Rolling back the clock?

I am not an expert on presidential nominations, at least insofar as publications confer expertise. Here are nonetheless some thoughts on where things stand and what might be done about them.

I saw at least one article this week expressing concern that one of the current presidential tickets could confer safe-majority status onto the underlying coalition for a generation. I am using the term “safe-majority” to refer primarily to the Electoral College as currently organized. I am using the term “coalition” instead of “party” very deliberately. I do not remember who wrote the article or where it appeared. I saw it on social media. Perhaps I will go looking, but I am not paid for punditry.

The article reminded me of a post I wrote seven years ago, based on a non-metric scaling of the 2016 Voter Study Group data. The scaling showed that several variables — each presumably included to help analyze circumstances related to the candidacies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump — cross-cut the party coalitions in ways that measures of other attitudes and policy preferences did not. This led me to speculate that what I thought was an accelerated realignment “[could] go in either of two directions.”

Roughly 18 months later, the gist upset at least one political scientist. I know this because I was trying to turn the underlying analysis into a journal article, and, within hours of sharing the key graphic on social media, I received a rejection containing a scathing review.

The point of writing things like this is not to be a pain in the neck. My expertise is in the politics of electoral systems in the United States. My premise is not novel: electoral reform is a tool for shaping coalitions. Getting that process right — or even just doing it without flailing — requires understanding the party system one is dealing with. That means looking directly at suppressed and/or festering cleavages.

The Nov. 2017 blog post also warned that a ‘completed’ realignment could lead to settlement of several policy problems on the terms of whichever coalition ended up victorious. Others are now saying the same thing. Again, I am not paid to be a pundit.

Now we have additional problems: joblessness due to automation, an ongoing pandemic (in resurgence as I write this), and manifest threats to the civil liberties of the populations whose concerns I had in mind when I first wrote down my thoughts.

We also face an ongoing effort to de-throne the presumptive Democratic Party nominee. I am not going to opine on that other than to say I feel bad for an old man whom I am inclined to believe didn’t want the job in the first place, yet now clings to it primarily because he understands the implications of debating nominating someone else at this particular historical juncture.

The other party is in the process of making its commitment.

It would be nice to see some leadership all around — among party elites, officeholders, and those who insert themselves into politics to protect (understandably) their business interests.

The analysis to which I referred above eventually became two journal articles. I wrote about one of them for 3streams. If you read these, please try to do so with an open mind. Also, here is an opposing perspective. (See what I did there?)

Photo by me, July 6, 2024.

Institutional sources of election-outcome acceptance?

I am not an expert on this literature, but I do know that close elections are a problem. I also believe (perhaps wrongly) that independent election administration is self-enforcing when it emerges from and exists alongside multiparty competition. If right, this strikes me as a way to design other institutions so that they enjoy broad legitimacy.

The unit-rule allocation of Electors is therefore an issue: first by constraining the number of parties, second by making outcomes depend on very small numbers of votes.

Here is an idea for the sake of argument: mandate closed-list PR within states for choosing Electors, and move the election of the President into the Electoral College.* Make it negotiate and produce a coalition. Do what the Framers intended, except in a more modern way.

I do not think this change is likely, but it’s interesting to think about.

*The EC already chooses the president in a technical sense, but it does not deliberate. Hence the notion of a “faithless elector.

Clearing up misconceptions about open-list PR

I have heard from enough sources that OLPR was about winning the voting-system wars. “Enough” means enough to merit comment.

OLPR was arrived at in several ways:

1) Does what STV does with less administrative headache.

2) Does what STV does while addressing pathologies in its past operation.

3) Has to be the go-to federally because MMP seems unconstitutional.

4) Has to be the go-to generally because “all” agree that closed-list PR is a “nonstarter.”

Have a good Independence Day weekend.