Sunday, July 10, 2016

Policy-making in divided government?

In yesterday's post, I addressed the possibility of policy-making to address race and policing after 2016.  If Donald Trump is President, we pretty much know that won't happen.  If Clinton is President, we will have divided government, though, because there is no realistic chance of Democrats winning the House of Representatives.  Democrats are clustered inefficiently in cities such that Democratic-majority districts, unless chopped up very strangely, have inefficiently large majorities.  Republicans live in more suburban and rural districts where their majorities are slimmer.  While many districts are strangely shaped, the surprising thing to many who aren't as steeped in redistricting literature as, well, me, is that you have to draw really strangely shaped districts to cut into the Republican advantage of demography.  Basically, you have to chop up the cities and combine portions of them with suburban and rural districts in ways that violate the "communities of interest" rule.  Basically, anyone arguing for cube-shaped districts is arguing for a Republican advantage.  Strangely, it is the Democrats who are usually pushing for this.

Regardless, if HRC wins, she will have a Republican House.  Can policy-making happen in divided government?  If the old Dave Brady book I mentioned yesterday is correct, then when there is a perceived "mandate," from a "critical election," then yes.  So, if the narrative is that the story of police violence helps HRC, then Congress goes along.  And Dave Brady is helped along here by another classic by David Mayhew called Divided We Govern.  Mayhew analyzed lawmaking from the post-WWII era up through the 1980s and found that as much stuff happens during unified government as divided government.

Did you catch that?  Up through the 1980s.  As in, he didn't get up through the 1990s, when congressional polarization set in.  The real test case was the 2010 election.  From 2009 to 2010, a lot of major stuff happened.  For good or ill, Congress passed and the president signed a stimulus bill, healthcare reform, financial reform, and lots of other stuff.  Then, the 2010 election happened.  Control of the House flipped.  Since then, we have had the 2011 Budget Control Act, which was that debt ceiling/spending cut/sequestration/thingamajig, and that's it.  After that, nada.  This is what we call in the social sciences a "quasi-experiment."  It isn't quite a controlled experiment because we, as the scholars, didn't create the circumstances that changed.  Rather, an external event happened, allowing us to compare the before-and-after.  And it's a pretty clean one.  Same president.  Same party controlling the Senate.  Just the House.  Major stuff happens, then jack shit happens.  Unified government, then divided government.

Mayhew was right.  Before the Democrats and the Republicans moved so far apart.  If HRC faced a modern Republican House, then no matter what narratives emerge to explain 2016, no policies whatsoever would emerge from Congress.  None.  NONE.

But of course, police are controlled at the local level.  Remember federalism?  This brings up Dallas.  Dallas had local reforms because police are handled largely at the local level.  Of course, that's why federal hate crimes laws exist.  Those laws were passed as part of the civil rights reforms because reformers didn't trust local cops to prosecute the KKK when the local cops were often members.  Some of those that work forces...

What happens at the local level?  That depends on the locality, obviously.  At the federal level, it is hard to imagine anything happening, even when Newt Gingrich makes statements that sound supportive of police reform.

Yay, polarization!  Sorry, Mayhew!

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