Exam Reading Notes (January 13- April 7 2011)
January 13 th
7.6 Culture Wars?: The myth of a Polarized America
Interaction of three major developments now seems to me to be of great important for the state of
The Ascendance of the Purists:
Unions play an important role in the Democratic Party
Business does in the Republican
The economic liberalism of the 1950s Democrats evolved into the lifestyle liberalism of the
Republicans money was in less short supply than voters so the Republicans allied with
conservative Christian groups as a way of attacking the Democrats majority status.
Expansion of the government:
Education, affluence and ideology supported demands for a vast increase in the sphere in which
government could operate...the expansion of the scope of government created myriad new
opportunities for those with particular issue concerns to become active in politics.
The Rise of Participatory Democracy
The most widely recognized of these changes is the transformation of the presidential
nominating process. In 1960 John Kennedy was nominated by Democratic Party professionals.
Four years later, Goldwater was nominated by purists...
Taking advantage of new rules changes that established the contemporary primary and caucus
This was only the most visible step in a move away from party=centered elections toward
There was a significant incumbency advantage in elections for the House of Representatives:
Incumbents could win comfortable victories by emphasizing their personal characteristics,
constituency service and individual records even in areas seemingly more hospitable to the
Legislatures, boards and councils around the country opened up their proceedings, allowing
citizens to attend and to speak to a greater extent than previously considered advisable in a
These changes left them more exposed to popular scrutiny and far more open to popular
The Hijacking of American Democracy:
In addition to pushing unrepresentative views on specific issues, two other r characteristics of
purists are worthy of note.
1. The issues that motivate them often are different from those that are of most concern to
the great mass of ordinary citizens.
www.notesolution.com 2. Purists hold their views more intensely than ordinary people do; their operating style
differs from that of most people. There can be no compromise because truth does not
compromise with error. Their issues are too serious to permit any levity to enter the
discussion. Angry attacks substitute for reasoned discussion.
This is another reason why Americans dislike politics: they are put off by the people who
specialize in politics.
The base of the Democratic Party is firmly rooted in the northeast and upper Midwest-a
region stretching from Maine to Minnesota-plus the Pacific West, anchored by California.
The Republicans are said to own an L-shaped region covering the South, the "breadbasket"
states, and Mountain West, extending from the Carolinas to Arizona and up to Montana and
Polarization and Cyberspace:
Group polarization is unquestionably occurring on the Internet. It seems plain that the Internet is
serving, for many, as a breeding group for extremism, precisely because likeminded people are
deliberating with greater ease and frequency with one another, and often w/p hearing contrary
views. Once consequence can be a high degree of fragmentation, as diverse people, not
originally fixed in their views and perhaps not so far apart, end up in extremely different places,
simply because of what they are reading and viewing.
Another consequence can be a high degree of error and confusion.
The phenomenon of group polarization is closely related to the widespread phenomenon of
It is obvious that many social groups move rapidly and dramatically in the direction of one or
another set beliefs or actions. These sorts of cascades typically involve the spread of information;
in fact they are usually driven by information.
To understand the dynamics here, we need to distinguish between two kinds of cascades:
informational and reputational.
Informational Cascade: people cease relying at a certain point on their private information or
opinions. They decide instead on the basis of the signals conveyed by others. It follows that the
behaviour of the first few people can, in theory, produce similar behaviour from countless
In reputational Cascade: people think that they know what is right, or what is likely to be right,
but they nonetheless go along with the crows in order to maintain the good opinion of others.
January 20 Reading:
www.notesolution.com America Needs Election Reform:
The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law recently declared Florida to be "the
most hostile state in the nation to new voters--particularly in traditionally underserved communities that might
otherwise see record-breaking participation in this presidential election year." The number of registered voters
in Florida has actually dropped seven percentage points since 2004, to only 65 percent of those eligible
Roughly one-third of all eligible Americans, 64 million people, are not registered to vote. This percentage is
even higher for African-Americans (30 percent) and Hispanics (40 percent). Shockingly, for those between the
ages of 18 and 24, it climbs to 50 percent. Registration rates are directly correlated with income: about 80
percent of those who make $75,000 or more a year are registered to vote, while only about 55 percent of those
who make between $15,000 and $24,999 are registered. It's unacceptable for this country's registration rate to
be so low.
The United States is the only democracy in the world that strips the right to vote from citizens who have done
time in prison
Many Americans who are registered to vote don't make it to the polls. With only a single day on which to cast
their ballot, working people often find themselves without the time to participate in the most basic ritual of our
The Democrats' use of proportional representation in their nominating process gives a sense of what it means:
every vote counts, no matter how lopsided the result might be in any district or state.
The American Processof Selecting a President:
The US was the first country to have a chief executive selected through an electoral process
distinct from the election of legislators.
The US has continued to use its electoral college, while elsewhere the trend has been
unmistakably toward methods that are not only popular but direct.
Indirect methods raise the possibility that one candidate could win the popular vote yet not
be selected president, as happened in 2000 in the US.
There is also a trend in the decision rules away from the plurality method, because of that
methods vulnerability to so called spoilers.
A spoiler is candidate with no realistic chance of winning the election outright, but whose
presence in the race may affect which of the other candidates does win...
In a third trend, the US has been the pacesetter. More countries are joining the US by
using primary elections to select parties presidential nominees.
www.notesolution.com First, primaries are indirect, whereby voters select party convention delegates rather than
decisively determine the nominee. Second, like the Electoral College, primaries take place
on a state-by-state basis spread out over time rather than on a single date. No country in
the world uses a similar set of rules in its primary elections.
Types of Presidencies:
In Parliamentary systems, the head of government depends on the majority in parliament
to obtain and maintain power, and the head of state may be hereditary monarch or a
largely ceremonial president, often selected by parliament and rarely by popular election.
Executive power does not depend on the composition of the legislature and may even be
held by a party opposed to the legislative majority.
The form of pure presidentialism as in the US or the hybrid form seen in France, the
presence of popular election for a non-ceremonial presidency raises the possibility that the
president and the legislative majority may be of different political tendencies.
The presidency in such a context may serve to counter the fragmentation of legislative
elections by creating a single national office whose occupant is chosen by the people.
Unlike a legislature, particularly one elected by proportional representation, a presidency is
almost always held by a single person, and thus is an indivisible prize, and is elected to a
There is only one president at a time, and their office is constitutionally established, rather
than subject to changes in the balance of power in the legislature.
The bipolarization of presidential elections may even reshape a fragmented legislative
party system into two blocs.
The second criterion that promotes the presidency as a counterweight to the disaggregating
tendencies that sometimes results from legislative elections and especially from federalism
Presidential Election Methods Around the world:
What sorts of methods promote bipolarizing and nationalizing effects?
1. An election method that encourages a face-off between two major contenders
2. Direct election
The most common way to promote bipolarization is to restrict a second round to the two
competitors with the most votes in a preliminary round.