The Flawed Nature of Representation in the US

Our representation problems are far, far more about structure than they are about the messaging of the parties.

“Confused Democracy” by Steven Taylor is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Over the years here at OTB I have tried to illustrate and explain what I think are deep flaws in the basic scheme of representation in US democracy. This often manifests, especially in the comments section, as me questioning critiques of Democrats based on messaging. For example (as in this thread), it is often posited that Democrats are losing/are going to lose because they keep talking too much about controversial social issues (e.g., CRT, trans rights, etc.). Likewise, it is frequently asserted (for example) that the progressive faction of the party creates too much controversy, thus allowing the Republicans and their media allies too much fuel for their rhetorical fires.

I have been thinking about this of late (and even started a very different post on this yesterday, and have more to say specifically on primaries at some point in the future) but the current revelations about Kevin McCarthy’s dishonesty, and James Joyner’s lament this morning, got the mental ball rolling this morning. James noted:

Still, I must confess that, even as a political scientist trained to be analytical about these things, I find it baffling that the sheer corruption of the opposition party seems not to be factoring in at all but is simply part of the background noise.

Indeed, it can be frustrating for persons like James, and myself, who are motivated, in large part, by a desire for good governance.

Enough preface, however.

Let me try and be as direct as possible: I am not saying the message/narrative does not matter, but I am saying that it matters far less than a number of other factors and that diagnosing a problem requires understanding the relative strength of differing inputs. Further, I am saying that the way we talk about message, narrative, and competition is a problem to the degree that we validate the flaws of our system and even sublimate, if not fully ignore, the factors that really do constraint representation.

To restate: by ignoring structure and focusing on messaging, we allow the structural problems to either be background noise or ignored altogether.

When we allow the narrative to be that the Democrats lose because they fail to get their message across, then we validate the notion that the system isn’t the problem. Instead, we are saying that the flaws of American democracy are the Democrats’ fault for not competing better (and in so doing, downplay or ignore structural issues that will never get fixed if most people don’t see or understand them). Again, this is not to say that message is irrelevant, or that parties shouldn’t try to convince voters to vote for them, but the main reason we will get the outcomes we get this coming November will be a combination of the size of the House, the way we draw congressional districts, the two-year cycle to re-elect the House, the two-year cycle to reelect only one-third of the Senate, and the way Senate seats are allocated. All of that is more important than message.

I am constantly amazed (and frustrated) at journalistic discussions, even by smart analysts, who talk as if there is a fair and open competition for the US House of Representatives when we know that the actual number of competitive seats is in the double-digits (it is currently projected to be 41 in November).

To me, if less than 10% of the seats in the US House of Representatives are up for real competition, it seems absurd to assume that the main variable is the messaging of the parties–unless we want to just focus on these seats to determine if messaging in those races determine their outcomes. Maybe if the political press talked about US politics only in terms of these seats, that might get people’s attention. If we really are going to be governed a specific way based on 41 seats, let’s stop pretending like the other 394 contests really matter.

In simple terms: discussing our elections as if they represent a real contest between two sides that have a roughly equal chance of winning based on their messaging on policy is incorrect.

It is incorrect because, as I note further below, policy preferences do not precede partisan preferences, rather it is the other way around for most people.

But, it is especially incorrect because the structure of House elections, Senate elections, and presidential elections all have a built-in advantage for one party (which definitionally means that message is less important than is often claimed).

If we know all of this, especially the part about structural advantages to one party (the Republicans), then we need to stop talking like there is fair competition with just results.

To that point, and this is also a key point of contention between my views of this and many of the readers, is that even when people say they understand the structure of the system, they still speak as if we have an open competition for control of government wherein the group that has the best message has the best chance to win and, again, that therefore the results of the elections are just based on fair competition and are, therefore, actually representative of the population.

Even as we understand that, for example, the Senate’s representation is skewed towards Republicans, and only re-elects one-third of the body at a time, many people will still act like if the Democrats just said the right things, they would retain control/win the chamber.

