Category Archives: Politics

Political Voice and Civic Attentiveness of Public and Non-Profit Employees

Source: Nevbahar Ertas, American Review of Public Administration, Vol. 45 no. 5, September 2015
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From the abstract:
The scarcity of citizen involvement in the public sphere is an ongoing concern within the literature on democratic citizenship. This study examines two dimensions of engagement—attentiveness and participation—in several political voice activities, looking at citizens working in the public and non-profit sectors in comparison with private-sector employees. Government employees serve the public interest by providing public services in various ways, but they are also individual citizens with varying values, opinions, and attitudes. How does this dual role shape their civic engagement behaviors and habits of political attentiveness? Are they more politically attentive or more likely to engage in political voice activities than individuals working in other sectors? How do non-profit workers fare? Are they more similar to public workers or private workers with regard to participation in these activities? Using the Current Population Survey (CPS) Special Supplement on civic engagement, the analyses here indicate that both government and non-profit employees are significantly more likely to engage in political voice activities than those working in the private sector. By focusing on political voice activities, knowledge, and media use, the study contributes to the literature by providing a more comprehensive profile of individual participation by sector. The findings generate new questions about what such participation might mean for democratic citizenship.

Election Law’s Path in the Roberts Court’s First Decade: A Sharp Right Turn But with Speed Bumps and Surprising Twists

Source: Richard L. Hasen, University of California – Irvine School of Law, UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2015-70, August 4, 2015

From the abstract:
The first decade of election law cases at the Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice Roberts brought election law down a strong conservative path. Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission freed corporate money in U.S. candidate elections and opened up a deregulatory era increasingly dominated by nominally independent “Super PACs.” Shelby County v. Holder eviscerated the congressional regime codified in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act under which Congress required states and localities with a history of racial discrimination in voting to obtain federal permission before making a change in voting rules by proving that the change would not make minority voters worse off. In its wake, previously-covered jurisdictions have adopted a number of election changes which no doubt have made minority voters worse off. In Crawford v. Marion County Election Board the Court gave the green light for state voter identification laws, despite a lack of evidence that such laws are necessary to deter fraud or instill voter confidence. Republican states have increasingly tightened voting rules in Crawford’s wake. Finally, the Court will soon consider whether to place new restrictions on application of the one person, one vote rule which would hurt Latino representation and strengthen rural and Republican power. The Court took the case, Evenwel v. Abbott, despite having apparently resolved the legal question it presents in 1966.

Nonetheless, the Roberts Court, while dominated by a majority of five conservative Justices, has not gone as far right as it could have or as some, including I, had predicted. In the campaign finance arena, the Court has thus far refused to take cases to strike down the ban on direct corporate contributions to candidates, or to reopen the ability of political parties to take large “soft money” contributions. It has not eliminated individual contribution limits, even as Super PACs and other campaign groups undermine them. In the voting rights arena, the Court so far has declined cases which would further limit the scope of, or find unconstitutional, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, a key remaining protection for minority voters, and it has revived the racial gerrymandering cause of action in a way which can help minority plaintiffs fight Republican gerrymanders. Most recently, the Court surprisingly rejected the opportunity to use the Elections Clause to kill independent commission-based congressional redistricting and other electoral reforms, and it upheld against First Amendment challenge a rule barring judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions.

In this Essay I describe the path of election law jurisprudence in the Roberts Court and then consider two questions. First, what explains why the Court, while shifting in a strongly conservative direction, has not moved more extremely to the right? Second, what options has the Court left for election reformers who are unhappy with the strongly conservative, although not maximally conservative, status quo?

