn't going to wait, but he wanted to minimize fallout, so he looked for an opportunity to hide the pardon amid bigger news, and that's really all there is to it.  And that's the point of why I haven't gotten to this yet.  There's been bigger stuff.

So let's deal with this "law and order" stuff.  "Law and order" is a slogan.  Also, a show that I never watched because it didn't have any sci-fi elements to it, so really, what was the point?  (Come on, it's in the title of the blog...)  The phrase, though, has historically been used in two specific ways.  There are the racial issues, and the way that it signals alliance with police.  They are, of course, related.  For now, though, I'll focus on the attitude towards cops.

Cops break the law.  How often you think they break the law will determine your attitude towards the cops, and whether or not you accept the premise that "law and order" means supporting the cops.  If cops are lawbreakers themselves, then true "law and order" means constraining the cops.  And this is a partisan issue.  In the 2016 American National Election Studies survey, we asked everyone to rate the police on a "feeling thermometer."  The scale goes from 0 to 100, with 0 being coldest, or most negative, and 100 being warmest, or most positive.  Now, we can make jokes about Celsius, and the freezing point and boiling point of water, and if you are one of my students, you may have heard me bash this scale before for having phony "precision" since nobody can reliably place themselves on a scale with this many gradations, but this is what we have.  Anyway, we also ask respondents to place themselves on a seven-point scale from "strong Democrat" to "strong Republican," and that scale is way, way better, and we use a branching method in the questions to ensure that respondents wind up on the right place on the scale.  So, what are the average feeling thermometer scores for the cops, for each category of partisanship?

Strong Democrat                                68
Weak Democrat                                  70
Independent, Leaning Democrat        68
Independent                                        69
Independent, Leaning Republican      80
Weak Republican                                81
Strong Republican                              87

So... see anything interesting there?  Democrats, regardless of strength of partisanship, put the cops at around 70.  Democrats basically like cops.  Control for race and those numbers would change, obviously, but I'm just doing the basic partisan breakdown.  Republicans?  Republicans fucking love the cops.  Particularly "strong Republicans."  The idea of a cop doing wrong, to a "strong Republican," is practically a non-sequitur.  You accuse a cop of wrong-doing, to a "strong Republican," and your argument doesn't even get a hearing.  Why?  Their feeling thermometer towards the cops is, on average, 87 on a 0-100 scale.  How high is that?  Ask "strong Republicans" to rate "christians," and in 2016, their average score was 89.  Only two points higher.  For fucking "christians."  (OK, it doesn't separate out fucking christians from non-fucking christians.  We don't bother to ask about "shakers," or any of that...).  Point being, it pretty much can't get higher than that.  Strong Republicans aren't even going to listen to arguments about police corruption or abuse of power.  Their feeling thermometer scores are just too high.

Now does it make sense why Trump pardoned Arpaio and why his supporters back him, even without any race issues?  (Procedural norms notwithstanding...)


  1. "How often you think they break the law will determine your attitude towards the cops, and whether or not you accept the premise that "law and order" means supporting the cops."

    Causal order is definitely not clear in that direction (and I'd think it more likely runs in the opposite).

    1. Plausible. I'd love to find a way to test it.