And look, to be clear, there are real policies and policy preferences in all of this. Indeed, part of why many Republicans who may find Trump distasteful or McCarthy to be a liar, will nonetheless vote for the GOP is because of policy results. To wit: SCOTUS is heavily conservative now and is likely to overturn Roe and taxes were cut for upper-income earners, among other things. Also, don’t tell me that a lot of Dems wouldn’t vote for a lying populist if it meant, say, true universal healthcare or a more equitable tax system (or name your thing) because they would (and convince themselves that it really wasn’t all that bad).

Even saying that, however, there is the unpleasant truth that message doesn’t matter as much as partisan identity. I have argued this for years, usually with some level of pushback, but there is strong evidence that voters don’t consider their policy preferences and then choose a party. Instead, voters identify with a party and that identification heavily influences their views on policy. This has been especially true since the 1990s (which I why comparisons to how things were in, say, the 1970s, aren’t all that useful).

If anyone wants a highly readable political science treatment of all of this, I would highly recommend Lilliana Mason’s 2018 book, Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity (which I plan to write about more extensively at some point–but keep in mind I plan to write about a lot of things more extensively as some point).

When we marry up the structural constraints with the power of partisan identity, we get outcomes that are substantially, although not completely, pre-determined. In simple terms: if you put enough voters with party ID X into a delimited space, party X is going to win given our electoral system regardless of almost anything else. Hence, the geographic distribution of voters is more important that the messaging from the parties. (Ironically, that’s the TL;DR version of this post, but you had to read pretty far to get to it).

Some things, like Roy Moore’s bizarre past, can lead to a Democrat winning a Senate seat in Alabama, but the full scenario that led to that outcome was a massive aberration.* (And, I would note, the outcomes in that special election were not the result of Jones having a better message than Moore on policy).

There is also a discussion to be had about the way in which primaries lead to political coalitions being built in the wrong order that substantially influences outcomes. Not only are there multiple posts to be written on this, but there is also really a book, at least, to be written.

And look, I am not saying that there aren’t real constituencies in the United State for people like Trump and MTG, as there clearly are. I am just saying that their ability to have the voice they have owes a lot to structure and that the ability to counter their influence is hampered by structure. We are potentially heading into a 2024 election that will give the GOP full control of Washington again, despite the fact that the majority of Americans are likely to vote for the opposite. This outcome is far more about structure than it is about whether the Squad talked too much about progressive ideas, or whether woke cancel culture over CRT is being talked about too much.


A parting request of the reader: don’t risk giving me an aneurism by telling me in the comments that reform is so hard as to be almost impossible (which, invariably, someone does). Trust me, I know.

My goal has long been to get as many people as possible to truly understand the problem, and part of my writing here is to try and think about and hone my approach. I believe in democracy with a small “d” as being the best option for human governance to promote as much human flourishing as possible. I know it is flawed (indeed, I am extremely fond of the quote attributed to Churchill that “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time”), but I think the empirical evidence the life under democratic rule is better for people than life under authoritarianism is strong. I also believe that there are fundamental rights that human beings have that can only be protected under democracy (and, indeed, that the protection of those rights is an inherent part of democracy).

I have also studied the subject enough to know that there are profound flaws in American democracy and that, moreover, there are ways to fix them. I also know it will be hard, and may only occur after some profound crisis takes place. But I also know that unless more people can see the flaws and the pathways forward to increase representativeness, we will never get there.

I have some (very small) hope that this message can eventually resonate as I have watched us move from never talking about these issues as recently as a decade ago, to there being real conversations about reforms in the general discourse. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step and all that.

Like I said over a year ago (Our Political Reality):

Part of why I go on and on (and on) about reform, and especially electoral reform, is because I don’t see a way out of these problems via the normal routes. Competitive pressure is what is needed to force politicians (both individually and in groups) to change behavior. If they are elected predominantly in basically fixed contests and/or where voters are basically forced to choose between only two viable options, where do those pressures come from?

