California Democrats seek to revive the Republican Party; Republicans expected to resist | A Pragmatist's Take | Douglas Moran | Palo Alto Online |


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By Douglas Moran

California Democrats seek to revive the Republican Party; Republicans expected to resist

Uploaded: Jul 16, 2017

Negative partisanship describes when your voting for a particular party arises from opposition to the other parties. That is, you don't positively support its actions, but simply see it as the least worst choice. Negative partisanship is very hard to measure because many people aren't aware that that is what they are doing. For some, it is the reasoning that "If party X is bad, then (opposing) party Y must be good." For others, it is that their views that shifted away from their chosen party and/or that party's policies have shifted away from them, but none of the other parties are an acceptable choice, and thus there is no motivation to change their registration. The hard-to-measure nature of negative partisanship can have political parties overestimating their support, and then being shocked when a block of voters switches to another party.(foot#1)(foot#2)

----Dissatisfaction with political parties----

Recent national polls have reported huge dissatisfaction with the two major parties. For example, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 67% thought the Democratic Party was "out of touch with people's concerns"; 62% for the Republican Party; 58% for Trump. Sampling error was 3.5%. Elsewhere it was reported that 44% of self-identified Democrats said that the Democratic Party was out-of-touch (less for Republicans about their party). Ask yourself how you might go about separating respondents who were negative partisans from those who are only dissatisfied. Avoiding biasing/priming such answers is extremely difficult.(foot#3)

Being able to vote in the primaries is the primary reason given by most people for being registered in a political party that they are dissatisfied with. However, California's Top-Two primary system has largely eliminated this.(foot#4) If negative partisans currently registered as members of their "least worst" party were somehow motivated to re-register as "No Party Preference", that could provide a more accurate measure of support to the establishments of the various political parties.

----Focus here: state policy on development----

As readers of earlier blogs should expect, this blog is going to focus on the effects of the state government on development issues. The basic state law that requires cities to plan how to add more housing is roughly 50 years old and has been an acknowledged failure. First, it has state and regional bureaucrats (eg ABAG) assigning "mandates" to individual cities ignoring facts on the ground and having other absurdities. Second, it addresses only the supply aspect and completely ignores the demand aspect. Because the problem has persisted for so long, it probably doesn't qualify as a "crisis", except in political discourse: "Let no good crisis go to waste."(foot#5) In order to reward two important groups of donors--developers and the building trades unions (prevailing wage)--the Democrat-controlled state government has taken to portraying homeowners and various other residents as greedy NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard).(foot#6) The primary ongoing thrust of state government has been to undercut local control and to allow big developers to increase profits by shifting onto the public the costs of various impacts of their projects (negative externalities).

The economic illiteracy of state policy is represented in the official report "California's High Housing Costs: Causes and Consequences" by the Legislative Analyst's Office and dated 2015-03-17. Under "High Land Costs Can Be Offset Through Dense Development", it claims "...because land costs are fixed and do not increase if a developer builds additional units." Wrong, wrong, wrong. This is contrary to both economic theory and experience. If land is rezoned to allow the developer higher densities, he is going to build at those densities only if it is more profitable, and the value of land is going to increase to reflect that. For example, when the Alma Plaza/Village site was rezoned, the value of the land more than tripled (based on sales prices, not merely appraisals). Or if the developer already owns the land before the rezoning, the prices of those housing units (rent or sale) are going to reflect the increased value of the land, because that higher land cost would be part of the cost of someone else building similar units. Note: This dynamic assumes the current situation of excessive demand.(foot#7)

However, because California effectively has single-party government, there are not effective institutional counter-weights. The ongoing disparagement of the so-called NIMBYs indicates that the Democratic Party would happily shed these voters. But for many of these citizens, the Republican Party is anathema. Neither party sees these voters as being potentially in play.

