Dec 202016

Der rheinland-pfälzische Landtag wird in Zukunft die Pressemeldungen der Fraktionen nicht mehr auf seiner Homepage veröffentlichen. Hintergrund ist, die Landtagsverwaltung nicht für möglicherweise justiziable Aussagen der AfD in Mithaftung genommen werden möchte. Über diesen Vorgang habe ich gestern mit dem Trierischen Volksfreund gesprochen. Einige Einschätzungen zur Vokabel “Volksverrat” sind in diesen Artikel eingeflossen:

Mar 162016

Das Handelsblatt berichtet ausführlich über die aktuellen Landtagswahlen. Ich sage ein paar Worte zum Ergebnis in Rheinland-Pfalz

Mar 142016

Mit dem Trierischen Volksfreund habe ich aus Anlaß der Landtagswahl über die AfD in Rheinland-Pfalz gesprochen und die Unterschiede zwischen den Landesverbänden gesprochen. Der Artikel steht hier:

Mar 262014

For people of a certain age, it is somewhat hard to believe that Alanis Morissette’s fourth single was released a mere 18 years ago. Moreover, it is a truth universally acknowledged that this single has single-handedly clouded the idea of irony. There is a point, and I will get to it eventually.

What’s the Matter with German Public Broadcasting?

After the war, the BBC provided the template for the re-organisation of broadcasting in Germany. Broadcasters became public bodies, funded by a licence system and not under the (direct) control of the government of the day. They were to be controlled by an elaborate system of boards on which stake holders such as the churches, the unions, and the political parties had representatives. Moreover, in a bid to create further checks and balances, they were set up at the state level. To the present day Germany’s first national TV channel is produced and aired by the federation of these broadcasters.

But back in the mist of time, the Adenauer government wanted a second national TV channel, preferably with a conservative bent. Following an epic political and legal struggle, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) was created in the early 1960s through a “Staatsvertrag”, a quasi-constitutional, legally binding and enforceable agreement between the (then) eleven federal states. Again, insulating the corporation from direct government control was supposed to be a guiding principle.

Verhandlung über das Bundeswahlrecht vor dem Bundesverfassungsgericht

What Did the Court Say?

50 years on, the old battles were fought once more. In 2009, the Director General (with support from the SPD) wanted to extend the contract of the broadcaster’s chief political editor, Nikolaus Brender. The CDU opposed the appointment and organised a majority to vote against Brender by leaning on the nominally non-partisan members of the board. Kurt Beck (SPD), then minister-president of Rhineland-Palatinate, went to the Federal Constitutional Court in a bid to have the agreement declared unconstitutional.

Isn’t It Ironic? No.

Yesterday, the court ruled (entirely in line with everything the have said over the last five decades or so) that parts of the agreement are indeed unconstitutional, because there are too many representatives of the state on the boards: According to the court’s count, about 44 per cent of the members fall into that category. In an not uncommon display of judicial inspiration, they decided that 44 per cent was certainly too much, whereas one third would be ok, and that the federal states will have to modify the agreement accordingly. That leaves the tiny problem that almost anyone representing one of the societal groups (churches, unions, associations of employers) is at least close to a political party and at any rate part of Germany’s corporatist system of interest mediation.1

And moreover, there is the AM moment: Yesterday’s ruling was brought about by two state governments. Kurt Beck, the original plaintiff, was very happy yesterday. He may have retired as minister president, but he still hangs on as chair of the board. That is not ironic in the conventional sense of saying the opposite of what you mean, but … here is a gratuitous bonus video.



To be fair, one judge made the exact same observation in his dissenting opinion.

Jan 132013

Every now and then, I spend a merry evening pulling half-forgotten manuscripts/preprints into this not-so-new website. So here is tonight’s potpourri:


Mar 252012

You have to be a German state politics aficionado with a certain local bias to find this mildly interesting, but this week we learned that Kurt Beck, the longest-serving German minister president, is having talks with the select group of people who might succeed him. These talks are obviously confidential, so obviously someone leaked the information to the press.