And let me conclude by noting that while all of this sounds like I am just looking for ways to improve the fortunes of Democrats and diminish those of Republicans, let me stridently note that what I am looking for is a system that better represents the actual interests of the public of the United States. A system that privileges the votes of some citizens more than others undercuts basic democratic principles, and hence my preference for addressing those deficiencies. I seem to favor Democrats because the empirical evidence shows that Democrats are the party being short-changed by our structures in a way that is clearly anti-democratic (the easiest to understand example being the 2016 presidential election).

And, truth be told, if I really were to get my way reform-wise, the Democratic Party would likely break into pieces which is why Democrats also resist reform efforts, despite their disadvantages under the current rules–best for individual politicians to also hope that tweaking the message is all that is needed, instead of really thinking through the problem, since solutions could threaten their individual political power.


*I won’t recount it all here, but first it was a special election, making it abnormal to start with. But, more importantly, Moore would never have been nominated had it not been for a scandal in the Governor’s office that tainted the appointee who filled Session’s seat. And had the Democrats not had a high-quality candidate, I don’t think Moore would have lost (Jones was the highest quality Democratic candidate for the Senate that I can recall in my almost quarter-century of paying attention to Alabama politics). That race was like finding a unicorn.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2022, Campaign 2024, Democracy, Democratic Theory, 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

Comments

  1. Argon says:

    The UK is realizing something similar with the Boris Johnson administration’s constant lying and the Tory MPs simply ignoring it or adding to the lies and ignoring laws in order to keep power. Messaging has devolved to dog whistling at one’s own party. It’s not about convincing those outside the group.

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  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    How is one to change the political structure? Can’t be by changing the hearts and minds of voters because: structure. The structure which cannot be changed because the structure makes that impossible. IOW, Professor Taylor advises hopelessness. Time to shut down OTB because really opinions and beliefs don’t matter, our helplessness is baked into the structure and we really have no choice but to submit to our new insect overlords.

    Unless, and I know this is crazy talk, but what if half the high school students in Florida boycotted classes until they were allowed to learn actual history? What if half the women in Texas refused to show up to work unless the anti-abortion bill was rescinded? What if regular citizens in GOP states decided to start wearing big pink stars identifying themselves as transgender?

    What if Democrats stopped being the speech police and decided instead to focus on solving real problems for actual people? Imagine if Los Angeles could declare that it had found ways to reduce the homeless problem by two thirds. Imagine what would happen if Democrats threw the party’s full support behind unionization efforts. Or if we could talk about the problems of working families on the edge without immediately making it about race. Or if we just took a fucking break from constantly reminding people that they should ‘shut up and listen’ to X and Y and Z, preferably while wearing a hair shirt.

    I despise this learned helplessness, this weak-kneed rush to surrender. California moved from pink to deep blue over the course of a few decades and we did it with votes, not structural change.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I despise this learned helplessness, this weak-kneed rush to surrender. California moved from pink to deep blue over the course of a few decades and we did it with votes, not structural change.

    Wasn’t it mostly a function of demographic change? The Republicans under Pete Wilson ran Prop 187 and pretty much never recovered because of the Hispanic backlash.

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  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    @James Joyner:
    The Hispanic backlash was about policy, not demographic change. The Brown people were already here, and in the days of relatively moderate Republicans they were available as a demo to the GOP. There was nothing dictating that religious, family-oriented Hispanics belonged to Dems, it was a GOP policy choice. Hearts and minds, not structure.

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  5. Scott F. says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I despise this learned helplessness, this weak-kneed rush to surrender. California moved from pink to deep blue over the course of a few decades and we did it with votes, not structural change.

    Your example undermines your premise, doesn’t it? Californian Democrats are not generally a bunch of pragmatic moderates. If the US were to follow California’s path, other states would lean into progressivism to attract the creatives and new tech voters that drive the Golden State’s politics.

