Monday, February 18, 2008

Post-Partisanship? Not likely

The media focus on the presidential election circus just about drowns out any other thought. Normally, new political studies from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) will get at least a passing mention, but not the January 2008 At Issue publication that took a look at California's Post-Partisan Future. That term, Post-Partisan came right from the Governor.
Is the partisan divide in California so deep that it precludes such accord? Does the growing trend toward “decline-to-state” voter registration portend, instead, a reshaping of the two-party system?
PPIC CEO Mark Baldasarre presents a lot of demographic statistics that drive home the point that accommodation is not likely between Republicans and Democrats. They are just too different. You can dig that out yourself. I would recommend that anyone interested in electoral success do this.

What I want to call everyone's attention to is his (and the voters) assessment of the role and prospects for a third party in California.
Majorities of Californians say the two parties do such a poor job of representing the American people that a third party is needed. PPIC Statewide Surveys find that four in 10 independents were former major-party members and seven in 10 prefer to be
unaffiliated with any party
We have to ask ourselves then why we have not been more successful. While the demand for something other than Democrat or Republican is growing, our registration numbers are falling. That should not be, but it is true.

That being the case, what do we do to change the situation? It is obvious that what we are doing now is not working. Baldassare makes some suggestions, and I quote the liberally from the report.

With no signs that the deep rifts between Democratic and Republican voters are shrinking, Californians can expect to have state and federal legislators who largely reflect the liberal-conservative split of major-party voters in the party primaries. The two-party system will continue to reflect the will of fewer and fewer people in the future, unless the parties focus on expanding their base, on inclusiveness instead of ideological purity and exclusivity.
If you agree with Baldassare, then this represents a real opportunity for Greens, but only if we can show that we are substantially different from the duopoly, that we bring a new vision of what politics can be, of what California can be, of what this nation can be.

Since this relates to electoral politics, we have one clue as to what can be accomplished if we look at the impact of the independent voters on the Democratic primary. The Democratic Party is rather unique in California in that it allows those who are registered as decline to state to vote in the Democratic Primary. Neither the Republican nor the Greens do so.

Writing just before the Feb 5 presidential primaries in CA, Baldassare found that the independent voters had little effect on the choice of candidates by the Democratic Party. I have not found any analysis of these independent votes that is meaningful. Note here that some of the PPIC suggestions for reducing partisanship are very much in line with what Greens have been working for: Instant Runoff and Proportional Representation. Others, are not so attractive, especially the first suggestion of a completely open primary with the top two candidates staging a runoff regardless of party. This would almost assuredly eliminate third parties from most contests, even if coupled with a new districting formula that creates more evenly distributed contests.

We can suggest six proposals to involve more independent voters and increase the numbers of moderate voices involved in choosing elected representatives:
(1) State-level primaries could permit voters to vote for candidates regardless of the voter’s and the candidate’s party. Then, the two top vote-getters could have a runoff in the general election.
(2) State-level primaries could be eliminated and replaced with instant runoff s in general elections. In such a system, candidate victories are decided by general election voters selecting both their first and second choices.
(3) General elections could use a proportional representation formula. As a result, the numbers of Democratic, Republican, independent, and third-party seats in the legislature would be based on the percentage of the vote each receives, rather than
winner-take-all in local districts.
(4) Legislative races in general elections could be nonpartisan. In such a system, ballots would list candidates without party labels, as in mayoral, city council, and county board of supervisor races in California.
(5) Campaign finance reforms, such as public financing, could be implemented in elections. In this way, nonpartisans and moderates could become financially competitive against partisan candidates who can attract support from ideological and
interest groups.
(6) Future legislative redistricting could focus on party competition rather than incumbent advantages. In line with state trends, local elections with partisan parity would be decided by centrist and independent voters.

We have a lot of work to do.

No comments: