Category Archives: political polarization

“The winner-take-all incentives that have racially polarized America – and led to Trump”

Steven Hill:

Amidst all the ink and electrons reporting on the bitter partisan divisions that gnaw at America today, what has been missing is due recognition of how extreme policy positions and failure to compromise are incited by certain fundamental realities of our national character as well as our political system.

The first fundamental reality is simply demographics — where people live, and how partisan demographics naturally line up along regional lines. In this era of the infamous Red vs Blue America map, the nation has balkanized along regional lines with heavy partisan overtones. Like other large winner-take-all democracies, such as the UK, India and Canada, entire regions of the U.S. have become one-party fiefdoms.

The Democrats control the cities, most of the coasts and a small chunk of the Midwest and Southwest, while the GOP dominates the South, the Plains, the Mountain West and most of the sparse flyover zones between the coasts. While a picture is worth a thousand words, the ominous-looking Red vs Blue map barely begins to encapsulate the consequences of these partisan-laden demographics.

The second fundamental reality is how those regional partisan demographics are funneled as votes through our winner-take-all electoral system. In over 90 percent of the “me against you” legislative districts — at both federal and state levels — it’s only possible for one side to win. There are simply too many of one type of voters packed into that district.

In the vast majority of states, this effect is occurring outside whatever shenanigans take place as a result of partisan gerrymanders during redistricting. This is a matter of where people reside, and the fact that only one side can win in this zero-sum game. In the vast majority of districts, demography has become destiny. Someone should print that on a bumper sticker.

Consequently, party leaders and political experts can reliably predict who is going to win nearly all of the 435 US House seats. FairVote has forecast that in the 2024 elections, only 26 seats – six percent – will be toss-ups, the least in the last 25 years. FairVote not only can tell which candidate will win each race, they can predict the margins of victory. In a double-barreled corruption, that in turn allows party leaders to focus their “Pyramid of Money” resources on the handful of battleground districts and states.

In combination, these two realities of partisan regional demographics combined with the winner-take-all electoral system add a sharp geographic schism to America’s destructive polarization. This mix of geography and partisanship, especially when combined with race – which I will discuss in a moment – constitutes an extremely toxic brew that has usually been explosive whenever it has appeared in US history.

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Ned Foley-Ben Ginsberg-Rick Hasen Amicus Brief Warns SCOTUS of Political Instability, Potential Violence, and Voter Disenfranchisement If It Avoids Deciding Merits in Trump Disqualification Case

Thanks to the excellent work of Michael Kimberly and Charles Seidell of the McDermott Firm, Ned Foley, Ben Ginsberg and I have filed this amicus brief supporting neither party in the Trump disqualification case at the Supreme Court. Below is part of the Introduction and an excerpt comparing the situation in 2020:

Amici often do not see eye to eye on matters of law or policy. But they join together in this brief to make a single, urgent point: A decision from this Court leaving unresolved the question of Donald Trump’s qualification to hold the Office of President of the United States under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment until after the 2024 election would risk catastrophic political instability, chance disenfranchising millions of voters, and raise the possibility of public violence before, on, and after November 5, 2024. And the grounds for avoiding the merits are not credible: Colorado manifestly had the authority to determine Mr. Trump’s legal qualification for the office he seeks, and this Court has jurisdiction to review that federal-law decision on its merits. 

To punt on the merits would invite chaos while risking great damage to the Court’s reputation and to the Nation as a whole. The country is more polarized today than at any other time in living memory—certainly more than in December 2000, when this Court last decided a case with a direct impact on the outcome of a presidential election. Controversy over the 2020 election led millions of Americans to doubt the integrity of the electoral system and ultimately culminated in the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Political tensions have not eased in the time since. Quite the opposite: political discourse has stoked further public skepticism of the electoral system since January 2021. Amici thus file this brief, not only to demonstrate that the Court can reach the merits of Mr. Trump’s qualification under Section 3, but that it should do so, or else risk political instability not seen since the Civil War. 

The possible scenarios if the Court fails to resolve the Section 3 question once and for all are alarming. If Mr. Trump wins an electoral-vote majority, it is a virtual certainty that some Members of Congress will assert his disqualification under Section 3. That prospect alone will fan the flames of public conflict. But even worse for the political stability of the Nation is the prospect that Congress may actually vote in favor of his disqualification after he has apparently won election in the Electoral College. Neither Mr. Trump nor his supporters, whose votes effectively will have been discarded as void, are likely to take such a declaration lying down. 

Even if Mr. Trump did willingly stand aside, it is wholly unclear who would be inaugurated as President on January 20, 2025—would it be Mr. Trump’s running mate, pursuant to the Twentieth Amendment? Would it be Mr. Biden, pursuant to a Twelfth Amendment election in the House? Or would it be some alternate candidate thrown into the mix in the heat of the political battle? The chance that there would be no clear answer come Inauguration Day 2025—and that the country thereby would be thrown into a possibly catastrophic constitutional crisis—is disturbingly high. 

Amici have devoted their careers to the study and practice of election law, earning independent reputations as preeminent experts in the field. Although they often disagree on matters of policy and ideology, amici share a deep-seated conviction that free and fair elections bolster voter confidence and trust in the political process. Amici also share an expert understanding of the constitutional system for elections, which not only places responsibility for administering federal electoral contests first in the hands of the States, but also leaves an essential role for this Court “to say what the law is.” Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137, 177 (1803). …

Finally, it is worth contrasting the current situation with the aftermath of the 2000 election. As Florida conducted its recounts and litigation swirled, this Court initially returned the case to the Florida Supreme Court with the suggestion that it consider the question of whether Florida’s procedures were constitutional. Bush v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, 531 U.S. 70 (2000). This unanimous punt kept the Court temporarily on the sidelines as the recount process and litigation continued; depending upon how the recount went, it was conceivable that this Court would avoid weighing in. Alas that was not to be. Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000). 

This time, however, kicking the can down the road would be far more fraught for the country. There is every reason to believe that disqualification challenges will continue to proliferate if this Court fails to give guidance. In the meantime, voters who cast their votes for Mr. Trump risk disenfranchisement for supporting a candidate who may later be held ineligible for office. Because they won’t get a do-over, these voters deserve to know now whether their ballots for Mr. Trump will be counted. 

Further, requiring Congress to take up the issue in an inherently political process, on the fourth anniversary of the U.S. Capitol riot, would be a tailor-made moment for chaos and instability. The pressure on Congress from all sides would be enormous, as would be the temptation to resolve the disqualification question not as a matter of the legal or factual merit, but as an exercise of political power. This Court stands between the potentially disastrous turmoil that would result and a comparatively peaceful election administered consistent with the Constitution and the rule of law. It should not let this opportunity to stave off political instability pass. 

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“Democracy Hypocrisy: Examining America’s Fragile Democratic Convictions”

New report via the Democracy Fund by Joe Goldman, Lee Drutman, and Oscar Pocasangre:

Key Findings

  • While the vast majority of Americans claim to support democracy (more than 80 percent say democracy is a fairly or very good political system in surveys from 2017 to 2022), fewer than half consistently and uniformly support democratic norms across multiple surveys over the past seven years.
  • Support for democratic norms softens considerably when they conflict with partisanship. For example, a solid majority of Trump and Biden supporters who reject the idea of a “strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with Congress and elections” nonetheless believe their preferred U.S. president would be justified to take unilateral action without explicit constitutional authority under several different scenarios.
  • Only about 27 percent of Americans consistently and uniformly support democratic norms in a battery of questions across multiple survey waves, including 45% of Democrats, 13% of Republicans, and 18% of Independents. When adding responses to hypothetical scenarios about unilateral action by the president, the share of Americans who consistently supports democratic norms over this time period drops to just 8 percent, including 10% of Democrats, 5% of Republicans, and 11% of Independents.
  • On the other hand, the portion of the public who are consistently authoritarian — Americans who consistently justify political violence or support alternatives to democracy over multiple survey waves — is also relatively small (8 percent). This leaves most Americans somewhere between consistent democratic and authoritarian leanings, a position often heavily shaped by partisanship.
  • When looking at the exact same respondents over time, Republicans have the highest levels of inconsistency. While 92 percent of Republicans supported congressional oversight during the Biden administration in 2022, only 65 percent supported oversight during the Trump administration in 2019 (a 27-point swing). While 85 percent are supportive of media scrutiny during the Biden administration, only 63 percent were supportive during the Trump administration (a 22-point swing). This contrasts with a 6 percentage point difference for Democrats in their views between the Biden and Trump administrations on these questions.
  • Among the 81 percent of Republicans who believed in September 2020 that it is important for the winner to acknowledge the election, 62 percent rejected Biden as the legitimate president after the election, 53 percent said it was appropriate for Trump to never concede the election, 87 percent thought it is appropriate for Trump to challenge the results of the election with lawsuits, and 43 percent approved of Republican legislators reassigning votes to Trump. Republicans who exhibit higher levels of affective polarization were the most resistant to accepting an electoral loss.
  • In contrast to an overwhelming and consistent rejection of political violence across four survey waves, the violent events of January 6, 2021, were viewed favorably by Republicans. Almost half of Republicans (46%) described these events as acts of patriotism and 72 percent disapproved of the House Select Committee that was formed to investigate them.
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“MAGA-dominated state Republican parties plagued by infighting, money woes”