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  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Erstwhile Dem voters are often the impediment to state and local government solving or at least, lessening some of these social and economic issues. Who opposes the siting of homeless shelters and low income housing? Who is opposing higher density housing in general? In Portland and in other cities, who are advocating freeway expansion? In Maine, NH and MA, who are leading the fights in opposition to the siting of wind and solar farms? Usually Dems who fear a reduction in property values, inconvenience (all for mass transit, for others), and perceived altered quality of life. CA had what 7-8 initiatives on the ballot in 2020 that were deemed progressive that failed to pass.

    The gun violence problem is owned by R states, but you don’t hear Dems talking about it.

    Yes, the problem of the government’s structure is real and impossible to change, that’s our reality. Given that it is, then Dems need to find away to undercut Rs among their voters and to do that they need to show up and compete in local, county and state elections, which the party hasn’t done.

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  7. gVOR08 says:

    An upvote for this OP.

    It’s been my normative belief that democracy works demonstrably better than anything else. Yours is as nice a statement of that as I’ve seen. (And it’s not normative if the data supports it. And Putin’s doing a great job of demonstrating the underlying flaw in autocracy.)

    The only quibble is, as Reynolds unsurprisingly leapt in with, is WTF do we do about it? But yes, the country has to recognize the problem before there’s much hope of solving it.

    As you note, it wasn’t as bad in the 70s. It’s small states that are advantaged by the Senate and EC, and small states used to be more evenly split. I often ask, “OK, what changed?” In this case civil rights and the Southern Strategy, which was enabled by civil rights. Seems to me Ds should be targeting a couple small states.

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  8. gVOR08 says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Agree. But I doubt Ds are by nature more NIMBY than Rs. Higher population density areas naturally generate more NIMBY issues, and tend to be D.

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  9. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Scott F.: There are a whole lot – really A LOT – of pragmatic moderates in California who vote Democratic because the Republicans here are neither pragmatic or moderate. Check that, the Republicans who can make it through the primary system are not pragmatic or moderate. The Governator was, in fact, pragmatic and moderate, and look at that, he won the recall, and won re-election.

    Hispanics in CA swing much more to Dems because of the whole Pete Wilson Prop 187 thing, for sure. There was a lot of political organization around it. Any demographic shift is not remotely as large as the swing in party preference.

    I’m not sure this refutes Steven’s thesis or confirms it, though. The Mexican-Americans here (and yeah, that’s the main group) picked a side that didn’t hate them, and instead welcomed them. It’s not a tough choice. I’m not sure why we don’t see the same pattern in Texas or AZ.

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  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Scott F.: Of course, it’s also possible that California is an outlier of some sort and unable to be duplicated because of it.

    And it’s possible that MR acknowledged it. I don’t know, because halfway through the first paragraph of the first comment, “IOW, Professor Taylor advises hopelessness” struck me as such a glaring and blatant misrepresentation of Dr. Taylor’s post that I discounted MR completely and stopped reading. I seem to be doing that more and more these days, though.

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  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “I often ask, “OK, what changed?” In this case civil rights and the Southern Strategy, which was enabled by civil rights. Seems to me Ds should be targeting a couple small states.” [emphasis added]

    Or more importantly, find some element of hatred toward others that Democrats can accept as the cost of winning? Good plan! You can run your own version of FG. MAE[ven]GA!

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  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Scott F.:
    When Pete Wilson gave us the gift of Hispanic voters California was not wasting time renaming schools and policing speech. Those are recent developments and unless someone’s fucked with the time-space continuum, events of the 1990’s cannot be caused by events in the early 21st century.

  13. gVOR08 says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: I agree. Ds need an enemy. Chuckles Koch would do nicely. But I think Ds need to realize a third of the electorate should be written off as unreachable. Boebert’s going to get re-elected, but she should be hung around the neck of the national party.

