Concluding Thoughts on the Sacred

Looking at the grand scope of our human existence, I believe, as Martin Luther King Jr. did, that we have a sacred duty to look after our neighbors.  As he wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”[1]  It isn’t simply enough to be concerned only with one’s own wellbeing, assuming that each person will be able to take care of him or herself and each has a support network sufficient to his or her needs. 

The idea of this kind of interconnectedness is a thought echoed throughout Albert Camus’ The Plague.  For example, after Cottard attempted to hang himself, Rieux suggested that “somebody should watch Cottard tonight” to which Grand volunteered saying that “I can’t say that I really know him, but one’s got to help a neighbor, hasn’t one?”[2] Later in the work, the narrator continues this thought remarking that “They fancied themselves free, and no one will ever be free so long as there are pestilences.”[3]  It is important to note here that he isn’t saying that freedom is absent when one is suffering from illness or if one’s house is afflicted but rather it is a call that a plague anywhere, whether it impacts us directly or not, is a threat to everyone as it has the potential to disrupt and destroy the entire fabric of humanity.

Continuing with The Plague, the author makes some important statements regarding organized religion.  While the plague ravages the city of Oran, many people who are not normally churchgoing folks turn to religion in the hopes that doing so might provide some relief for their condition.[4]  While in attendance, they find Father Paneloux who makes the claim that “Calamity has come on you, my brethren, and my brethren, you deserved it.”[5]  The priest’s line of thinking is similar to what one can find in the book of Proverbs.  As wisdom declares in Proverbs 1:30, “They rejected my advice and paid no attention when I corrected them.  That is why they must eat the bitter fruit of living their own way.  They must experience the full terror of the path they have chosen.”[6]  We can find a similar pronouncement in Ezekiel 18:20, “Righteous people will be rewarded for their own goodness, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness.”[7]  However, interest in religion faded as, the author tells us, “once these people realized their instant peril, they gave their thoughts to pleasure.”[8] 

As the plague continued to ravage the city, Paneloux had a change of heart, urging his fellow citizens not to attempt to flee or surrender to the plague, but that each had a duty to fight for the betterment of all.  “Each one of us must be the one who stays!”[9]  Nevertheless, the priest continued in many of his old ways, refusing to see a doctor despite growing increasingly ill.  While Father Paneloux lay dying in the hospital, Doctor Rieux offered to stay with him to which the priest replied, “Thanks.  But priests can have no friends.”[10]  When the priest was found dead the next morning, based upon his earlier proclamations should the other characters have declared that the priest got what was coming to him?  That his death was good, a just punishment for his sins, in the same way that the priest once thought the plague was a punishment for the people of the city?  I should hope not.

If a person is suffering does that necessarily mean he or she deserves it, that he or she is experiencing a kind of divine karmic retribution?  To answer this question, I believe it is important to turn to the Book of Job.  Yes, it is possible that, like the destruction of the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah[11], the plague came to punish the people for their sins, but it is difficult to make such a claim definitively.  Job’s friends tell Job that he ought to repent of his sins, but as God says in Job 1:8, “‘Have you noticed my servant Job?  He is the finest man in all the earth-a man of complete integrity.  He fears God and will have nothing to do with evil.’”[12]  Did Job deserve all of the calamity heaped upon him?  The Bible indicates that he did not.  From Job 42:7, “After the LORD had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘I am angry with you and with your two friends, for you have not been right in what you said about me, as my servant Job was.’”[13]  Moving to the New Testament, we find Jesus reject this line of thinking that suffering necessarily must be a sign of punishment for one’s sins.  From John 9:1-3, “As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth.  ‘Teacher,’ his disciples asked him, ‘why was this man born blind?  Was it a result of his own sins or those of his parents?’  ‘It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,’ Jesus answered.  ‘He was born blind so the power of God could be seen in him.’”[14]

I believe it is nearly impossible for us to know if a person’s suffering is a result of his or her sins or rather an injustice inflicted upon him or her.  Furthermore, returning to the idea of helping those beside one’s friends, we must reject the argument of Polemarchus when, in Plato’s Republic, he declares that justice consists of helping our friends and hurting our enemies.[15] Instead, we ought to think like Dietrich Bonhoeffer when he wrote that Jesus “comes in the form of the beggar, of the dissolute human child in ragged clothes, asking for help.  He confronts you in every person that you meet.”[16]  Whether we like it or not, we have “a collective destiny”.[17]  Therefore, we ought to strive to erase injustice, regardless of whether it impacts us directly and whether it is for the sake of our friends or strangers.  That calling is part of our sacred duty and although it promises to be a never-ending struggle, it is a battle worth fighting.

…the tale he had to tell could not be one of a final victory.  It could be only the record of what had to be done, and what assuredly would have to be done again in the never ending fight against terror and its relentless onslaughts, despite their personal afflictions, by all who, while unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their utmost to be healers.[18]

[1] King, Martin Luther. Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]. (December 13, 2019).

[2] Camus, Albert. 1991. The Plague. New York, NY: Vintage International. 20.

[3] Ibid. 37.

[4] Ibid. 93.

[5] Ibid. 94.

[6] Holy Bible: New Living Translation. 1996. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers. 662.

[7] Ibid 836.

[8] Camus, Albert. 1991. The Plague. New York, NY: Vintage International. 121.

[9] Ibid. 227.

[10] Ibid. 233.

[11] Holy Bible: New Living Translation. 1996. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers. 18-19.

[12] Ibid.  539.

[13] Ibid. 564.

[14] Ibid. 1077.

