How bad is political polarization anyway?, with reference to Rhode Island

by on August 15, 2014 at 1:59 am in Current Affairs, Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

Josh Barro reports on Rhode Island, arguably the least polarized state in the Union:

Wonder what Washington might look like if it were less polarized? Just look to Rhode Island. The political scientists Boris Shor and Nolan McCarty analyzed state legislative voting records from 1996 to 2013 and found Rhode Island had the least ideological difference between the typical Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

It’s common for Republican officials in heavily Democratic Northeastern states to be moderates. What makes Rhode Island stand out is the number of conservatives within its Democratic legislative supermajority. The median Democrat in Rhode Island was more conservative than in all but 13 state legislatures, scoring directly between Georgia and Indiana and far to the right of those in Connecticut or Massachusetts.

This kind of ideological scrambling — one might say incoherence — has made it possible for Republicans and Democrats to find common ground and work together. But does it actually lead to desirable public policy? Nobody I spoke with in Rhode Island seemed inclined to hold up their state as a model of consultative governance for the rest of the country.

“We are unique state with a unique governing culture – and I would submit, a uniquely bad governing culture,” says Senator Hodgson. Of course, it’s not unusual for a member of a permanent minority party to criticize his state’s governance. But Rhode Island is a notably poor fiscal and economic performer, and observers across the political spectrum tend to talk about Rhode Island as a state that has fallen behind its richer neighbors.

The full story is here.

Steve Sailer August 15, 2014 at 2:14 am

How mobbed up is Rhode Island?

RoyM August 15, 2014 at 4:09 am

There are parts of Sicily that are less mobbed up. One thing about having everyone on the take is that it reduces bickering, it also helps when you are a leader in the murder of witnesses before trial.

Art Deco August 15, 2014 at 11:03 am

The two former Rhode Island residents in my family said plenty during their years there (1980 +/- 5 years). The decline of the Sicilianate mob may have changed that.

Alan August 15, 2014 at 2:41 am

1. Rhode Island had the least ideological difference between the typical Republican and Democratic lawmakers.

2. Rhode Island as a state that has fallen behind its richer neighbors.

This story is self-evidently bunkum, The further to the right you go, the further you pull ahead. Data? I don’t need no stinkin’ data.

J August 15, 2014 at 10:04 am

I can’t tell if you’re kidding, or if you’re only kidding yourself…

RoyM August 15, 2014 at 4:01 am

Josh Barro frequently impresses me as a naif, but I would have loved to see the looks on the faces of the Rhode Islanders he asked about good government.

Rhode Island, the state where you can tell how connected everyone is by their license plate number.

Rhode Island, a state where the legislature has a travel allowance, and the furthest point from the state house isn’t 45 miles away.

Rhode Island, the state that gave us Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, and where a racketeering conviction is practically a requirement for high office.

I could go on about a northern state that removed its property qualification after WW2, or about how in the 1950s more than half the legislature could be found at Narraganset Park on race day because they actually manned the cages.

But I will just finish with this:
http://wzlx.cbslocal.com/2014/04/28/why-do-rhode-island-residents-hate-their-own-state/

Widmerpool August 15, 2014 at 9:30 am

Amen Roy. I worked in Providence for 12 years (but live in Boston area) and became thoroughly disgusted with RI. Haven’t been back since. One old-timer summed it up nicely for me by saying that RI’s problem is that it is thoroughly overgoverned.

Here is a much better look at things: http://www.city-journal.org/2014/24_2_rhode-island.html

Mo August 15, 2014 at 12:56 pm

You mean the part where he heard, “Nobody I spoke with in Rhode Island seemed inclined to hold up their state as a model of consultative governance for the rest of the country,” and “We are unique state with a unique governing culture – and I would submit, a uniquely bad governing culture.”

Tarrou August 15, 2014 at 7:08 am

“Bipartisanship” is one of those values that only gets bandied about when the party the media slavishly serves gets handed their electoral asses.

That said, one-party rule is always bad for states in the long run. Not enough competition, conservatives should understand that.