  14. Scott F. says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    The Governator was, in fact, pragmatic and moderate, and look at that, he won the recall, and won re-election.

    Michael’s premise is that progressive politicians are indulging themselves at the expense of Democratic unification in solving real problems for the voters. But, California shows us that you can be progressive AND solve real problems – at least solve them better than the moribund (and as you note bigoted) CA GOP can. Governor Newsom hasn’t shied away from the progressive label and, look at that, he won a recall too!

    Look, I’m a Pete Buttigieg/Elizabeth Warren/Barack Obama kind of Democrat. I believe it’s possible to have BOTH a progressive message and pragmatic plans that will deliver real solutions. I’m all in for making California the model for the rest of the country’s politics. But, I live in CA’s 49th, which not so long ago was a dependable seat for Darrel Issa, so I know first hand that structure (the district was redrawn in 2012) and demographics dictate more than rhetoric and policy combined. I’m prone to feeling helpless in the face of that, but I’m pretty confident that the answer for that isn’t beating up on hippies.

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  15. Michael Reynolds says:

    The utter inability of progressives to even contemplate the possibility that they might have made mistakes and the furious outrage when anyone suggests any culpability on their part – despite the fact that progressives love to blame moderates – is revealing. This is epistemic closure mirroring that on the Right – our hearts are true therefore our strategies and tactics must be right as well.

    Do any of my prog friends here understand that we are losing? Losing. Women losing control of their bodies. Parents threatened with prosecution over trans children. We are being pushed back. Our lines are being rolled up. We’re being flanked. But no, God for-fucking-bid that we contemplate even for a moment that we might be part of the problem. Let’s just keep doing exactly what we’ve been doing that’s led to us getting our asses kicked. And we marvel at Russian generals.

    Like I said: unserious people in serious times.

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  16. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Scott F.:

    beating up on hippies.

    Right, by suggesting we get our act together in order to help the people we’re supposed to be helping, and stop wasting our time on divisive irrelevancies, I’m beating up on hippies.

    Jesus Christ.

    OK, I give up. I surrender. You’re right, our side is perfect and blameless and anyway, whaddya gonna do, amiright? Going forward let’s just keep agreeing that the other guys are evil, and everything we do is brilliant. Let’s have another round of tsk tsking over those darn Mongols, let’s absolutely not unify Christendom to confront them.

    I like you guys, I admire many of you, but I sure as hell wouldn’t want to have you watching my back in a fight.

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  17. Matt Bernius says:

    When we allow the narrative to be that the Democrats lose because they fail to get their message across, then we validate the notion that the system isn’t the problem. Instead, we are saying that the flaws of American democracy are the Democrats’ fault for not competing better (and in so doing, downplay or ignore structural issues that will never get fixed if most people don’t see or understand them). Again, this is not to say that message is irrelevant, or that parties shouldn’t try to convince voters to vote for them, but the main reason we will get the outcomes we get this coming November will be a combination of the size of the House, the way we draw congressional districts, the two-year cycle to re-elect the House, the two-year cycle to reelect only one-third of the Senate, and the way Senate seats are allocated. All of that is more important than message.

    Thank you for this.

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  18. Matt Bernius says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Ok… so let’s unpack the following:

    Do any of my prog friends here understand that we are losing? Losing. Women losing control of their bodies. Parents threatened with prosecution over trans children. We are being pushed back. Our lines are being rolled up. We’re being flanked. But no, God for-fucking-bid that we contemplate even for a moment that we might be part of the problem. Let’s just keep doing exactly what we’ve been doing that’s led to us getting our asses kicked. And we marvel at Russian generals.

    “Women losing control of their bodies.”
    So moderate Dems are being called baby killers by Progressives? Or should moderate Dems accept abortion restrictions because no one likes the idea of killing babies? Because based on what I’m hearing from across the asile, the Democrats have gone way too far into making abortion accessible. So what’s the right option?

