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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall comments on research b y Milan W. Svolik, a political scientist at Yale and Matthew H. Graham, a postdoctoral researcher at George Washington University: “The authors have calculated that “only 3.5 percent of voters realistically punish violations of democratic principles in one of the world’s oldest democracies.”….We find the U.S. public’s viability as a democratic check to be strikingly limited: only a small fraction of Americans prioritize democratic principles in their electoral choices, and their tendency to do so is decreasing in several measures of polarization, including the strength of partisanship, policy extremism, and candidate platform divergence….only a small fraction of Americans prioritize democratic principles in their electoral choices when doing so goes against their partisan identification or favorite policies. We proposed that this is the consequence of two mechanisms: first, voters are willing to trade off democratic principles for partisan ends and second, voters employ a partisan ‘double standard’ when punishing candidates who violate democratic principles. These tendencies were exacerbated by several types of polarization, including intense partisanship, extreme policy preferences, and divergence in candidate platforms….Put bluntly, our estimates suggest that in the vast majority of U.S. House districts, a majority-party candidate could openly violate one of the democratic principles we examined and nonetheless get away with it.”

Further, Edsall adds, “Graham and Svolik tested adherence to democratic principles by asking respondents whether they would vote for a candidate who “supported a redistricting plan that gives own party 10 extra seats despite a decline in the polls”; whether a governor of one’s own party should “rule by executive order if legislators don’t cooperate”; whether a governor should “ignore unfavorable court rulings by opposite-party-appointed judges”; and whether a governor should “prosecute journalists who accuse him of misconduct without revealing sources.”….“Put simply,” Graham and Svolik write, “polarization undermines the public’s ability to serve as a democratic check.”….Graham and Svolik’s analysis challenges the canonical view of the role of the average voter as the enforcer of adherence to democratic principles. However, Edsall writes, “Donald Moynihan, a professor of public policy at Georgetown University — and the author of “Delegitimization, Deconstruction and Control: Undermining the Administrative State” in the current issue of The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science — wrote by email that he is “more worried about declines in democracy driven by formal changes in the law than by events like January 6th.”

Edsall continues, “In his March 2022 article “Moderation, Realignment, or Transformation? Evaluating Three Approaches to America’s Crisis of Democracy,” Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America and the author of “Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop,” argues that neither moderation nor realignment is adequate to address current problems in American democracy: Only reforms that fundamentally shake up the political coalitions and electoral incentives can break the escalating two-party doom loop of hyperpartisanship that is destroying the foundations of American democracy…..Drutman makes the case that moderation is futile because “in today’s politics, with national identity, racial reckoning, and democracy itself front and center in partisan conflict, it is hard to understand moderation as a middle point when no clear compromise exists on what are increasingly zero-sum issues. This is where the moderation principle falls especially short. If one party or both parties have no interest in moderation or cross-partisan compromise, would-be “moderates” cannot straddle an unbridgeable chasm.” Looked at from a slightly different angle, when there are only two parties, it is much easier to villify/demonize the one with which a voter most disagrees. Has America arrived at the point where conversion to a multiparty system is the best hope for saving democracy?

Are Democrats getting on the losing side of the growing debate about how transgender individuals can participate in sports? Matt Levietes reports that “Kentucky Legislature overrides governor’s veto of transgender sports ban: The bill bars transgender girls and women from participating in school sports matching their gender identity from sixth grade through college” at abcnews.com: “Kentucky’s Legislature voted Wednesday to override Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of a bill that would prohibit transgender girls and women from playing on female sports teams, making the state the sixth to enact such a law this year and the 15th to date….Beshear, a Democrat, vetoed the bill last week, saying it “most likely” violates the Constitution because it “discriminates against transgender children.” Proponents contended that the measure was necessary to protect the rights of cisgender girls and women in school sports….The override passed the Senate in a 29-8 vote and the House in a 72-23 vote. The law takes effect immediately.” The politics in this instance is made more interesting by Governor Beshear’s credibility as one of the few Democrats who can win statewide elections in a red state. But the most widely known transgender athlete, Caitlyn Jenner has argued that it is wrong for persons born male to compete as females because it cheats girls: “In a Fox News interview Wednesday,” Jonathan Edwards wrote in January at the Washingtpon Post, “Caitlyn Jenner said she respected Ivy League swimmer Lia Thomas for coming out as a transgender woman and for transitioning….“I respect her decision to live her life authentically — 100 percent,” the Olympic gold medalist told “America Reports” host Sandra Smith….But, Jenner added, that “also comes with responsibility and some integrity.”….Jenner said it’s unfair for transgender women such as Thomas to compete in women’s sports. Thomas, a 22-year-old University of Pennsylvania senior, has been setting records and crushing competitors this season for the women’s swim team, re-electrifying one of more recent battles in the culture wars — how transgender athletes participate in competitive sports….“We need to protect women’s sports,” said Jenner, who won a gold medal and set a world record in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.” It’s a tougher call for public schools than for athletic associations, because nobody wants children to feel ostracized. But policies that cheat girls out of athletic accomplishments and scholarship opportunities are a really bad look for Democrats.

5 comments on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Victor on

    Democrats completely won the gay marriage debate because it was about equality before the law. But the party is all over the place when it comes to transgender rights. And because transgender organizations are relatively weak messaging remains incoherent.

    • Martin Lawford on

      The Democrats did NOT “completely win the gay marriage debate.” They lost at the ballot box in many places, such as California. They lost when Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act. We have same-sex marriage because the Supreme Court justices imposed it on an unwilling electorate. The message to the voters was that their votes and those of the Congressmen they elect do not matter when the unelected government chooses to ignore them.

      • Victor on

        By the time the Supreme Court intervened public opinion was clearly shifting and many states had already legalized either marriage or civil unions. Since then public opinion has shifted even further.

        This is just another example of your contradictory and deluded arguments.

        • Watcher on

          Victor is correct. Marriage Equality won all 4 state initiative questions on Election Day in 2012. Outright wins in Minnesota, Washington, and Maryland and a defeat of an anti-marriage proposal in Arizona.


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