Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa announced yesterday that he would restore voting rights for all felons who have completed their sentences, ending what advocates for voting rights had called one of the most restrictive disenfranchisement laws in the country.Something I wonder about from time to time is whether, should quantitative social science radically improve its understanding of and capacity for causal inference, there would even be a market for it. Or, at least, there is such a strong market now from all political sides for the ability to make causal-sounding insinuations of relationships that are almost certainly not causal. Not to mention commercial interests: Remember that Nike commercial where they had the little girls saying "If you let me play sports ..." followed by all kinds of dramatic assertions (based presumably on real studies with real correlations), including even something along the lines of "If you let me play sports, I will be three times more likely to leave a man who abuses me."
Mr. Vilsack, a Democrat who has been called a dark-horse presidential candidate for the 2008 election, pointed to research showing that ex-prisoners who vote are less likely to end up back in prison.
At least to me, it's interesting to imagine there being Fellow Liberals out there who think that it is ludicrous to suppose that the death penalty might deter some crime but that it is plausible that giving felons the right to vote will deter some recidivistic crime.
(For the record, JFW is anti-death-penalty and pro-voting-felons. The proprietor of this weblog would be pro-voting-felons even if it were not the case that he suspects felons will tend to vote Democratic. Indeed, he has an entire deeply skeptical spiel about the analyses that some sociologists have done to project how past elections would have gone differently if ex-felons were fully franchised, and he has even subjected a couple of his methods classes to parts of this spiel. As for the question of whether the death penalty deters crime, he has been interested in the vastly inconsistent results that have been cited for some time, and he even paid a graduate student a year ago to go look up this relevant research for him, but the graduate student has to date not reported back.)