[15] Jeffrey, Andrew. 1979. “Polemarchus and Socrates on Justice and Harm.” Phronesis 24(1): 56.

[16]  Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 2012. God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. 2.

[17] Camus, Albert. 1991. The Plague. New York, NY: Vintage International. 167.

[18] Ibid. 308.

The Sacred Revisited

In a previous essay, I explored the idea of what is sacred to me and my world.  In that work, I listed a multitude of tangible and intangible things that I consider sacred including religious texts and places of worship as well as concepts such as honor and duty.  Since that time, I have examined a number of political theologians and, based upon some of their thoughts, they have provided additional resources to expand upon my earlier writing. 

First, although quite a few others in class mentioned the idea of the sacred nature of friends and family, I’d like to take a moment to comment on the concept.  I intentionally excluded family because I have found that other than serving as a blood tie, a relative does not necessarily imply any sort of special relationship.  For example, when I ran for city council back in 2014, I erroneously assumed that many of my relatives would provide some sort of assistance to my campaign.  As it turns out, despite a direct plea at a family reunion, only my parents, one uncle, and a single cousin answered my call.  I had much better luck in seeking assistance from my friends, but even then, it was a bitter moment when I stumbled upon one of my friends who was campaigning for one of my opponents.  If a person wants to know what others actually think of him, running for office is a way to achieve this outcome.  Nevertheless, I would argue that quality relationships whether familial or those of friendship as Simone Weil mentions are critical to the emotional and spiritual wellbeing of every individual.  While studying at West Virginia University, I helped forge and enjoyed a strong network among my fellow graduate students and professors.  Leaving those bonds of kinship was the only difficult aspect of saying goodbye to Morgantown.  I assumed that I would find a similar situation while at Louisiana State University, but it was not the case.  Most students kept to themselves, especially those in the upper classes and as my incoming cohort was only half of the size of those at West Virginia University, there were far fewer opportunities to build these critical social bonds.  I only ended up with close ties to one student, a fellow named Phillip who somewhat surprisingly accepted my invitation to church and joined me at services every other Sunday.  I found that being removed from this web of interactions makes daily life far more stressful and I am looking forward to seeing my compatriots again when I return to Morgantown for a few days in about a week’s time.

Never having read Catholic writings, I found the ideas presented in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum to be particularly interesting and I agree with much of the theology found within.  We as a society have begun to view our relationships, especially as it relates to employment solely in terms of economic transactions.  Now it should be obvious that the main purpose of employment is to earn a wage so that the laborer can provide for him or herself as well as those within his or her care.  “When a man engages in remunerative labor, the impelling reason and motive for his work is to obtain property, and thereafter to hold it as his very own.”[1] Nevertheless, the laborer should not be viewed as a replaceable cog in the machinery of the business, used heavily until he or she has become worn out, with the management replacing him or her with another fresh piece so that the cycle might continue.  But, at the same time, the employee ought to maintain a certain pride in his or her labor, no matter the work performed. 

To draw upon my recent employment at the Manship Research Facility, I confess that I did not enjoy my work.  I felt deceived as I was under the impression that I would be working as a teaching assistant for one or more professors in the political science department as I had done at WVU, work that would help prepare me for the time when I would teach classes of my own.  “Such men feel in most cases that they have been fooled by empty promises and deceived by false pretexts.”[2] Although I started my work with a level of resentment, I nevertheless felt it was my duty to perform the tasks that my employers requested.  That means showing up on time, prepared the best one can, doing quality work, and trying to display a positive attitude.  Even though it was not one of my listed duties, what I felt was my most important task was to provide encouragement and support for the callers at the facility.  Harkening back to my own experiences, shortly after graduating, I worked for a year as a political pollster. Although the work itself was demoralizing, the fact that some supervisors treated the employees with a level of disdain and contempt made the situation far more difficult.  Therefore, I strove while employed as a polling supervisor, in whatever way I could to try and boost the morale of the workers.  As Pope Leo XIII stated, “to misuse men as though they were things in the pursuit of gain, or to value them solely for their physical powers – that is truly shameful and inhuman.”[3]

American politics are not in a healthy state and seem to be growing ever more troubled as party polarization continues to expand.  What, therefore, is one’s sacred duty to the state?  Some Christians point to the book of Romans for an answer.  “Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there.  All governments have been placed in power by God.  So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow.”[4]  But, should we support the government even when it is conducting wicked acts?  After all, returning to the Bible we find that the prophet Elijah did not obey King Ahab when the ruler went against the faith and David did not unquestioningly obey Saul even though Saul was God’s anointed leader.  So how should we respond when a state violates our moral foundations?  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “there are thus three possibilities for action that the church can take vis-á-vis the state: first…questioning the state as to the legitimate state character of its actions…second is service to the victims of the state’s actions…the third possibility is not just to bind up the wounds of the victims beneath the wheel but to seize the wheel itself”.[5]  I was surprised to discover that John Calvin agreed with Bonhoeffer, that there are indeed times in which citizens ought to disobey their government.  As he wrote, “for earthly princes lay aside all their power when they rise up against God, and are unworthy of being reckoned in the number of mankind.  We ought rather utterly to defy than to obey them whenever they are so restive and wish to spoil God of his rights, and, as it were, to seize upon his throne and draw him down from heaven.”[6]  It is curious to compare what the Franklin Graham said several days ago, calling the effort to remove the President of the United States as being led by an “almost a demonic power”.[7]  I believe that we have a duty to speak out against our government when it violates morality regardless of which party in power is committing these acts.  The outrages include drone strikes against innocent civilians, separating families and caging people at the border, and indefinitely detaining individuals without a trial or even legal representation.

