Wednesday, 17 December 2003

Party with Dean

James Joyner has some thoughts on a Mickey Kaus blog entry exploring the possibility of a third party run by Howard Dean if he doesn’t win the nomination. I honestly don’t think that is likely, or even logistically possible. The two major parties, while at their institutionally weakest state in modern history, still serve an important gatekeeping function in our system; while it’s arguably harder to win a major-party nomination than to gain ballot access on a third-party ticket, the reward of the major-party nomination is the virtually automatic vote of more than 30% of the electorate.

That is not to say that to win the nomination, candidates have to appeal directly to the party base. Registration rules in most states are now weak to nonexistent (part of a 100-year trend started by the “progressive” reforms that reflected a belief in a Tocquevillian ideal of a well-informed rational public rather than the reality of widespread political ignorance) and increased soft money regulations have meant an end to the financial ties between parties and candidates. Instead, the successful candidate in a large field can simply recruit disaffected apartisan ideologues* to his cause and use their support to create an air of inevitability around his campaign to recruit the support of institutional loyalists—the “true partisans,” if you will.

However, Kaus’ belief that we’ll see a breakdown of the two existing parties, at least on the ballot, is at best misguided. There are thousands of Democratic and Republican state legislators who would have to be convinced to remove the existing institutional advantages of their own parties to open the door for a new third party, while the idea of separate parties competing at the presidential level than in other elections seems a tad absurd (I could see separate parties at the state and national levels, but that’s not the same thing, really). There’s enough value attached to the Republican and Democratic labels that it’s likely we’ll see candidates fight over them long after the institutions they represent have been further eviscerated by further campaign finance “reform” and the continued march of the “progressive” legacy.

By the way, I hope some political scientist out there is doing a study of Dean activists, if only so I can steal borrow their data and test some of the hypotheses floating around in my head about them…

* My working hypothesis is that the typical Dean activist was an “out” or “closeted” Nader supporter in 2000, from a group of leftist activists that may have Democratic registrations but aren’t particularly committed to the Democratic Party as an institution.

Friday, 19 December 2003

The party ain't quite over yet

Steven Taylor finally got around to reading the Ehrlich piece I discussed below (in terms of Mickey Kaus’ reaction to it). Quoth Dr. Taylor:

The second problem [with his argument] is more profound: Erhlich seems not to understand American parties. Parties in the US are primarily three things: the candidates themselves, the officeholders who manage to win election, and, above all else, the voters who are willing to put those candidates into office. The institutional existence of the party (the party committee, and so forth) is really minor by comparison to the other aforementioned elements.

This is a restatement of the classic “tripartite division” of the party in political science: the party in the electorate, the party in government (which subsumes both the “candidates” and “officeholders” from Steven’s description), and the party organization (or institution). While parties are institutionally weak, as I reviewed in my previous post, that’s not the whole reality of the situation—parties still have a strong resonance in the electorate (even in the elite bits of the electorate, like the blogosphere: you’ll find relatively few nonpartisan “warbloggers”), and they still help organize competition both in elections and in government.

Anyway, go read what Steven said, as well was what Professor Bainbridge had to say too. (Bonus points: Prof. Bainbridge talks about one of my favorite topics, heuristics, and the value of those heuristics in political decision-making.*)

* The original title of my dissertation was going to be The Role of Political Sophistication in the Use of Heuristics by Voters, but my third substantive chapter (on the role of sophistication in the “psychological effect” of Duverger’s Law) departed from the heuristic theme a bit, so it no longer worked. Now, it’s The Impact of Political Sophistication on the Decision-Making Processes of Voters, for those keeping score at home.