The Road to Gridlock

By Mike Koetting May 8, 2022

Months ago, I asserted that democracies require two mutually reinforcing things to survive—a wide spread belief in the importance of democracy and a sense that the government was actually working. I then reviewed some data that showed a weakening of the democratic imperative in the minds of voters and postponed the question of belief in the efficacy until a later day.

That day is today.

I don’t know how exactly one would decide whether a government is “working” or not. America has not descended into the absolute chaos of some clearly failed governments. On a day-to-day basis, we manage to keep things plausibly together. One can point to issues not being well addressed—many are big and important—but when one looks around the world, most other nations are struggling with the same issues. They are hard issues.

Nevertheless, it seems confidence in the American system is flagging. Most Americans tell pollsters the country is on the verge of failure. Many go on to say the problem is hyper-partisanship. I believe that is indeed the source of both many of the real failures in governing and the widespread perception of failure.

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Redistricting and the Shape of America

By Mike Koetting April 26, 2022

My last blog attracted more responses than usual. The most important concerns had to do with why I assumed that the only way to get Black representatives in the U.S. is to create majority-minority districts. Why did I assume that Whites would automatically reject Black candidates? After all, commenters noted, there are multiple dimensions in a Congressional election and why assume race is the overriding factor? Not all Blacks share the same political agenda and many Blacks and Whites have similar agendas.

As I noted in the post itself, the answer to that question from an historical perspective is straightforward. Through the 2018 election, more than 80% of Black representatives came from majority-minority districts—in 2018, for instance, it was 88%. This strongly suggests that in order to have anything like a proportionate number of Blacks in the House, there needs to be majority-minority districts. (One suspects the same dynamic is at work in the Senate where Blacks have won only 1% of all Senatorial elections since 1965.)

Need for Black Representatives

Which gets to the even more basic question: why is it important to have Blacks in office? After all, no Black represents all Black opinion and many Whites do as good a job of representing specific Black interests as Black officials.

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Decoding the White Working Class

By Mike Koetting March 29, 2022

Ever since get Trump got elected, I’ve been trying to put together a coherent story of what the heck is going on with Whites without college education (WwC). Over my recent vacation, inspired by a Washington Post article about J.D.Vance, I gave the project another go and at least it became clear to me why this was so hard:

  • Economic explanations, my usual go-to explanation, contribute, but run out of explanatory power.
  • I was twisting myself into knots to avoid the most obvious explanation, in part because it is so discouraging.
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Can We Tame Gerry’s Salamander?

By Mike Koetting February 27, 2022

My first trip to Europe was in 1971. I was surprised at how many Europeans spoke English and how much more they knew about America than I knew about their countries. One of my more vivid memories was a conversation with a Norwegian family on the train from Bergen to Oslo. They were asking a bunch of questions about how exactly our federalist system worked and somewhere in there I mentioned gerrymandering. They had never heard the term. When I explained, they were simply incredulous. “Why would you do that? It’s so anti-democratic.”

Whatever gerrymandering I was alluding to in 1971 was child’s play compared to what we have now. With big computers, advanced geocoding and the ability to integrate large data sets, it’s become science. Maybe now’s a good time for a recap of what’s going on.

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Hmm. What Now?

By Mike Koetting February 8, 2022

I’m back. Sort of.

It has been a struggle for me to come back to the keyboard. Going into the holidays, it had been my plan to continue my series on what it takes to sustain democracy. But I’ve been unable to generate sufficient enthusiasm for an abstract analysis of what sustains democracy when all around me it seems that the actual battle to sustain our democracy is raging—and the results are much too uncertain. And I am totally frustrated by how much seems out of my hands.

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How Deep Is the Popular Support for American Democracy?

By Mike Koetting December 9, 2021

In my last post, I asserted that democracy needed two things to be sustained: deep popular support for the idea of democracy and an appropriate governing vehicle to make it work. Today’s post considers the status of popular support for democracy in America.

By support for the idea of democracy, I mean something that’s both simple and complicated. It starts with some understanding that democracy is inherently imperfect. Since it is fundamentally a system for mediating a series of compromises among different values and solutions, there will always be plenty of reasons to be unhappy. Supporting democracy, then, is simply accepting that your side doesn’t always win and that you will, more or less happily, go along with the majority—even if that means accepting some limits on your individual preferences from time to time.

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What It Takes to Sustain Democracy

Mike Koetting November 23, 2021

What It Takes for Democracy

The ongoing news has me feeling like a passenger on a plane that has been hijacked—unable to really control the outcome, but with the strong sense this is going to end badly.

But who are these hijackers?

For many of us, the immediate response is “the Republicans.” Fair enough. But I don’t think that is a sufficient or complete answer.

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What Swing Voters Might Be Thinking

By Mike Koetting November 14, 2021

In the old days—back when there was ticket-splitting and public health and infrastructure were bipartisan issues—swing voters were generally conceived of as people whose political ideology was explicitly centrist and who would consider the circumstances of a particular election and make a calculated choice. I am not sure that’s a particularly illuminating description of today’s “swing voters”. Nevertheless, they remain as important as ever—maybe more important.

As we all know, the country is bitterly polarized and this polarization is not even from place to place. Some places are securely red and some resolutely blue. When it comes to Senate seats and electoral votes, there are not that many places likely to in fact “swing.” California and Mississippi aren’t going anywhere. Given the evenness in the split of givens (by our political architecture not the population), the small number of places that are fluid become exponentially more important, and within those places, the relatively small number of swing-voters will control the outcome.

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This is Democracy at work….or not

By Mike Koetting October 31, 2021

I am infuriated with the barrage of media comments about Democrats “in disarray” or “being divided”. Hello, boys and girls! This is democracy. People stake out different policy positions, argue about them, and make compromises. It doesn’t happen overnight and hardly anyone winds up totally happy. The issues in the infrastructure package are of mind-boggling complexity and in degree they are all interrelated.

This is what all the people who have been clamoring for “bipartisan” legislation have wanted: debate and measured compromises around policies to make them a better reflection of the varied will and needs of the populace.

Okay, it’s true this is all within what’s nominally one party—although, as the debates have made clear, these poles represent a very large spectrum of American political thought. In that sense, it is the closest to “bipartisan” that America can now get because the Republican Party has simply opted out of policy discussions. They automatically oppose anything that Democrats support and have ceased making policy proposals of their own. Waiting for a meaningful proposal to come from Republicans is waiting to hear the sound of one hand clapping.

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