As evidenced by this essay and the earlier one on the same topic, the concept of the sacred is an important facet of my person both in terms of physical items and concepts.   It is not simply enough to live an honest life, but also to strive for honest, meaningful relationships, promote a strong work ethic, and to be mindful of avoiding applying the sacred to states or political leaders.   Yes, it is more to avoid doing the wrong thing, but as the Book of James reminds us, “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”[8] Defending that which we consider sacred isn’t always comfortable, and can lead us into danger, but it is imperative for us to do so in order to promote the just and moral world we wish to leave to future generations.

[1] Leo XIII “Rerum Novarum.” The Holy See, 15 May 1891. Section 5.

[2] Ibid. Section 61.

[3] Ibid. Section 20.

[4] Holy Bible: New Living Translation. 1996. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers. 1149.

[5] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich et al. 2009. Berlin 1932-1933. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. 365.

[6] Calvin, John. 1853. Commentaries On The Book Of The Prophet Daniel. Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society. 382.

[7] Parker, Alex. 2019. “Reverend Franklin Graham: The Democrats’ Drive to Impeach the President Is ‘Demonic’.” RedState. (November 24, 2019).

[8] Holy Bible: New Living Translation. 1996. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers. 1246.

Ballot Access Laws and the Effective Number of Political Parties

Many years ago, political scientists faced a dilemma.  How does one measure the effective number of political parties in a legislature?  While I was in Münster researching the political system of West Germany, I found that some authors declared that the country had a two-and-a-half party system.[1] [2] Why would they classify it as such?  Looking at it objectively, ever since the creation of the state after WWII, the nation had two large parties (The CDU/CSU and the SPD) which alternated control of the chancellorship and one smaller party (The FDP) which usually formed a coalition with one of the two larger parties so that the government enjoyed a majority of support in the Bundestag.  Although there were a few other minor parties in the legislature in the early days of the nation, they fell away after the 1961 general election due, in part, to the five percent national vote threshold designed to prevent parties representing fringe ideologies gaining a toehold in the legislature and then building their powerbase from that point.[3]  In the case of West Germany, the measure of a two-and-a-half party system makes sense objectively.  But, what about cases which aren’t so easy to identify, where legislatures include a multitude of parties each with varying levels of strength?  How would we define them? 

One of the first answers to this question came from Blondel in 1968.  He classified countries based upon the disparity in strength (or seats) between the two largest political parties in the legislature.  If, on average, the two largest parties had similar strength, he declared them to be two-party systems.  Examples include the United States and the U.K.  When one political party in a legislature tended to dominate over its rival, such as the CDU-CSU’s success as compared to the SPD, then they were two-and-a-half party systems.  Examples here include Germany and Canada.[4] Although a useful guide, Blondel’s system isn’t particularly precise and ignores the presence or absence of smaller parties.  For example, although it hasn’t wielded power in about a century, the Liberal Party continued to hold a handful of seats in the British Parliament while during the same time period the United States House of Representatives did not have a third party represented.  Given this difference, would it be fair then to classify them in the same category?  

Another, far more well-known, solution to define party systems came in 1979 from an article by Markku Laakso and Rein Taagepera.  In their piece, they sought to explore whether increasing the number of effective political parties in a legislature would correlate to high levels of political instability.  Therefore, they developed a formula, N=1/(Sni=1pi2), where N equals the effective number of political parties and pi2 is the square of each party’s proportion of seats in the legislature.[5] 

One of their first critics, Molinar, devised his own method claiming that if the largest party wins 49% of the seats, then it distorts the number of effective political parties proposed by Laakso and Taagepera.[6]  More recently, Golosov created his own formula, similar to the Laakso-Taagepera index, based on his opinion that the previous method creates “unrealistically high scores for party constellations in which the shares of the largest parties exceed 50 percent”.[7]  However, regardless of which method is correct, political scientists have adopted some form of an index such as Laakso-Taagepera or a variation thereof as a measure to determine the effective number of political parties in a legislative body.  As far as I’ve determined, the Laakso-Taagepera index is the most common and Shugart and Taagepera state in a later work, “This index was first proposed by Laakso and Taagepara (1979).  It has become the industry standard…even as various others have been proposed and used by some scholars.”[8]  Other notable political scientists agree.  “Such an index was developed by Markku Laakso and Rein Taagepara (1979), and it is now the index most commonly used by comparativists in political science.”[9]

There are a multitude of factors which can influence the numbers of effective political parties in a legislature besides the formula calculation.  One important consideration is the allocation of seats through district magnitude.  According to Duverger’s law, “the simple majority single-ballot system favors the two-party system.”[10]  Furthermore, Duverger’s hypothesis states that “the simple-majority system with second ballot and proportional representation favors multi-partyism.”[11]  That’s not to say that all political scientists agree with this “law”.  Some have argued that Duverger “mistook the direction of causality”[12] while others make the claim that “he focused on an unimportant variable…party systems are determined primarily by the number and type of cleavages in society, with electoral structure playing either an inconsequential, or at least a distinctly secondary and variable, role”.[13]  Thus, if one were to accept Duverger’s propositions, one could conclude that legislatures which are completely comprised of districts with a magnitude of one ought to result in number of effective political parties which is no greater than two while increasing the magnitude creates an effective number of parties which is typically equal to the number of seats in the district plus one.[14]  However, there is a growing body of research which disputes this finding such as Benoit[15] and Eggers & Fouirnaies. [16] 

