How The Public Funding Of Elections Increases Candidate Polarization

by on July 21, 2014 at 3:30 am in Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

Yet another shibboleth of campaign finance reform appears to be in weak shape, here is a new paper (pdf):

I show that the public funding of elections produces a large decrease in the financial and electoral advantage of incumbents. Despite these eff ects on electoral competition, I demonstrate that public funding produces more polarization and candidate divergence|not less. Finally, I establish that this eff ect is at least in part due to the fact that public funding disproportionately aff ects the contribution behavior of access-oriented interest groups, groups who, I show, systematically support moderate incumbents. Access-oriented interest groups therefore help generate the incumbency advantage and mitigate polarization by supporting moderate legislators.

That is from Andrew B. Hall at the Department of Government at Harvard.

ummm July 21, 2014 at 3:40 am

we need more money in politics, not less.

Just Another MR Commentor July 21, 2014 at 4:45 am

Actually democratic government is a relic of the 20th century. The future belongs to societies who put all decision making in the hands of a technocratic elite. These people would be very exceptional – you could refer to them as “supermen”. A good idea would to move all decision making to Google HQ.

Andrew' July 21, 2014 at 4:48 am

“Assume a very exceptional elite…”

Can you name ONE. Now I was going to use Obama as an example, but your reply might be that he was elected. So, the “candidates” are people who espouse general knowledge but not through politics. Supreme Court Justices?

Just Another MR Commentor July 21, 2014 at 5:44 am

We need to turn over government to people who understand the future – I would suggest Larry Page, Eric Schmidt, Peter Thiel, or Mark Zuckerberg

Andrew' July 21, 2014 at 6:53 am

I still can’t tell if you are pulling my leg. Thiel would be the strongest candidate for generalist futurist from that list (and no, not just because I am disposed to his politics, if you think that you don’t think much), and I don’t really feel like arguing against him. But I just wonder what he could tell me that would be useful to my (or anyone’s) unique situation. These guys are good in the profit/loss innovation sector, but they also have a degree of luck (the winners don’t necessarily understand the future better than the losers) and don’t bat 1000 anyway. I don’t bat 1000 either, but at I at least can learn personally from my strikeouts. I’m not sure what these guys learn when they make my life worse. And if you really want to make them look like bad guys, give them power. Besides, even Hanson’s Futarchy idea leaves room for voting on preferences, aesthetics, and values and betting on the future. Why can’t these guys just bet on the future and let the biggest yacht prevail?

Art Deco July 21, 2014 at 7:38 am

He’s jerking everyone’s chain all the time. Bloody bore.

Andrew' July 21, 2014 at 9:15 am

Except that I definitely think Mark Zuckerberg should have a good portion of control over Facebook…assuming he didn’t just steal the idea, that is.

Phill July 21, 2014 at 11:09 am

The part where you take the idea seriously is what demonstrates that JAMRC has achieved satire perfection.

Since you know, JAMRC has suggested corporatist fascism as a viable political alternative?

msgkings July 21, 2014 at 5:11 pm

JAMRC is doing the Stephen Colbert thing except he’s a billion times less funny.

Nathan W July 21, 2014 at 11:08 am

Whose money?

I think $1 a vote for parties with more than 1% of the vote is reasonable.

Leave the rest of the pot to the regular list of suspects/crooks until America manages to clean up the dirty influence of corporate and union money from politics.

CBBB July 21, 2014 at 4:53 am

“Yet another shibboleth of campaign finance reform appears to be in weak shape”

Uhhhh…..wouldn’t this be what you would EXPECT from reducing money in politics. The argument for campaign finance reform is that the politicans get bought out by wealthy corporations and interest groups (yeah Unions too blah blah but anyone with half a brain should realise these can barely compete). So if both parties are bought-out by the same set of wealthy interests wouldn’t one EXPECT that all the politicans converge around the same sort of policies – the policies that help their wealthy benefactors? What does one mean by “moderate” any way? Politicans that support the status quo are “moderate” but of course the status quo favours the wealthy party funders so is status-quo supporting really a good definition of moderate? The big complaint amongst people who support campaign finance reform is not “there’s too much polerization” it’s basically the opposite – that the parties are all the same and no matter who is elected they all implement more or less similar policies. More polerization (or to put it a nicer way more differentiaition and more real choice) is exactly what one would expect from publicly funded elections, the paper, rather than demolishing a pillar of support for public funding actually in my mind strengthens the case. To pepper on some mood affiliation here just for the fun of it, only a status-quo loving, corporate lacky like Tyler Cowen would think this is a bad thing.

