Friday, September 25, 2009

Term Limits

I've suggested before how score- and approval-voting could make primaries unnecessary, but after reading about this poll, it occurred to me that they could also make term limits unnecessary (or at least redundant).

It's well-known that incumbency is a huge advantage; name recognition is a big part of that (better the devil you know...), and being in office is the best way to build recognition. But the next-best way is to be in the news for months leading up to an election. But because of spoilers and vote-splitting, no party can risk running two candidates in the same election, and when the incumbent is a member of your party, of course you're going to run them. So if you don't like the incumbent, but do like the stance of their party (or at least, hate them less than the other guy), you've got little choice, because the party isn't going to risk the election by ditching their incumbency advantage (which I'm sure is precisely the thoughts going through people's heads when they're voting in the primary.)

But with score and approval, a party could run multiple candidates, the incumbent and an up-and-comer; giving voters the choice to stay within their party but still vote for change, instead of being stuck settling for "more of the same, but at least not a change for the worse".

Spoiler-free election methods allow for smoother incremental change, by weakening frictions like incumbency and "lesser of two evils" decision making. Its ability to make primaries redundant has occurred to many, but it will also lessen the need for legal patches like term limits. It's just like how the common comeback to anti-duopoly arguments, "If you don't like them, just vote for a third party!", won't actually work because of systemic problems in the voting system. Similarly, the common comeback to term-limit arguments, "If you don't want them to serve another term, vote for someone else!", also doesn't actually work. It's the same friction, the same systemic problem; and the solution is the same: score voting.

ASIDE: I've been super-busy this last month. Hopefully, this post marks a return to more-regular blogging on my part. I owe a guest post out there, too... I haven't forgotten about you!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Get This Party Started: Part V

History of American Political Parties: I - II - III - IV - V - Future

What It Is, Ain't Exactly Clear

As I've been hinting at since part one, there's still some debate over how many party systems we've gone through. Historians pretty much agree on when the first four ended (all the times we've already covered), but by some accounts the fifth is either still on going, while others say it ended in the late 1960s. The argument against is that there wasn't a significant, rapid shift in the composition of congress, which had marked every other transition. The argument in favor is that there was; it wasn't a large net change nationally, but it was, regionally, almost a complete reversal.

Since their inception on the cusp of third party system, the Republican party had enjoyed its greatest support in the north, and overwhelming support from African-Americans; conversely, the Democratic party had been able to rely on the "solid south" for many years. But there had been signs that this certainty wasn't quite so certain after all, going back as early as 1948, when Harry Truman backed the civl rights platform of northern Democratic leaders. This prompted several dozen southerners to walk out of the convention, whereupon they founded the Dixiecrat party, and nominated Strom Thurmond for president. Truman won the election narrowly over Thomas Dewey, while Thurmond took four southern states.

During Truman's administration, he found his policy objectives blocked by the so-called Conservative Coalition, consisting of a majority of Republicans and a large minority of the conservative southern Democrats who had favored Thurmond. In 1960, during the nail-bitingly close election between civil-rights supporter and Democrat John F. Kennedy, and Republican candidate Richard Nixon (who distanced himself entirely from the issue) fifteen electors in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, refusing to vote for either of the major candidates, voted for Harry Byrd, who had not at any point announced himself as a candidate, but who was a strong segregationist and conservative Democrat.

But 1964, perhaps, was the true turning point. Lyndon Johnson, who had assumed the presidency upon Kennedy's assassination, was all-but assured the party nomination. Still, he had to weather surprisingly strong primary challenges from segregationist Democrat George Wallace, and narrowly avoided a messy convention fight over civil rights brought on by competing Mississippi delegations. Meanwhile, for the Republicans, Nixon had been a strong bridge between the moderate wing of the party, which was predominantly based in the north and led by Nelson Rockafeller, and the conservative wing, which was led by Barry Goldwater and quickly growing—and incidentally picking up segregationist former Democrats—in the south. But Nixon refused to run, and in a highly fractured vote, Goldwater took the nomination. On July 2nd, Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, allegedly saying "We have lost the south for a generation." But in exchange, the Democrats gained the votes of most African-Americans and turned many northern Republicans into swing voters.

A month and a half after the bill's signing, on September 16th, Strom Thurmond switched parties; other segregationist Democrats followed. Goldwater lost the election terribly, but more importantly, compare the 1956 electoral map and the 1964 electoral map: in just eight years, just two presidential election cycles, had almost completely reversed the map. Even though congress didn't show any great change in party split, the regions from which they drew their greatest support had changed completely. I would count that as being as significant, if not more significant, than when the debate over silver brought about the the fourth party system.

So what does this mean for today's third parties? Unfortunately, not much. At least, not much that's helpful. Wallace would make a third-party run in 1968, running on a pro-segregation platform and taking the old south, but a resurgent Nixon would win that election. As in the transition to the fourth and fifth party systems, the two existing parties had managed to hold on, lithely jumping on new issues when necessary and adroitly absorbing and swapping large swaths of various voter demographics as they became disillusioned with the alternative. The two have exchanged the white house and control of the chambers of congress with increasing regularity since, while third parties continue to fail to find a foothold. But the strange bedfellows that make up each of the parties are perhaps a chink in the armor; one that may lead us to a seventh party system! A possibility that we will discuss in the next installment.

Finally: The Future!