As compared to Lijphart’s first edition of Patterns of Democracy, in the second edition he points to Barbados as an example of a country comprised of single member districts which results in a two-party system.[17]  However, in the island nation’s most recent election, which took place in 2018, the Barbados Labour party won every seat in the legislature.[18] One wonders if, despite this outcome, he would still classify Barbados as a two-party system or even as a democracy any longer.{\displaystyle N={\frac {1}{\sum _{i=1}^{n}p_{i}^{2}}}} N=NNNNN

According to research I have found thus far, there doesn’t seem to be much attention paid to ballot access laws in countries other than the United States.  For example, in order to stand as an independent candidate in England or Wales, a person only needs to fill out the requisite paperwork with The Electoral Commission at least nineteen days before the election and also submit the signatures of ten registered electors from the constituency. [19]  Registering a new political party in England or Wales is fairly straightforward.  They require “your completed application form, a copy of your party’s constitution, a copy of your party’s financial scheme that has been adopted by the party, and a non-refundable application fee of £ 150.[20]  In the general elections, the UK elects their MPs in single-member districts; in the 2017 contest, twenty-three political parties ran candidates with nine of them winning seats in the House of Commons.[21]

Similarly, in the mixed-member electoral system of Germany, a newly created political party only needs to submit documents signed by three members of the party’s national executive committee.  The documents required consist of the party’s platform and a list of any local branches which are associated with it.[22]  Germany explains why it is easy for new political parties to contest elections in their Political Parties Act which states:

Political parties form a constitutionally integral part of a free and democratic system of government.  Their free and continuous participation in the formation of the political will of the people enables them to discharge the public tasks which are incumbent upon them pursuant to the Basic Law (Grundgesetz) and which they undertake to fulfill to the best of their ability.[23]

The UK’s and Germany’s low barriers to political entry are symbolic of a healthy democratic system, where parties can form and contest elections with minimal effort.  These rules help explain the rapid formation and rise of the Brexit Party which was launched in April of 2019, won more seats than any other party in the May 2019 European Parliament elections, and now plans to have its candidates stand in the December 2019 general elections.[24]  Echoing a similar thought to the Germans, in An Economic Theory of Democracy, Downs identifies eight conditions under which a political system should operate in order to be considered democratic.  For our purposes, point seven is of particular interest.  “The party in power never attempts to restrict the political activities of other parties as long as they make no attempt to overthrow the government by force.”[25]

In general, the United States doesn’t hold to a philosophy supporting robust political competition.  In the U.S., there are a myriad of different requirements and regulations as there are no federal rules, each state creates its own election laws.  When it comes to Congressional elections a few states, such as Florida, do not require third-party and independent candidates to collect signatures from voters for ballot access while others, such as Georgia, require over 50,000 signatures.[26]  Why do we observe this phenomenon?  “The coalition of incumbents uses barriers to entry to place challengers at a competitive disadvantage which frees incumbents from having to strictly follow the desires of voters.”[27]  This squelching of democratic competition by the two major parties have led some to declare ballot access laws as “collusion in restraint of democracy.”[28]

For much of America’s history, there were no ballot access requirements.  “There were no ballot access laws in the U.S. before 1888, because there were no government-printed ballots before 1888.”[29] However, starting in 1929, states began to implement ballot access laws as a way to prevent the Communist Party from gaining power.[30]  Prior to this time, third parties performed reasonably well in state elections and even won seats in Congress.[31]  As Winger concludes, “In a normal two-party system, there are still significant third parties…Because of today’s strict ballot access laws, there have not been any substantial nationwide third parties in the U.S. in many decades.”[32]  This lack of competition outside of the two major parties may have disastrous repercussions for the United States as more and more Americans disaffiliate with both parties. 

Our results regarding the deteriorating effects of repeated losing on attitudes toward government suggest that long periods without alternation in power lead to progressively less positive views of the political system among those on the losing side and may well produce a breeding ground for significant change in the political system. [33]

So far in my research, I have yet to find a paper which contrasts the ballot access laws of a state with the effective number of political parties which are represented in that state’s legislature.  Although I have not discovered ballot access laws which act as a meaningful barrier to electoral competition outside of the United States, the idea requires further investigation.  Looking at the various members of the EU regarding the requirements for the formation of new political parties, Belgium has no thresholds, Bulgaria requires only fifty signatures to form a new party, the Czech Republic requires 1,000 signatures for a new party, Demark has a higher threshold for party formation of 19,769 as of 2007, in Estonia a party needs at least 1,000 members, in Ireland, a party simply needs to register without any signature or member requirements, the same holds true in Spain, France, Cyprus, and Austria, Italy requires a monetary deposit and a varying threshold for signatures, Latvia requires at least 200 party members, Lithuania 400 members,  the Netherlands requires a deposit of €450, Poland asks for 1000 signatures, Portugal 7,500, Romania and Slovakia 10,000, Finland 5,000, Sweden 1,500, and Slovenia 200.  The requirements for Hungary are unknown.[34]  All of these conditions in EU countries for ballot access are much easier than the combined requirements of all of the United States.  Given that there doesn’t seem to be any research comparing the differences between these countries, it would be a fruitful endeavor to examine in greater detail.  In addition, there are still other democratic nations to explore such as current and former members of the British Commonwealth, Latin America, and Asia. 

