Anthony Downs Is The Real Winner

Those who have been regular readers of this site know that I’m a big believer in the electoral theories of Anthony Downs. Downs is a economist for the Brookings Institution who penned the influential book An Economic Theory of Democracy. Down’s essential thesis is that if you were to graph the American electorate on a bell curve, you’d get a rough bell curve in which most of the voters would be concentrated to the center.

This theory has a number of implications for politics, in that the party that can best capture the center is the party that can win. This theory dovetails nicely with Roger L. Simon’s analysis of the California recall:

The media still do not get it. They are reacting to the size of Schwarzenegger victory like the Soviet nomenklatura did to the end of communism. They can hardly believe it is happening. Well I have news for them—something much bigger than they know, probably than Schwarzenegger himself knows, is going on here. We are not witnessing a Republican victory. The Republican Party in California remains a minority party. Most of the Republican true believers voted for McClintock.

What we are witnessing is the beginning—the early movement–in the death of the two-party system as we know it. This is a revolt of the pragmatic center. And that is a good thing for the American people because those parties and the media that feed on them have indeed become a form of nomenklatura. They depend on each other. They are the mutual gate keepers of an old and sclerotic bureaucracy from which their jobs flow in a system of patronage as elaborate as the Czar’s. No wonder watching CNN tonight I felt as if I were watching a wake. They are threatened by what is going on—as they should be.

I think Simon is going a bit too far here – as Downs’ theory states, the American political system is designed to maintain a two-party equilibrium and both parties will eventually jockey with each other to reach towards the center of the political spectrum.

What I do see is a rejection of partisan politics. The people are sick of the usual sleeze, the special interests, and partisanship above all. The American people are sick of political bickering, constant infighting, and poisonous partisanship. This should be a wake-up call to the Democrats for 2004 – their Bush bashing could produce the same backlash that Davis’ Arnold-bashing produced. In a time where serious leadership and policy are more critical than ever, partisanship and acrimony offend the sensibilities of the American voter.

4 thoughts on “Anthony Downs Is The Real Winner

  1. A rejection of partisan politics? An expensive recall of a Governor re-elected only a year ago is the most appalingly partisan move I’ve ever seen. And the response, both in other states eager to follow in California’s precedent, and in California itself, where the blood lust for vengeance will be ferocious for years to come. If anything, this steps up the vicious tone of American politics.

    As for Roger Simon’s theory, the likelihood of a third party putting up a serious long-term challenge to the Democrats and Republicans is extremely unlikely given the nature of the system, where independents have no clout and must caucus with one of the major parties if he or she expects to receive a stop sign for his or her district. Most Democrats today would have passed as independents in previous generations. If Simon is projecting that centrism is the wave of the future, the Democratic Party is in good standing since the Republicans cannot control themselves from dancing closer to the tip of the right wing with each passing day.

  2. Given that the Democrats have become the party of partisan outrage and are embracing radical anti-Bush candidates like Howard Dean it’s laughable to argue that the Republicans are the ideologically polarized party.

  3. I have to agree with Jay, when I talk with other Indies the reaction to the dems vitriolic attitude is distance. They may not care for all of Bush’s policies. But as long as Bush and party do not stoop to shenanigans and such they appear to be the better of two evils.

    Sometime spend some unbiased time at both the Democratic underground site and the Freerepublic site and you will begin to understand what Indies find unattractive or attractive in the two parties.

    We know both sides have extremist factions. But which side controls those factions better?

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