Axa July 21, 2014 at 5:59 am

Publicly funded elections: see Mexico’s outcome.

CBBB July 21, 2014 at 6:02 am

I don’t follow this topic so closely so I can’t really comment on that. Still it’s on data point (if in fact publicly funded elections are he cause of the supposedly bad outcome you are claiming exists in Mexico). Is Mexico the only country to have publicly funded elections?

Axa July 21, 2014 at 7:41 am

I’m not saying it’s a bad outcome, you said that. But, if you look at Mexico you’ll see that publicly funded elections mean several things. First, 70%+ of public funds will pay for TV & radio marketing, printed media adds, etc. Indeed, some press is exclusively funded by this kind of money. Are you OK with the fact that publicly funded elections is almost a direct transfer from taxes to media business? One mistake to be avoided from Mexico is that political parties receive public funding even if it’s no election year. Public funding is conditioned to get at least 2% of the vote in every election. The incentives are well aligned to give tenure to populists and demagogues. I repeat, I’m not saying that publicly funded elections are bad per se, but look at the experience of others about what went wrong.

CBBB July 21, 2014 at 8:02 am

It seemed like you were implying a bad outcome, I have really no familiarity with Mexican electoral financing. You’re right in that its not at all easy to come up with a workable alternative system. I was mainly yelling at Tyler for his typical Beltway belief that that creating “polarization” is always bad was a vaild argument against public financing, whereas I clearly believe if anything it could be seen as a feature not a bug.

liberty July 21, 2014 at 6:33 pm

Wouldn’t it make more sense to look at countries more similar to the US, if that is the country you are considering the policy for, like say, the UK? Or another country in Europe, or .. most developed nations…?

George Wallace July 21, 2014 at 9:00 am

Not a dime’s worth of difference, I tell ya.

weareastrangemonkey July 21, 2014 at 5:19 am

“more polarization and candidate divergence|not less”

Is this not a good thing. One of the reasons people say the don’t vote is because there is no substantive difference between the candidates.

CBBB July 21, 2014 at 5:20 am

Tyler is fundementally a typical Beltway type so polerization is always bad, agreement is always good.

andrew' July 21, 2014 at 5:39 am

Polerization sounds painful anyway.

CBBB July 21, 2014 at 5:48 am

Polerization is an ephitet that’s thrown around. It can mean different things to different people. To many people it means vicious partisanship, to me this is a very different concept, but I think when you ask the average person about polerization (and a lot of the Beltway folk too) what comes to their mind is partisanship – politicans playing vicious political games and spouting nasty soundbites on Talkshows. But maybe the rise in this kind of vicious partisianship just masks the sharp reduction in actual substantial differences between the partieis. If we replaced this word “polerization”, which has so much baggage, with the word “differences” Tyler’s argument above would look all the more weaker and sillier.

Andrew' July 21, 2014 at 7:12 am

I’m no shill for moderateness, but one of the ideas is that the viable candidates should be pretty close together on the policy dimension so that they are interchangeable based on the quality dimension.

Brian Donohue July 21, 2014 at 9:06 am

Polarization is an outcome that is agreeable to extremists of all stripes, in that it allows them to justify each other’s existence, and their own.

Sharp reduction in actual substantial differences? I think this is lazy and cheap cynicism. What you are seeing is that the actual room for maneuver within government is more constricted than politicians let on. Governing is itself a moderating force.

And years when the two parties are out of easy options and have to make substantive decisions (like 2013), result in the only spasms of grown-up government we see these days.

Noumenon72 July 21, 2014 at 2:31 pm

CBBB, andrew’ was just tweaking your spelling of “polarization”.

Andrew' July 21, 2014 at 6:14 pm

Kidding, not maliciously. We rolls with it.

Roy July 21, 2014 at 7:09 am

I don’t know, I really like golabki and I enjoy a good polka…

Art Deco July 21, 2014 at 7:44 am

Distinct sets of programmmatic preferences are good. Bad manners and fraud are not. We would benefit from some ordinary public courtesy and respect for procedural norms and fair dealing. George McGovern is dead and Nat Hentoff is real old, so we will not get that in today’s environment.

prior_approval July 21, 2014 at 5:27 am

‘I show that the public funding of elections produces a large decrease in the financial and electoral advantage of incumbents’

And who just happens to write the laws concerning public funding in the U.S.?

