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Partisan Primaries and Polarized Politics

24 Oct 2013

Partisan Primaries and Polarized Politics

John-RogersCapstone’s John Rogers took a few seconds to talk about some of the root causes of the fervent polarization in Washington D.C.
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At the heart of the government shut down was a group of Tea Party Republicans who don’t care what the rest of the country thinks about them. In their minds, they were sent to Congress to repeal Obamacare and reduce the debt… whatever the cost. But what got us to this point? How did we become so factionalized and polarized that a minority could control the majority?

Beyond the obvious societal and political dynamics at play, I would suggest that there are some structural ones as well.

First is redistricting. Redistricting isn’t about Republicans or Democrats anymore. It’s about the Incumbent-crat! Members who are in office do everything they can to make their districts safer. Districts that ten years ago were split 50-50 are now 70-30 for one party or the other.

The consequence of this is that the important election, the one that really matters, becomes the primary election.

Why? Think about who votes in primaries… The highly committed partisan voter. So in the case of Democrats, the way to win is to run to the left and in the case of the GOP, you run to the right. The result is that we keep electing people to state legislatures – and ultimately to Congress – who are further to the right and further to the left resulting in the further polarization of the country.

Add to this the changing face of the electorate. Red states are becoming more red, and blue states – more blue. According to Thad Kousser, a political scientist at UCSD, rather than a wave moving in one party’s favor, crosscurrents have moved the states apart … something that hardly ever happens.

Thus, a Tea Party member from a highly conservative part of the South doesn’t care about that blue voter.

The third leg of the stool is money. With the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, corporations, associations and labor unions are now able to spend unlimited money on elections as part of their first amendment rights. And the Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in McCutcheon v. FEC that could open the floodgates further, eliminating restrictions on an individual’s overall political contributions to candidates ($48,600) and committees ($74,600). The practical implication of all this money is that candidates who stake out extreme positions now have the potential of unlimited economic backing. In the 2012 elections more than $6 BILLION dollars were spent on the elections! This is up from a paltry $1.7 billion in 2008.

To get at the institutional heart of the country’s dysfunction, we are going to need to change the rules around redistricting and change the rules on how money can be spent in politics. If we don’t, we will face continued radical polarization and dysfunction in our government.

 

The views in this blog post represent the viewpoints of individual team members, not Capstone National Partners as a whole.

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