Is America in a period of democratic decline? I argue that there is an urgent need to consider the United States in comparative perspective, and that doing so is necessary to contextualize and understand the quality of American democracy. I describe two approaches to comparing the United States: the first shows how the United States stacks up to other countries, while the second uses the theories and tools of comparative politics to examine relationships between institutions, actors, and democratic outcomes.
Political parties in the United States and Britain used clientelism and patronage to govern throughout the nineteenth century. By the twentieth century, however, parties in both countries shifted to programmatic competition. This book argues that capitalists were critical to this shift. Businesses developed new forms of corporate management and capitalist organization, and found clientelism inimical to economic development.
The Top Two primary is one of the most interesting and closely-watched political reforms in the United States in recent years. This radically open primary system removes much of the formal role for parties in the primary election and even allows for two candidates of the same party to face each other in the fall. An important goal of this reform has been to elect more moderate candidates to public office.
In "The American Interest", Nate Persily discusses the challenge of applying current regulatory frameworks to the world of online campaigns and digital technology. Campaign regulations were created for television, but as Citizens United shows, online campaigns will require different constitutional considerations.
Bruce Cain argues in "The American Interest" that greater transparency can undermine good governance by allowing undue influence of discrete interests and by creating inefficiencies. However, more transparency is needed in bureaucratic policy implementation through private contractors and organizations.
Stephen Stedman argues in 'The American Interest" that efforts to improve American electoral integrity through reforms such as non-partisan election administration can protect the vote and restore public faith in the electoral process. American election administration falls short of international standards for conducting elections, and can be improved in significant ways.
In an article in the American Interest, Didi Kuo argues that understanding the causes of polarization -- whether rooted in a polarized electorate, or rooted in the ideological extremism of campaign donors and candidates -- has different implications on political reforms. If polarization is an elite phenomenon, institutional and legal reforms have a much greater chance of success.
In an article in "The American Interest", Larry Diamond advocates electoral system reforms, including top-two and ranked-choice voting, as a potential antidote to partisan polarization. Such reforms could decrease the likelihood of extremist candidates, could increase the potential for third-party candidates, and could ensure fewer wasted votes.
Francis Fukuyama discusses Congress's dysfunctional budgetary politics in "The American Interest", asking why the United States is one of the only advanced democracies under constant threat of government shutdown. Given America's peculiar institutions, technical and institutional reforms to the budgeting process may be limited in their impact.
On November 14-15, the Program on American Democracy in Comparative Perspective hosted a conference on Lobbying and Campaign Finance. The conference brought together academics, practitioners, and lawyers to understand the impact of money in politics on a variety of outcomes, including special interest capture, democratic distortion, and inequality.
According to many commentators, political polarization is at an all-time high in American politics. This volume, edited by Nathaniel Persily, asks leading scholars to weigh in on the nature of polarization, the consequences of polarization, and solutions to polarized discourse and policymaking. While most scholars agree that American politiics is polarized, they disagree on its causes. Is it the changing media landscape? Are voters themselves polarized, or is it decision-makers and political donors who drive ideological extremism?
Why do American political reform efforts so often fail to solve the problems they intend to fix? In this book, Bruce E. Cain argues that the reasons are an unrealistic civic ideal of a fully informed and engaged citizenry and a neglect of basic pluralist principles about political intermediaries. This book traces the tension between populist and pluralist approaches as it plays out in many seemingly distinct reform topics, such as voting administration, campaign finance, excessive partisanship, redistricting, and transparency and voter participation. It explains why political primaries have promoted partisan polarization, why voting rates are declining even as election opportunities increase, and why direct democracy is not really a grassroots tool. Cain offers a reform agenda that attempts to reconcile pluralist ideals with the realities of collective-action problems and resource disparities.
Bruce E. Cain is a Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and Director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West. He received a BA from Bowdoin College (1970), a B Phil. from Oxford University (1972) as a Rhodes Scholar, and a Ph D from Harvard University (1976). He taught at Caltech (1976-89) and UC Berkeley (1989-2012) before coming to Stanford. Professor Cain was Director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley from 1990-2007 and Executive Director of the UC Washington Center from 2005-2012. He was elected the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000 and has won awards for his research (Richard F. Fenno Prize, 1988), teaching (Caltech 1988 and UC Berkeley 2003) and public service (Zale Award for Outstanding Achievement in Policy Research and Public Service, 2000). His areas of expertise include political regulation, applied democratic theory, representation and state politics. Some of Professor Cain’s most recent publications include “Malleable Constitutions: Reflections on State Constitutional Design,” coauthored with Roger Noll in University of Texas Law Review, volume 2, 2009; “More or Less: Searching for Regulatory Balance,” in Race, Reform and the Political Process, edited by Heather Gerken, Guy Charles and Michael Kang, CUP, 2011; and “Redistricting Commissions: A Better Political Buffer?” in The Yale Law Journal, volume 121, 2012.
The motivation for the workshop stems from the observation that the United States government routinely fails in one of its foremost tasks: to create, and to pass, budgets. Congress often fails to devise a budget—in many years, it passes Continuing Resolutions to extend the previous year’s budget, punting difficult decisions about which federal programs to cut, maintain, or grow. Even worse, the failure of the President and Congress to reach agreement on the budget has led to 18 government shutdowns since 1978, while shutdowns have remained rare in other advanced democracies.
In 2013, budget negotiations in Congress stalled multiple times as Republicans and Democrats failed to agree on a host of political issues, including the debt ceiling, funding of the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, and tax rates. These negotiations resulted in budget sequestration of many federal programs, and threatened to reduce the United States credit rating. As the fiscal year deadline of October 1 approached, both chambers of Congress tried to pass budget legislation to fund the government. Economists and experts predicted that failing to meet the deadline would have significant consequences, including a potential default on government debt. Despite these dire warnings, however, the parties failed to reach agreement, culminating in a 16- day shutdown of the federal government from October 1-16, 2014.
The objective of this workshop was to think through the causes of, and solutions to, ineffective budgetary politics and policy-making. This report begins by describing the politics of budgeting in the United States, and situates our procedural and political anomalies in the comparative context of budgetary politics around the world. The next section examines a range of suggestions to improve budgeting, from technical and procedural changes to broader institutional reforms. The report concludes by discussing the limitations of proposed reforms, and by thinking realistically about how to mobilize support for improved budgeting outcomes.