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This chapter takes issue with the dominant notion that political polarization can be understood as a process through which parties diverge on a single dimension of political conflict. Rather, I introduce the notion that affective political polarization intensifies when new issue dimensions are added. In a two-party system, the parties will appear to be moving further from the average voter, and further from one another, if they offer ever-more heterogeneous and incoherent bundles of platforms over time as new issues are politicized. In the United States, as a result, increasing hostility toward the out-party goes hand in hand with increased ambivalence about the in-party. Meanwhile, the parties become increasingly internally fractious. In a multiparty system, on the other hand, when new issues emerge, parties can position themselves throughout the multidimensional issue space. As a result, voters feel closer not only to their in-party but also to the average out-party. In this way, I suggest that multiparty systems can reduce overall levels of affective polarization.
We introduce a fine-grained measure of the extent to which electoral districts combine and split local communities of co-partisans in unnatural ways. Our indicator—which we term Partisan Dislocation—is a measure of the difference between the partisan composition of a voter’s geographic nearest neighbors and that of her assigned district. We show that our measure is a good local and global indicator of district manipulation, easily identifying instances in which districts carve up clusters of co-partisans (cracking) or combine them in unnatural ways (packing). We demonstrate that our measure is related to but distinct from other approaches to the measurement of gerrymandering, and has some clear advantages, above all as a complement to simulation-based approaches, and as a way to identify the specific neighborhoods most affected by gerrymandering. It can also be used prospectively by district-drawers who wish to create maps that reflect voter geography, but according to our analysis, that goal will sometimes be in conflict with the goal of partisan fairness.
In order to understand the conditions under which decentralization might foster or undermine accountability and good governance, researchers have focused attention on the mechanisms through which local governments are funded. In both observational and quasi-experimental studies, intergovernmental grants appear to be associated with a range of undesirable outcomes. In a smaller group of studies, there is more tentative evidence that efforts at enhanced local revenue mobilization are associated with improvements in governance and citizen engagement. However, in much of the developing world, the conditions for robust local taxation and strong reliance on local revenues to fund local public goods are not met. Spatial income inequality and local political opposition, among other factors, have blocked the development of the local tax base. Academics, governments, and aid practitioners still have much to learn about 1) the conditions under which local taxation can be successfully expanded and 2) the best ways to improve the distribution and oversight of intergovernmental grants so as to reduce corruption and inefficiency. The challenges can be met through a collaborative research agenda that embeds learning opportunities in aid programming and government reforms from their inception.
At the end of the twentieth century, academics and policymakers welcomed a trend toward fiscal and political decentralization as part of a potential solution for slow economic growth and poor performance by insulated, unaccountable governments. For the last two decades, researchers have been trying to answer a series of vexing questions about the political economy of multi-layered governance. Much of the best recent research on decentralization has come from close collaborations between university researchers and international aid institutions. As the volume and quality of this collaborative research have increased in recent decades, the time has come to review the lessons from this literature and apply them to debates about future programming. In this volume, the contributors place this research in the broader history of engagement between aid institutions and academics, particularly in the area of decentralized governance, and outline the challenges and opportunities to link evidence and policy action.
Using new data on roll-call voting of US state legislators and public opinion in their districts, we explain how ideological polarization of voters within districts can lead to legislative polarization. In so-called “moderate” districts that switch hands between parties, legislative behavior is shaped by the fact that voters are often quite heterogeneous: the ideological distance between Democrats and Republicans within these districts is often greater than the distance between liberal cities and conservative rural areas. We root this intuition in a formal model that associates intradistrict ideological heterogeneity with uncertainty about the ideological location of the median voter. We then demonstrate that among districts with similar median voter ideologies, the difference in legislative behavior between Democratic and Republican state legislators is greater in more ideologically heterogeneous districts. Our findings suggest that accounting for the subtleties of political geography can help explain the coexistence of polarized legislators and a mass public that appears to contain many moderates.