In Arizona, the state GOP chairman has been begging the Republican National Committee for a financial bailout. Michigan party officials have gotten into physical fights as their finances have dipped into the red. And in Georgia, the state party is in a standoff with the Republican governor and saddled with legal fees for alternate electors put forward in 2020.

In each of these 2024 battlegrounds, election denial and grassroots fervor for former president Donald Trump have rocked the Republican apparatus.Now, the state parties are plagued by infighting, struggling to raise money and sometimes to cover legal costs stemming from Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 defeat — threatening to hamper GOP organizing capabilities in next year’s presidential election.

“There has been an emphasis on ideological cleansing instead of electioneering,” said John Watson, the Georgia GOP chairman from 2017 to 2019. “If those new entrants to the party want to argue the earth is flat and the election is stolen, those are counterproductive to winning elections.”

State parties are typically critical in election years for mobilizing volunteers and running get-out-the-vote efforts, and they can collect larger checks or buy cheaper airtime than other groups. Those functions are now in doubt as the fissures fuel finger-pointing and competition for donor dollars. Even as more experienced leaders have taken the reins in some cases, they are struggling to undo some of the damage from MAGA-aligned predecessors and deal with continued pressure from the movement.

The transformation in these key states is the result of a coordinated movement, sometimes called the “Precinct Strategy.” Former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon and other MAGA influencers have promoted the effort in the past three years to slot election deniers into local party positions and demand new leadership. In local and state parties across the country, operatives and local officials say the makeup of state party leadership has changed.

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House hobbled. Can we call it a crisis of governance yet? And is the Republican Party really a party anymore?

House Republicans vote to drop Jim Jordan as speaker nominee.” And to be frank, we should be glad of that. As Representative Pete Aguilar said on Tuesday, elevating Jim Jordan, “a vocal election denier and an insurrection insider to the Speaker of this house” would have been “a terrible message to the country and our allies.” It would have sent a “troubling message . . . that the very people who would seek to undermine democracy are rewarded with positions of immense power.” That said, three weeks into the speakership crisis, I am left wondering: Is a party that can win office but is unable to mediate conflicting personalities, goals, and priorities when they hold a legislative majority, really a party at all?

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Republicans in Competive Districts Fear Speaker Fight Could Cost Them House (and Office?)

N.Y. TImes reports on the rising fears that a Jim Jordan speakership could cost Republicans the House. Even the fight is causing worry. Those most concerned are representatives from districts that voted for Biden in 2022.

“The latest round of House Republican infighting has badly damaged the G.O.P. brand. It has left the party leaderless and one chamber of Congress paralyzed for more than two weeks. The chaos is raising the chances that Democrats could win back the majority next year, and it has given them ample ammunition for their campaign narrative, which casts Republicans as right-wing extremists who are unfit to govern.