Michael August 15, 2014 at 9:56 am

yep, “We need more bipartisanship” is just a code-word that means “Republicans need to stop making so many good arguments”.

Meegs August 15, 2014 at 8:25 am

Bipartisanship is good when it results in laws you like.

More likely it leads to laws that are good for politicians.

NathanP August 15, 2014 at 9:55 am

Exactly, bipartisanship is essentially a Beltway euphemism for a political climate that is generally beneficial to those playing the game. Politicians and their legions of public servants, private contractors and lobbyists included.

Sanjay August 15, 2014 at 9:11 am

Josh Barro always seems to me to blow hot and cold; sometimes I am in awe of him and sometimes he seems to write carelessly in support of a thesis he already has in his head (e.g. “more conservative than all but 13 state legislatures” — OK, that means it’s closer to the median than to the extreme. It ain’t like there’s 250 states.) This is one of the latter cases — at a time when Buddy Cianci seems likely to show up in charge of Providence again, it would be surprising if a lot of people were not disappointed with the quality of Rhode Island politics writ large. The smallness of the state, its dominance by a lot of um, “legitimate businessmen” catering to Boston — it’s got complexities in its politics and a lot of forces on them and it seems veyr probable that the lack of polarization is more a function of the oddness of RHode Island politics, than the reverse.

hamilton August 15, 2014 at 11:46 am

You miss his point on the conservative scaling issue. Rhode Island’s median Democrat is in the most conservative quartile(ish) of the state legislatures. Which is actually quite interesting, for a state that is (1) Democratically dominated and (2) in New England, and not at all similar to the character of Democratic majorities in the neighboring states. Which was his point.

Das August 15, 2014 at 9:20 am

There are two fundamentally different kinds of bipartisanship:

1. Have no relevant differences in ideology.
2. Having differences but working from a common set of rules and accepted values.

The first will lead to parties sharing the ‘loot’, the latter should be the republican ideal.

Ted Craig August 15, 2014 at 9:57 am

This just shows how much people overestimate “policy.” Rhode Island is a typical post-industrial state. If it were on a Great Lake, nobody would be surprised by its performance.

Mike W August 16, 2014 at 7:33 am

My thought too. Why evaluate the effectiveness of the political system using economic performance? Why not by education since that is where most of a state’s spending goes? Is government corruption or regulation so bad as to cause the state to fall behind its richer neighbors? I suspect not.

Peter Schaeffer August 17, 2014 at 6:46 pm

TC,

“Rhode Island is a typical post-industrial state. If it were on a Great Lake, nobody would be surprised by its performance.”

Those are good points. However, “bipartisanship” is one of the cliche panaceas of our time. That makes the failure of “bipartisanship” to lift RI’s economy quite significant. I would add that RI may be more susceptible to economic decline that other regions. See “Untangling Trade and Technology:- Evidence from Local Labor Markets”. Quote

“As a case in point, the CZ containing Providence, Rhode Island—a traditional manufacturing hub—saw estimated increases in Chinese import exposure (that is, competing Chinese manufactures that would potentially be produced in Providence if not imported) of $2; 330 per worker between 1991 and 2000, and an additional $3; 490 per worker between 2000 and 2007. In contrast, the CZ containing New Orleans, Louisiana–which lacks industries that compete directly with China—saw comparatively small increases of $170 and $490 per worker during these same intervals.”

Locke August 15, 2014 at 11:19 am

There’s not a great deal of difference between bipartisanship and quasi-monopartisanship. Now a multipartisan system with at least ~5 poles or so would be something to contrast with.

C August 17, 2014 at 3:40 pm

FWIW, a richly reported article in City Journal, a publication of the conservative Manhattan Institute, says that Rhode Island is “the nation’s basket case.”

http://www.city-journal.org/2014/24_2_rhode-island.html

C August 17, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Also FWIW, the libertarian scholars who devised “Freedom in the 50 States” rankings scored Rhode Island in “the bottom 5″

http://freedominthe50states.org/

Granite26 August 18, 2014 at 10:59 am

Am I badly misreading things when I think ‘of course RI has a narrow band of politicians, it’s got a narrow band of people’?

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