The Marketplace of Democracy

The Marketplace of Democracy: Electoral Competition and American Politics

Michael P. McDonald
John Samples
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Marketplace of Democracy
    Book Description:

    Since 1998, U.S. House incumbents have won a staggering 98 percent of their reelection races. Electoral competition has also declined in some state and primary elections.The Marketplace for Democracycombines the resources of two eminent research organizations -Brookings and the Cato Institute -to address several important questions about our democratic system. How pervasive is the lack of competition in arenas only previously speculated on, such as state legislative contests and congressional primaries? What have previous reform efforts, such as direct primaries and term limits, had on electoral competition? What are the effects of redistricting and campaign finance regulation? What role do third parties play? In sum, what does all this tell us about what might be done to increase electoral competition? The authors, including a number of today's most important scholars in American politics, consider the historical development, legal background, and political aspects of a system that is supposed to be responsive and accountable yet for many is becoming stagnant, self-perpetuating, and tone-deaf. How did we get to this point, and what -if anything -should be done about it?

    Elections are the vehicles through which Americans choose who governs them, and the power of the ballot is still the best lever ordinary citizens have in keeping public officials accountable. The Marketplace of Democracy considers different policy options for increasing the competition needed to keep American politics vibrant, responsive, and democratic. Contributors include Stephen Ansolabehere (MIT), William D. Berry (Florida State University), Bruce Cain (University of California-Berkeley), Thomas Carsey (Florida StateUniversity) James Gimpel (University of Maryland) John Hanley (UC-Berkeley), John Mark Hansen (University of Chicago), Paul S. Herrnson (University of Maryland) Gary Jacobson (University of California-San Diego) Thad Kousser (UC-San Diego), Frances Lee (University of Maryland), John Matsusaka (University of Southern California), Kenneth Mayer (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Michael P. McDonald (Brookings Institution and George Mason University), Jeffrey Milyo (University of Missouri-Columbia), Richard Niemi (University of Rochester) Nate Persily (University of Pennsylvania Law School), Lynda Powell (University of Rochester), David Primo (University of Rochester), John Samples (Cato Institute), and James Snyder Jr. (MIT).

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-5581-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 The Marketplace of Democracy: Normative and Empirical Issues
    (pp. 1-24)
    Michael P. McDonald and John Samples

    The U.S. government is founded on and derives its legitimacy from the principle of the consent of the governed. Citizens can be satisfied with many forms of government, and the course of American political development might have been radically different if King George III had been responsive to the grievances of the colonies. However, history has demonstrated the long-term dangers of a government based on a short-term benevolent authoritarian regime; inevitably a despot rises to power. To protect against future despotism, the Founding Fathers renewed the ancient Roman method of expressing the consent of the governed: a representative government selected...

  5. Part One The State of Competition

    • 2 Competition in U.S. Congressional Elections
      (pp. 27-52)
      Gary C. Jacobson

      After falling irregularly for several decades, turnover in elections to the U.S. House of Representatives has reached an all-time low. On average in the four most recent elections (1998–2004), a mere fifteen of the 435 seats changed party hands, and only five incumbents lost to challengers.¹ Net partisan swings have also been minimal by historical standards and would have been smaller still had successful Republican gerrymanders not added to the party’s narrow majority in 2002 and 2004.² Since 1994, Republicans have won between 221 and 232 of the 435 House seats, and Democrats between 204 and 212, by far...

    • 3 Competition in State Legislative Elections, 1992–2002
      (pp. 53-73)
      Richard G. Niemi, Lynda W. Powell, William D. Berry, Thomas M. Carsey and James M. Snyder Jr.

      A frequent theme in writings on state legislatures is the rich opportunity for comparative studies—the notion that ninety-nine chambers with “great similarities” but also “important differences” “provide legislative scholars leverage for rigorously testing important theories.”¹ With respect to legislativeelections, scholars have frequently taken advantage of this opportunity, having looked at the incumbency advantage, turnover, term limits, the relationship between elections and divided government, the role of gerrymandering, and so on. But even in the area of legislative elections, research is hampered by the lack of up-to-date information on elections in all fifty states. At this writing in 2006,...

    • 4 The Decline of Competition in U.S. Primary Elections, 1908–2004
      (pp. 74-101)
      Stephen Ansolabehere, John Mark Hansen, Shigeo Hirano and James M. Snyder Jr.

      A hallmark of elections in the United States is a two-stage electoral process. Candidates running under the standard of one of the major political parties must first win the party’s endorsement in a primary election. Very few other countries use party plebiscites to nominate their candidates, but the United States has employed primary elections widely for nearly 100 years.¹ The primary system is relatively new in U.S. presidential elections, in which a majority of delegates were chosen by state conventions and caucuses until the 1970s. For other state and federal offices, however, almost all states have used primary elections to...

    • 5 Minor-Party Candidates in Congressional Elections
      (pp. 102-124)
      Paul S. Herrnson

      Minor-party and independent candidates (hereafter referred to as “minor-party” candidates) face long odds in their bids for public office in the United States. American political institutions, legal arrangements, voter preferences, and the strategic decisions of political elites provide significant barriers to minor-party success. Nevertheless, thousands routinely run for public offices ranging from city councilor to state legislator to U.S. Representative to president. Despite the fact that hundreds of minor-party candidates run for the House every election season, few have succeeded in modern times. Indeed, in recent years only Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont successfully first ran as an independent. A...