My theory is that the two are related and as ballot access laws become more difficult, especially when it comes to the number of voter signatures a third party or independent candidate needs to collect one in order to be listed on the ballot, one should expect to find a corresponding decline in the effective number of parties.  By contrast, as ballot laws become less restrictive, not only should the number of third party and independent candidates in a given election increase but also the number of parties represented in the legislature should go up as well.  I found evidence for this idea in my previous research regarding changes in signature requirements to the West Virginia General Assembly.[35]  Drometer & Rincke report similar results after Ohio’s ballot access law was struck down by the courts.[36]  Bolstering my findings further, Burden has found that “ballot regulations primarily affect the number of candidates on the ballot but not their vote totals.”[37]  If vote totals for third party candidates are independent of ballot access laws, but fewer restrictions lead to more choices, that increase should also lead to higher numbers of effective political parties as defined by the Laakso-Taagepera index or any sort of related measure. 


Anderson, Christopher et al. 2007. Losers Consent: Elections and Democratic Legitimacy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Barbados General Election Results 2018. (November 12, 2019).

Benoit, Kenneth. 2001. “District Magnitude, Electoral Formula, and the Number of Parties.” European Journal of Political Research39(2): 203–24.

Blondel, J. 1968. “Party Systems and Patterns of Government in Western Democracies.” Canadian Journal of Political Science1(2): 180–203.

Burden, Barry C. 2007. “Ballot Regulations and Multiparty Politics in the States.” PS: Political Science & Politics 40(04): 673.

Cox, Gary W. 2007. Making Votes Count: Strategic Coordination in the Worlds Electoral Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. 15.

Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Eggers, Andrew C., and Alexander B. Fouirnaies. 2014. “Representation and District Magnitude in Plurality Systems.” Electoral Studies33: 267–77.

Guidance for Candidates and Agents: Part 2a of 6 – Standing as an Independent Candidate. 2018. Guidance for candidates and agents: Part 2a of 6 – Standing as an independent candidate London: Electoral Commission.

Golosov, Grigorii V. 2009. “The Effective Number of Parties.” Party Politics 16(2): 171.

Hall, Oliver. 2005. “Death by a Thousand Signatures: The Rise of Restrictive Ballot Access Laws and the Decline of Electoral Competition in the United States.” Seattle University Law Review 29(2): 408.

Holcombe, Randall G. 1991. “Barriers to Entry and Political Competition.” Journal of Theoretical Politics 3(2): 231.

“Home.” The Brexit Party. (November 13, 2019).

Huffman, Joshua. 2019. “Ballot Access Laws and the Two-Party System.” The Virginia Conservative. (November 10, 2019).

Introduction to Registering a Political Party. Introduction to registering a political party London: Electoral Commission.

Laakso, Markku, and Rein Taagepera. 1979. “‘Effective’ Number of Parties: A Measure With Application to Western Europe.” Comparative Political Studies 12(1): 3–27.

Lijphart, Arend. 1999. Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Lijphart, Arend. 2014. Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries.  New Haven: Yale University Press.

Molinar, Juan. 1991. “Counting the Number of Parties: An Alternative Index.” American Political Science Review85(4): 1384.

Pilet, Jean-Benoit, and Emilie van. Haute. 2012. Criteria, conditions, and procedures for establishing a political party in the Member States of the European Union Criteria, Conditions, and Procedures for Establishing a Political Party in the Member States of the European Union. Luxembourg: Publications Office.

“Political Parties Act.” German Law Archive. (November 13, 2019).

Riker, William H. 1982. “The Two-Party System and Duvergers Law: An Essay on the History of Political Science.” The American Political Science Review76(4): 754.

Rincke, Johannes, and Marcus Drometer. 2008. “The Impact of Ballot Access Restrictions on Electoral Competition: Evidence from a Natural Experiment.” SSRN Electronic Journal.

“Results of the 2017 General Election.” BBC News. (November 13, 2019).

Schönberger, Christoph. 2013. “In Praise of the Five-Percent Hurdle.” Verfassungsblog. (November 10, 2019).

Schoonmaker, Donald. 1988. “The Changing Party Scene in West Germany and the Consequences for Stable Democracy.” The Review of Politics 50(1): 49–70.

Shugart, Matthew Soberg, and Rein Taagepera. 2017. Votes from Seats: Logical Models of Electoral Systems. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Siaroff, Alan. 2003. “Two-and-a-Half-Party Systems and the Comparative Role of the `Half.” Party Politics 9(3): 267.

Taagepera, Rein, and Bernard Grofman. 2006. “Rethinking Duvergers Law: Predicting the Effective Number of Parties in Plurality and PR Systems – Parties Minus Issues Equals One*.” European Journal of Political Research13(4): 341–52.

Winger, Richard. 1996. “How Ballot Access Laws Affect the U.S. Party System.” American Review of Politics 16.

Winger, Richard. 2019. Ballot Access News. (November 13, 2019).

[1] Siaroff, Alan. 2003. “Two-and-a-Half-Party Systems and the Comparative Role of the `Half.” Party Politics 9(3): 267.

[2] Schoonmaker, Donald. 1988. “The Changing Party Scene in West Germany and the Consequences for Stable Democracy.” The Review of Politics 50(1): 49–70.

[3] Schönberger, Christoph. 2013. “In Praise of the Five-Percent Hurdle.” Verfassungsblog. (November 10, 2019).

[4] Blondel, J. 1968. “Party Systems and Patterns of Government in Western Democracies.” Canadian Journal of Political Science1(2): 180–203.

[5] Laakso, Markku, and Rein Taagepera. 1979. “‘Effective’ Number of Parties: A Measure With Application to Western Europe.” Comparative Political Studies 12(1): 3–27.

[6] Molinar, Juan. 1991. “Counting the Number of Parties: An Alternative Index.” American Political Science Review85(4): 1384.