On a personal level, this brings the number of correct predictions for this year to two (if you relax the definition of the word just a wee bit) , as I wrote in a recent paper that Beck would have to set his house in order rather sooner than later (it’s well hidden in the last part of the piece). I even picked three of the four names that are now circulated in the press. Naturally, the paper is not even in print, so it will be a retrodiction once it comes out.

To be totally honest, this probably brings my total number of correct predictions to two. To paraphrase the granddaddy of Faculty Deans, Albus Dumbledore, they should probably give me a pay rise for that.

Feb 182012
The reviewer thinks that “the piece is quite long for a research note on a regional election.” I’m afraid s/he is right, as it took me an unduly long time to complete it. But (and this is a very big but) the reviewer nonetheless recommends publication, and (even better the editor does not think that a reduction in size will be necessary.  Rejoice! So, just under one year after the fact, here is my analysis of the 2011 Land election in Rhineland-Palatinate

The 2011 election in Rhineland-Palatinate was a political earthquake: Following a string of political scandals, the SPD lost almost ten percentage points of their support, while the CDU could hardly improve on their disastrous 2006 result. The FDP is no longer represented in the state parliament. The Greens more than tripled their last result, allowing them to enter a coalition with the SPD for the first time.

Analyses at the municipal level show that the party improved most in their urban strongholds while still showing a (relatively) weak performance in rural areas. This will make it difficult to sustain the momentum of their victory. Moreover, the SPD is battered and bruised and needs to select a new leader, but veteran minister president Kurt Beck shows no inclination to step down. This does not bode well for a coalition that needs to organise the state’s fiscal consolidation and structural transformation.

 There is a PDF, too.

This manuscript as PDF

PDF version of this paper




Jan 142012

I’m currently working on an analysis of the latest state election in Rhineland-Palatinate using aggregate data alone, i.e. electoral returns and structural information, which is available at the level of the state’s roughly 2300 municipalities. The state’s Green party (historically very weak) has roughly tripled their share of the vote since the last election in 2006, and I want to know were all these additional votes come from. And yes, I’m treading very careful around the very large potential ecological fallacy that lurks at the centre of my analysis, regressing Green gains on factors such as tax receipts and distance from next university town, but never claiming that the rich or the students or both turned to the Greens.

One common problem with this type of analysis is that not all municipalities are created equal. There is a surprisingly large number of flyspeck villages with only a few dozen voters on, whereas the state’s capital boasts more than 140,000 registered voters. Most places are somewhere in between. Having many small municipalities in the regression feels wrong for at least two reasons. First, small-scale changes of political preferences in tiny electorates will result in relatively large percentage changes. Second, the behaviour of a relatively large number of voters who happen to live in a small number of relatively large municipalities will be grossly underrepresented, i.e. the countryside will drive the results.

My PhD supervisor, who did a lot of this stuff in his time, used to weigh municipalities by the size of their electorates to deal with these problems. But this would lead to pretty extreme weights in my case. Moreover, while voters bring about electoral results, I really don’t want to introduce claims about individual behaviour through the back door.

My next idea was to weigh municipalities by the square root of the size their electorates. Why? In a sense, the observed behaviour is like a sample from the underlying distribution of preferences, and the reliability of this estimate is proportional to the square root of the number of people in a given community. But even taking the square root left me with weights that were quite extreme, and the concern regarding the level of analysis still applied.

Then I realised that instead of weighing by size, I could simply include the size of the electorate as an additional independent variable to correct for potential bias. But this still left me exposed to the danger of extreme outliers (think small, poor, rural communities where the number of Green voters goes up from one to four, a whopping 300 per cent increase) playing havoc with my analysis. So I began reading up on robust regression and its various implementations in Stata.

