LII and the Election
From the point of view of an analytics wonk, elections are an interesting time at the LII. We see a lot of people’s political and social concerns reflected in the materials that they look at on the site. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the more interesting things that popped up during this election season:
- The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. We first noticed a real run on the 14th Amendment during the first GOP primary debate back in August of last year . During the middle 20 minutes of the one-hour debate, we clocked something like half million hits on the Second and Fourteenth Amendments. Naturally, people were reading the Second Amendment in the context of gun control. The Fourteenth pops up in many discussions — it is fundamental to recent controversies over Obamacare, immigration, and many other high-profile issues.
- 18 USC 879, Threats against Former Presidents and certain other persons. “Certain other persons”, in this case, includes both Presidential candidates and the family of former Presidents. In the wake of Mr. Trump’s suggestion that “Second Amendment people” could take things into their own hands in the event that Hillary Clinton were to be elected President, we clocked nearly 125,000 visits to this Federal statute in two days. A second, much smaller blip occurred in mid-October.
- 18 USC 793, Gathering, transmitting, or losing defense information. We got another 125,000-visit bump on July 5 and 6, in the wake of FBI director James Comey’s announcement that he would not be recommending that criminal charges be filed against Hillary Clinton over her use of a private e-mail server. Interestingly, people seemed to spend nearly three times as long as usual reading the page, indicating a serious attempt to understand the meaning of a statute that is by all accounts difficult to read and understand.
- 18 USC 2071, Concealment, removal, or mutilation generally. This one has popped up at intervals throughout the campaign season, probably because of claims made by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and various Washington DC think tanks. Each claimed that the disqualification provision in 18 USC 2071 would bar Clinton from becoming President if she were found guilty of violating federal document concealment and destruction laws. Mukasey has since reversed his position. The statute has been viewed nearly 200,000 times in the last six months.
- 18 USC 700, the Flag Desecration Act. This one has a habit of popping up when flags are burned or otherwise mistreated during protests. It’s been viewed at a fairly steady pace throughout the election season, with a small spike occurring in mid-April.
- 18 USC 594, Intimidation of Voters. This one peaked from October 14-16, apparently as a reaction to reports of ominous flyers distributed to Democratic voters in Albequerque, New Mexico.
Given all this, you might predict that statutes related to immigration, Social Security, and other issues that generate heated discussion during election season might also appear in the list, but they don’t. Perhaps that’s because they generate heated discussion all the time. But it may be that, during the most bitter election campaign in decades, substance matters less than criminalizing the behavior of your opponent.