‘I demonstrate that public funding produces more polarization and candidate divergence’

Perhaps in a two party system, candidate divergence is seen as a bad thing? After all, if a third party candidate could win, from the perspective of those perfectly content to exist in a two party framework, this would be a disaster.

‘Access-oriented interest groups therefore help generate the incumbency advantage and mitigate polarization by supporting moderate legislators.’

So, ‘access-oriented interest groups’ currently help ensure that incumbents are re-elected, which is a good thing because the incumbents are ‘moderates’ – as defined by those ‘access-oriented interest groups,’ since those ‘access-oriented interest groups’ don’t support people who aren’t moderate.

Tautology as argument – impeccable.

Adrian Ratnapala July 21, 2014 at 5:29 am

I think I agree with CBBB. I know what electoral incumbents are, and if “access oriented groups” are what I think they are, then what this result shows is that public funding reduces the power of elite clubs of politicians banded together with moneyed interest groups.

Andrew' July 21, 2014 at 6:54 am

It may hinge on how you define “responsiveness.” But it does seem kind of in line with how the leftier reformers define responsiveness.

Adrian Ratnapala July 21, 2014 at 9:43 am

Err, neither the original abstract, Tylers post nor my comment use the word “responsiveness”, so I don’t really know what you are responding to.

Andrew' July 21, 2014 at 10:29 am

The larger debate is about how democracy “responds” to what one defines as its constituency. The left defines responsiveness, to a first approximation, as all things being subject to the one-man-one-vote standard.

ummm July 21, 2014 at 7:15 am

Typically, wealthy donors are successful people who have a stake in the economy. having more money in politics helps guarantee politicians won’t pass anti-growth, anti-business policy. The status quo is better than populism. More money in politics mean better policy, because rich people, being economic stakeholders, have more to lose by passing bad policy.It’s good to have debate on the cultural issues, but during times of crisis both sides need to come together.

Adrian Ratnapala July 21, 2014 at 9:53 am

Democracy works in our imperfect world because partly because two different pathologies are in tension. (1) masses of voters elect politicians who transfer unearned wealth to them by expropriation. (2) well connected elites influence politicians to transfer wealth to them by various means. I am uneasy enough about relying these two not-quite-opposite evils to balance each other, and I see no reason why (2) is the unalloyed good you seem to think it is.

For what its worth, I would like to live in a world where wealthy people can freely spend their money on political messaging AND where serious politicians can choose to take or leave help from such people. Public funding combined with relaxed laws about contributions might fit that bill. It also brings more money into politics just as you recommend.

Andrew' July 21, 2014 at 10:32 am

He might express it that way because your #2 is viewed as an “unalloyed bad” by the left. As in, they don’t even seem to recognize your tension model. Go watch 5 seconds of any (recent) Bill Moyers for the unmistakable tone.

Andrew' July 21, 2014 at 11:02 am

BTW, is there a middle in your tension model where people get to keep what is rightfully theirs?

Pearl Y July 21, 2014 at 5:37 am

Those pesky “ff” ligatures!

Jan July 21, 2014 at 6:31 am

Hmm, I’d be perfectly happy if public funding of elections cut down the access to legislators that moneyed interests pay for, even if those groups do tend to focus mainly on moderate candidates. So what if legislators are beholden to the people, instead of unions and corporations? I think the really important question is what impact this has on candidates once in office.

It is entirely possible, for example, that severing the financial links between legislators and interest groups reduces unobserved political “corruption” at the same time as it increases polarization in the legislature.

chuck martel July 21, 2014 at 6:45 am

According to the paper, all incumbents must be in pretty much the same situation and all elections take place in similar environments. It’s noteworthy that someone would attempt to come to a valid conclusion based on something that’s inherently unpredictable.

Nathan W July 21, 2014 at 7:15 pm

Mathematical modelling of theoretical understanding of how elections work is not highly advanced compared to a lot of other areas of study.

Often, the models are quite simple and tailored to a particular consideration.

