Tag Archives: New Scholarship

“Associational Party-Building: A Path to Rebuilding Democracy”

Didi Kuo (Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, Stanford University) and I are excited to share our new article, Associational Party-Building: A Path to Rebuilding Democracy, which is out today in the Columbia Law Review Forum.

This Piece advances a fundamentally different orientation to democracy reform. It starts from the premise that the ultimate normative goals of democratic reform should be policy responsiveness and the restoration of confidence in government through its functionality. And it looks to ways to achieve those goals without legislative intervention. Voters should have easier access to the ballot. Legislatures must be un-gerrymandered, and economic elites, like hyper-partisan ideologues, should have less influence over politics. But, we argue, procedural reforms do little to ensure government responsiveness. Political parties, by contrast, if systematically strengthened as organizations with deeper ties to voters, have enormous potential to boost not just voter turnout, but democracy itself.

Political parties are the only civic associations with the capacity to organize at a scale that matters and the only intermediaries that both communicate with voters and govern. Yet it is no surprise that many Americans, including democracy reformers, are skeptical about political parties. They seem incapable of performing their basic representative functions. Further, pundits and scholars focus much more on parties as vehicles for funding elections, as policy-demanders, or as heuristic brands governed by political elites, rather than as intermediaries.

Our Piece argues that Americans need to shed their anti-partyism. We explain why Americans need strong parties, how we should conceive of them, and how we might get there. Distilling and further developing an argument I first made in 2019, we explain that reestablishing parties as strong intermediaries with linkages to civic groups and citizens is likely to be an effective strategy, in the long run, for rebuilding trust in democratic institutions overall. Parties with the commitment and capacity to engage in mobilization between election cycles, including through local civic groups, have the potential to bring about the responsiveness essential for democratic governance and public trust. The Piece both articulates the basis for these theoretical hypotheses and offers preliminary data to support them.

In all, we advance a fundamentally different conception of political parties in the hopes of setting a research agenda capable of more systematically testing the hypothesis. Over the next few days, I look forward to sharing more details about our argument.

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“Laboratories of Democratic Backsliding”

Looking forward to reading Jake M. Grumbach‘s (Department of Political Science, University of Washington) new book, Laboratories Against Democracy: How National Parties Transformed State Politics, which was profiled a few weeks ago on NPR. In the meanwhile, I have been reading the earlier article, Laboratories of Democratic Backsliding. The article uses “a new comprehensive measure of electoral performance”–one that considers a range of factors such as “average polling place wait times, same-day and automatic voter registration policies, and felon disenfranchisement” and then uses “Bayesian modeling to estimate a latent measure of democratic performance.” The conclusion is that between 2000-2018 states have witnessed “democratic backsliding.” What explains this? Here is where the article offers an analysis that supports what many observers have already concluded: “Republican control of state government reduces democratic performance.” And that this not party competition, polarization, demographic change or a range of other factors is the significant driver of the backsliding that is occurring.

There is obviously lots of nuance to the findings, but what I think is most interesting is that this approach potentially offers a starting point for scholars to begin to think about where democracy is working best (including by more ambitious measures such as policy responsiveness) in the United States–and from there to think about what we can do to nudge the rest of the country in that direction.

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African-American voting in North before 1860 may have been higher than previously understood

The First Reconstruction: Black Politics in America from the Revolution to the Civil War (UNC Press 2021) by Van Gosse, Franklin and Marshall College. At a conference this week with nonlegal academics, I was made aware of this new book. I am genuinely looking forward to taking a step back from the daily partisan fracas to reading this and thought it might be of interest to others on the list serve.

It may be difficult to imagine that a consequential black electoral politics evolved in the United States before the Civil War, for as of 1860, the overwhelming majority of African Americans remained in bondage. Yet free black men, many of them escaped slaves, steadily increased their influence in electoral politics over the course of the early American republic. Despite efforts to disfranchise them, black men voted across much of the North, sometimes in numbers sufficient to swing elections. In this meticulously-researched book, Van Gosse offers a sweeping reappraisal of the formative era of American democracy from the Constitution’s ratification through Abraham Lincoln’s election, chronicling the rise of an organized, visible black politics focused on the quest for citizenship, the vote, and power within the free states.

Full of untold stories and thorough examinations of political battles, this book traces a First Reconstruction of black political activism following emancipation in the North. From Portland, Maine and New Bedford, Massachusetts to Brooklyn and Cleveland, black men operated as voting blocs, denouncing the notion that skin color could define citizenship.

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Sellers: The 2021 Redistricting Cycle Will Disparately Impact Black Communities

Joshua Sellers’ new article “Race, Reckoning, Reform, and the Limits of the Law of Democracy” is a timely reminder to all of us that the consequences of redistricting are not just about the health of our democracy. Partisan gerrymanders impact the lives of ordinary people by defining the policies that will (or more often won’t) be adopted. And those consequences are likely to be worse for Black communities–at least, that has been true these last two cycles.

On the flip side, the Article reminds us that Black political participation and electoral success should not be “the sine qua non of Black political progress.” They are not ends in themselves. The real measure of the VRA’s successes are the returns of Black political participation–wealth, health, and welfare. And lately, those returns are low even when the Democratic Party is in office. Sellers rightly criticizes the democracy reform community for overemphasizing legal rights “with little to no consideration of how those rights translate into substantive gains.”

For the curious, Sellers uses Wisconsin to illustrate the disparate impact of the state’s partisan gerrymander on the state’s Black residents. Republican control for the past decade meant the rejection of the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid and a defunding of public education, for a start.

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1982 Amendments to VRA–New Article

A new article by Richard Johnson, Queen Mary, University of London explores conflicts with the Reagan administration over the 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act. It pushes back against the view that Republican support can be explained by the party’s belief that the Supreme Court would strike down its most expansive provisions. The article appears in Studies in American Political Development.

Abstract: Republican support for the 1982 Voting Rights Act (VRA) extension is a puzzle for scholars of racial policy coalitions. The extension contained provisions that were manifestly antithetical to core principles of the “color-blind” policy alliance said to dominate the GOP. Recent scholarship has explained this puzzling decision by arguing that conservatives were confident that the VRA’s most objectionable provisions could be undone by the federal bureaucracy and judiciary, while absolving Republicans of the blame of being against voting rights. This article suggests that the picture is more complicated. . . . .

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