Do Political Parties Matter?

That’s the question asked by the Wharton economists Fernando Ferreira and Joseph Gyourko. But they are not talking about national political parties. In that realm, party affiliation has indeed been shown to have a strong effect on legislation and policy. No, Ferreira and Gyourko are interested in whether party affiliation matters on the local level — and their answer, essentially, is no. Using data from more than 4,500 U.S. mayoral elections between 1950 and 2005 in more than 400 cities with populations of at least 25,000, here is what they learned:

[W]e find that party labels do not affect the size of government, the allocation of spending or crime rates, even though there is a large political advantage to incumbency in terms of the probability of winning the next election … In particular, there is a relatively high degree of household homogeneity at the local level that appears to provide the proper incentives for local politicians to be able to credibly commit to moderation and discourages strategic extremism.

While few people would accuse Rudy Giuliani of having “commit[ted] to moderation” or avoiding “strategic extremism” when he was mayor of New York City, the fact remains that he was the rare Republican elected by an extraordinarily Democratic town, and he was generally well regarded until close to the end of his second term. By then, it was mainly his temperament and personal affairs that had turned off many swing voters.

It is true that the mayor of New York City has a larger budget and set of responsibilities than the governors of some states; still, he is the lone mayor running in this year’s presidential election, and is leading the way at that. It will be interesting to see if and how Giuliani, running against a pack of men and a woman who have long been faithful to their national party, assumes the true stripes of his Republican affiliation.


JS

Ahhh, politics again!

Shannon Jenkins

In a quick scan of this article, it seems that the authors do not control for two important facts that most political scientists would argue would affect the outcomes presented here. First, many local governments elect mayors on non-partisan ballots, with no partisan primary. So while the mayors surveyed may profess a partisan identification, this electoral arrangement may affect the type of Democrats and Republicans who stand for and are elected to office. Second, mayors cannot act alone; most must deal with a city council. In fact, there is considerable variation in the amount of powers afforded to these mayors, with some being mere figureheads and the council being the real power brokers. Importantly, there is regional variation in the amount of powers afforded to mayors and we know that partisanship varies by region. This too may affect their results. So, while the results are interesting, they are by no means definitive.

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Peter

I'd be interested to see if the same principle holds in countries which have more than a 2 party system.

The UK has three strong parties in local government, and many rural districts are controlled by independents instead. - grounds for fruitful research?

Robert Stein

You observe that "few people would accuse Rudy Giuliani of having “commit[ted] to moderation” or avoiding “strategic extremism” when he was mayor of New York City. True enough, but even fewer would accuse him on that in the light of the turn toward zealotry that his presidential campaign has taken in recent weeks.

On September 11, 2001, the lackadaisical lame-duck mayor with no political prospects and two failed marriages was transformed into a money-making preacher and is now the fervent leader of a crusade against Islamofascism.

Party affiliation understandably has led to his changes of position on social issues, but has extremism always been latent in the man?

http://ajliebling.blogspot.com/2007/10/rudys-crusade.html

Rafe Furst

My view is that parties themselves are an emergent phenomenon of certain voting systems in a representative context. Mayors are unlike representatives (as in a legislature) in that being single individuals they do not have to vote in order to make a decision, where as legislatures do.

This does not explain why parties matter so greatly in presidential elections. Certainly affiliating oneself with a party is a very efficient way to get your message across about what you will likely do once elected. I would guess that the importance of party politics can be directly linked with the rise of broadcast media (esp TV), which requires short, pithy messages as opposed to protracted discourse. I would also posit that party politics would matter much less (perhaps not at all) in presidential elections if they did not exist at the legislative level.

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WillfromSF

It's odd that the higher a candidate rises on the political ladder the more extreme the level of BS. I suppose it's the primary system and the need for gobs of money, but it would be better for us all if we voters were as practical at the national level as we are the local level, i.e. elect the person who we think can do the nuts and bolts of the the job best instead of the one who appeals to our emotions and fears.

Berly Thomas

That's is right !!!

Nachiket

does party affiliation matter - I suggest the researches to study India...multi party - coilition government - ever since I remember. I agree that there are pro & cons to a system like this, but in some sense it truely reflects a very active democracy. In India, even the regional political parties with specific demands tend to get a weightage, thereby ensuring that regional developmental needs are met. But on the outset, I believe that even in these cases, people tend to believe that when one votes, he / she should do so to elect a person who would responsibly represent a nation - this thought effectively moderates the process and people tend to vote for the party whose leader shows better qualities and acceptance !!! I wonnder what the reasearches would like to say.

Michael

Who's Rudy Guiliani? I thought the man leading the Republican pack is named Judas Guiliani (i.e. rooting for the Sox?!?).

Go Pats!

roystgnr

Political parties aren't a consequence of large legislatures, they're a consequence of plurality voting.

When everyone believes, with some game theoretic justification, that voting for anyone except the two candidates leading the polls is "throwing your vote away", then it's of crucial importance to start your campaign as one of those leading candidates and thereby take advantage of the inherent hysteresis of such a system. Occasionally a would-be candidate may have such a great advantage in money (Perot), incumbency (Lieberman), etc. as to have a chance at the top two slots unassisted, but in general the way to be one of the top two candidates is to be acknowledged as such by one of the top two political parties.

David Lindsey

@roystgnr

Are you referring to the principle known as Duverger's Law?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duverger%27s_Law

If so, it is slightly different than what you state: "Duverger's Law is a principle which asserts that a plurality rule election system tends to a stable two-party system."

