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Prop. 14 and California’s Minor Parties

So after not posting anything new for a while, you get a couple posts one right after the other.

My article, “Proposition 14 and California’s Minor Parties: A Case Study of Electoral Reform and Party Response,” is now available from the California Journal of Politics and Policy here (gated unfortunately; here’s the version I will be presenting at MPSA next month). Here’s the abstract:

In 2010, California voters enacted Proposition 14, the Top Two Candidates Open Primary Act, which changed California’s electoral system from single-member, plurality district elections to a top two (majority) runoff system. Although literature in comparative politics and formal theory suggests this change should help third parties in California, almost 80% fewer minor-party candidates filed for office in 2012 than in 2010. Indeed, 2012 saw the smallest number of minor-party candidates in California since 1966. Employing a mixed-methods approach, this paper examines different explanations for the decline in minor-party candidacies. Although most observers argue that Proposition 14 directly discouraged minor-party candidates from filing for office (because they likely would not make the runoff ballot), I argue that the decline results from three other factors: (1) a long-run decline in the California Libertarian Party, (2) a legislature-driven increase in the filing fee required from minor-party candidates, and, most importantly, (3) party elites foregoing candidate recruitment in 2012.

If their publishing schedule looks like last year’s, it will be in the upcoming June issue.

Pacific Political Scientist on the “Manchurian Candidate” Meme

September 21, 2012 Leave a comment

‘Manchurian Candidate’ relevance as strong as ever | Recordnet.com.

Pacific Political Science Professor Brian E. Klunk is quoted at length about the recurrence of the the “Manchurian Candidate” theme in pop culture and political discourse. It’s the 50th anniversary of the John Frankenheimer classic, featuring Angela Lansbury playing one of film history’s iconic villains.

Here’s a bit of what Klunk had to say:

In the ‘Homeland’ television series right now, there’s a Manchurian candidate kind of character,” Klunk said. “He was a prisoner in Iraq and now is back to carry out terrorist actions on behalf of some enemies.”

The most recent installment of “Battlestar Gallactica” also had a Manchurian candidate, Klunk said, but the notion of an individual in a position of power acting on suggestions because he’s been brainwashed isn’t limited to fiction.

“Over the last two presidential cycles,” Klunk said, “some of the nastier blogs accused John McCain, who’d been a prisoner of war in Vietnam, of being a potential Manchurian candidate. This year, a PAC supporting Ron Paul did the same thing with John Huntsman, who was the ambassador to China and speaks Mandarin. And, it’s all over the place in reaction to President Obama. In more respectable outlets, the use of Manchurian candidate ideas is he’s not really an American, he’s a hidden Muslim and he wants to

Cover of "The Manchurian Candidate (Speci...

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impose European social policies that will change forever the character of the country.

We Have A Winner

September 13, 2012 Leave a comment

The College of the Pacific has announced that Pacific Political Science Professor Cynthia Ostberg is the 2012 Faye and Alex Spanos Distinguished Teaching Award honoree. The Spanos Award recognizes a career of excellence as a teacher, advisor, and mentor. It is the greatest honor the College can bestow on a faculty member.

As the 2012 Spanos honoree, Professor Ostberg will be the keynote speaker at the College of the Pacific’s upcoming Faculty Recognition Dinner. Check back for an update on her address in a few weeks.

Updated Minor Party Trend Lines

A commenter on the last post asked to see the numbers for minor party participation going further back in time, so here’s the graph showing the percentage of districts contested by each of the minor parties. I don’t think the argument changes much–while the 2000 election cycle appears to be a modern high for Libertarian Party participation, the decline still predates Prop. 14. Moreover, the other minor parties (with the exception of the Natural Law Party) have always been down in the low teens at best.

What the chart does offer that is new is another possible culprit for the decline in minor party participation–the 2000-2001 redistricting. This redistricting was incredible. Every incumbent was made safe–so much so that hardly any districts changed partisan hands between 2002 and 2012. Only one congressional district (CA-11, which includes Pacific) switched parties. Perhaps the redistricting so ensured Republican and Democratic dominance within their respective districts that the Libertarian Party found it increasingly difficult to recruit candidates. It’s worth exploring more.

Prop. 14 and California’s Minor Parties

I’m working on a project about the impact of Prop. 14 on California‘s minor parties (American Independent, Green, Libertarian, and Peace and Freedom), and I thought I would get some of it up even though it is incomplete.[1]

The conventional wisdom is that by making California’s electoral system a majority-runoff system, where only the top two candidates appear on the general election ballot, California’s minor parties would have a much harder time (a) recruiting candidates to run for office and (b) maintaining their qualified ballot status. Richard Winger, of Ballot Access News, looking at the data for 2012, concludes that Prop. 14 has had exactly this effect: “Proposition 14 makes it virtually impossible for minor party members to participate in the general election, so many candidates decided not to file.”

