Category Archives: political parties

Could bipartisan democracy-protection have worked? Could it still?

There has been skepticism voiced by some about my suggestion that, after January 6, Democrats in Congress should have pursued a strategy of finding at least ten GOP Senators to support the kind of structural electoral reform, like a majority-winner rule, that would help protect the traditional wing of the Republican Party–and thus the nation’s system of democratic competition–from Trump and Trumpism.

While it’s always prudent to avoid excessive optimism about the possibility of electoral reform, especially given the predisposition of incumbents to stick with the system in which they won their own elections, why is it unreasonable to think that a deal might have been possible if focused on the specific idea of helping the traditional GOP avoid a hostile takeover from the MAGA movement? It would have been in the rational self-interest of traditional Republicans, like Senator Roy Blunt (ranking member of the Rules Committee) and even Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to be open to that kind of conversation if pursued by Democrats in good faith.

Moreover, it would have been easy to point to Alaska as an example of how structural electoral reform can help traditional Republicans from attack by Trump. Lisa Murkowski is in a much better position to survive Trump’s attack on her than Liz Cheney, for example, for the simple reason that Alaska has a adopted a different electoral system (“top 4 with RCV”) than the conventional system that Wyoming has (a partisan primary followed by a plurality-winner general election). If Democrats had attempted to work with Murkowski to educate other traditional Republicans on how this kind of electoral reform could benefit their brand of Republicanism–indeed, protect it from threatened extinction at the hands of Trump and his acolytes–a total of ten GOP Senators might have become open to the idea.

Continue reading Could bipartisan democracy-protection have worked? Could it still?
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“As the GOP sheds its moderates, a whirlwind approaches”

This Washington Post op-ed, by Democratic consultant Doug Sosnik, is a counterpoint to the Virginia GOP self-description of Younkin’s victory there, as posted by Rick Pildes.

While ranked-choice voting enabled Virginia Republicans to choose a gubernatorial nominee who was broadly acceptable in that still-purplish state, traditional party primaries may cause the GOP to pick nominees for Senate seats who identify themselves as the most Trump-aligned of candidates. (But, as the Washington Post elsewhere reports about Alabama’s upcoming Senate race, this will not occur without an all-out fight.)

Sosnick’s point is that which kind of GOP candidate wins the party’s nomination may have huge consequences for governance. An extreme GOP nominee might lose the general election in a more blue-leaning state, like Pennsylvania. But in places like Missouri and Ohio, a super-Trumpy nominee could win the general election. Whether or not the GOP wins control of the Senate after the 2022 midterms, the type of GOP Senators elected (Trumpy versus traditional) may make a big difference in the capacity of the Senate, and therefore of Congress, to function.

Sosnick singles out the retirement of five traditional GOP Senators (Blunt of Missouri, Burr of North Carolinia, Portman of Ohio, Shelby of Atlanta, and Toomey of Pennsylvania) as particular cause for concern. I, too, have been especially concerned about this, and start my law review article on the need for Requiring Majority Winners in Senate elections with this point.

While a majority-winner rule is not a cure-all, and while the specific electoral method of round-robin-voting likely would do more to protect traditionalist Republicans from decimation as a consequence of Trump’s use of the current party primary system (combined with plurality-winner general elections) to purge the party from anyone insufficiently loyal to Trump, a federal majority-winner requirement at least would require most states to consider potential reforms that would give less extreme candidates more of a chance.

Why should Democrats care which type of Republican are their general-election opponents? And why would Democrats want to help traditionalist Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, escape extinction at the hands of Trump and his MAGA movement?

The reason is that Democrats care about saving small-d democracy, or at least they claim to. If one of the two major parties becomes thoroughly anti-democratic (small-d), then the system is unsustainable. The Democratic Party can’t save democracy by claiming only it is capable of winning elections and running the government.

The lesson of 2021 is that Democrats have to figure out a way to save democracy that accepts the possibility of Republicans winning the 2022 midterms and potentially the 2024 races. Have Democrats come to terms with that?

The evidence suggests not, because if they had they’d be searching for reforms (like the majority-winner rule) that would increase the likelihood that the Republicans who win elections would be of the traditional type willing to abide by small-d democracy, rather than Trumpist insurgents who have no compunction against subverting democracy.

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New Political Maps May Kill Swing Districts, But Swing Districts May Not Save Us

The Wall Street Journal is not the first to lament that the 2021 redistricting cycle is not likely to produce very many competitive districts. But how much should we care? The call for competitive elections presumes that electoral accountability emerges from the choice between ideologically distinct political parties during competitive elections–and, as such, that political responsiveness will follow. However, the empirical picture is decidedly mixed on whether this premise is correct. Officials elected in competitive elections do not necessarily cater to the median voter in their roll-call votes.