[7] Golosov, Grigorii V. 2009. “The Effective Number of Parties.” Party Politics 16(2): 171.

[8] Shugart, Matthew Soberg, and Rein Taagepera. 2017. Votes from Seats: Logical Models of Electoral Systems. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press. 63.

[9] Lijphart, Arend. 2014. Patterns of Democracy. Cumberland: Yale University Press. 66.

[10] Riker, William H. 1982. “The Two-Party System and Duvergers Law: An Essay on the History of Political Science.” The American Political Science Review76(4): 754.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Cox, Gary W. 2007. Making Votes Count: Strategic Coordination in the Worlds Electoral Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. 15.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Taagepera, Rein, and Bernard Grofman. 2006. “Rethinking Duvergers Law: Predicting the Effective Number of Parties in Plurality and PR Systems – Parties Minus Issues Equals One*.” European Journal of Political Research13(4): 341–52.

[15] Benoit, Kenneth. 2001. “District Magnitude, Electoral Formula, and the Number of Parties.” European Journal of Political Research39(2): 203–24.

[16] Eggers, Andrew C., and Alexander B. Fouirnaies. 2014. “Representation and District Magnitude in Plurality Systems.” Electoral Studies33: 267–77.

[17] Lijphart, Arend. 2014. Patterns of Democracy. Cumberland: Yale University Press.

[18] Barbados General Election Results 2018. (November 12, 2019).

[19] Guidance for Candidates and Agents: Part 2a of 6 – Standing as an Independent Candidate. 2018. Guidance for candidates and agents: Part 2a of 6 – Standing as an independent candidate London: Electoral Commission.

[20] Introduction to Registering a Political Party. Introduction to registering a political party London: Electoral Commission.

[21] “Results of the 2017 General Election.” BBC News. (November 13, 2019).

[22] Pilet, Jean-Benoit, and Emilie van. Haute. 2012. Criteria, conditions, and procedures for establishing a political party in the Member States of the European Union Criteria, Conditions, and Procedures for Establishing a Political Party in the Member States of the European Union. Luxembourg: Publications Office. 24-25.

[23] “Political Parties Act.” German Law Archive. (November 13, 2019).

[24] “Home.” The Brexit Party. (November 13, 2019).

[25] Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York, NY: Harper & Row. 24.

[26] Winger, Richard. 2019. Ballot Access News. (November 13, 2019).

[27] Holcombe, Randall G. 1991. “Barriers to Entry and Political Competition.” Journal of Theoretical Politics 3(2): 231.

[28] Hall, Oliver. 2005. “Death by a Thousand Signatures: The Rise of Restrictive Ballot Access Laws and the Decline of Electoral Competition in the United States.” Seattle University Law Review 29(2): 408.

[29] Winger, Richard. 1996. “How Ballot Access Laws Affect the U.S. Party System.” American Review of Politics 16: 321.

[30] Ibid. 328.

[31] Ibid. 323.

[32] Ibid. 346.

[33] Anderson, Christopher et al. 2007. Losers Consent: Elections and Democratic Legitimacy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 187.

[34] Pilet, Jean-Benoit, and Emilie van. Haute. 2012. Criteria, conditions, and procedures for establishing a political party in the Member States of the European Union Criteria, Conditions, and Procedures for Establishing a Political Party in the Member States of the European Union. Luxembourg: Publications Office.

[35] Huffman, Joshua. 2019. “Ballot Access Laws and the Two-Party System.” The Virginia Conservative.

Ballot Access Laws and the Two-Party System
(November 10, 2019).

[36] Rincke, Johannes, and Marcus Drometer. 2008. “The Impact of Ballot Access Restrictions on Electoral Competition: Evidence from a Natural Experiment.” SSRN Electronic Journal.

[37] Burden, Barry C. 2007. “Ballot Regulations and Multiparty Politics in the States.” PS: Political Science & Politics 40(04): 673.

Virginia In Chains

At the beginning of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract, the author makes the provocative statement that “man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains”.[1]  Although some theorists argue that we ought not take Rousseau’s idea of chains literally, but rather as the ties that bind us together in society, [2] when considering politics in the state of Virginia, one can find political activists and politicians weighed down considerably by the demands of their political associations. 

Unlike most other states in the country, the two, state recognized, political parties in Virginia often dictate that citizens of the Commonwealth pledge loyalty to the party as a precondition for participation.  For example, during the 2016 Republican Party presidential primary, the Republican Party intended to make primary voters sign a document pledging to support whoever won their party’s nomination in the general election that followed.  However, under public pressure they ended up scrapping this plan.[3]  Nevertheless, the party continues to maintain its right to use such requirements and declares that anyone who violates this legally unenforceable oath “shall not be qualified for participation in party actions as defined in Article I for a period of four (4) years.” [4]

It isn’t merely the GOP who uses loyal oaths; the Democratic Party employs them as well.  Perhaps the most well-known rejection of these tactics comes from former Democratic U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd Jr.  He considered loyalty oaths intolerable and ended up leaving his party and declaring himself an independent when he was pressed to pledge support for the 1972 Democratic Presidential candidate without first knowing who he or she was and what principles he or she advocated.  “‘The course I am taking is an uncharted one,’ Byrd said in announcing his decision on statewide television on March 17, 1970. ‘But I would rather be a free man than a captive senator.’”[5]

According to my understanding of Rousseau, I believe he would approve of Byrd’s actions arguing that this kind of loyalty oath to a political party would be corrupt given that one side demands unquestioned loyalty to itself without offering anything in return except for the pittance of participation in a process which the state forces each taxpayer to fund.  As Rousseau explains, “to say a man gives himself for nothing is an absurd and incomprehensible statement; such an action is illegitimate and void”[6]  He goes on to add that “Whether made by one man addressing another, or by a man addressing a nation, this statement will be equally senseless: ‘I make a covenant between us which is entirely for my good, which I will observe as long as I please, and which you will observe as long as I please” [7] 

In the Old Dominion, a person may begin his or her political life free but, perhaps even without realizing it, soon find him or herself chained to a political party, a party which ironically declares itself as a party promoting liberty.

