Presidentialism and diverging intraparty electoral incentives

“We’ve got people running for president all trying to find their base, and then you’ve got people from Trump states that are trying to continue to legislate the way we always have — by negotiation.”
Thank you, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), for a wonderful quote about how presidential systems can fracture electoral incentives within a party.

9 thoughts on “Presidentialism and diverging intraparty electoral incentives

  1. “… The government would also have to transition. Medicare for all works only if politicians ruthlessly enforce those spending cuts. But in our system of government, members of Congress are terrible at fiscal discipline. They are quick to cater to special interest groups, terrible at saying no. To make single-payer really work, we’d probably have to scrap the US Congress and move to a more centralized parliamentary system….”
    – David Brooks, “‘Medicare for All’: The Impossible Dream – There’s no plausible route from here to there,” NY Times (4 March 2019),


  2. Have Cyprus, South Korea or Taiwan had to scrap presidentialism in order to maintain their single payer health systems?


    • None of those three are federal, a factor which I would say compounds presidentialism. Legislators are more likely to “cross the floor” if they won’t be whipped for bringing down their own government and/or if they have local or regional incentives to diverge from their party’s national leadership.


      • I think that’s a reasonable comment, and I really only have an indirect rebuttal. The US is not a single presidential system but 51, and with one big exception the US states have not performed too badly.

        The big exception is states that adhered to the Confederacy and there I would argue that it was not just the failure of Reconstruction, but that they had wrecked their economies even before the Civil War. In 1857, Hinton Rowan Helper, writing, he said on behalf of the Plain Folk of the South, ny which he meant poor whites and yeomen, published The Impending Crisis of the South: How to Meet It. Among other statistics drawn from the US census of 1850, Helper pointed out that New York and Virginia had roughy the same population and wealth in 1787, but by 1850 New York had 25 times the wealth and almost 3 times the population of Virginia.

        The southern elite’s response was to deny the book’s thesis, censoring it in the South by formal and informal means, and Helper had to move to the North for his own safety.

        Ultimately the Civil War merely replaced the formal antebellum oligarchies with informal oligarchies characterised by intense corruption. You just can’t do that to your economy for almost 200 years and not suffer the consequences. You could even argue that before the Civil Rights Movement (I am not saying that all civil rights problems were resolved in the 1960s) the economic system pf the South was not capitalism but patrimonialism and that a Virginia or a Texas had much more in common with a Minas Gerais or a Province of Buenos Aires than with New York and California. Although he was from North Carolina, Helper was in a sense the first carpetbagger.

        Many of Brooks’ examples are state attempts at single payer that have failed. I know of no example where a federation has some states with single payer and some states without. Canada has provincial single player plans, but they are backed by federal fiscal transfers and mandates. I suggest that a state, no matter how wealthy, just cannot operate social insurance systems within its own borders. FDR found this during his governorship when he attempted to create a state-based social security system and failed.

        Brooks’ transition arguments are frankly silly. Australia and Canada both had healthcare systems before the adoption of single payer that resemble the present US shambles (although without job-based healthcare). Introducing single payer was certainly a struggle and doctors and insurers were particularly unhappy, but the thing got done.

        What Brooks is actually arguing, without being aware of it, is that the US constitution is not semidivine and beyond amendment and that it requires fundamental reforms to the way both the congress and the presidency are elected.

        Sidebar to an already overlong post, I suspect Pete Buttigieg of being a secret fructovotante.


      • So I should pay attention to the mayor of South Bend?

        I will admit my interest did perk up when I learned that the name is Maltese, and that he speaks several languages, including the one of that STV-using country.


      • The mayor of South Bend is much into constitutional and electoral reform. It could almost behove a prominent political scientist to offer some suggestions. Admittedly he was first drawn to my attention when he was asked about being an openly gay presidential candidate and shot back ‘Are you asking if America is ready for a Maltese-American president?’ And one of the languages is Norwegian.


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