----Single-party government----

A multi-party political system tends to mitigate the worst of tendencies of the major parties because they have to worry about their policies causing significant numbers of voters to shift to the other party/ies. Unfortunately, California no longer has a multi-party system. At the state level--which will be my focus here--there is only one major party: the Democrats. Similarly, at lower levels, such as counties and cities, one party is so dominant that the others are irrelevant in normal situations.

The absence of a second major party has large impacts on state politics. First, anyone interested in political office outside of the fringe party enclaves would be self-sabotaging to not become a Democrat, regardless of their political beliefs. This excessive diversity results in excessive deal-making that undermines producing coherent policies. Which in turn produces a government that is perceived to be corrupt both in the financial and Aristotelian senses.(foot#8)(foot#9)

The second impact is a contravening tendency: The dominant party effectively becomes narrower by presuming that it has the votes of various segments of the electorate without having to respond to their needs, or worry about antagonizing them. For example, at the national level, this has been a recurring observation about the Democratic Party's perceived lack of responsiveness to various minority groups: "...because where else are they going to go?" The 2016 Presidential campaign saw Democrats neglect additional important groups of voters.(foot#10)

----California Republicans: A fringe party?----

The working definition of a major political party is one that has an influential role in government, and the California Republican Party no longer qualifies. In a normal election, it is regarded as having negligible chance of winning any of the state-wide offices or of winning a majority in either house of the Legislature. Even worse, it currently has so few members in both houses that the Democrats have super-majorities (barely), and that dominance is expected to persist (with occasional hiccups). The number of registered Republicans would normally result in them being classified as a minor party. However, the argument can be made that they have become a fringe party, albeit a very large one, because they are behaving like one. For example, they emphasize ideological purity over electability (other than in their remaining enclaves).(foot#11) Before you protest saying that some Republicans do get elected, ask yourself how is that different from the fringe parties in places like Berkeley and Oakland.

Under normal circumstances, California Republicans seem unlikely to return to being a major party because they no longer seem to have the needed critical mass, having purged so many of the leaders and members interested in, and capable of, making the shift,(foot#12) and having retained so many who will fight and sabotage such a shift. Then, add to this what their "brand" has become. But that is not for discussion here.

And yes, the Democrats display many of the same tendencies, but they have been--as expected--less effective in following through.(foot#13)

----What can be done?----

Depressingly, I don't know. The Top-Two primary was hoped to delivery more choice in districts dominated by a single party. But the strength of the party organizations have tended to limit the primary winners to only minor variations on party dogma or donors. In this Democratic enclave, the Establishment faction is the corporatists (Clinton-Obama-Clinton) who focus on the donor-class, and consequently are not adverse to disparaging regular citizens, such as the NIMBY slur applied to homeowners.

The Social Justice faction is most of the remainder. They easily fall into the attitude that homeowners are "privileged" and should have that privilege stripped away to benefit "new-comers" and other "marginalized peoples". After hearing this explicitly a few times, I started to speculate about whether this position was implicit in similar positions of others. Be aware that this formulations pre-dates the current popularity of privilege-arguments by the left. In one of my earliest blogs (4th), "Palo Alto's Culture War: Analytics vs. Aspirationals", 2013-11-10, I recounted a similar attitude among certain housing advocates (search/find: "mid-2000s"), that current residents should subsidize anyone who wanted to live here, and if they found the costs too onerous, they should move out of the area.

Our current Assembly member, and former City Council member, Marc Berman has taken the position that we need to build enough housing for everyone who wants to live here.(foot#14) The other Top-Two primary winner, Vicki Veenker, supported increased enforcement of the State's housing mandates.

I have heard nothing that conveys any practical mechanism that would result in this situation being altered in the foreseeable future.