To be sure, there are studies—even studies generally skeptical about policy responsiveness in the United States like Martin Gilens’—that find some increased responsiveness when there is party competition–and significantly decreased responsiveness while one party dominates. But an emerging literature casts important doubt as to how much swing districts improve political responsiveness. For example, a 2015 study by Anthony Fowler and Andrew B. Hall of competi­tive moderate districts found Democratic and Republican legislators represent identical districts differently. Despite having been elected in competitive districts, these elected officials did not cater to the median voter in their districts in their roll-call votes. Moreover, contrary to what one might expect, elected officials who voted more extremely than their district were not kicked out of office for their policy divergence.

These new studies certainly resonate with me, as a Pennsylvania voter consistently frustrated by the stark difference in Bob Casey and Pat Toomey’s votes and, perhaps more importantly, refusals to take votes. More seriously, all this complexity, as I have argued before, suggests we need to explore new approaches to democratic reform, including ones that accept the dominance of uncompetitive elections among myriad other current electoral pathologies.

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“‘A real fight for our existence’: Massachusetts GOP spirals in Baker exit”

Moderate Republicans struggling to stay in office given party primary dynamics is not exactly news. Still, this Politico article on the Republican Party in Massachusetts is worthwhile.

“Republicans [in Massachusetts] have clung to relevancy in this bluest of blue state through a long line of moderate governors, including one-time presidential nominee and sitting Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who appealed across party lines even as Democratic supermajorities in the state Legislature continued to grow.”

But now, internal polling led Baker to drop out of the race. Still, a number of Republican strategists, including Baker, do not think that the ultra-rightward shift is sustainable.

“Baker [maintains] . . . that voters are still more aligned with his brand of old-school New England Republicanism and bipartisanship than anything else. And other Republican strategists dismissed the GOP’s rightward march and embrace of Trump as a losing general-election strategy in Massachusetts.

‘Catering to 10 percent of a population and not focusing on the other 90 percent — it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out you’re not going to get the numbers you need to get elected,’ said Colin Reed, former campaign manager to former Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown.”

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“How the GOP threatens harm to red state residents, as revealed in a new study”

This new Op Ed by Greg Sargent in the Washington Post, highlights, once more, deficits in policy responsiveness that arises out of hyper-polarization, among other things.

Sargent highlights a new  study from the Third Way–a centrist Democratic-leaning group–that analyzes the benefits to U.S. families of the top four provisions in the Build Back Better bill in real dollars.

What’s innovative about this study is that it shows ways in which average red state families in particular would benefit from specific BBB policies. Notably, no Republican voted for the version of BBB that passed the House — the basis for this study — and it’s very likely none will vote for it in the Senate.

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“Politics is still local. When incumbents face off in redrawn districts, community ties make a big difference.”

Charles Hunt shares on Monkey Cage his new research arguing that “Yes, party matters. But so do incumbents’ deep ties to their districts.” The article resonates with my experience listening to voters at public meetings here in Pennsylvania talk about what matters to them in redistricting.

Pundits and analysts tracking redistricting have focused largely on how redrawn congressional districts favor one party or the other, based on how residents voted in previous presidential elections. But districts are more than just head counts of Democrats and Republicans. They are dynamic places with unique histories, industries, businesses, cultures and traditions that are defined by much more than their partisan biases.

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“A plurality of Republicans think they’re more moderate than their party”

Phillip Bump, Washington Post

New polling from YouGov/Economist reaffirms, once again, the degree to which the ideologies of our political parties (mostly just the Republican Party) and their legislative (in)action do not align with the preferences of ordinary voters. This is not sustainable.

“Most Democrats thought that the GOP was much more to the right than they were personally. But a plurality of Republicans also thought the party was further to the right than they were. About a quarter of the party said it matched their own ideology. About 4 in 10 said the party sat to their right — nearly the same response as was offered by independents.”

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“House Democrats Have New Strategy for Voters of Color”

All Things Considered, NPR

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has launched a new, multimillion-dollar initiative “to engage and mobilize voters of color ahead of the midterm elections, including investments in local organizing” and in strategies to stymie “Republican efforts to spread misinformation [and] to cast all Democratic candidates as far-left.”

NPR also reports the National Republican Congressional Committee has committed to “field a truly diverse group of candidates” and is focused on recruiting “female, veteran or minority candidate” for their target districts.

This type of grassroots party-building bodes well for the future of responsive political parties, in my view.