‘It hurts the country; it hurts the Congress; it’s hurting our party,’ said Representative Don Bacon of Nebraska, one of 18 Republicans who represent districts won by Mr. Biden in 2020. ‘It’s putting us in a bad hole for next November.’”

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“Jordan Loses 2nd Vote for Speaker as House Scrambles for Path Forward”

N.Y. Times and others reporting that Jim Jordan has lost a second bid for Speaker of the House on Wednesday. The House will probably pick a Speaker this week, even as how and whom still remains unclear. And I wouldn’t count Jordan out yet. The question is whether this will be a turning point for the party. If not country over party, will the crisis in the Middle East push some Republicans to prioritize governance, over party? Given his track record, Jordan would have to remain a no in that case.

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“The New Republican Establishment; An alternative Trumpist governing elite gets closer to ruling the party.”

Nate Cohn for the NYT:

In the final account, the rise and fall of Kevin McCarthy might read like the familiar tale of a Republican congressional leader toppled by a small but uncompromising right-wing faction.

But even if the story ultimately ends like any other Republican congressional drama in Washington over the last decade, something different and important has already happened: The right wing didn’t just bring down a House speaker — its members also made a credible bid at claiming the gavel for themselves.

A founder of the House Freedom Caucus, Jim Jordan, won 99 votes in the House Republican conference vote Wednesday, good for about 45 percent of congressional Republicans. It wasn’t enough to defeat Steve Scalise, the conservative congressman from Louisiana who still faces a daunting path to the post, but it’s a serious showing — especially for someone whom John Boehner once called a “legislative terrorist.”

For all of the quotes about “inmates running the asylum” in the press over the last decade, the ultraconservative wing of the Republican Party has never won anything like actual power. In January, Andy Biggs won a mere 14 percent of Republicans against Mr. McCarthy in the House Republican conference vote. That’s enough to make life miserable for a speaker with a five-vote majority, but it’s nowhere near leading the caucus. Getting up to 45 percent, on the other hand, starts to make the gavel appear tantalizingly close.

The swelling congressional support for Mr. Jordan didn’t make him speaker, but it might nonetheless herald the emergence of a new, alternative Trumpist governing elite — one authentically loyal to Donald J. Trump’s pugilistic brand of politics, and one that would pose a fundamental challenge to what remains of the beleaguered Republican “establishment.”

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“Vote to oust McCarthy is a warning sign for democracy, scholars say”


When the House of Representatives voted to oustKevin McCarthy as Speaker on Tuesday, it was the first such removal in American history, a vividrebuke of his leadership and an escalation of the civil strife withinthe Republican Party.

But historians and political scientists say it is something more: a warning sign for the health of American democracy.

“If you want to know what it looks like when democracy is in trouble, this is what it looks like,” said Daniel Ziblatt, professor of government at Harvard University. “It should set off alarm bells that something is not right.”

The vote reflected the enormous power that a small group of representatives camped on their party’s ideological fringe can wield over an entire institution, said Ziblatt, co-author of the book, “Tyranny of the Minority.” It also showcased how difficult it will be for anyone to corral the House in a way that’s functional, with major decisions over the budget and Ukraine funding up ahead.

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“Wisconsin Supreme Court flips liberal, creating a ‘seismic shift’”

Patrick Marley for WaPo:

Liberal groups, long accustomed to seeing the court as hostile terrain, quickly maneuvered for potential victories on a string of major issues. They filed lawsuits to try to redraw the state’s legislative districts, which heavily favor Republicans. And the Democratic attorney general sought to speed up a case challenging a 19th-century law that has kept doctors from providing abortions in Wisconsin.

“It’s an absolute seismic shift in Wisconsin policy and politics,” said C.J. Szafir, the chief executive of the conservative, Wisconsin-based Institute for Reforming Government. “We’re about to usher in a very progressive state Supreme Court, the likes that we have not seen in quite some time. And it’s really going to change how everything operates.”

The turnaround on the Wisconsin court is the result of an April election that became the most expensive judicial race in U.S. history, with campaigns and interest groups spending more than $50 million.

