American Electoral Institutions Explained

Eric Levitz in New York Magazine on how political institutions keep American politics polarized between a median Democratic position and a right-of-median Republican position now that the urban/rural split between the two parties is entrenched:

By itself, the conservative movement’s apocalyptic paranoia might not constitute an existential threat to American democracy. The depths of the American right’s radicalism are formidable, but its breadth of popular support is not. The donors, activists, and primary voters who set the GOP’s agenda are more ideologically extreme than the Republican Party’s median general-election supporter. And so long as the GOP caters to the former, its national coalition is likely to be a minority one. Thus, if the United States were a majoritarian democracy — in which the Republican Party had to win a majority of the nation’s votes to have a hand in federal governance — then the party might soon find itself with sufficient incentive to marginalize its most extreme elements. But the U.S. is a very different kind of polity.

Every elected branch of the U.S. government structurally overrepresents low-density areas. And since America’s two parties are now polarized along urban-rural lines, the GOP has ballots to burn. Losing the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections hasn’t stopped Republicans from holding the White House for a majority of this millennium. Republican senators have represented a majority of America’s population for only two years in the last four decades — but Republicans have boasted Senate majorities for more than half of that period anyway. And many election forecasters expect the pro-Republican biases of the Senate and Electoral College to grow more pronounced in the years to come.

Those biases, combined with midterm elections that inherently favor the sitting president’s opposition — and a two-party system that ensures Republicans will always be the only option for “change” voters when a Democrat is in office — set a high floor beneath how far the GOP can realistically fall. One testament to this reality lies in the mounting evidence that Republicans have actually increased their support among nonwhite voters during the Trump era, even as the party has catered to white racial animus. With only two parties to choose from, socially conservative and/or disaffected nonwhite voters have proved willing to rally to the GOP banner even as Republicans have replaced their dog-whistle appeals to white grievance with foghorns. For these reasons, it is unlikely that Republicans will be consigned to the political wilderness long enough to make a break with the conservative movement thinkable.

-- Eric Levitz, "The RNC Has Made a Compelling Case for America’s Imminent Collapse," New York Magazine, August 25, 2020.

The Hellscape That Is Facebook

Scott Galloway: Rick, over the last decade, I was fascinated when you were talking about media mix. If you had a hundred bucks to spend on media, how has that mix changed in terms of where you spend that money? And if you could only go with one platform or channel to spend money, what would that be?

[Rick] Wilson: Twenty years ago, obviously the mix was 99 to 1. Or 99.5 to …

Galloway: TV?

Wilson: For TV.

Galloway: Even direct mail?

Wilson: Direct mail as a persuasion tool has been dead for decades. Direct mail is good for raising money. And even that is dying off.

Galloway: So, it was all TV. What is it now? You got a hundred bucks. Where do you spend it?

Wilson: If I have a hundred bucks right now, I spend 30 bucks on cable, I spend 35 bucks on digital, I spend 15 on broadcast. And then I do a mix of other stuff out there, depending on the market and the audience. There are still markets in this country that are great for radio. It’s insane.

Galloway: What platform has the best tools? I think I know what the answer is going to be.

Wilson: The hellscape that is Facebook is the most meaningful tool of political manipulation ever devised in the history of all mankind.

-- "How the Lincoln Project Gets Into Trump’s Head," New York Magazine, July 21, 2020

California SB 902

This bill, which passed the state Senate by a 33-3 vote June 22, would allow cities to grant by-right zoning approval for up to ten units in transit- and job-rich areas.

The bill is now headed to the Assembly for review.

In short, SB 902 would permit, but not require, local governments to implement zoning ordinances to permit housing projects of up to 10 units without CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) review, if the housing is located in a transit- or jobs-rich area or in an urban infill site.

San Francisco-based State Senator Scott Wiener says that this bill “provides cities with a powerful new tool to quickly re-zone for increased density.”

The bill was introduced following the Senate defeat of Wiener’s SB 50, a controversial housing production bill that would have preempted local control of zoning.

“If SB 902 becomes law, it would be among the most powerful tools cities have to increase the number of affordable homes in our cities,” read a June 23 statement from advocacy group California YIMBY celebrating the bill’s victory in the Senate.

-- Larchmont Chronicle, July 1, 2020

Sen. Wiener Takes another Shot at Upzoning State's Single-Family Landscape (San Francisco Business Times, June 23, 2020)

YIMBY California's priority policy and legislation for 2020