Home > Applying Political Science, Elections > It’s always fun to talk with the national media

It’s always fun to talk with the national media

I did a quick interview with NBC News last week, and the piece is finally up here.

My contributions:

“The effect [of Prop. 14] was to remove all minor parties from the ballot, because almost none of the minor parties are going to be able to meet these rules,” said Keith Smith, an assistant professor of political science at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.

Limiting party power?

Meanwhile, the Republican and Democratic parties are also trying to find their way in this new system. Smith says parties can still be influential, even with the majority runoff system.

“The logic behind Prop 14 gets only part of the polarization [story] right,” he said. “It completely leaves out all of the other partisan actors like the parties, affiliated groups, and activists.”

The point I was trying to make in the second part is this: The gerrymandering and the primary stories about polarization are built on a theory of elections that includes just two sets of actors–candidates and voters. Candidates, in these stories, are able to take extreme positions because they are electorally secure. They do not have to worry about losing to someone from the other party. Voters are then left choosing among extremes.

The gerrymandering solution is to make legislative districts more competitive. The hope is that by constructing districts that either party can win, candidates will have to compete for the center in order to win the election. The primary solution is similar. By opening up primaries to all voters, not just those within a given party, the hope is that candidates will have to compete for the center.

Both stories, however, miss a lot of the complexity of modern electoral politics. In particular, both stories miss the role of party organizations, activists, and benefit seekers, all of which push candidates and voters toward more extreme positions. As long as the party label is important in electoral politics and as long as the parties, activists, and benefit seekers try to influence who can have that label legitimately, then electoral reforms like redistricting commissions and the top two system will only have a limited impact on partisan polarization.


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