Now that’s polarization

Take a look at Boris Shor’s chart, posted at Fivethirtyeight by Andrew Gelman, showing the distribution of Republicans and Democrats on the left-right scale in each state’s legislature.

At the bottom of the chart is California. In no state are Democrats more to the left, Republicans more to the right, or the gap between the two greater. That’s polarization.

I wonder how much is simple difference of the parties’ social bases in such a diverse state, and how much is driven by the minority-veto provisions of the state constitution.

9 thoughts on “Now that’s polarization

  1. There is/was a theory that one reason was California’s closed primaries and the “Goldwater/ McGovern problem”. The GOP base would only nominate a hard right-winger for Governor, who would then be ritually slaughtered at the general election. The fact that Schwarzenegger, a socially liberal Republican, first got in at a recall election (with no primary, no officia endorsements, and a single Statewide plurality ballot) lends this view some credence… although of course AS had name recognition beyond the dreams of most candidates.

  2. Is it the gap between the social base of one party and the base of the other? Or is it the pattern of geographical segregation by ideology that has developed in California? This is not a rhetorical question; I honestly don’t know the answer.

    This research is, unfortunately, going to become fodder for the campaign to pass the Schwarzenegger/Maldonado “top two” ballot measure in June. That proposal purports to address the polarization problem. If it were to do so at all (questionable), it would only be at the expense of essentially eliminating small parties from the California ballot.

  3. I believe that California is notorious for bipartisan gerrymandering of its state-level seats, producing extremely Republican and extremely Democratic districts. As a result, there are very few moderates as candidates can win simply by appealing to their liberal or conservative bases.

  4. Yes, that is a terrible measure. I am sorry that I will not be here to campaign against it (assuming it is on the ballot in June). I will be sure to vote absentee against it. (I’ll be in Israel in May through July.)

  5. My own conclusion is that any runoff system should allow voluntary withdrawals but not compulsory withdrawals (except, perhaps, for candidates under some very low threshold – 5%, say, or half the number of votes polled by the second-highest candidate on the first ballot.

    Yes, this leaves a possibility that le tour decisif might be won by a sub-50% plurality, but this is better than allowing the “primary” to be won by plurality in the first ballot (Exhibit A: France, 2002. Enid Lakeman cited a NYC mayoral primary in the 1970s where the two highest had only 30% between them). Yes, there will be tactical voting on the second ballot, but at least it can be based on knowing the “hard” (and more likely-to-be-sincere) numbers of votes cast on the primary ballot. A top-two system, as in France, still means that there’s tactical voting – but since it occurs on the first ballot, it’s “blind”, and reliant on opinion polls (which are shaky and manipulable).

  6. On the question of the gap between social bases, there is a lot more diversity within each base than within each legislative caucus. Many more socially conservative Democrats (the African-American vote on Prop 8), and both socially and economically moderate Republicans than you find in the party leadership.

    Sam Blakeslee, retiring as minority leader in the Assembly to prepare a run for Maldonado’s seat, never met a tax he liked, but even he appears to have his hands tied by the GOP caucus on several issues. My sense is that gerrymandering contributes to this somewhat (3-4 seats for Dems in SF and LA that would be moderate Republicans) but really it’s the cumulative effects of single member districts + the minority veto.

    Primaries help elect extremists, and extremism in a minoritarian institution is a virtue. This junk primary reform will do nothing to change that, and will, if anything perpetuate the “ownership” that the major parties believe they have over particular regions.

  7. MLatner,

    I agree that each partisan base is more diverse than its legislative caucus. Even more important are the millions of people in the middle, not part of either base, the peak of the bell shaped curve.

    On the June ballot measure (I wish our Secretary of State would give it a proposition number already so we could refer to it succinctly), I hope you will elaborate on your reasons for believing (as I do) that it will not address this problem as its backers seem to think it will.

    • JD, minority vetoes provide incentives to hold out because if you look unreasonable enough, and won’t let the majority govern, you have to be appeased.

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