Early thoughts on the new book “The Primary Solution”

Nick Troiano’s new book is an engaging read. Here are a few thoughts with the caveat that I am still working through it.

1. With Gehl and Porter (2020) it argues for the jungle primary as a way to “fix to our political dysfunction […] without the unlikely passage of new federal laws or constitutional amendments.” So, we are asked to accept the premises that federal-level electoral-system change is a no-go… or at least a long time off… requiring state/local demonstration cases.

2. Readers are assumed to agree that “our political system is broken.” It’s clearly not working well right now, but that could change. I have pressed this point a few times with ‘primary reform’ backers — realignment itself is a path ‘out.’ That would be a case of our so-called Madisonian system doing what it was expected to do.

3. Do benefits of the proposed reforms therefore outweigh the costs? I am not a fan of utilitarian moral reasoning, but I do appreciate that leaders sometimes have to engage in it. So, my last two points cover costs.

4. The book claims an absence of “any credible research” that RCV has disparate impact, in whatever terms, on communities of color. This is overly dismissive (at best). I encourage readers to come to their own conclusions after an hour or two with Google Scholar.

5. The book attributes to me (p. 137) the same conventional wisdom I sought to challenge with respect to STV’s repeal. So, two years’ getting and punching archival data into Excel seems to have left that debate where it was before the work began in 2014. Addendum: here is what I actually argued.

6. There are a few invocations of the one-dimensional spatial perspective. That is to be expected in a work of advocacy. It might even be expected when political scientists get called on to redesign institutions. Analytic work on electoral reform, however, has been moving away from this perspective.

As I said, I am still reading, and the book is engaging.

Ballot invalidity, Australian House of Representatives

This post updates a graphic I produced in June 2021. I have added data from the Australian Electoral Commission for 2018 and 2022, as well as a line indicating the adoption of compulsory voting.

Invalidity in recent years seems to hover around 5 percent. That figure is consistent with figures from research on the United States. Some of it is recent, and some of it is quite old.

Two potential explanations stand out: voter confusion and refusal to follow compulsory-ranking instructions (see especially p. 9 here).

Data for the graph are here. The data up to 2016 used to be available here.

Agenda control, NYC, early 1930s

I was going through old photos and found this. It is from Shaw’s (1954) History of the New York City Legislature. What do you see in it?

Here is the text not baked into an image:

…the legislature’s deliberations. The machine Democrats were visibly perturbed, but with less than 10 per cent of the seats the Socialists were almost completely stymied. B. Charney Vladeck, a Socialist leader, found the only way to get his bills passed was to have a friendly Democrat sponsor them. (Peter J. McGuinness, the famous Brooklyn alderman, once made Vladeck this offer: “Cheeney, if you got something you want to slip through here, just give it to me, old pal. I’ll make it Irish for you.”)