The DCCC’s effort is being led, in part, by “Georgia Rep. Nikema Williams, chair of the Georgia Democratic Party. Her approach is clearly shaped by the Georgia Democratic Party’s experiences which were “the result of years of aggressive — and consistent — work.”

“‘[W]e can’t just show up in a community and expect people to listen to us and turn out overnight.’

‘And I had a novel idea, what if we did year-round organizing and continued to bring information to the voters and continued to let voters know how Democrats were delivering for them? That’s what we did in Georgia, that’s how we won in Georgia, and that’s what we’re doing with the DCCC,’ Williams said.”

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“The Desperate Scramble to Stop an Insider Election Threat”

The Atlantic

Judge of elections and inspector of elections are elected positions in Pennsylvania. The question of the day is how many Trump loyalists were elected to those positions in the recent election. The fear is that Trump loyalists, primed with false narratives of election fraud, could be running polling places across Pennsylvania in 2024.

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“GOP roars back to life in Trump-resistant Pennsylvania suburbs”

Politico

I am skeptical that the wins in Bucks County amount to the GOP roaring back to life in the Pennsylvania suburbs. No one ever seriously discusses turnout. Compare Municipal 2021 with General 2020 and Midterm 2018. We would have to see next year’s midterm turnout drop to 2014 levels for the 2021 election to be a useful benchmark of GOP support in the state. I would be very surprised to see that given Pennsylvania will have open seats for Governor and the U.S. Senate in 2022. For a different skeptical take, see WHYY and particularly the comments of Lara Putnam. Still, it is worth a read.

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“Can ‘community centers’ help GOP court voters of color?”

National Journal

RNC, under Ronna McDaniel, is opening community centers around the county to court voters of color. For the moment, centers are focused on “firing up already-involved activists and local politicians,” more than “finding new votes,” and their hours are spotty. But it appears that the community centers will be a key part of the “RNC’s strategy to build on its recent gains among voters of color in 2022 and beyond.”

“Despite Democrats’ persistent and considerable advantage with these voters, immigrant neighborhoods across the country grew redder in 2020. Several of Republicans’ biggest victories in the House were the work of candidates from immigrant backgrounds, like Korean American Reps. Young Kim and Michelle Steel in Orange County and Cuban American Reps. Carlos Giménez and Maria Elvira Salazar in South Florida. Nationwide, Latino voters voted for former President Trump at higher rates than they did in 2016. Trump even improved his performance with Black voters. Then, following last week’s gubernatorial election in Virginia, some exit polls indicated that Glenn Youngkin outperformed Trump among Black voters. And there’s debate over whether he won Latino voters against former Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

The Republican Party’s message to voters of color isn’t much different from its message to voters in general. Empowering parents to shape their children’s education is a major focus. RNC communications director Danielle Alvarez said school choice is a topic of discussion at the party’s Black community centers, as are HBCUs. Across the community centers, Republicans said, visitors are concerned about Democratic overreach and its impact on the economy, a topic that came up at the Wednesday roundtable.”

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The Problem with Plurality-Winner Elections

Election Law at Ohio State is pleased to present a one-hour webinar on the issue of electoral system design: The Problem with Plurality-Winner Elections – And Can Requiring Majority Winners Help Save Democracy? It’s scheduled for Friday, November 19, at noon ET.

Steve Huefner will moderate the discussion. I’ll present some research we’ve been doing here at Ohio State on this topic. Franita Tolson and Derek Muller, both familiar to readers of this blog, with comment as panelists. We are are delighted that Rachel Kleinfeld, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace, who has been studying the relationship of electoral systems to political conflict, will also participate as a panelist.

The webinar will examine the role that the plurality-winner rule for congressional elections has in causing incumbents, like Sen. Rob Portman and Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (both of Ohio), to decide against running for reelection–regardless of being popular with their constituents–just because they have become out-of-step with their own party. The webinar will also explore whether alternative majority-winner electoral systems, like various versions of Ranked Choice Voting, might improve representation and reduce the risk of democratic decline in the U.S.

To register for the webinar (and more info), please click here.

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How best to safeguard democracy? Two conflicting views on recent display.

I am struck by how forcefully two very different strategies for defending democracy have been advocated this past week.

First, Ian Bassin on The Bulwark podcast emphasized (and I’m paraphrasing here) that the advice he heard from Europeans combatting rising authoritarianism in places like Hungary and Poland is not to let a pro-democracy coalition of center-right, center-left, and even farther-left forces fracture, because then it can’t work together to oppose far-right authoritarianism. (Bassin’s podcast comments draw upon a piece he wrote for The Bulwark.)