[1] Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1994. The Social Contract. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 45.

[2] Kaplan, Joshua. 2006. Codes of Power: Political Thought from Plato’s Cave to Game Theory.

[3] Vozzella, Laura, and Antonio Olivo. 2016. “Virginia GOP Drops Plan for Loyalty Pledge, but Maybe Too Late for Some Voters.” The Washington Post. (October 8, 2019).

[4] “MEMBER RESOURCES.” Republican Party of Virginia. (October 8, 2019).

[5] Schapiro, Jeff E., and Richmond Times-Dispatch. 2013. “Byrd Shaped Politics in Va. for Many Years.” Roanoke Times. (October 8, 2019).

[6] Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1994. The Social Contract. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 50.

[7] Ibid. 53.

Predicting Congressional Support for the President in the Years of The Donald

Written 4/25/2019

On March 14th of 2019, The United States Senate voted against President Trump who had earlier declared a national emergency on the U.S./Mexico border in an attempt to redirect federal appropriations toward the building of a southern border wall.  The vote was 59 to 41 and included every Democratic member of the body along with 12 Republicans. (Cochrane & Thrush 2019).  The previous day, the Senate voted against another one of the President’s stated positions, this time in an effort to stop U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia in their ongoing conflict with Yemen.  Here the vote was 54 to 46 with 7 Republicans joining all of their Democratic colleagues.  (Sanders 2019).  This Yemen bill had previously passed the Senate in December of 2018, but it never came before the House due to opposition by then-Speaker Paul Ryan (Detrow 2018).  When comparing the lists of individual Senators who opposed the president’s wishes in the recent votes, one finds complete overlap of Democratic Senators, but also some commonalities in the list of Republicans.  They are Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Susan Collins of Maine, and Mike Lee of Utah (Edmondson 2019 & Pramuk 2019).

Although these two high-profile cases may not be representative of Congressional support for the president in the aggregate, it does raise an important question.  How can one go about creating a model which accurately predicts Congressional vote support for the president?

Trump Vote Percentages in the 2016 Elections

Earlier in 2019, I found an ongoing project on Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website which tracks how often individual members of Congress support President Donald Trump’s position on legislation.  The website uses only a few variables.  They are: how often a senator or representative votes the same way as the president would prefer, Trump’s two-party vote share in the 2016 elections in a given state or Congressional district, how often a member of Congress is predicted to vote with the president using this 2016 electoral data, and lastly the margin between the actual vote percentage and the one anticipated using this one variable.  Why would a researcher consider this model?  “Legislators who face a choice between supporting the government (and their parties) or the specific interests of their constituencies will tend to prefer the latter because, in so doing, they maximize their chances of re-election without imposing any costs on the government” (Cheibub 2009, 120).   Furthermore, “if voters connect their votes in executive and legislative elections, the legislators will have incentives to support the executive on some key votes” (Cheibub 2009, 122-123).  Thus, as the argument goes, a legislator should support or oppose the president through his or her votes in Congress in roughly equivalent amounts as their constituents rewarded the president with their vote in the previous election.

On the surface, it appears that this model has little predictive power.  For example, as of March 15th, 2019, only 16 of the 100 Senators presently serving have actual Trump vote scores which are within 2.5% of their predicted scores.  Expanding to 5 points either above or below still encompasses only 36 senators, with a majority still lying outside of this range.  The largest differences are Senator Rick Scott (R-FL) who has a Trump support score which is 55.1 points higher than predicted and Senator John Tester (D-MT) whose Trump support score is 49.6 points lower than predicted.  In the House of Representatives, the margins are even greater.  While 136 of the 432 current members are within this 2.5-point range, at the extremes one can find Rep. David Valadao (R-CA-21) at 59.1 points higher than expected and Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY-22) at 74.9 points lower than predicted. (Bycoffe 2019).  Given the significant variation and the fact that over 66% of Congressional legislators fall more than 2.5 points outside of their expected values, one might make the claim that, by itself, the 2016 vote margin for President Trump is a poor predictor for levels of Congressional support.

However, if we consider our earlier list of Republican Senators, we find that four of the five of them, Murkowski, Lee, Collins, and Paul, are clustered toward the bottom of Republicans when it comes to how often their votes lineup with President Trump’s positions. 

The Importance of Partisanship and Polarization

It seems obvious that partisanship is a key defining factor in all aspects of American political behavior in the present day.  It would be easy to say that Congressional support for the president is driven first and foremost by partisan considerations and if this were the sole consideration of this paper, it would add nothing to the existing literature. [1] After all, just a cursory glance of the support score data provides ample evidence.  In the U.S. Senate, even the Republican who has the lowest support score for President Trump, newly elected Mitt Romney of Utah, has a higher support score of 70% than any Democratic senator currently serving in that body.  His closest cross-party competitor is, not surprisingly, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia at 58.5%.  Perhaps coming as a shock though, Senator Romney supported the president on both of these high-profile rebukes mentioned in the previous section of this paper.  Likewise, in the House of Representatives of the current serving members, Justin Amash from the 3rd district of Michigan has the lowest current support score for his party’s president among Republicans at 60%.  Nevertheless, Amash’s support score is still higher than every single Democratic member of the House (Bycoffe 2019).