In this post I want to examine this claim–that Prop. 14 will/has lead to fewer minor party candidates running for office. (I’ll have some thoughts on the second claim–it will be harder to maintain ballot status–in the future.) What I hope to show here is that (a) the number of minor party candidates in California has been declining for a while and that (b) almost all of the decline comes from the Libertarian Party.

If we look at the number of districts contested by minor parties in 2010 and 2012, then it appears that Prop. 14 has had an effect on minor party participation. The following table shows a significant drop-off in the number and percentage of districts contested by minor parties by legislative district type (Assembly, State Senate, and House of Representatives). In 2010, minor parties candidates ran in 39 percent of all California legislative districts. In 2012, these candidates ran in just 8 percent of the districts.

Pretty big effect, right? Well, as you could probably guess, no. It turns out that minor party participation in California elections has been declining for some time now. The figure below shows the percentage of each district type contested by minor parties stretching back to 2000. As is pretty clear, except for the 2010 elections, there has been a steady decline in minor party participation. In 2000, California’s minor parties contested every congressional district (CD in the figure) race, about 85 percent of the State Senate districts (SD), and about 75 percent of the Assembly districts (AD). Each successive year, with the exception of 2010, saw an erosion in those numbers.

If we break out each of California’s minor parties, it becomes clear that this decline is concentrated almost exclusively in California’s Libertarian Party. Most of California’s minor parties actually have very few candidates contesting elections each cycle. With the exception of the Natural Law Party, which disappeared from California elections after 2002, only the Libertarian Party has ever fielded a large slate of candidates. The American Independent Party usually only runs two or three candidates across all of California’s legislative districts per election (although in 2010 it had nine) and the Peace and Freedom Party and the Green Party each average about ten contests per election.

Moreover, as shown below, the decline in Libertarian participation is pretty consistent across the different district types. Each saw a slight up-tick in 2010, but the 2012 numbers are fairly good extrapolations of the 2000-2008 participation trends. You can draw a pretty straight, downward sloping line through each of these time-series.

I should note, too, that this decline is not a function of the number of Libertarian Party registrants, which (a) has averaged about 89,000 people over this period and (b) has increased slightly over the last two election cycles. Also, if the number of candidates contesting elections is a function of party registration numbers, then we ought to expect the American Independent Party, which has seven times as many registrants, to consistently run more candidates than the Libertarian Party. As shown in the previous graph, it clearly does not.

Again, the main points to take away from all of these graphs is that the decline in minor party participation in California elections (a) began well before Prop. 14 was passed–and therefore can’t be the result of Prop. 14–and (b) is largely concentrated in the Libertarian Party.

So why the overall decline in the Libertarian Party and why did it experience a small up-tick in 2010? I am currently exploring these issues, but in their book Three’s a Crowd, political scientists Ronald B. Rapoport and Walter J. Stone offer some potential insight into the (mostly) ebb and flow of the party’s ability to contest elections. Rapoport and Stone argue for a “push-pull” model of minor party success. Minor parties succeed when voters are pushed away from the major parties because they are (a) dissatisfied either with its policies or its candidates or (b) when they do not perceive enough distinction between the Democratic and Republican parties. At the same time, voters are pulled toward minor parties when they view the parties as positive alternatives to the two major parties. Minor parties disappear over time, though, as the major parties co-opt their issue positions in order to win elections.

Using this model, then, we might guess that would-be candidates choose to run as Libertarians when they are dissatisfied with the Republican Party and when the Libertarian Party offers a viable, and perhaps exciting alternative. As the California Republican Party, and the Republican Party more generally, has moved to the right on fiscal issues–co-opting policy positions of the Libertarian Party–perhaps would-be candidates have become more satisfied with the options it presents. Thus the decline over time.

The up-tick is likely due to the Tea Party movement, which was at its peak in 2010. A significant part of the movement was dissatisfaction with the Republican Party establishment, as was a general commitment to fiscal conservatism. Perhaps in such an environment the Libertarian Party offered would-be candidates an attractive alternative to running as a Republican. Now that the Tea Party is a major (if not the dominant) faction within the Republican Party, the Libertarian Party is not as attractive to would-be candidates.

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[1] Yes, I know the Americans Elect party/nonparty has qualified for the California ballot, but they are/were only interested in the presidential contest. These other parties have (a) been around much longer and (b) have contested a number of legislative races. Also, the Reform Party and the Natural Law Party were qualified parties in California at the beginning of the 2000’s. They have since disappeared from politics, however.