On the first question, a combination of factors appears to explain the trajectory and speed of the Roberts Court’s election law decisions. The Roberts Court is fundamentally conservative, but for jurisprudential, temperamental, or strategic reasons Justices holding the balance of power appear to prefer incrementalism to radical change. Mandatory appellate jurisdiction appears the best way to force the Roberts’ Court’s hand, and it often but not always leads to a conservative result. Nearly half of the Roberts Court’s election cases came on mandatory jurisdiction. Progressives meanwhile have limited the number of cases they present for Court review to avoid adverse precedent. Finally, the five conservative Justices are not monolithic in their views and are capable of surprise, as evidenced by the recent Arizona redistricting decision, in which Justice Kennedy joined with the Court’s liberals, and the recent judicial elections case, in which Chief Justice Roberts joined with the Court’s liberals.

On the second question, the Court has left very limited space for reform in certain areas, such as campaign finance. Where the Court has greatly constrained choice, only minor improvements are possible absent a change in the Supreme Court’s personnel. In these areas, the problem is not that reformers have a “romanticized” vision of democracy; it is that the structural impediments erected by the Court have hobbled meaningful reform efforts. In contrast, in areas in which the Court has mostly left room for decentralized election law approaches, such as in the arena election administration, election fights are becoming both legal and political. Polarization and decentralization have led to the emergence of “red state election law” and “blue state election law,” with voting restrictions increasingly enacted in many Republican-leaning states but not Democratic-leaning states or states with mixed control.

Part I briefly describes the path of election law in the Roberts era across key election law areas including campaign finance, voting rights, and election administration. Part II explains why the Roberts Court is deeply conservative but not consistently maximalist. Part III considers the space for election reform in the Roberts Court era and beyond.

In America, Democrats want Democrats for neighbors

Source: Clifton B. Parker – Stanford University, Futurity, August 11, 2015

Americans today appear more divided along partisan lines than ever, and this polarization extends to where they choose to live. Stanford University scholar Iris Hui found that political party affiliation can change desirability of a residential location by as much as 20 percent. As a result, legislative districts may become more lopsided, creating more partisan legislatures. In an interview, Hui points out that the most important factors continue to be safety, amenities, schools, and distance to workplaces. Political affiliation serves as a “tiebreaker” of sorts to the more primary reasons for neighborhood choice….

….Effect on legislatures
The findings present real-world implications beyond the neighborhoods themselves. Hui points out, “residential segregation by partisanship” has been increasing since the 1990s and has contributed to legislative polarization—a sort of “Red” vs. “Blue” effect at local, state, and federal levels. (Red refers to Republican and Blue to Democrat.) “Even if a small fraction of partisans make choices on a political basis, the cumulative effect in the long run can greatly augment population differences across space,” she says. But the effect should not be overstated. People are not moving simply for political reasons primarily, she says. At any given time only a modest measure of residential sorting by party occurs. And even the allure of like-minded partisans does not compensate for limited job prospects or bad schools…..
Seeking politically compatible neighbors? The role of neighborhood partisan composition in residential sorting
Source: James G. Gimpela, Iris S. Huib, Political Geography, In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 12 February 2015
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From the abstract:
High rates of internal migration throughout the United States offer opportunities to examine the factors underlying residential selection and neighborhood choice. We devise a survey experiment where respondents are shown photographs of properties and information about the local socioeconomic environment. By providing and varying additional information about the neighborhood partisan composition, our survey experiment explores how political information affects property evaluation. We find that the same property will be evaluated more favorably by partisans when they learn that it is situated in a predominantly co-partisan neighborhood. A second experiment examines how people make judgments about neighborhood partisan composition in the absence of readily available information. We learn that correct inferences about the politics of a locale can be drawn from non-political information about it, even without exposure to direct information about its partisan balance.

The Role of Racial Tensions in State Decisions to Cut Back Welfare

Source: Hana E. Brown, Scholars Strategy Network, Key Findings, July 2015

In early June 2015, the Missouri state legislature voted to remove thousands of families, including 6,400 children, from the state’s cash assistance program for the poor. The new law reduces the state lifetime limit for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families from 60 to 45 months, cuts cash benefits in half for those who do not work, and redirects a significant portion of welfare funds toward programs that encourage marriage and alternatives to abortion. Why has Missouri made these changes now? Since the U.S. Congress acted in 1996 to change welfare funding rules and give states greater discretion, many states have taken steps similar to Missouri. My research suggests that racial dynamics drive these cutbacks – but not in ways many suppose. Demography and attitudes are insufficient explanations; the political context matters.

