Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The consequences of political overreach

In an earlier post, I wrote about how political parties have become aggregates of "intense policy demanders" (an idea that isn't mine originally, but sounds like a good description of the current situation). This post is about a corollary to that thesis. The information also comes from a news outlet, this time NPR.

According to the NPR piece (worth its 11 minutes), the US is in a cycle of political overreach and backlash. This is how it works:
  • The electorate becomes distinctly unhappy with the way the government is working.
  • They vote one party (the one held less to blame) into power in a wave election.
  • The winning party mistakes its election for a mandate. Or maybe it willfully misreads the election as a mandate.
  • The newly powerful party listens to its "intense policy demanders" (we can call them screamers) and enacts or tries to enact too extreme a program.
  • The electorate becomes distinctly unhappy with that party, and the cycle repeats, but with the former "in" party now out.
The problem is political overreach. The electorate wants moderate, well-functioning government without drama, but the party is pushed by (or full of) screamers. The agenda of these screamers provokes electoral repudiation.

One final point in the report. The swings in election results are speeding up. There was an electoral change favoring Republicans in 1994. The Republicans became stronger through 5 more elections until the pendulum started swinging back in 2006 towards the Democrats. In 2010, just 2 elections later, the pendulum swung again back towards the Republicans. We don't know yet whether the 2012 election will bring greater strength to the Republicans, or another shift in the pendulum.

The pendulum is changing directions so frequently because of obstruction. To remove obstruction, you need undivided government, but that also opens the door to the screamers in the party in power. Until one party or the other figures out how to restrain its screamers, we are trapped in this Catch -22. 

If one of the parties could stake out the middle ground, it could hold onto power for quite a while, unless boredom is part of the reason for the electoral turnovers (and that's a possibility).


Simon Willard said...

The rapid back and forth you describe is not so undesirable; it's actually a sign of robust negative feedback which is highly stabilizing. And it's not lost on most people that extremism is not the way forward. Evidence of this is that the Republicans are going to choose the author of Obamacare to represent them in the next election.

ModeratePoli said...

I agree that it is better to have overcorrection than no correction. Actually, it is so much better, not just marginally better. However, it is a sign that the parties aren't responding to what the people want, or there wouldn't be power changes so frequently.

As for the Republicans choosing Romney, it's not a sign of self-correction from the Republicans. Instead, it's a sign of Romney's persistence and deep pockets, and the lack of field-tested more conservative opponents, which I write about here.

By the way, welcome to my blog. I love your portrait. Appreciation for history is a wonderful characteristic.