----Addendum to section "Dissatisfaction with political parties": (added 2017-08-02)----

The party affiliation (registration) split (2016) is
- 44.8% Democrats,
- 27.3% Republicans,
- 23.3% No-Party-Preference.
Let's explore what would happen if some of the voters dissatisfied with their current party registered as No-Party-Preferred. Let's posit that 20% of registered Democrats (9% of all registered voters) and 15% of registered Republicans (4.1% of all) were to make this change. The split would become
- 40.4% No-Party-Preference,
- 35.8% Democrats,
- 19.2% Republican.
I posited the 20% for Democrats as less than half of the 44% of Democrats who said their party was out-of-touch (in a national poll); the posited percentage for Republicans is lower because some of this re-registration seems to have already occurred.

----Footnotes----
1. Negative campaigning or campaigning to negative partisanship?
It can be hard to distinguish a candidate engaging in one of the "normal" forms of negative campaigning and one playing to negative partisanship. The later has the implicit message "He's worse than me" which carries the undesirable implication "I know I am a bad choice." (This is a variation of Tom Peter's famous "We're no worse than anyone else" from his book "In search of excellence".

2. You can't make this stuff up:
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently introduced a series of potential bumper stickers (2017-07-05). Among them was "Democrats 2018: I mean, have you seen the other guys?" which produced abundant reaction and criticism (web search).
Aside: This blog had been in the queue for two months, and this slogan finally pushed me to make finishing it top priority.

3. Biasing/priming answers in polls:
Humor: Leading Questions segment from the BBC TV series "Yes Prime Minister", Season 1, Episode 2 "The Ministerial Broadcast" (1986-01-16).

4. Voting in Top-Two primaries:
Party registration matters only in primaries for US President. People who have registered as "No Party Preference" (NPP) -- formerly "Decline To State" -- receive a primary ballot for all offices except President. A party can choose to have an open primary, in which case the NPP voter can simply request a ballot that allows them to vote in that party's Presidential primary. Alternatively, a party can have a close primary, that is, one limited to its registered members (but changing party registration is relatively easy).

5. Exploiting a crisis:
Some of the politicians and special interests are trying to use the "crisis" to stampede the public into surrendering to those interests. And many of the politicians may themselves being stampeded by the need to appear to be doing something.
A politician's logic from the BBC TV comedy series "Yes Prime Minister": A conversation between two top-ranking civil servants.
A: "All cats have four legs. My dog has four legs." B: "therefore my dog is a cat?"
B: "Something must be done. This is something. Therefore we must do it.",
A: "But doing the wrong thing is worse than doing nothing.", B: "Doing anything is worse than doing nothing."

6. Homeowners and residents disparaged as NIMBYs:
This is been a topic in several of my previous blogs, for example:
"The 'Creative Class' and 'superstar' cities", 2017-07-08.
"Why contentious local politics: More examples from ADU at Council", 2017-04-18
And one of many news articles summarizing the agendas of many Democratic legislators:
"California's Anti-NIMBY Bills Aim At Housing Crisis" - CityLab, 2017-05-09.
And you will find this slur against homeowners routinely in the liberal press.

7. Other examples of bias in the Legislative Analyst's Office report:
As I read through this report, it became very clear that it started with the assumption that much more housing needed to be built in coastal California, and that the burden of costs should fall on existing residents of those cities.
In section "Why DO Coastal Areas Not Build Enough Housing?",
- it portrays CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) as a significant part of the problem.
- "California's local government finance structure typically gives cities and counties greater fiscal incentives to approve nonresidential development or lower density housing development." This is partly true for cities such as Palo Alto: High-density rental properties are revenue negative, but condos are positive. But notice that the report makes no suggestion to stop financially punishing cities for high-density rental developments. Instead, its approach is to make the punishment for not building be even larger. Also recognize that it is not the cities that build housing, but developers, and it is the developers in places like Palo Alto who have repeatedly chosen to build at much less density than the zoning allows.
In section "Local Resident Concerns About New Housing Are Common Throughout the U.S.",
- "In general, many potential or perceived downsides of new housing accrue to existing residents, while many of the benefits of new housing accrue to future residents."
- "inclined to limit new housing because they fear it will reduce the values of the homes" (claim contrary to evidence, derived from economic illiteracy).
And it acknowledges the impacts to residents, but these impacts are ignored in the report's recommendations:
- "Many people, as they become accustomed to their lifestyle and the character of their neighborhood, naturally are hesitant about change and future unknowns." - locally rendered as "afraid of the future".
- "Expanded development can strain existing infrastructure..."
In section: "Looking Ahead: What Is Needed to Contain California's High Housing Costs?", "...could alter the longstanding and prized character of California’s coastal communities", but again this does not factor into the recommendations.
Unsurprisingly, this sort of bias is to be expected of remote bureaucrats: With little/no knowledge of facts on the ground or skin in the game or accountability to those affected, it is very easy to lean on abstract dogma and ideology.

