Bad News for Democracy

Via  Where are the candidates? No contests in 20 of 35 Alabama Senate districts on June 3

All 35 seats in the Alabama Senate are up for grabs this election year.

But candidates are sparse.

There are no contested races in 20 of the 35 districts in the June 3 primary, now less than three weeks away.

In fact, 14 senatorseight Republicans and six Democrats – will coast to new four-year terms with no opposition in either party.

Lack of competition means no real accountability.

FILED UNDER: 2014 Election, Democracy, US Politics, ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. ernieyeball says:

    If Alabama State legislators were subject to term limits then there might not be any nominees from any party running for those empty seats after an incumbent was forced out of office.
    I suppose a remedy for that would have to be some sort of compulsory candidacy.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    You get what you pay for.

  3. Moosebreath says:

    I suspect gerrymandering also has a role here, as in many of the districts the real action is in the primary and the general election will not be competitive regardless of who runs.

  4. Tillman says:

    Maybe the registration costs are a significant hurdle?

  5. John Burgess says:

    I recall when I was just starting college, I noticed that a strongly Democratic part of the state (MA) had a Republican congressman, Silvio Conte. I asked the Dem. Party group in the district why no one was running against him. The answer was that he was good for the district and that there were no Republican candidates that could do better. So, they weren’t going to oppose him.

    I’m not sure if that works out as a failure of democracy.

  6. Matt Bernius says:

    In fact, 14 senators – eight Republicans and six Democrats – will coast to new four-year terms with no opposition in either party.

    This arguably is the most problematic point. Even in districts where there is no viable across the aisle opposition, there could have been the hope of an in-party challenge (if for no other reason to raise issues).

    Unfortunately, the current funding system makes running a symbolic/pyrrhic campaign unlikely. Even at the local level, who wants to invest that amount of resources as (or supporting) a candidate who is most likely going to lose?

  7. walt moffett says:


    Could be, then there’s this Selma Times-Journal article which tells us some incumbents failed to report paying filing fees on their financial reports.

    Then there’s the odd finding that a challenger’s neighborhood seems to be the last to get roads paved, state grant checks not delivered etc.

  8. DrDaveT says:

    Lack of competition means no real accountability.

    It’s also a prima facie reason to investigate what is dampening interest in running for office in that district.

    As @John Burgess notes, there is a possible positive explanation.

    As @walt moffett hints, there are several possible negative explanations.

    Cynic that I am, I know which one I think has the higher prior probability.

  9. superdestroyer says:

    But this is what Americans want. This is the result of the policy decisins that have been made in the last forty years. Americans want to go to the polls and know that they are voting for the winner. Given the demographic trends in the U.S and their impact on the future, most people will not vote in a single competitive election.

    The real question is what is the impact on governmental policy and governance when elections no longer matter.

  10. bill says:

    things are going well, or the koch bros./george soros have no interest?!