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?

Los Angeles, 1913: STV or OLPR?

How we understand Los Angeles matters. I claimed in a recent piece that the 1913 defeat of open-list PR there was a critical juncture for American PR advocacy. (I recently learned of a similar event in Western Europe, with the opposite effect. More on that another time.) Recently, there appeared two articles saying that the referendum was on STV. So, which was it?

Here is how Sitton (1995, p. 355) describes the measure, emphasis mine:

“Written by George Dunlop, the proposal was a modification of the Hare system. Political groups could submit petitions containing at least 500 signatures requesting that their group name and candidates for city council be printed on the primary ballot. Voters would indicate their party preference on the ballot and then cast votes for individuals in the order of the voter’s choice, regardless of the party those candidates represented. (A Republican could vote for five Republicans and four candidates from other parties if desired.) An ‘independent’ column would be provided for those candidates and voters who did not belong to the major parties. The city clerk would then count the total votes and divide by the number of available council seats to arrive at the quota needed for nomination. For each full quota polled by a group, its top two vote getters were nominated for the general election. Fractional units would be divided proportionately among the parties. In the general election the process was to be repeated, except that only one candidate was elected per quota. Thus, if the GGO received a total vote equal to three quotas (one-third of the total vote for nine council seats), the top three GGO candidates would be elected.”

I would like to share my interpretation of this passage. Here are some thoughts on what I’ve boldfaced and why.

1. “Modification of the Hare system” — Hare system is an old term for STV. How is it being modified?

2. “Group name and candidates… printed on the primary ballot” — This suggests the presence of party labels on the ballot, grouping of candidates by party, and some level of control of candidates’ use of those labels.

3. “Voters would indicate their party preference” — This is where the key modification of STV begins. Votes for parties are going to play a role in seat allocation.

4. “For each full quota polled by a group” — Seats are being allocated to parties as parties. Or, in the first round, positions on the general-election ballot are being allocated to parties as such.

In sum, note what is happening in both rounds. Voters cast party votes. Party votes then determine quotas. Quotas then determine what happens to a party in that round. In the primary, for each quota, the party sends two candidates to the general election. Then, in the general election, the party gets one seat per quota. Seats not yet allocated are dealt with via largest remainder.

The only role played by rankings here is to set the order of the party list. That sounds like an open-list system to me, even if an uncommon variant. See this essay on open lists from Alan Wall and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) for more information. I also recommend the analyses of open lists (and other list systems embedding candidate choice) in Votes from Seats (2017).

Mapping the repeal of proportional representation in New York City

I may have more to say about this later.

Two sorts of hypotheses might explain the variation. One concerns third-party strength (Labor, Liberal, Communist). But ecological inference suggests a divided Labor Party!

The other sort concerns politics of urban renewal. This may help explain the pockets of opposition in Bronx and Brooklyn. Also in the book, I analyze the City Council roll-call record. Those data suggest a faction of the Republican Party feuding with the O’Dwyer (D) administration and other Republicans on budget matters.

Another point worth mentioning: this was one of few repeals (the only?) that increased assembly size. So, there may be a counterintuitive representation story too.

Feel free to comment if anything strikes you.