8. Aristotelian sense of political corruption:
From "Politics", Book 5, addressing the basis for maintaining or changing regimes: "Above all, every state should be administered and regulated by law so that its magistrates cannot possibly make money. In oligarchies, special precautions should be used against this evil. For the people do not take any great offense at being kept out of government--indeed they are rather pleased at having time to attend to their private business. However, it irritates them to think that their rulers are stealing public money, and that they, the people, don't partake in the profits nor other benefits."
Or a more recent statement (smile) of this: "Four qualities have distinguished republican government from ancient Athens forward: the sovereignty of the people; a sense of the common good; government dedicated to the commonwealth; and resistance to corruption. Measured against the standards established for republics from ancient times, the American Republic is massively corrupt. // From Plato and Aristotle forward, corruption was meant to describe actions and decisions that put a narrow, special, or personal interest ahead of the interest of the public or commonwealth." from Gary Hart's book The Republic of Conscience, which was excerpted in "Gary Hart: America's Founding Principles Are in Danger of Corruption" - Time, 2015-06-26.

9. Corruption, state government:
When I was in high school in rural upstate New York in the late 1960s, a major local politician committed a major indiscretion: He answered a question about how government really works. He told us that state government is a sweet spot for corruption. Decisions can have large enough benefit for individuals and corporations that it is very profitable for them to do what is now termed "buying access" to officials. But it is very hard for citizens to fight back. First, news coverage is so sparse that citizens are unlikely to find out about what is happening until it is too late. Second, while the cumulative impacts on citizens can be large, the individual impacts are small, making it hard for them to make the investment in organizing. Third, the state capital was far away (over 200 miles in this case), raising the difficulty and costs of fighting. Fourth, most of those decisions aren't the type that would lead to the creation of a permanent lobby group for citizens (something the political parties should have been providing).

10. Being dismissive of groups of voters:
In addition to the frequent characterization of Democrats taking minority voters for granted, the 2016 Presidential election presented an example of pushing a significant block of voters away. During the primaries, the national Democratic establishment repeatedly dismissed Bernie Sanders victories as irrelevant or unimportant because of the proportion of his supporters who were White (for more, web search on "whitewashing bernie sanders"). The response from Sanders supporters was predominantly to point out the many non-Whites voting for him, but this blurred Sanders' message which included the White working- and middle-classes. Added to this was the Democratic Party's characterization of itself as a "coalition of the ascendant" (web search), which very explicitly and pointedly excluded many Whites (those not young, urban, professional/managerial-class).
Aside: I know of no attempt to quantify the impacts, if any, of these statements, but there were multiple Democratic-aligned commentators warning against the statements and the attitudes behind them.
Reminder: In politics, "perceptions are facts/reality", meaning that it is irrelevant how true they are or whether those perceptions were intended. Even this long after the election, the Democratic establishment seems to still seems to not have come to meaningful grips with "How could people/groups that we proclaimed to be unimportant to us not vote for us?" During the campaign, I had a discussion with a life-long Democrat who was considering voting for Trump. He acknowledged that he expected that Trump would betray him, but followed-up with that he was certain that Clinton and the Democrats would. I don't know what this person eventually decided--the important point for here was that he felt so alienated from the Democratic Party that he was thinking the previously unthinkable.
Note: The national situation is not a topic for discussion here, but only to be used as a source of useful analogies.