Political polarization in the United States causes inefficiency and policy uncertainty. This occurs not because of unusually high levels of ideological polarization among voters or legislators that generate large policy swings. Rather, it is a problem of extreme gridlock under a unique form of two-party presidential democracy in which changes from the status quo frequently require defections from opposition legislators.
This chapter explores the argument that these defections are increasingly difficult to achieve because of a profound transformation of American political geography associated with deindustrialization and suburbanization. Our understanding of this transformation is still limited, as should be the hubris with which we dispense reform advice. This chapter advocates a cautious and experimental approach to reform at the state level, focusing on the potential advantages of some form of compulsory voting.
WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?
The United States has a unique constitution. It is one of the only countries in the world that combines a strict two-party system with a presidential form of government. Its only peers are Venezuela, Ghana, and Sierra Leone. As demonstrated in Figure 7.1, all other former British colonies with singlemember districts and strict two-party systems have a parliamentary form of government. These countries have no need for bipartisanship. Members of the government party almost always vote for the legislative proposals of the executive, and members of the opposition vote against. A bimodal distribution of roll-call voting scores without centrists is neither remarkable nor troubling in a parliamentary system.
The problem in the United States is that for two-thirds of the years since 1950, the president has not presided over a partisan legislative majority. To achieve any change from the status quo, the president must assemble the votes not only of co-partisans but also of some members of the opposition party. In most other presidential systems, the chief executive is able to assemble multiparty coalitions rather than relying on defections from a single opposition party that controls the legislative agenda.
Like a fashion trend traveling from New York to the heartland, soul-searching about causality has made its way from empirical research in economics to that in political science with the usual lag. Gone are the days when it was enough to have a nice theory, a conditional correlation, and some rhetoric about the implausibility of competing explanations while implying but assiduously avoiding the “c” word. Editors, reviewers, and search committees are beginning to look for more explicit and careful empirical treatments of causality. That is, following a definition of causality tracing back to Mill (1848), researchers are expected to lay out a set of possible outcomes, or counterfactuals, generated by a set of determinants, and demonstrate that holding all possible determinants except one at a constant level, the manipulation of that determinant is associated with a specific change in outcome, which can be deemed a causal effect (Heckman 2005).
It does not take much soul-searching to realize, however, that the observational studies that make up the vast majority of empirical explorations in comparative politics are deeply flawed when held up to the experimental ideal. Where does this leave us? In the extreme view, if we cannot do randomized field experiments or perhaps survey experiments, we should do nothing. The opposite extreme position holds that this would remake comparative politics into an arid subfield of program evaluation, turning a blind eye to the interesting and important questions that animated the field in its golden era (definitions vary).
A venerable supposition of American survey research is that the vast majority of voters have incoherent and unstable preferences about political issues, which in turn have little impact on vote choice. We demonstrate that these findings are manifestations of measurement error associated with individual survey items. First, we show that averaging a large number of survey items on the same broadly defined issue area—for example, government involvement in the economy, or moral issues—eliminates a large amount of measurement error and reveals issue preferences that are well structured and stable. This stability increases steadily as the number of survey items increases and can approach that of party identification. Second, we show that once measurement error has been reduced through the use of multiple measures, issue preferences have much greater explanatory power in models of presidential vote choice, again approaching that of party identification.
If voters use information about the economy to assess the competence of incumbents, a connection between economic conditions and incumbent success should only be discernible in settings where public policy might plausibly affect the economy, and where the assignment of government responsibility is relatively straightforward. Applying this logic to gubernatorial elections in the United States, we test the following hypothesis: the connection between economic conditions and incumbents' vote shares is mediated by the structure of the state economy. This hypothesis is premised on the idea that voters understand that raw macroeconomic aggregates – when driven by factors like weather, commodity prices and federal policy – are poor signals of incumbent performance. Using data from gubernatorial elections held between 1950 and 1998, we show that the connection between macroeconomic indicators and incumbent success is weak in states dominated by natural resources and farming but quite strong elsewhere. This finding helps explain why earlier studies found no connection between state-level economic conditions and gubernatorial elections.