Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. Founded by Mark Kleiman (1951-2019)
Why So Many Close Elections?
Franken v. Coleman.Â Prosser v. Kloppenberg.Â Kamala Harris v. Steve Cooley. And, of course, Bush v. Gore.Â What’s going on?Â Why so many hotly contested elections all of a sudden?Â I can think of five theories offhand.
1)Â 50-50 Country.Â Probably the one favored by the national press corps, and thus probably the one least likely to be true.Â We have become an evenly divided nation.
2) The Reagan-Gingrich-Limbaugh Era.Â On this theory, there aren’t any more close elections than before; it’s just that we pay more attention to them because of the hyper-partisanship brought about by Movement Conservatism.Â In 1974, Democrat John Durkin and Republican Louis Wyman ran in a hotly contested New Hampshire US Senate race, which Durkin won by 10 votes.Â But while it made news, it mattered relatively less because unlike today, the Republican Party was not trying to repeal Medicare and institutionalize plutocracy.Â After the second recount, Wyman went ahead by two votes, and Durkin appealed to the US Senate, which declared the seat vacant.Â Finally, Wyman challenged Durkin to a new election,Â which heÂ accepted, and then won.Â I can’t imagine that happening today: it would be litigated and decided by the state Supreme Court.
3)Â Better targeting.Â Given the ability of the parties to better identify voters, perhaps the latent balance in the electorate is better reflected.Â The problem with this theory is that there is no reason to think that one party is inherently better than the other at it, although Democratic brain-deadedness is always a factor.Â This is obviously related to Explanation #1.
4)Â Randomness.Â As Leonard Mlodinow pointed out so beautifully in his wonderful book, The Drunkard’s Walk, what appear to be patterned results might just be random.Â There might not be anything more to it than that.
5)Â Media.Â This related to #2: there aren’t any more close elections than previously, but they achieve much greater salience in our minds not so much because of partisanship, but because of the 24-hour news cycle, and the ability to do things like track election results, post developments on Facebook and Twitter, etc.
Author: Jonathan Zasloff
Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees.
Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses.
Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.
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