11. Purity over electability: My assessment is based upon several factors. First, the pronouncements of reporters, political commentators and California Republican Party leaders. All of these need to be taken skeptically because of the biases and agendas of both the writers and their target audiences (especially "bubbles", groupthink, "pack journalism"). Second, candidate statements in the Election Guide. The pattern has been of them coming from, or trying to appeal to, a more and more extreme set of voters. Third, before the current Top-Two primary system, the Republican Party opposed Open Primaries. Research on Open Primaries found that they benefited the party by increasing support from independent and cross-over voters, especially if the candidate they voted for in the primary wins and goes on to the general election. The explanation/speculation is that the investment/commitment that the voter made in the primary carries forward. The claim is that there is a noticeable increase even when the cross-over voter is doing so not because of any dissatisfaction with his party's candidate, but because of an uncontested primary in his party. The Republican Party's rationale for Closed Primaries was the fear of being sabotaged by large cross-over voting intended to select a bad candidate--one with less chance of winning in the general election. Research claims that such (non-trivial) sabotage is rare: The electorate sees it as unethical. However, candidates do try to sabotage the other party's primaries both by trying to erode support for some candidates and by promoting others.

12. People leaving a party:
When influential people within a political party decide to leave, they typically do so quietly (as one should expect). However, there are some who speak out, often in conjunction with peddling a book. A notable recent example is by Bruce Bartlett who is an economist who served in the administrations of Reagan and Bush the elder, and was purged for criticizing the G. W. Bush administration policies.
"Why I'm Not a Democrat: A disillusioned veteran of the Reagan White House has some advice for liberals", 2017-06-26. The title is very misleading: The article is mostly about why he left the (national) Republican Party (because it embraces incompetence and corruption). His criticism of the Democrats goes little beyond them being persistently, and unaccountably, feckless for decades. A related article gives his longer-term perspective on the Republican shift: "Trump Is What Happens When a Political Party Abandons Ideas", Politico Magazine, 2017-06-24.
A 1975 speech by a Democratic Party leader (Senator Ed Muskie) indicates that feckless was already seen as an established problem. See my blog "A profoundly un-influential speech, 40th anniversary", 2015-09-09.

13. Critique of Democratic Party shift:
The closest I could find to the Bartlett articles (in the previous footnote) were these from the (left-leaning) The Atlantic:
- "How Post-Watergate Liberals Killed Their Populist Soul: In the 1970s, a new wave of post-Watergate liberals stopped fighting monopoly power. The result is an increasingly dangerous political system" by Matt Stoller, 2016-10-24. This is a very long article. The first part has lots of really interesting history and details, but I think you can skip halfway down (search/find: "Charlie Peters") without losing much about the current situation. The basic argument centers on the Democrats abandoning concern about economic power translating into excessive political power ("anti-trust/monopoly, pro-competition"). It notes, in the first half, that, during the post-WW2 occupation of Japan, staunch Republican Gen. Douglas MacArthur included limits on concentrations of economic power.
- "Americans Think Democrats Are Out of Touch?: The party appears to be struggling to convince the public it represents a better alternative to President Trump and the GOP." by Clare Foran, 2017-04-29. It starts with some discussion on the ABC/WP poll ("in touch with") and slides from why into some what needs to be done. However, I recommend the previous article over this one--this one is more interesting for what it doesn't say than for what it does, and that means that it is more suitable for political junkies.

14. Assembly member Berman's position:
Links under "Q1" in my blog "State Assembly Candidates: Links & Notes for the LWV Forum", 2016-05-13.


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An abbreviated index by topic and chronologically is available.

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