Saturday, January 10, 2015

Can a Third Party be the Answer to the Republican Domination of Congress?

The Structural Problem Baked Into the Constitution

There is an imbalance in the United States Constitution that favors Republicans. Each state is represented by two senators. This means the least populous state (Wyoming, 493,782 in 2010 census) gets the same number of senators (2) as the most populous state (California, 33.8 million in 2010 census). In fact, the 35 million people who live in the 22 least populous states have 44 senators representing them in the Senate while just two senators represent the 34 million people living in California.  The political playing field in the Senate is tilted heavily in favor of the least populous states at a slope of 22:1.

The 35 million people in the 22 least populous states, represented by 44 senators, are predominantly Republican. The 125 million people in the seven most populous states, represented by just 14 senators, are predominantly Democratic.

This bias in favor of less populous states also infects the Electoral College for our presidential elections. All states receive Electoral College votes equal to their Congressional representation, including the two senators.  In other words, Wyoming's one half million inhabitants get two electoral college votes for its two senators; and California's 34 million inhabitants also get two electoral college votes for its senators. There are 538 Electoral College votes. The 35 million people living in the 22 least populous states receive 44 Electoral College votes on account of their senators while the 34 million people living in California receive 2. 

These are the two structural imbalances baked into our constitution.

The Demographic Imbalance

The House of Representatives is different. House seats are awarded proportionately in accordance with population, currently based on the 2010 census. So, considering Republicans only received 52% of the votes in House races in the last election, and considering Democrats have an advantage in party registration overall, what accounts for the current 56 Republican vote advantage in the House of Representatives: 188 (D): 244 (R)

Ronald Brownstein and Jamie Boschma have an intriguing article pointing to another structural problem rooted in demographics.  They report about a study in the National Review (h/t Peter Beinart) by Next America Foundation based on the most recent census data. Here's what they found: 
"Republicans are going to have a structural advantage [in the House of Representatives] because their votes are distributed more efficiently across more districts than Democratic voters are, even without gerrymandering," says political scientist Gary C. Jacobson, an expert on congressional politics at the University of California (San Diego). "For a long time, Democrats have been overrepresented in big cities, where there are minorities and liberals and college-educated people and gays, and underrepresented everywhere else. That's not going to change."
The study found that party success in House Districts is correlated to education and race. In districts where whites exceed their share of the national population, Republicans have a commanding edge, especially if that white population also holds fewer four year college degrees than the national average.  Undereducated whites (compared to national average) vote Republican.
The new analysis shows that whites exceed their share of the national population in 263 House districts—fully three-fifths of the total number of seats. And Republicans now hold a crushing 199 of those 263 white-leaning seats, putting them on the brink of a House majority before they even begin competing for more diverse seats. The Republican lead is nearly as great in the 245 districts where fewer than average whites hold a college degree.
By contrast, over-educated whites (compared to national average) and minorities tend to vote Democratic. And this demographic tends to live in the big metropolitan areas. It is reflected in the polarization we are experiencing in our country's politics:
The numbers underscore the extent to which the two parties now represent two Americas: While 81 percent of the House Republicans in the new Congress hold districts that are more white than the national average, 66 percent of House Democrats represent districts in which minorities exceed their national presence. And while 63 percent of House Democrats hold districts in which the share of college-educated whites exceeds the national average, 71 percent of House Republicans hold districts with a fewer than average proportion of such people. "It means the gulf between the political perspective of the Democratic and Republican caucus in the House is widening with every election," ... the challenge of forging bipartisan coalitions for any of our problems is becoming greater and greater.
The study suggests that as long as undereducated whites continue to be predominant among voters outside the large cities Republicans will have a demographic advantage in the House of Representatives. Gerrymandering resulting from Republican control of many governorships (currently 29/50) only makes the problem worse. It makes it hard for Democrats to compete in Red States.

Dilution of the Brand

The Red State bias that is baked into our constitution and found in the Red States' undereducated white demographic has caused the Democratic brand to be confused since the days when Southern Whites fought for slavery, fought Reconstruction, implemented Jim Crow, and fought the Civil Rights movement--all happily within the Democratic party. Today, of course, that Southern White constituency has migrated to the Republican Party, but because the Democrats are still competing for that constituency, their message continues to be compromised.

Brownstein and Boschma quote a longtime Republican pollster, Whit Ayres, who states that our politics, especially for federal offices, is becoming nationalized. By this he means I think that the message of candidates in local House races is the message of the national party. This presents a real challenge for Democrats. Because they have to compete on Republican turf with a unified national message, they are unable to rally around progressive and more liberal ideas that would be anathema in Red States.

As a result, some suggest that the Democrats should write off the deep Red States in order to focus on those races where they can win (and win bigger) with a more focused progressive agenda. It would allow Democrats to be sharper and smarter than they currently appear. The fear is that such clarity would narrow their path back to majority status as a party.

The Third Party Option

There's an intermediate strategy that would allow the big city blue-blue Democrats to sharpen their message, and that would still not diminish their chances to govern by ceding Red States to the Republicans. We should not think of this as Democrats not competing in Red States; we (the Blue people) should think of this as competing under a different brand in the Red States. Democrats in deep Red States should break off and compete as a newly formed centrist party that would not be forced to carry a "nationalized" message, but that would be free to fine tune a centrist message to compete with today's Republicans in Red States. Such a centrist party could work with Democrats in Congress, and, in the meantime, big city Democrats would be freer to focus on progressive solutions that are best for the big cities?

We big city Democrats should take our party back.  But let's not force our brothers and sisters in the middle of the country to carry our big city message; let's encourage them to form a more centrist and cooperative alternative to today's Republican party in those deep Red States. Introducing some regional differences would not be a bad thing.

Hell, all we need is a catchy name, some energetic leaders, a grass-roots organization, boatloads of money, and some votes.

A Centrist Party to Compete for These Votes?


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