Thursday, February 18, 2016

Supporting My Assumptions

At dinner the other night I made a statement along the lines that the noisy minority controlled the Presidential elections and while individuals may feel they have control through their one man – one vote policy it is only an illusion.  I was challenged to support my assumptions to confirm my position.  So here goes.

Definition: For purpose of this piece I define noisy minority as a group of political activists who receive extensive media coverage, either pro or con, and who are able to shape the dialogue of candidate selection.  For an example, the #Occupy (Somewhere), the #BLM,” #Evangelicals, or #Tea Party all fit within my definition of noisy minority, although I would not discount the “Super Pac’s,” for it is their money that funds the media messaging of the candidates.

Assumption 1: It is the vocal minorities, and the hard-core political activists who campaign and advocate for their candidates during the primary season, and from this the party will select who ultimately reaches the November ballot. This tends to draw the candidates away from centrist positions.

Assumption 2:  With sufficient support a noisy minority may put on the ballot a 3rd party candidate, who will almost certainly act as a spoiler for one of the two principles splitting what would be a majority vote.  (e.g. Ross Perot, 1992)

Assumption 3:  Voter turn out during the primary season is generally limited to a small percentage of registered party members.  The voters who do show up are likely to be those political activists pursuing a position outside the mainstream of popular opinion

Assumption 4:  Historical voter turn out for the general election is generally less than 50% of the registered voters total, and while we may debate why we have historically lower voter turn-out than other democratic societies, I believe it is one of the key factors in deciding the election.

So let’s see what the research turns up?

Supporting positions:

Assumption 1:
“A political party is not a fixed entity; rather, it is an ever-changing mix of individuals and groups who use the institution of a party to advance their own goals. Figure 1 models a political party in terms of three concentric circles consisting of leaders, activists, and supporters” 2

“Activists tend to be motivated by policy goals, and they often have views that are out of the political mainstream. Activists tend to be wealthier, more highly educated, and more likely to hold ideologically extreme views than are held by the electorate at large.(2) This group may prefer to lose an election with a candidate who zestfully champions their causes, like George McGovern or Barry Goldwater, than to win with a candidate who compromises on their principles.”2

From the abstract on “A Theory of Political Parties…”: “We propose a theory of political parties in which interest groups and activists are the key actors. Coalitions of groups develop common agendas and screen candidates for party nominations on loyalty to their agendas. This theoretical stance contrasts with currently dominant theories, which view parties as controlled by election-minded politicians. The difference is normatively important because parties dominated by interest groups and activists are less responsive to voter preferences, even to the point of taking advantage of lapses in voter attention to politics. Our view is consistent with evidence from the formation of national parties in the 1790s, party position change on civil rights and abortion, patterns of polarization in Congress, policy design and nominations for state legislatures, Congress and the presidency.”3

Bottom Line:  I believe there is sufficient material to support my view it is the activists and those who tend towards the margins to indicate my assumption is valid.

Assumption 2:
"The American system is commonly called a 'two-party system' because there have historically been only two major political parties with candidates competing for offices (especially in federal elections). The first two political parties had their origins in the debate over the ratification of the Constitution--the Federalists and Antifederalists. Today, the Republican and Democratic Parties dominate electoral politics. Almost every federal or state-level elected official in the United States is either a Republican or Democrat. In fact, in the United States Congress, there is only one member in the House of Representatives that is not a Republican or a Democrat--Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is an Independent. Every other House member and Senator belongs to either the Democratic or Republican Party.

The American two-party system is the result of the way elections are structured in the United States. Representatives in the Congress and in state legislatures are elected to in single-member districts where the individual with the most votes wins. Because only one party's candidate can win in each district, there is a strong incentive for political competitors to organize themselves into two competing "teams" or parties. By doing so, party members and their candidates maximize their chances of winning elections. (In some countries where there are multi-member districts, parties that win smaller percentages of the vote can often win legislative representation. Consequently, in such systems, there is an incentive to form smaller "third" parties.) Other features of the American system of elections, such as campaign finance rules, the electoral college and rules giving party candidates ballot access further solidify the two-party system in the United States.

The same features of the American system that have encouraged a two-party system also serve to discourage the emergence of third parties. When third parties have emerged in American political history, their successes have been short-lived. In most cases, the issues or ideas championed by third parties have been "stolen" by the candidates of one of the two major parties. Sometimes the issue position taken by the third party is even incorporated into the platform of one of the existing parties. By doing so, the existing party generally wins the support of the voters that had been the support base of the third party. With no unique issues to stand on and depleted voter support, third parties generally fade away.

Notwithstanding their lack of staying power, a handful of third party presidential candidates have had a significant impact on electoral outcomes." 4

Bottom Line:  Assumption is valid.

Assumption 3:
“One of the founding principles of the United States is that the government derives its authority from the consent of the governed. To ensure that its agents represent the will of the people, the republic needs its citizens to demonstrate their will through the vital democratic process of voting.

This summer’s primary elections in California, however, have yet again exposed a discouraging reality in recent American politics: very few people vote. Statewide, fewer than 4.4 million people cast ballots in the June primary, setting a record low 25.2% turnout among registered voters (and a ghastly 15% of the voting-age population).”5

“The direct impact of low voter turnout has increasingly manifested itself over the past few years, particularly in those elections featuring today’s most partisan political figures.
In 2012, then-Congressman Chris Murphy of Connecticut became the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate with 67% of the primary vote. He defeated Susan Bysiewicz, a more moderate former Connecticut Secretary of State. However, because voter turnout was so anemic, he was actually able to win the primary election with the support of only 3% of the state’s voting-age population.
After handily winning the general election, Murphy went to Washington, D.C. and sprinted further to the left than anyone else in Congress. The National Journal eventually named him the most liberal Senator in Washington.”5

Table 5: Exit Poll Data from New Hampshire Primary and General Elections, 1996-2008 5

Registered Party
Primary Election (%)
General Election (%)
+ 9.57
– 11.66
+ 7.37
– 4.14
+ 11.20
– 12.06
+ 15.74
– 16.48

Bottom Line:  Assumption is supported by empirical data.

Assumption 4
See Ref 6.

"The conventional wisdom underpinning this divide [regarding the difference between the Democratic and Republican Party’s positions] is that high voter turnout benefits the political left (in the U.S., that means the Democratic Party). This presumption is most widely held among journalists and practicing politicians. But prominent scholars share this view as well."7

Bottom Line:  my estimate of 50% is low, voter turn out is generally in the 60% range but that is still significantly lower than other mature democracies.  The popular belief is that the greater the turn out the more likely the democrats will will based on the larger participation of those groups like the young, the poor and the less well educated who will support the democratic promises. 7

In Summary:  I believe my position is supported.

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