Relative to physics, where the targets have fairly similar properties to study over time (theoretically), politics doesn’t provide such a good moving target.

Often, we assume that people vote purely for their pocket book and have perfect information about what the government will actually do. Clearly this isn’t a very tenable hypothesis, but if you’re going to try to model something formally, can you justify a better assumption as being better than this assumption?

Roy July 21, 2014 at 7:14 am

The wealthy and powerful never lack for friends because they can provide favors. If campaigns were publicly financed the wealthy and powerful would still be heard, but there would be even less reason to attend to the poor and powerless.

Think of it as the petrostate curse, but in politics.

Sam July 21, 2014 at 7:25 am

In canada we have tight donor limits and public funding on a per vote basis. Some of this has been reformed so won’t be applicable in our next election, but the per vote subsidy in particular is a good idea. It gives smaller parties a chance and decreases the over all spending on campaigns. The other thing good about Canada’s system is that overt campaigning is limited to I think a month or 90 days ahead of the voting date.

In general, it makes sense to put a cap on any zerosum spending arms races, regardless of whether there are appreciable changes to election outcomes.

Art Deco July 21, 2014 at 8:07 am

It gives smaller parties a chance

I’m not seeing it. You do not have any more political parties in the federal Parliament than you did in 1930. The Conservative Party dissolved and reconstituted itself in a multi-step process over the period running from 1993 to 2006 but has a pedigree which pre-dates confederation and your other main parties were founded in 1867 and 1932, respectively. Other main events of the last 80-odd years have been the reduction of the Quebec Conservatives to extraparliamentary status (interrupted only during the period running from 1984 to 1993), the foundation of a succession of ethno-regional parties in Quebec, and the slow demise of the Social Credit Party.

Sam July 21, 2014 at 11:48 pm

I think median voter theory or something like it explains the ultimate number of large parties. Still I see evidence that per-vote has helped parties like the Greens and NDP get a voice. Nonetheless, the bigger point from my POV is just to seriously limit the arms race, both temporally and in dollar figures. If money matters in politics at all it’s at the margin. A one billion dollar campaign losing to a one billion and one dollar campaign is a hugely unproductive use of resources.

Art Deco July 22, 2014 at 10:18 am

NDP is not a minor party. With a re-branding, it has existed for over eighty years and has a base of support which bounces around 18% of the electorate. You’d be hard put to find a 3d ranking party in an occidental country that does appreciably better than that as a matter of routine.

Bill July 21, 2014 at 8:30 am

Public funding is different than public disclosure.

I am for public disclosure, including non-coordinated campaign groups. Public funding, and funding limits, support incumbents.

I am Bill, and I support this message.

derek July 21, 2014 at 9:58 am

I would support this with an addendum. Every month someone who uses this data in some egregious way get summarily shot. Alternate party affiliation, not excluding interest groups.

Pour les autres.

liberty July 22, 2014 at 2:05 am

“Public funding, and funding limits, support incumbents.”

How in the world do public funding and funding limits support incumbents, who have the resources to fund themselves without public funding, and generally many times the resources that any non-incumbent could ever hope to raise? Are you confusing public funding with funding by the incumbent government for just the incumbent? “Public funding” means funding for all candidates (who have enough signatures/votes as written in law). Funding limits meanwhile prevents the incumbent, or any party, from outspending those (generally new to the race) who cannot raise (or decree themselves) much in the way of additional resources on top of the public funds.

thomas July 22, 2014 at 5:10 am

Public finance for incumbents only… we already have that.
See every piece of legislation which spends tax revenue on prospective voters. There is a reason, after all, for the incumbent advantage. Further, there is a reason for the preference of reelecting senior legislators: they deliver their district more loot.

Nathan W July 21, 2014 at 11:13 am

Polarization would be another way of saying that there is broader representation.

Consider the Hotelling model of who buys ice cream at the beach. Then think of strategy to get that ice cream (win the election). Closest to the middle wins. This a formalization of the logic that you will get two parties and a middle of the road outcome with two parties. The math gets complicated with three parties, and it’s less clear that it reflects reality.

So, if it is easier for parties to maintain a presence when voters can at least see public money allocated to sustain the parties which actually represent their views, then yes, we will get polarization, compared to the situation of “middle voice wins every time”.

Of course, divisive politics make a mockery of these theories, but they are nevertheless instructive.

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