In addition to its website, Talking Points Memo sends out a morning newsletter to subscribers. A few days ago, that newsletter (paywall) included two paragraphs that sum up the single biggest challenge facing American democracy.
The success of the abortion rights coalition in ballot initiatives from Kentucky to Michigan showed that abortion can be just as powerful an incentive to vote for those who support abortion access as for those who oppose it.
For many House Republicans, that shift would, in another world, alter their behavior. With majorities in even deeply red states supporting abortion access, you’d expect these lawmakers to moderate their position. But thanks to the dearth of competitive House districts due to cumulative years of gerrymandering, many of them have more to fear from a primary challenge from the right than a general election against a Democrat.
I have frequently posted about the effects of gerrymandering. Probably the most damaging consequence is voter suppression; as I have often noted, people who live in a district considered “safe” for the party they don’t support lack an incentive to vote. When the disfavored party doesn’t turn out, that also depresses the votes for that party’s candidates for statewide office.
Here in Indiana–a state that has been identified as one of the five most gerrymandered states in the country–our legislature is beginning a session in which the Republican super-majority continues to disregard the demonstrated priorities of its Hoosier constituents.
Several Republican lawmakers appear to oppose the Governor’s call to invest in the Hoosier state’s inadequate, struggling public health system. For that matter, there appears to be no appetite for confronting Indiana’s dismal ratings in a wide variety of quality of life indicators. As Hoosier Democrats recently pointed out:
Hoosiers have a F rated quality-of-life and the state has a D- rated workforce, a C- rated education system, the third worst maternal mortality rate in the nation, and the country’s most polluted waterways. It appears Republicans will once again ignore the warning signs from Indiana’s top business leaders and their taxpayer-funded reports and instead choose to focus on their extreme agenda.
Over the past couple of days, I’ve posted on just one part of that extreme agenda, the GOP’s war on public education. Other efforts include our lawmakers’ continuing war on LGBTQ Hoosiers– especially on trans kids and anyone in the medical community who dares to serves them.
Indiana isn’t alone, unfortunately.
In 2015, two political scientists– Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin Page of Northwestern–published a study concluding that the preferences of US voters barely matter. Or as they put it, “economic elites and organized interest groups play a substantial part in affecting public policy, but the general public has little or no independent influence.”…
Gilens and “a small army of research assistants” compiled nearly 2,000 polls and surveys that asked for opinions about a proposed policy change. Since he wanted to separate out the preferences of economic elites and average citizens, he only used surveys that asked about respondents’ income. He found 1,779 poll results that fit that description, spanning from 1981 to 2002. Then he took the answers of median-income voters to represent what average voters think, and the answers of respondents at the 90th income percentile to represent what economic elites think.
Next, the authors had to measure what interest groups thought about all of those issues. They decided to use Fortune magazine’s yearly “Power 25” lists of the most influential lobbying groups, but since it “seemed to neglect certain major business interests,” they added the ten industries that had reported the most spending on lobbying. Their final list includes 29 business groups, several major unions, and other well-known interest groups like the AARP, the Christian Coalition, the NRA, the American Legion, and AIPAC. Each interest group’s position on those 1,779 policy change proposals were coded, along with how strongly each group felt about each proposal. The results were combined to assess how interest groups in general, felt.
The study found that average citizens only get what they want if economic elites or organized interest groups also want it…
In contrast, the preferences of economic elites and interest groups — especially economic elites — are each quite influential.
In dramatically gerrymandered Indiana, the clear preferences/warnings of the state’s largest businesses and growing tech sector are routinely disregarded in favor of the “influential elites” who evidently believe that low taxes are a more attractive economic development tool than a reasonable quality of life–a belief with which CNBC begs to differ.
Indiana’s super-majority does listen to the well-organized religious fundamentalists whose policy preferences repel the high-skilled workers our economy needs.
As long as they can gerrymander, our unrepresentative representatives are safe from democracy– and their constituents.