The Party’s Over: McCutcheon, Shadow Parties, and the Future of the Party System

Source: Joseph Fishkin, Heather Gerken, Supreme Court Review, Vol. 2015 No. 1, 2015

From the abstract:
McCutcheon v Federal Election Commission can only be understood against the deep shifts taking place in American politics. By some measures, party identity is very strong, and the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are at the height of their power. Other measures suggest that the parties are losing their grip on politics to “outside groups” – SuperPACs and nonprofits – which have taken over a startling array of core party functions. But these “outside groups” are are deeply and durably aligned with one party or the other and run by consummate party insiders. That’s why we call them shadow parties.

The explosive growth of outside groups explains why many campaign-finance supporters saw a silver lining to Shaun McCutcheon’s suit. McCutcheon struck down the FECA’s aggregate limits, which capped how much hard money into one donor could give to candidates and party committees in a given year. The crude version of the “silver lining” argument suggests that McCutcheon will shore up the parties against outside spenders. The more nuanced argument – and the emerging conventional wisdom in the field – is that McCutcheon will level the playing field between the official party leaders and the shadow parties by allowing donors to pour more money into the official party structure.

We are skeptical. Some funds that would have flowed to outside groups will seep back into the official party structure, but the effect will be modest. Moreover, the crude argument – pitting “outside” funders against “the parties” – fundamentally misdiagnoses the problem. The real problem with the growth of shadow parties has less to do with the “strength” or “weakness” of the official parties relative to outside groups and more to do with who exercises power within the parties writ large. What we are witnessing is not outside spenders pulling power away from the parties but an intraparty battle for the heart and soul of the party writ large.

Although we see this battle as an intraparty fight, its likely outcome is one that “small-d” democrats ought to find disquieting. The parties have been important sites of pluralist competition. The shift toward shadow parties threatens to flatten the party structure and inhibit pluralist politics. Money isn’t just shifting from one place to another within the party writ large; it is shifting from one type of institution to another, quite different type of institution. Compared to the official parties, the shadow parties are more hierarchical and less porous. They are closed to most and controlled by few. We are especially concerned that the shift to the shadow parties will permanently squeeze out the party faithful – the activists and highly engaged citizens who serve as a bridge between everyday citizens and political elites – and largely eliminate their already-diminished role within the party writ large. The shift toward shadow parties thus raises important questions about the future of American politics and who ought to control political parties.

A Dream Undone: Inside the 50-year campaign to roll back the Voting Rights Act

Source: Jim Rutenberg, New York Times Magazine, July 29, 2015

This article is the first in a series examining the ongoing effort to roll back the protections of the Voting Rights Act….

….In the decades that followed, Frye and hundreds of other new black legislators built on the promise of the Voting Rights Act, not just easing access to the ballot but finding ways to actively encourage voting, with new state laws allowing people to register at the Department of Motor Vehicles and public-assistance offices; to register and vote on the same day; to have ballots count even when filed in the wrong precinct; to vote by mail; and, perhaps most significant, to vote weeks before Election Day. All of those advances were protected by the Voting Rights Act, and they helped black registration increase steadily. In 2008, for the first time, black turnout was nearly equal to white turnout, and Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president.

Since then, however, the legal trend has abruptly reversed. In 2010, Republicans flipped control of 11 state legislatures and, raising the specter of voter fraud, began undoing much of the work of Frye and subsequent generations of state legislators. They rolled back early voting, eliminated same-day registration, disqualified ballots filed outside home precincts and created new demands for photo ID at polling places. In 2013, the Supreme Court, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, directly countermanded the Section 5 authority of the Justice Department to dispute any of these changes in the states Section 5 covered. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, declared that the Voting Rights Act had done its job, and it was time to move on. Republican state legislators proceeded with a new round of even more restrictive voting laws.