Second, Marc Elias on CNN’s Reliable Sources broadcast went out of his way to label Adam Kinzinger “extreme” in his opposition to voting rights, arguing that Kinzinger’s role on the January 6 select committee does not justify treating him as pro-democracy moderate.

Elias, it’s worth noting, was referring to Kinzinger’s response to a question from Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union earlier broadcast. What I heard in Kinzinger’s response, which Elias did not mention, was Kinzinger’s willingness to work with Democrats to craft a voting rights bill that he could support. 

Elias’s approach, which he has also advocated in a recent essay, is to lump all Republicans together, including Kinzinger (and any other pro-democracy Republicans, like Liz Cheney or Senators Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and others), as the opposition to the Democratic Party’s efforts to save democracy all by itself. This approach would seem to be the exact opposite of what Bassin (as well as the Europeans with experience fighting incipient authoritarianism) urges. 

History, Elias says, will judge how this generation fights the current anti-democracy forces here in the United States. True.  But history might teach that it was a mistake to purge center-right defenders of democracy, like Kinzinger, from the anti-authoritarian coalition that America needs right now—instead of figuring out a way to work with Kinzinger (and others) to build a broader pro-democracy coalition capable of withstanding the present authoritarian threat. 

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Democrats, democracy, and “the Portman problem”

Can one party save democracy by itself? I don’t think so, but that seems to be the view of some, as nicely captured by Ed Kilgore in responding to my blog post How Best to End “Electoral McCarthyism”?

            Kilgore acknowledges: “Democrats should exhibit reasonableness unilaterally as the sole custodians of small-d democracy.”  Further, this reasonable self-restraint on the part of Democrats means, Kilgore continues, their “voting-rights bill imposed by a filibuster carve-out … need not include every conceivable or advisable reform, so as to enable Republican claims of a ‘power grab.’”  Since the reason for my blog post was to explore how to reduce the risk of Republicans repudiating valid election victories by Democrats based on claims that Democrats unilaterally imposed electoral rules yielding results that can’t be trusted, there may not be much distance between Kilgore and me practically speaking. 

            Still, I think it’s worth considering for a moment the idea of Democrats “as sole custodians of small-d democracy.” For how long? The whole point of a fair two-party electoral system is that each party has a good chance of winning. In next year’s midterms Republicans may take back the House, and perhaps the Senate as well, even assuming Democrats unilaterally enact all the provisions in their newly unveiled Freedom of Vote bill. Then what? 

Continue reading Democrats, democracy, and “the Portman problem”
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How best to end “Electoral McCarthyism”?

As regular ELB readers know, I’ve characterized the problem of Trump’s “Big Lie” about a “stolen” 2020 election as an electoral version of the kind of “paranoid” strain of American politics that Hofstadter classified the Red Scare version of McCarthyism to be. Based on the research I did for Ballot Battles, I’m not aware of a historical example (prior to 2020) in which a serious dispute over counting votes was accompanied by the kind of blatant falsification of reality that is the mark of McCarthyism-style demagoguery. Not even the Hayes-Tilden dispute, in my judgment, was of that nature. The combination of McCarthyism-like fabrication of an evidence-free alternative reality with fighting over the results of high-stakes elections (like the presidency or California’s governorship) strikes me as an especially dangerous, and difficult, challenge for the ongoing operation of representative democracy.

Consequently, in the wake of new stories over the weekend on the increasing rise and spread of this kind of electoral McCarthyism, I continue to ponder what might be the most effective remedy for this pernicious development. I’m inclined to think that more attention should be devoted to measures that might help to increase trust among those predisposed to distrust election outcomes, rather than risking reforms that in other contexts might be desirable but under current conditions potentially could fuel the flames of distrust and make the pathology of electoral McCarthyism even worse. In essence, if Democrats were to impose unilaterally even a revised version of HR1/S1 over the unified opposition of Republicans (including those pro-democracy Republicans like Liz Cheney), wouldn’t that increase the likelihood in 2022 and 2024 of Republicans disgruntled with election objects simply saying in essence, “How can you trust the results of elections that were conducted under laws that the other party imposed on us over our unified objection?” Might it not be a smarter strategy to let Republicans write the rules for upcoming elections (as long as they remain within the realm of adequacy in terms of casting and counting votes), and then be able to say to them after they have lost, “Hey, we conducted the process exactly how you wanted it; what possibly gives you a basis for complaining with the result just because you lost?”

To be sure, there is a floor below which it would be unreasonable for Democrats to go. There are minimal conditions necessary for an election to qualify as being small-d democratic. But what of all the “voter suppression” measures that Republicans regrettably have undertaken in the grips of the current electoral McCarthyism actually take us below the floor of the democratic minimum? And how will attacking one of the two major political parties in the nation, currently gripped with this paranoia of Electoral McCarthyism, cure it–and the nation–of this pathology?