    “Parents are threatened with prosecution over trans children.”
    So it’s the progressives who enacted that legislation and accused any parent seeking to protect their trans kid of being a child abuser? Or is it the progressive’s fault for pushing for increased trans rights? Or heck, we could probably start winning elections if all those trans kids went back in the closet… since it’s apparently a losing issue. Or is it just we should reject the idea that they should use the bathrooms of the gender that they identify as? Or just tell them to suck it up and stop playing sports for the good of the country? Why don’t those kids sacrifice for the good of the broader public? If they really cared about Climate Change they should take that loss for the good of all of us.

    God for-fucking-bid that we contemplate even for a moment that we might be part of the problem. — Wait, I’ve lost the thread. Is it the abortion supporters who are part of the problem or the trans kids? I mean if they were both more acceptable to mainstream culture then I’m sure all of these problems would go away, much like if my partner just behaved better I’d not have to be so forceful in the ways I correct her (that is me going to hyperbole to make a point… not advocating for or in any way participating in domestic abuse).

    Have progressive activists gone too far in cases? Sure. That is also the role of activists to do so. I say this as someone who tends towards being a moderate and works with a lot of far more progressive folks and activists as part of my work.

    The reality is that if all of them were to go away tomorrow, the “moderate democrats” would still be too far left for the Republican party (has anyone forgotten the reception Obama got) and conservative media.

    @Michael Reynolds:

    K, I give up. I surrender.

    No offense Michael–beyond donations (which I suspect you have made a number of in amounts that are far greater than any of us, and for that I thank you!) and posting to this forum, you were never in the game. At least not recently. You’re an armchair consultant at this point.

    For years, you’ve shared your thoughts on everything that you think Democrats and progressives are doing wrong. If you are serious about those beliefs and you think you have a better answer, it’s time to get involved. Start a messaging consultancy. Volunteer on local campaigns for the moderate Dems you are looking for. Produce materials that drown out progressives.

    I’m legitimately serious about this. You’ve deservedly done incredibly well in writing. From all I can tell, you can safely retire on what you have earned through writing. So perhaps it’s time to may your passion a vocation and actually get into public or political service. I suspect that you would be really good at it and would be able to make a contribution.

    That said, until you do that, I see little difference between what you are doing and the average sportsball fan that knows exactly what is wrong with their team and would do a better job on the field (or at least in coaching) than the bums who are running the show right now.

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  19. Scott F. says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Right, by suggesting we get our act together in order to help the people we’re supposed to be helping, and stop wasting our time shouting down our allies for their misguided interests, I’m claiming everything we do is brilliant.

    I’m glad you’ve surrendered. I really like reading your comments, but your myopia really gets in your way sometimes.

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  20. @Michael Reynolds:

    I despise this learned helplessness, this weak-kneed rush to surrender.

    For fuck’s sake, Michael, read what I wrote and what I have written and deal with it honestly.

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  21. @gVOR08:

    I often ask, “OK, what changed?”

    As I have noted before, the shift of conservative Dems to become Reps is what happened. It changed party dynamics of the south in particular and changed the nature of the parties.

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  22. @James Joyner: I suspect it is also as much about increased urbanization and the deepening of the Democratic coalition’s reliance on urban voters.

    It is also true that, as per my previous comment, the parties started significantly aligning ideologically post-1994.

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  23. @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    “IOW, Professor Taylor advises hopelessness” struck me as such a glaring and blatant misrepresentation of Dr. Taylor’s post

    Thanks. I would concur with that assessment.

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  24. @Matt Bernius: Thanks.

    I would request that MR re-read that paragraph, as it is rather important. It acknowledges the importance of message and competition, while making clear the role of structure.

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  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Sadly, if he rereads and acknowledges, he won’t have an enemy to oppose. It’s waaaayyy easier to fight a strawman than a dysfunctional system.

