Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

America Swings Toward a Parliamentary System...

Michael Kinsley is the latest member of the chorus saying, "Vote the party, not the individual politician":

Guardian Unlimited | Comment is free | The electoral end of piety: In a remarkable editorial on Wednesday, the New York Times endorsed Diane Farrell for Congress from a district in Connecticut. Who is Diane Farrell? I have no idea, and the Times didn't seem to have much of one. After eight years as first selectman of Westport (a position similar to that of a mayor), the paper noted somewhat desperately, "she has a better understanding than most legislators of the impact of federal mandates and tax policy on local government". By contrast her opponent, Christopher Shays, has held the seat for almost 20 years and been endorsed by the Times "in every race in which he has faced a serious opponent" - until now.

Shays is a Republican, but not excessively so. He's moderate in policy and in temperament. In fact he's just the kind of Republican the Times ordinarily likes to dig up and endorse in order to prove that it's not blindly Democratic. Yet the Times decided to "strongly endorse" Shays's opponent entirely because she's a Democrat. Or rather because she is not a Republican: "Mr Shays has been a good congressman, but not good enough to overcome the fact that his re-election would help empower a party that is long overdue for a shakeup."

One of the axioms of democratic piety in the US is that you vote for the person, not the party. People love to say, "I evaluate each candidate on his or her own merits" - even when it's not true.... But this year does seem to be different. You hear people say - though rarely as forthrightly as the Times - that they are voting for the party, not the person. Well, more accurately, they say they are voting against the party, not the person... voting for the Democrat simply out of anger at or frustration with the Republican party.

The pious view is mistaken. There is nothing wrong with voting for the party, not the person. In other democracies, such as Britain, this person-not-the-party piety is unknown and would be hard to comprehend. A candidate for parliament runs on a party platform promising various things, and if that party wins a majority of seats it "forms a government". You would be silly to vote for the person and not the party. The party's views are what counts. The person's own views are almost irrelevant.

Even under the American arrangement there is nothing ignoble about voting the party line. It is an efficient way to minimise your information costs.... A candidate's party affiliation doesn't tell you everything you would like to know, but it tells you something. In fact it tells you a lot - enough so that it makes sense to vote for your party preference even when you know nothing else about a candidate. Or even to vote for a candidate that you actively dislike...

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