At stake in that race, with the retirement of a conservative justice who held a decisive vote on a 4-3 court, was the question of who would make crucial rulings in a swing state that could decide the winner of the 2024 presidential election. Conservatives had controlled the court for 15 years, during which they upheld a voter ID law, approved limits on collective bargaining for public workers, banned absentee ballot drop boxes and shut down a wide-ranging campaign finance investigation into Republicans.

Janet Protasiewicz, a Milwaukee County judge, won by 11 points and flipped control of the court to give liberals a 4-3 majority when she was sworn in on Aug. 1. Protasiewicz, who declined interview requests, spoke openly during her campaign about her support for abortion rights and opposition to what she called “rigged” maps that have given Republicans large majorities in the state legislature. Political strategists said her blunt style helped her win even as court observers fretted that she was making judges look like politicians instead of evenhanded referees.

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“Why Tribalism Took Over Our Politics”


Ahead of his arrest on Thursday in Georgia, Donald Trump repeatedly told his supporters about the legal peril he faced from charges of election interference. But the danger wasn’t his alone, he said. “In the end, they’re not coming after me. They’re coming after you,” he told a campaign rally.

It was the latest example of the Republican former president employing a potent driver of America’s partisan divide: group identity. Decades of social science research show that our need for collective belonging is forceful enough to reshape how we view facts and affect our voting decisions. When our group is threatened, we rise to its defense.

The research helps explain why Trump has solidified his standing as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination despite facing four indictments since April. The former president has been especially adept at building loyalty by asserting that his supporters are threatened by outside forces. His false claims that he was the rightful winner of the 2020 election, which have triggered much of his legal peril, have been adopted by many of his supporters.

Democrats are using the tactic, too, if not as forcefully as Trump. The Biden campaign criticized Republicans in Wednesday’s presidential debate as “extreme candidates” who would undermine democracy, and President Biden himself has accused “MAGA Republicans” of trying to destroy our systems of government. 

The split in the electorate has left many Americans fatigued and worried that partisanship is undermining the country’s ability to solve its problems. Calling themselves America’s “exhausted majority,” tens of thousands of people have joined civic groups, with names such as Braver Angels, Listen First and Unify America, and are holding cross-party conversations in search of ways to lower the temperature in political discourse.

Yet the research on the power of group identity suggests the push for a more respectful political culture faces a disquieting challenge. The human brain in many circumstances is more suited to tribalism and conflict than to civility and reasoned debate.

The differences between the parties are clearer than before. Demographic characteristics are now major indicators of party preference, with noncollege white and more religious Americans increasingly identifying as Republicans, while Democrats now win most nonwhite voters and a majority of white people with a college degree.

“Instead of going into the voting booth and asking, ‘What do I want my elected representatives to do for me,’ they’re thinking, ‘If my party loses, it’s not just that my policy preferences aren’t going to get done,’ ” said Lilliana Mason, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist. “It’s who I think I am, my place in the world, my religion, my race, the many parts of my identity are all wrapped up in that one vote.”…

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“G.O.P. Contenders Feed Voter Distrust in Courts, Schools and Military”


Ron DeSantis says the military is more interested in global warming and “gender ideology” initiatives than in national security.

Tim Scott says the Justice Department “continues to hunt Republicans.”

Vivek Ramaswamy has vowed to “shut down the deep state,” borrowing former President Donald J. Trump’s conspiratorial shorthand for a federal bureaucracy he views as hostile.

As Mr. Trump escalates his attacks on American institutions, focusing his fire on the Justice Department as he faces new criminal charges, his competitors for the Republican nomination have followed his lead.

Several have adopted much of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric sowing broad suspicion about the courts, the F.B.I., the military and schools. As they vie for support in a primary dominated by Mr. Trump, they routinely blast these targets in ways that might have been considered extraordinary, not to mention unthinkably bad politics, just a few years ago.

Yet there is little doubt about the political incentives behind the statements. Polls show that Americans’ trust in their institutions has fallen to historical lows, with Republicans exhibiting more doubt across a broad swath of public life.

The proliferation of attacks has alarmed both Republicans and Democrats who worry about the long-term impact on American democracy. Public confidence in core institutions — from the justice system to voting systems — is fundamental to a durable democracy, particularly at a time of sharp political division.

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