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  26. Sleeping Dog says:

    @gVOR08:

    I won’t argue with that, but if a party is going to sell itself to wary voters and one of the arguments that is made is we’ll help you rural voter with your problems, then it needs to show that the party can solve problems where it dominates. Otherwise it’s all talk.

    To dismiss things as NIMBYism is not a lot different than whining that Rs lie about Dems.

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  27. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Michael Reynolds: During the Pete Wilson era, there was no social media (other than Usenet).

    So while the number of people inclined to police speech and shake their fingers as much as they can at as many people as they can probably hasn’t changed much, their ability to be visible has skyrocketed, in much the same way as how the visibility of the Alt-Right has skyrocketed.

    These days, there’s so much news that amounts to “somebody I’ve never heard of in some place I’ve never been to said something stupid”

    I’m pretty sure that every second of the day, somebody is saying something stupid, and that’s always been the case. I don’t want to get caught up in it.

    It’s different for you, of course. You were hurt by this trend, for sure. For a day or a week, you were the person who was piled on for saying something incorrect.

    You were hurt, and so have lots of people. Of course, so are trans people and native peoples and black people and hill folk and what have you. As you well know.

    Stopping this would entail stopping every single person on the planet who has access to social media from doing it. I don’t think that’s possible. I am looking for a different answer. My current answer, which is to ignore social media, is probably not a good one. I need a better one.

    I’m an old guy now. I figure I have a choice of either shaking my fist at the clouds, which I’ve done, or trying to adapt, which seems interesting.

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  28. Jay L Gischer says:

    I endorse what you’re doing, Steven. Keep chipping away at it.

    I am deeply bothered by the fact that, for instance, the sole Rep from Wyoming (pop c. 570K)
    represents only about two-thirds as many people as one of the two Reps from Idaho (pop c. 1.8M)

    Which makes those voters in Wyoming more consequential in the House than a normative representation would have them be.

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  29. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @gVOR08: The Democrats have plenty of enemies. Low turnout for mid-term elections during Democratic administrations may be the most formidable one.

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  30. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    Dr. T, thanks for, in my opinion, a well-reasoned and rational explanation. It fits with your frequent comments and threads on strengths and weaknesses of our form of government, and the dangers we’re facing. Well done!

    I started to comment after trying to read Michel’s rant but had to walk away for a while. Then I came back and read it in its entirety. Then thought some more. My response follows. Long and rambling, but from somewhere above and in front of the Medulla Oblongata.

    Michael, while I believe you misinterpreted our host’s comments and intent, you may have read exactly what you wanted to see.

    That being said, you’re in a much better position than most of us (including our host), to advocate for changes. Time for you to pull up your BVD’s, put down the seegar, and take a freaking stand. Run for office. Buy ads in national publications. Make it a part of your press tours. Hell, mention it occasionally (or more often) on your blog, website, or Twitter account. I’m not seeing anything there today except that you’re “the dark genius of YA fiction.”

    Again, I suspect that we differ on the thrust of Dr. T’s post. You seem to see it as hand wringing hopelessness; I see it as an explanation of the changes he wants to see, and a cry for people to pay attention. As much as I enjoy the site, and the insights I get from all y’all, this site is just too small a venue for the message to get through to the masses. Time for you to put some skin in the game.

    Yes, we all can/could/should do more. Show us how. Lead by example.

    7
  31. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Dr. Taylor the political scientist is talking about structure; Michael Reynolds the writer is talking about messaging. They are talking past each other, despite Dr. Taylor’s pains to point out in the OP what the scope of his post was. And while I agree with Dr. Taylor that the overall problem is the structure of our current system, I also understand Michael Reynold’s frustration that the system cannot be changed by the next election (or even the one beyond that) and that Democrats need to be fighting the war they have, not the one they want (because he’s right that this upcoming election looks pretty grim right now).