“Primary” Day

Today is the June “primary” in California. I put it in quotation marks because except for the presidency, we don’t really have primaries in California anymore. Thanks to Prop. 14, parties no longer get to pick their nominees for each office. Instead, we have a top two runoff system. The top two vote getters in each contest, regardless of party affiliation, will move on to the November election where voters will only get to choose between those two candidates.

I voted today. Actually I voted yesterday. I just dropped off my ballot today. I am registered permanent vote by mail, which means I receive my ballot in the mail and can send it back in the mail. I dropped it off at my polling place instead, though, since it is on my way to campus. (Unlike at least one of my colleagues, I didn’t have any issues doing so. I was disappointed that I didn’t get my “I voted” sticker like last election, though. Aren’t poll workers wonderful?)

I’m also registered as a Decline to State voter, so I didn’t get to vote in either of the presidential primaries. Neither party lets nominally non-partisan voters like me participate in their contests. Instead, I had to content myself with voting for all of the other federal, state, and local offices (Stockton has a mayoral election this year). I thought long and hard about voting for Orly Taitz (she of Birther fame) for Senate, just to demonstrate that the top two system would not necessarily result in more moderate candidates as its supports believed, but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I had to vote for someone serious.

In addition to the various offices, there were two ballot initiatives to vote on. I voted for Prop. 28, which would change how term limits work in California. Instead of being able to serve three terms in the Assembly and two in the State Senate, for a total of 14 years in the legislature, legislators could serve 12 years total, with no limits on how many terms can be served in either chamber (other than the maximum of 12 years total of course). My hope is that if it passes, it will make the Assembly a real part of the legislature again rather than the AA team it has become, and, in so doing, make the legislature stronger vis-a-vis the governor and interest groups.

I was ambivalent about Prop. 29, which would impose new cigarette taxes ($1 per pack), mostly for cancer research. I’m all for reducing smoking rates, and I think the evidence is persuasive that taxes like this can affect an individual’s behavior, but I’m not sure that the state (as opposed to the federal government, non-profits, or private industry) ought to be paying for the things Prop. 29 would pay for. Also, my guess is that the money raised will be raided by future legislatures and governors.

What about you? Did you vote?

Educating voters about voting by mail

April 16, 2012 1 comment

In 2008, in partnership with the San Joaquin County Registrar of Voters, a group of faculty from a variety of programs at Pacific designed and executed a voter education campaign. The education campaign had three primary goals: (1) to reduce voter induced error in elections (e.g., improperly marking a ballot), (2) to reduce polling-place induced error in elections (e.g., improperly enforcing regulations), and (3) increasing voter awareness and positive perceptions of voting by mail.

At this year’s Midwest Political Science Association meeting, Prof. Dari Sylvester and I presented an analysis of the campaign’s effects relative to this last goal. The main question was, did knowledge about and positive perceptions of voting by mail increase as a result of the education campaign?

To assess these impacts, we relied on three waves (in May, July, and November) of random telephone surveys of registered voters conducted as part of the broader project. The surveys asked respondents four questions of interest:

  1. Who can vote by mail?
  2. How does one sign up for permanent vote by mail?
  3. Are there any advantages to voting by mail? Respondents were prompted to provide up to three advantages.
  4. Are there any disadvantages to voting by mail? Again, respondents were prompted to provide up to three responses.

Using these questions  we constructed four variables:

  1. Who: The respondent correctly identified who could vote by mail (everyone)
  2. How: The respondent correctly identified how to sign up for permanent vote by mail (a variety of ways)
  3. Convenience: The respondent identified convenience as an advantage to voting by mail
  4. Net advantages: The number of advantages identified by the respondent minus the number of disadvantages

The table below presents the change in each of these variables over the three survey waves.

There are a couple of important points that come out of this table. First, people already know a lot about voting by mail. Generally, we expect between 10 to 30 percent of respondents to answer recall questions like these correctly. Here, roughly two-thirds of respondents were able to answer these questions correctly and thought of voting by mail as convenient–even before the education campaign began. As such, there wasn’t a whole lot of educating to do about vote by mail.

Second, while we can identify some statistically significant increases in voter knowledge and perceptions over the course of the education campaign, the effects are relatively small. In part, this is because of the relatively high starting values for each variable. At the same time, though, it is also because relatively few people reported exposure to the campaign in the surveys (and many of those that did report exposure likely weren’t exposed to it). Given the limited reach of the campaign, there was very little educating that could be done–even if people didn’t already know a lot.

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