The Limits of Electoral and Legislative Reform in Addressing Polarization

13 Jun 2011 07:00pm Nolan M. McCarty 

Professor Richard Pildes provides a very thorough and persuasive overview of the key arguments about the causes of partisan polarization in the United States. I am especially sympathetic to his argument that deep macro- historical factors such as the partisan alignment of the South—rather than idiosyncratic events, elections, and personalities—bare the primary blame. But I remain quite skeptical that a political-reform agenda such as the one he outlines will go very far in ameliorating partisan conflicts. Given that the forces that produce polarized politics are deeply embedded in the American political system, opening primaries, eliminating gerrymandering, reforming Congress, and regulating campaign finance are unlikely to provide much relief. Each of the reforms proposed by Professor Pildes may have many salutary effects, but political science research casts much doubt about their ability to reduce polarization or ameliorate its consequences.

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