There are other reasons for the existence of political parties than what type of election system is used. One example would be that prominent members of a party help other members by campaigning for them. Then there is the centralized collection and management of contributions and funds.

But Duverger's Law is, to me, a good enough reason to look at different types of election systems.

Len

The paper cited also discusses how larger cities such as NYC are less likely to behave according to the major results found in the paper simply because they are more heterogeneous than most cities included in the panel.

To go from the paper's quote to Rudy G is to slightly abuse the research. It's good research.

Elijah Steinberg

"What made our nation great was the structure of American government designed to support individual freedom, thereby capitalizing upon each and every individual citizen's creativity, intelligence, and rugged "can do" perseverance. We all know the effectiveness of defeating a captive or prisoner held for interrogation by playing the good cop/bad cop role employed to obtain a confession. This is accomplished by breaking down an individual's emotional and natural instincts for self preservation. Nationally, we have had our instincts for political self-preservation destroyed by a meaningless "two party system," a feigned opposition that has given unlimited license to the destroyers of American freedom. The single controlling factor in American governmental politics, both domestic and foreign..."

How honest is our democracy, and the distinct differences between red and blue camps, when we as voting citizens do not have true foreign policy alternatives? Which candidate speaks in finite terms about post election actions concerning the war?

I'm pleased to see the great number of comments posted on this article... it promotes awareness, an unfettered exchange of new, divergent, and sometimes socially disharmonious ideas. Truth resides in the continued critical analysis of current social, political, and economic structures (and should not be limited to only "current"). Enter Socrates' "The unexamined life is not worth living." Most agree that the scientific method proceeds from the fundamental supposition that nothing can be assumed, nothing is accepted as truth or fact until proven as such. Listen to not what politicians say but what they do/what they've done. Mass media doesn't often provide the senatorial voting records of these network darlings. To take a definitive stand and speak unequivocally is a dangerous thing for the ambitious politician, evidenced by the media's shunning of Dr. Ron Paul. With this is mind, read the following three quotes, maybe the subsequent answers will surprise, maybe not. 3 quotes, multiple choice, who said the following.

"We're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good."

A. Adolf Hitler
B. Karl Marx
C. Kim Jong-il
D. None of the Above

"We just can't let business as usual go on and that means some things have to be taken from some people."

A. Nikita Kirchoff - bang my shoe on the desk
B. Joseph Goebbels
C Boris Yeltsin
D. None of the above

"We have to build a political consensus and that requires people to give up a little bit of their own in order to create a common ground."

A. Mao Tse-Tung
B. Hugo Chavez
C. Vladimir Lenin
D. None of the above

Answer to all three is D (suppose you saw this coming). Quotes taken from Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.

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Dan

Elijah - do a bit of research on this "Pop Quiz" at Snopes.com and I think you'll find that it's not quite as clever as you think!

JS

Ahhh, politics again!

Shannon Jenkins

In a quick scan of this article, it seems that the authors do not control for two important facts that most political scientists would argue would affect the outcomes presented here. First, many local governments elect mayors on non-partisan ballots, with no partisan primary. So while the mayors surveyed may profess a partisan identification, this electoral arrangement may affect the type of Democrats and Republicans who stand for and are elected to office. Second, mayors cannot act alone; most must deal with a city council. In fact, there is considerable variation in the amount of powers afforded to these mayors, with some being mere figureheads and the council being the real power brokers. Importantly, there is regional variation in the amount of powers afforded to mayors and we know that partisanship varies by region. This too may affect their results. So, while the results are interesting, they are by no means definitive.

Read more...

Peter

I'd be interested to see if the same principle holds in countries which have more than a 2 party system.

The UK has three strong parties in local government, and many rural districts are controlled by independents instead. - grounds for fruitful research?

Robert Stein

You observe that "few people would accuse Rudy Giuliani of having "commit[ted] to moderation" or avoiding "strategic extremism" when he was mayor of New York City. True enough, but even fewer would accuse him on that in the light of the turn toward zealotry that his presidential campaign has taken in recent weeks.

On September 11, 2001, the lackadaisical lame-duck mayor with no political prospects and two failed marriages was transformed into a money-making preacher and is now the fervent leader of a crusade against Islamofascism.

Party affiliation understandably has led to his changes of position on social issues, but has extremism always been latent in the man?

http://ajliebling.blogspot.com/2007/10/rudys-crusade.html

Rafe Furst

My view is that parties themselves are an emergent phenomenon of certain voting systems in a representative context. Mayors are unlike representatives (as in a legislature) in that being single individuals they do not have to vote in order to make a decision, where as legislatures do.

This does not explain why parties matter so greatly in presidential elections. Certainly affiliating oneself with a party is a very efficient way to get your message across about what you will likely do once elected. I would guess that the importance of party politics can be directly linked with the rise of broadcast media (esp TV), which requires short, pithy messages as opposed to protracted discourse. I would also posit that party politics would matter much less (perhaps not at all) in presidential elections if they did not exist at the legislative level.

Read more...

WillfromSF

It's odd that the higher a candidate rises on the political ladder the more extreme the level of BS. I suppose it's the primary system and the need for gobs of money, but it would be better for us all if we voters were as practical at the national level as we are the local level, i.e. elect the person who we think can do the nuts and bolts of the the job best instead of the one who appeals to our emotions and fears.