MPONP two years in retrospect

It has been two years since I finished/sent in More Parties or No Parties. Three issues with the theory have been on my mind. To recap, the theory says that “reform is common in periods of realignment” (or something along those lines). Then it says that a reform episode can be any of three types: insulating (comes from incumbent coalition), realigning (out-of-power folks peel off portion of incumbent coalition), and polarizing (opposing sides collude). The types were strictly internal to the polities whose institutions they were changing (cities for me, countries and some states for the lit review).

I do not have a thesis statement. I am making a list and riffing on it.

The first issue concerns coalition shift in general. I had cast this as resulting from activation of a coalition’s internal disagreement(s). Might not the addition of new players also destabilize a party system? (I think I acknowledged this possibility in a footnote.) Or might not the emergence of new issues do the same? I am thinking here of climate change especially, which is a ‘shock’ par excellence. It also has all sorts of implications for the issues that otherwise define the ‘basic space’ of a party system. What do we do when the ocean swallows the Outer Banks of North Carolina? Move the rich? Move everybody?

Another issue concerns the trigger(s) of a ‘realigning’ reform episode. Does the reform cause realignment, or does realignment cause the reform? The book argues that realignments cause reform, but a ‘realigning’ reform brings about (facilitates) realignment. So, which comes first? I suggested in ch. 8 that coalition shift at a higher level of government might produce demand for a realigning episode at some lower level. That would help to integrate other accounts of the reform adoptions I studied. For example, one good BA thesis argued that the Worcester reform charter was a business-community reaction to the rising power of the Irish — an insulating episode in my typology. I suggest it’s not this simple; the reform coalition included many people (Democrats) who helped elect a Mayor on the same day they ratified a charter meant to destroy his party. The key questions for me are about the magnitude and rapidity of change in advance of the reform. How big had the local Democratic Party gotten, and why? Maybe it comes down to an expanding set of salient issues, regardless of whether that’s at a higher level of government. I did find suggestive evidence with respect to unions. Maybe these are the same thing, at least sometimes.

Hopkins’ (2018) theory of nationalization is something I wish I’d brought in. Nationalization (as I integrate it into my mental model) means that higher-level cleavages are reshaping lower-level party systems. Or, in terms that are closer to those of Hopkins, national-level issues are more salient (for most people) to local politics than local-level issues. This leads (in my mind) to ‘oversized’ parties in some places, so that basic economic issues get debated within the oversized party. Witness non/bipartisan claims about corruption and how to pave a street.

Moving on.

I’m also not thrilled with having cast New York City (1936) as a ‘realigning’ episode. I am not saying this was wrong. The complication was the local separation-of-powers system. At the time of the reforms, Tammany controlled the Board of Aldermen, but LaGuardia controlled the mayoralty. And LaGuardia had won (and presumably controlled) a citywide vote majority.

So, maybe, the NYC reform was about creating congruence of control between the branches of government. (What the NYC reform package did to legislative power is fascinating, but let’s save it for another day.) Here is the article one might cite, then the key line: “Politicians became advocates of direct democracy, we argue, only where they were confident that voters were likely to agree with them and where current institutional arrangements blocked the median voter’s influence” (emphasis mine). Another way to put that: existing institutions (like malapportionment) were stopping statewide majorities from translating that strength into seat shares. That article is about different reforms, but the theory seems helpful. I also wonder if the identity/priorities of the ‘median voter’ changed in the period under our shared consideration (1898-1918). Otherwise, how would it have been possible to get around the incumbent coalition?

The number of candidates if Final Five Voting were applied to STV

Voters’ ability/willingness to rank candidates is an issue in ranked-ballot systems. Final Five (Four) Voting (FFV) aims to solve this problem with a plurality winnowing round. Voters are asked to consider only five (four) candidates at the ranking stage. What does this look like in STV?

The minimum number of decisive-round candidates is district magnitude. It cannot be less than 5 in a 5-seat district. So, for two slates of 3 that run in a competitive 5-seat district, voters are asked to consider six options. (I chose that scenario because it feels like an equilibrium.)

This number grows or shrinks in response to the number of slates, the sizes of slates, the number of independents, and the number coming out of an FFV winnowing round.

Someone should make a graph.

What does Philly suggest about the future of the party system?

I am keeping an eye on Philly for what it may say about the future of the Democratic Party and/or institutional change.

Philadelphia Magazine has a good story on Sen. John Fetterman’s (D) endorsement of two Working Families (WFP) candidates for city council. (Gov. Josh Shapiro [D] also has endorsed one of these candidates.) Does this reflect a broader willingness within the Democratic Party to empower WFP as a coalition partner?

It is worth remembering that Fetterman did not have to make endorsements.

The backdrop is an upcoming election to seven ‘at-large’ council seats. By law, a party may not nominate more than five candidates. This had the effect, until 2019, of reserving two seats for the Republican Party. Now the party is down to one, and November’s election may reduce that to zero.

As of late spring/early summer, three potential approaches to the situation were apparent.

One was to go to nonpartisan elections, potentially with instant runoff or Approval Voting. That buzz surrounded the mayoral nominating primary, but it reasonable to believe there is a constituency for similar reforms of the council electoral system.

Another was to try to remove WFP from the ballot. That effort was unsuccessful.

A third approach was along the lines of what Fetterman (and Shapiro) are now doing.

One might add a fourth approach, which I have not seen discussed: increase council size, and impose some form of proportional representation (PR). ‘At large’ elections are often thought to shut out numerical minorities, but they also let groups (like parties) aggregate their votes over larger areas than what a single-seat district typically encompasses. A greater number of at-large seats could help the GOP if this were twinned with PR, such that the threshold of exclusion were brought down to the party’s share of voters.

Thought experiments aside, this is an interesting situation to watch. Parties are not unitary actors. One often finds different views within them on how to approach situations like the one in Philadelphia.