    I do wish the left (in general) was better at not taking the bait from right-wing hate mongers. Fighting on their chosen culture war turf is a losing proposition. Better to force our way onto another battlefield somehow. We talk all the time about how most of the right these days is driven by nothing more than spite and “owning ‘da libs”, yet we (as a group) keep fighting back on the same BS instead of treating it with the contempt it deserves and counter-attacking on more favorable ground. “Around 1/2 of 1 percent of the adult population is trans-how are they taking over or a threat?!?! I don’t care if you find them icky, I care that they have the same basic human rights the rest of us do.” Puts them on the spot of arguing that of course they support human rights, but….and is way more affective than calling them transphobic or dismissing them. “You don’t support a government forcing vaccination to save lives and stop a pandemic affecting hundreds of millions, but you support a government controlling abortion and sexuality decisions that don’t affect anyone but the person themselves? You support people like testicle-tanning Tucker? Hope THAT doesn’t get mandated.” Don’t defend or make it a moral failing of the other-counterattack on the stupid shit they are effectively supporting.

  32. @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    They are talking past each other,

    I don’t think this is accurate. I acknowledge the message issue (indeed, I go out of way to do so). Micheal simply doesn’t like my analysis–indeed, he doesn’t like to give up ground in a conversation, so his move is to double down/ignore evidence and information.

    BTW: I think it is fair of me to point this out, because it is the nature of an open discussion, especially at a blog that invites interchange and because I think it is accurate–not to mention that he enters into these convos regularly and of his own free will.

    also understand Michael Reynold’s frustration that the system cannot be changed by the next election (or even the one beyond that) and that Democrats need to be fighting the war they have, not the one they want

    On the one hand, you have to work within the reality you have, to be sure. On the other, I still think some folks are missing a fundamental point in these conversations about the relative role that messaging plays in all of this–which is far, far less than the typical conversation about politics would suggest. Not only does not understanding/acknowledging this lead to incorrect diagnoses and solutions, but they also validate the flaws in the system.

    If it is true (and it is) that the 2022 map for the House is the fairest it has been in decades because of how the lines are drawn, that tells you a lot (as does the fact that it was an almost foregone conclusion that the Dems would lose seats regardless of message).

    Note, as I think I have done multiple times: I am not saying that the Dems don’t need to try their hardest to attract voters–I am just saying that we simply are not talking about open competition over ideas.

    Even more importantly, the notion that specific issues are as dispositive as is frequently claimed is just not supported by the evidence.

    2
  33. @Just Another Ex-Republican:

    Dr. Taylor the political scientist is talking about structure;

    And to be clear: I am not just talking about structure. I am also talking about the empirically observed political behavior of voters (see the Mason cite).

  34. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Yeah, I phrased that poorly. Perhaps it would be better to say you aren’t fighting on the same ground as each other? Primarily because you are trying to focus on structure and he is pretty much dismissing that as something not addressable and returns to arguing exclusively about messaging?

    Our of curiosity, Dr Taylor, do you have any concrete ideas (policies and/or messaging) for how to address the structural issues? Assuming you’re correct about our structural issues (and I believe you are), and accepting that discussing them is step 1, at some point it needs to move towards real world ideas and messaging. Personally all I can see if some sort of argument around taxation without representation with DC and the territories. But even that doesn’t really address the structure, it just adds some elements within the current structure. How do we go about convincing people that the Constitution needs some fundamental changes? That’s a really tall order.

  35. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    I’m counting “structure” to include the partisan team politics nature of voters.

  36. @Just Another Ex-Republican: I mentioned some (and linked to others) in the follow-up post.

    The most doable (yet still difficult) is expanding the size of the House. It is far from a fix-all, but it improves the representativeness problem in the House and lessens the problems with the EC.

    I think all PR and DC as states would help the Senate a bit, and again, the EC (a bit).

    Passing the National Popular Vote compact in enough states would also help.

    None of the requires any significant constitutional alterations–both expanding the House and adding states is done via legislation (as it passing the NPV compact at the state level).

    Again: these are quite modest, difficult, but doable tweaks.