Arnold Kling  

One-Party State Watch

Audience Questions... Simon Johnson on Geithner and ...

You can watch what the demographers say here. Click on the video link.

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Willem writes:

Arnold, could you explain why you don't expect the Democrats to split up into different factions catering to different voter groups? Would a three- or multiparty system in the US really be impossible?

Michael E. Marotta writes:

Thanks for the suggestion. I will get the book from the library. I can read faster than they can talk. Sorry not to see an abstract here or at AEI, but that's what the book is for.

Answering Willem, I point to the fact that many consider that we have had a one-party multi-faction state for perhaps a generation now, since the Ford-Carter administrations, if not much earlier.

Explicit ideologies fail to attract "most" voters who feel safer in the center. Over time, the center moved left (toward authoritatianism) because people who favor political solutions find political opportunities in political work.

Arnold Kling writes:

In the county where I live, the Democrats have ruled for 40 years without breaking into factions. They have a stable coalition, based primarily on public employee unions.

I foresee something similar at the national level.

Willem writes:

But there must be something in your system that makes it prone to a two party solution. Most countries in Europe have had a multiparty system for decades. In the Netherlands pretty stable coalitions of 3 parties are norm nowadays.

The first thing i think of is that you president gets to use patronage for thousands of bureaucrats. That is very hard to sustain in a multiparty system.

Tim writes:

I'm skeptical about claims that the Democrats or any one party will dominate.

Historically in most elections only a few percent difference in total vote separate winners from losers. This "close call" situation is common for jurisdictions with "two party systems". Nations with legislatures that have single member electorates tend to have two party systems. Multi-party systems are more common for legislatures with multi-member electorates, commonly found under proportional representation systems.

We have to ask why "close calls" are so common. Based on demography or ideology surveys of voters 'single party dominance' should be common among democracies. They aren't. In fact they are conspicuously absent. Why is this so?

I think we need to call of Schumpeter's model of democracy as a competitive system. The competitive political parties are interested in winning but there is no value in winning by too large a margin. They are specialists in forming and delivering to their respective voter groups and campaign resource donors. A huge win comes at a huge cost. There is an old story about JFK wiring his dad for campaign money, his dad sent him back less than requested saying 'we want a win, not a landslide'.

As party machines get better at polling, advertising, campaigning and targeting their prospective voters, the ability of one party to get a permanent advantage over it's rival is limited.

The GOP is under some disarray at the moment but in terms of Presidential election vote, the Democrats lead from the recent election is not likely to be sustainable. The gap was only a few percent, the Democrats managed to obtain new voters who may not remain regular voters and the Democrats outspent the GOP by a large margin. Those 'extra votes' came at a high cost.

Arnold Kling writes:

We do not have proportional representation here. Instead, the largest vote-getter in each district wins. Those rules foster a two-party system.

SydB writes:

I'm with Tim above.

Things that pop into my head: (1) GOP had control of all branches of government for a few years yet I didn't hear complaints about one party state. This makes me think the real title of this post should be "one party-that-I-don't-like state watch." (2) The two party system lends itself to sloshing back and forth, grasping at the middle.

The present situation may be less one of "one-party." It might instead be one of party more in tune with american people and another party obsessed with its fringe base.

For me at least, the modern GOP is sort of like having Noam Chomsky as the base of the Democratic party. But he isn't. Yet the GOP, at heart, has been dominated by their version of Noam Chomsky's. It could that the GOP-Noam-Chomsky era is dying.

I suspect the marketplace of politics will produce a new and improved GOP or GOP-like party at some point. Right now the free hand of the voting booth is simply doing its job destroying the unpopular and ineffective ideas of the GOP. That's all.

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