All of these seemingly sudden changes were a result of a little-known part of the American civil rights story. It involves a largely Republican countermovement of ideologues and partisan operatives who, from the moment the Voting Rights Act became law, methodically set out to undercut or dismantle its most important requirements. The story of that decades-long battle over the iconic law’s tenets and effects has rarely been told, but in July many of its veteran warriors met in a North Carolina courthouse to argue the legality of a new state voting law that the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School has called one of the “most restrictive since the Jim Crow era.” The decision, which is expected later this year, could determine whether the civil rights movement’s signature achievement is still justified 50 years after its signing, or if the movement itself is finished….

Partisan Conflict and Private Investment

Source: Marina Azzimonti, National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), NBER Working Paper No. w21273, June 2015
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From the abstract:
American politics have been characterized by a high degree of partisan conflict in recent years. Combined with a divided government, this has led not only to significant Congressional gridlock, but also to spells of high fiscal policy uncertainty. The unusually slow recovery from the Great Recession during the same period suggests the possibility that the two phenomena may be related. In this paper, I investigate the hypothesis that political discord depresses private investment. To this end, I first present a reduced-form political economy model to illustrate how news about political disagreement affects investment through agents’ expectations. I then construct a novel high-frequency indicator of partisan conflict consistent with the model. The index, computed monthly between 1981 and 2015, uses a semantic search methodology to measure the frequency of newspaper articles reporting lawmakers’ disagreement about policy. Using a 2SLS approach, I estimate that a 10% increase in the partisan conflict index is associated with a 3.4% decline in aggregate private investment in the US.

The Average Joe’s Proviso

Source: Stanley B. Greenberg, Washington Monthly, Vol. 47 nos. 6/7/8, June/July/August 2015

Surprising numbers of white working class voters will support the Democratic agenda-if Democrats promise to reform the government that would carry it out. …

….Yet the white working-class and downscale voters in our surveys do support major parts of a progressive, activist agenda, particularly when a Democratic candidate boldly attacks the role of money and special interests dominating government and aggressively promotes reforms to ensure that average citizens get both their say and their money’s worth. These findings came out of innovative research conducted in partnership with Page Gardner’s Women’s Voices Women Vote Action Fund and David Donnelly’s Every Voice.

In recent years, too many Democrats have presumed that the white working class is out of the party’s reach and that talk of reforming government and the political process simply does not move voters. My contention is that both of those presumptions are wrong. An agenda of reform is the key to Democrats winning the greater share of white working-class and unmarried women votes that will give the party the majorities it needs to govern…..

How the American South Drives the Low-Wage Economy

Source: Harold Meyerson, American Prospect, Vol. 26 no. 3, Summer 2015

Just as in the 1850s (with the Dred Scott decision and the Fugitive Slave Act), the Southern labor system (with low pay and no unions) is wending its way north. …. The American South before the Civil War was the low-wage—actually, the no-wage—anchor of the first global production chain. Today, as the auto and aerospace manufacturers of Europe and East Asia open low-wage assembly plants in Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, and Mississippi, the South has assumed a comparable role once more. Indeed, the South today shares more features with its antebellum ancestor than it has in a very long time. Now as then, white Southern elites and their powerful allies among non-Southern business interests seek to expand to the rest of the nation the South’s subjugation of workers and its suppression of the voting rights of those who might oppose their policies. In fact, now more than then, the South’s efforts to spread its values across America are advancing, as Northern Republicans adopt their Southern counterparts’ antipathy to unions and support for voter suppression, and as workers’ earnings in the North fall toward Southern levels. And now as then, a sectional backlash against Southern norms has emerged that, when combined with the Southern surge, is again creating two nations within one…..