    • 6 The Geography of Electioneering: Campaigning for Votes and Campaigning for Money
      (pp. 125-148)
      James G. Gimpel and Frances E. Lee

      Organized efforts to win elections have been referred to as “campaigns” for so long that it is easy to forget that the word originally referred to tracts of open country or armies in the field conducting military operations. But electoral contests involve “campaigns” in a far more than metaphorical sense. They are not merely a set of plans executed with the sustained intensity of battle; they are also campaigns in the original sense: they involve being “in the field,” traversing geographic space. As Pitney observes, just as “[g]eography shapes combat … [l]ocational choices are especially crucial in election campaigns.”¹ Despite...

  6. Part Two Reform Mechanisms

    • 7 Direct Democracy and Electoral Reform
      (pp. 151-170)
      John G. Matsusaka

      Direct democracy is emerging as one of the central institutions of modern democracy.¹ Roughly half of all American states and cities now allow citizens to propose and directly approve laws using initiatives, and over 70 percent of the population lives in either a city or state that allows initiatives.² Since California’s famous tax-cutting Proposition 13 in 1978, initiative use has exploded across the country, and in some states appears to be eclipsing legislatures as the primary agenda-setting institution. The number of state-level initiatives going before the voters over the decade 1996–2005—more than 360—exceeded the record of the...

    • 8 The Place of Competition in American Election Law
      (pp. 171-196)
      Nathaniel Persily

      In recent years it has become fashionable for legal academics to conceive of problems in American election law as ones concerning regulation of the political marketplace as opposed to infringements on constitutionally guaranteed individual or associational rights.¹ This shift in scholarly attention derives from several sources. First, although new challenges such as increased disfranchisement of felons and restrictive voter identification provisions have emerged, most of the classic barriers to participation have been replaced with complicated and subtle strategies dedicated to maintaining incumbent parties and officeholders in their current positions of power. Second, while often phrased in the language of individual...

  7. Part Three Reforms and Competition

    • 9 Term Limits: A Recipe for More Competition?
      (pp. 199-221)
      Bruce Cain, John Hanley and Thad Kousser

      One of the promises term-limits proponents made was that restrictions on time in office would foster greater electoral competition. A ballot argument for California’s Proposition 140, for instance, stated: “Limiting terms will create more competitive elections, so good legislators will always have the opportunity to move up the ladder. Term limitations will end the ingrown, political nature of both houses—to the benefit of every man, woman and child in California.” Amidst widespread concern that the incumbency advantage at all levels of government had increased measurably and that the political system was insulated from changing electoral swings, twenty-one states adopted...

    • 10 Redistricting and Competitive Districts
      (pp. 222-244)
      Michael P. McDonald

      In the wake of the round of redistricting following the 2000 census, editorial pages across the political spectrum claimed that redistricting reduced the number of competitive elections by reducing the number of competitive districts.¹ The distinction between elections and districts is important: competitive elections are those with a close election outcome, while competitive districts are those with a near partisan balance between the two major political parties.² Competitive elections arise out of a number of factors, such as whether an incumbent is running for reelection, whether a quality challenger emerges to contest the incumbent, the issue positions the candidates take,...

    • 11 Do Public Funding Programs Enhance Electoral Competition?
      (pp. 245-267)
      Kenneth R. Mayer, Timothy Werner and Amanda Williams

      Advocates of public funding offer four main arguments about the consequences of taxpayer-financed elections.¹ First, public funding can help potential candidates overcome the barriers that might deter them from running. In a vicious cycle, potential candidates who lack the ability to raise campaign funds are not taken seriously, and candidates who are not taken seriously cannot raise campaign funds. The cost of a campaign, even at the state legislative level, prevents potentially qualified candidates from even entering. A system of public grants can give candidates the seed money necessary to launch broader fundraising efforts, or even provide them all the...

    • 12 State Campaign Finance Reform, Competitiveness, and Party Advantage in Gubernatorial Elections
      (pp. 268-285)
      David M. Primo, Jeffrey Milyo and Tim Groseclose

      Electoral competition is thought to be the cornerstone of democratic rule, yet many policymakers, scholars, and concerned citizens perceive the existence of a competitiveness crisis in the United States today. As the introductory chapter to this volume notes, U.S. House races are becoming increasingly uncompetitive; this is no mean feat, as reelection rates for House incumbents have been in the 90 percent range for much of the postwar era. If the dearth of electoral competition is a problem, what is the solution? One popular remedy among “good government” groups and policymakers is campaign finance reform, especially partial or complete public...

    • 13 The Perfect Electoral Marketplace: ʺIf Men Were Angels …ʺ
      (pp. 286-296)
      Michael P. McDonald and John Samples

      This volume brings together high-quality research on the state of electoral competition in American politics in the early twenty-first century. While we know a great deal about the decline of competition in congressional elections, the contributors to this volume advance our knowledge of state legislative general elections and congressional and statewide primaries. Presidential elections are important too, and the close elections in 2000 and 2004 belie a competitive national battlefield narrowed to a few key states. At all levels of government, competition has diminished.

      Changes beget explanations, particularly among those who care about the harm diminished electoral competition might do...

  8. Contributors
    (pp. 297-298)
  9. Index
    (pp. 299-312)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 313-313)