In this regard, I had a mixed reaction to E.J. Dionne’s new column. He contends that because of the recent Republican “voter suppression” laws, unless Congress nullifies them through new voting rights legislation, this congressional inaction will leave, “to evoke Abraham Lincoln’s declaration on slavery, a nation half-democratic and half undemocratic.” If this is true, it would of course be necessary to agree with him that Congress must not let this happen. But is his premise correct?

To be sure, before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, it would have been accurate–shamefully so–to describe the nation as “half democratic and half undemocratic”. One of the lessons I learned from my Ballot Battles research was just how much Texas, for example, did not qualify as minimally small-d democratic in either 1948, when LBJ won his key Senate election based on the stuffing of Ballot Box 13 and there was no rule of law remedy in this state for this actual instance of electoral theft, or even in 1960, when Nixon would have had a plausible claim (never pursued because there was still no rule of law way in the state to pursue this kind of claim) that Texas Democrats were at it again on behalf of the JFK-LBJ ticket. But is it really true to say that if the new “voter suppression” laws that have been adopted in Texas, Georgia, and elsewhere remain in effect for 2022 and 2024, then we won’t be able to conduct minimally small-d democratic elections in the United States anymore (as we have been after the enactment and enforcement of the 1965 VRA)? If so, we need to get specific about in exactly what way(s) each state has fallen below the floor of the minimal small-d democratic conducts essential for a democracy–and then what to do if some states have fallen below that floor and Congress fails (as is likely) to remedy that deficiency before 2022 and 2024. Do we categorically condemn in advance all results, regardless of which party prevails, because the elections were not held under minimally sufficient conditions?

In this regard, I’m reminded of Bruce Cain’s important book, Democracy More or Less. In it, he too talks of the floor below which no electoral process can fall and still qualify as minimally small-d democratic. But he also helpfully describes a category above that minimal floor, where contestation over the details of electoral procedures is reasonable and all choices within that range qualify as minimally small-d democratic even if they are not one’s own personal, or one’s own political party’s, preferable policy choices within that space above the floor. To what extent is the nation’s current fighting over electoral procedures above the minimal floor, as Cain describes it, or below the minimal floor, as Dionne would have us fear? To my mind, this is a crucial question as we confront the perils of electoral McCarthyism.

If the fight is to prevent us from falling below the floor, then we must (as Dionne argues) do everything possible to prevent that from happening, including if necessary on a purely one-party vote, and even at the risk of exacerbating the paranoia of electoral McCarthyism and thus the likelihood that accurate election results down the road will be repudiated without any evidentiary basis (but just because of the McCarthyism-like fabrication of an alternative reality). Even recognizing that risk, we have no choice, because (by hypothesis) if we don’t have this fight we lose our minimally acceptable small-d democracy.

But if Dionne is incorrect in his premise, and instead we are in the category of Cain’s reasonable policy disputation above the minimal floor, then I would suggest that our response to electoral McCarthyism should be entirely opposite of the Democrats trying impose over Republican opposition their preferred policy choices about how to run an election. Maybe, if the GOP and the nation weren’t in the grips of electoral McCarthyism, it would be okay for one major political party to impose its own policy preferences on how to run an electoral democracy over the objections of the other major political party (because the defeated party should just accept the reasonableness of the winning party’s preferred electoral policies), although I have my doubts even about that. But when as now the especially dangerous and distinctive paranoid conditions of electoral McCarthyism have taken root, and are growing, it seems as if that kind of one-party imposition of its electoral policy preference upon the other party that suffers from the paranoia of electoral McCarthyism has the potential of being extremely counterproductive. Indeed, it risks propelling forward the possibility of a reaction that would cause the society to fall below the floor of what’s essential for small-d democracy, thereby bringing out the circumstance that is exactly desired to be avoided.

Therefore, if we are in situation of being above the floor, as Cain describes it, we should consider catering to the policy preferences of the party that is gripped by the paranoia of electoral McCarthyism, even if we reasonably do not prefer those electoral policies, in order to help that major political party escape the grip of this dangerous condition. It’s a strategy designed to accept a shorter-term sacrifice in our own electoral policy preferences in order to strengthen the long-term capacity of the democracy to remain above the minimal floor. I’m afraid, however, that the Democratic-controlled Congress is pursuing the opposite strategy, eager to enact its own electoral policy preferences, but potentially exacerbating the risk that electoral McCarthyism actually will destroy democracy down the road.

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