“Why Losing Political Power Now Feels Like ‘Losing Your Country’”

Tom Edsall in the N.Y. Times reviewing the social science on why it’s so hard to undo the emotional feelings associated with “affective” polarization. His column leads with Rachel Kleinfeld’s important work on this topic. I wish, however, Edsall had discussed the kind of institutional reforms to counteract polarization that Rick Pildes, among others, has been pursuing. Rick’s Dunwody lecture last week highlighted five institutional reforms that would mitigate the effect of affective polarization on the capacity of the country’s democratic system to engage in effective governance. As Rick said in his lecture (and I’m paraphrasing here from memory, as I was fortunate to be in the audience), if he could achieve just one reform in the effort to combat affective polarization, it would be to replace partisan primaries with the kind of nonpartisan primaries employed in Alaska as part of its “top 4” system with Ranked Choice Voting. This is why efforts, like the one currently underway in Arizona to adopt this kind of nonpartisan primary, are so important. Edsall ends his column on a negative note: “as long as Trump is the Republican nominee for president, and as long as the prospect of a majority-minority country continues to propel right-wing populism, the odds for reducing the bitter animosity that now characterizes American politics remain slim.” It would have been better, in my view, if he at least mentioned the most promising antidote for the problems of governance that affective polarization causes.

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