The basic idea of robust regression is that real data are more likely than not a mixture of (at least) two mechanisms: the “true model” whose coefficients we want to estimate one the one hand, and some other process(es) that contaminate the data on the other. If these contaminating data points are far away from the multivariate mean of the x-Variables (outliers) and deviate substantially from the true regression line, they will bias the estimates.

Robust regression estimators are able to deal with a high degree of contamination, i.e. they can recover the true parameters even if there are many outliers amongst the data points. The downside is that the older generation of robust estimators also have a low efficiency (the estimates are unbiased but have a much higher variance than regular OLS-estimates).

A number of newer (post-1980) estimators, however, are less affected by this problem. One particular promising approach is the MM estimator, that has been implemented in Stata ados by Veradi/Croux (MMregress) and by Ben Jann (robreg mm). Jann’s ado seems to be faster and plays nicely with his esttab/estout package, so I went with that.

The MM estimator works basically by identifying outliers and weighing them down, so it amounts to a particularly sophisticated case of weighted least squares. Using the defaults, MM claims to have 85 per cent of the efficiency of OLS while being able to deal with up to 50 per cent contamination. As you can see in the table, the MM estimates deviate somewhat from their OLS counterparts. The difference is most pronounced for the effect of tax receipts (hekst).

robreg mm has an option to store the optimal weights. I ran OLS again using these weights (column 3), thereby recovering the MM estimates and demonstrating that MM is really just weighted least squares (standard errors (which are not very relevant here) differ, because robreg uses the robust variance estimator). This is fascinating stuff, and I’m looking forward to a forthcoming book by Jann and Veradi on robust regression in Stata (to be published by Stata Press in 2012).

                     OLS              MM            WLS

greenpct2006        0.193***        0.329***        0.329***
                 (0.0349)        (0.0592)        (0.0278)

hekst               0.311***        0.634***        0.634***
                 (0.0894)         (0.124)        (0.0688)

senioren          -0.0744***       -0.100***       -0.100***
                 (0.0131)        (0.0149)       (0.00994)

kregvoters11      -0.0125        -0.00844        -0.00844
                 (0.0146)       (0.00669)       (0.00982)

kbevdichte         -0.433        -0.00750        -0.00750
                  (0.464)         (0.330)         (0.326)

uni                 1.258           0.816           0.816
                  (1.695)         (0.765)         (1.137)

lnunidist          -0.418**        -0.372**        -0.372***
                  (0.127)         (0.113)        (0.0918)

_cons               8.232***        7.078***        7.078***
                  (0.627)         (0.663)         (0.461)
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Mar 022011

In the olden days, the world was simple. The average extreme right party was strictly socially conservative, to say the least. Abortion and homosexuality were considered sinful, mostly so because both practices deprived the fatherland of future soldiers and potential mothers of even more soldiers. So sex was supposed to be intramarital and had one purpose only: to procreate for the fatherland. Then came Pim Fortuyn and somewhat confused the message, but this was of little concern to members of the German NPD, who sometimes seem to live blissfully in a parallel universe where the 1930s never came to an end.

NPD: more miniskirts, fewer minarets

NPD campaign poster, 2011

Or so I thought until this morning. It’s election time in Rhineland-Palatinate, which means great fun, because campaigns at the state level often have their own disarming and rather amateurish charm. On my way to work, I drove past at least a dozen very conventional NPD posters showcasing the party’s “Müttergehalt” (salary for mothers) policy that is supposed to stop the “Volkstod” (genocide – they really hate foreign words). But then I nearly crashed my car laughing out loud when I spotted this little gem, campaigning, as you would have guessed, for “miniskirts instead of minarets”. Ah, the demand for more miniskirts – always at the fore of the minds of  every self-respecting, socially conservative nationalist movement. About time that someone dared to speak out.


The untrained, illiterate observer might of course mistakenly believe that the NPD is finally defending the unalienable right of the Aryan hooker to strut her stuff while eying a collection of strangely shaped dildos. As always, it is all in the eye of the beholder.