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?

Updating some U.S. House graphics

Now seems like a good time to remake some graphics I use often. All the underlying data are from Voteview.

Below is a party-blind measure of polarization in the U.S. House, from the beginning of that chamber through Wednesday of last week. The party-blind measure is the mean of all pairwise distances. (I once calculated it here for states and first came across it here.) This lets us go back to before the major parties were Republicans and Democrats. It also does not force us to make arbitrary decisions about handling minor parties, independents, and others with less common ways of affiliating/identifying.

Below is the more familiar measure: distance between the median members of the major parties, back to the end of Reconstruction. This plot includes the median Southern Democrat (conventionally the 11 Confederate states plus Kentucky and Oklahoma).

The last two plots answer the question: “How well does an N-dimensional model fit the data?” I used the optimal classification algorithm to recover ideal points for each House. I did this one Congress at a time; see here and here for other options. The black line comes from one-dimensional models. The gray line comes from two-dimensional models. The first plot gives the percentage of votes correctly classified, by Congress.

The second plot gives the aggregate proportional reduction in error.

Here is a CSV of the fit measures above. The first two columns are for the one-dimensional models. The next two are for two dimensions.