However, this clean party break is a fairly recent phenomenon.  For example, looking back at support scores for President Obama during the 2009 and 2010 sessions reveals at least some level of party crossover.  Among Republican Senators the Democratic president’s top three supporters in both years were Senators Collins of Maine, Snowe of Maine, and Voinovich of Ohio.  Only Senator Collins remains in office as the last of the New England Republicans; Voinovich retired in 2011 and Snowe retired in 2013.  Considering Democrats, in 2009 Senators Bayh of Indiana, McCaskill of Missouri, Feingold of Wisconsin, and Nelson of Nebraska expressed the greatest levels of opposition.  It should be noted Republican Collins supported the president at higher levels than the Democrat Bayh.  For 2010 Democrats with the highest levels of opposition, we find Senators Nelson again, followed by Feingold, and the Lincoln of Arkansas.  As to their fates, Bayh retired in 2011, McCaskill lost to a Republican in 2018, Feingold lost to a Republican in 2010, Nelson retired in 2013, and Lincoln was defeated in the 2010 elections (CQ Almanac. 2009 & 2010).

Moving over to the House in 2009, a multitude of Republicans supported the president to a greater extent than Democratic Representatives Taylor of Mississippi and Bright of Alabama.  Republican Representatives Cao of Louisiana and LoBiondo of New Jersey had support scores of over 66%. In 2010, both Taylor and Bright had the lowest support scores for Obama among Democrats while Republicans Cao and Representative Castle of Delaware has support scores of over 60%.  Much like the case with the Senators, Representatives Taylor, Bright, and Cao lost their reelection bids to the nominee of the opposite party.  Representative Castle ran for the Senate in 2010 and lost his party’s nomination.  Of the four partisan contrarians, only LoBiondo continued to serve in elected office after 2010 (CQ Almanac. 2009 & 2010).

When considering the average support scores for the president in the U.S. Senate, according to the 2010 CQ Almanac, here’s what we find.

Although support from the opposition party in the U.S. Senate has remained relatively stable over time, we observe a widening gulf in presidential support by party as the average level of support among the president’s fellow partisans has been increasing.

By comparison, again using data from the 2010 CQ Almanac, the disparity of support for the president in the House between his own party and the opposition has become even more pronounced.  Not only is support among the president’s own party increasing, as is the case in the U.S. Senate, but since the Carter administration, the president has been less successful at persuading opposition party members to vote for his proposals.  As Therianault finds, “since the early 1970’s, the Senate has polarized about 80 percent as much as the House” (Theriault 2008, 197).

Not only has partisanship played a role in predicting presidential support scores in the past, but partisanship is also becoming increasingly an even more important indicator as polarization in both the House and Senate expands.

While in an earlier era, it may have been possible for scholars accurately to assert that political parties were of little theoretical importance in explaining political behavior and legislative results in the House, it is certainly not true now.  Parties are consequential in shaping members’ preferences, the character of the issues on the agenda, the nature of legislative alternatives, and ultimate political outcomes, and they will remain important as long as the underlying forces that created this partisan resurgence persist (Rohde 1991, 192)


The 2016 presidential elections continued the longstanding gender gap trend in American politics.  According to the Pew Research Center, women preferred Clinton to Trump by a 12-point margin.  In addition, that election featured the largest gender gap since at least the 1972 election (Tyson et al. 2016).  That news isn’t particularly shocking, especially given the vulgar and objectifying comments Donald Trump expressed regarding women as part of the Access Hollywood tape (Transcript 2017).  The difference of attitudes between women and men regarding the president hasn’t been limited to just his election.  In mid-2018, the Cook Political Report stated that “the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds that just 39 percent of women give Trump a favorable approval rating, compared to 58 percent who disapprove of the job he’s doing.  And, among white, college-educated women…the gap is staggering-just 26 percent approve to 71 percent disapprove.”  Furthermore, during that time period, time white college women voters expressed their preference for a Democratically-controlled Congress by a 25-point margin (Walter 2018).  According to exit polls from the 2018 midterms, 59% of women cast a ballot for Democratic Congressional candidates while only 40% picked Republicans, arguably one important reason why the Democratic Party won control of the House of Representatives in November (Velencia 2018). 

Recent research has found that “eight attitudes predict Trump support: conservative identification; support for domineering leaders; fundamentalism; prejudice against immigrant, African Americans, Muslims, and women; and pessimism about the economy” (Smith & Hanley 2018, 11-12).

Considering the theory of descriptive representation advanced by Mansbridge and others (Mansbridge 1999), which advocates that in democratic systems representative legislators should not only advance the preferences of their constituents but also share other traits such as ethnicity and gender.  Presumably then, given the extreme negativity women express toward the current president as compared to men, it is reasonable to expect that female members of Congress, (along with those from immigrant families, African Americans, and Muslims) irrespective of party, ought to be less inclined to support President Trump as compared to their male counterparts. [2]

Career Politician Support for Trump

Throughout the 2016 election cycle, the Trump campaign focused its rhetoric on three issues or slogans, “Build the wall”, “Lock her up”, and “Drain the swamp” (Overby 2017).  While being sworn in in January of 2017, now President Trump continued to rail against beltway politicians.  “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have bore [sic] the cost” (Hemmingway 2017).  Therefore, one might expect that the longer a politician is in Congress, the less likely he or she would be to support the current president.  However, I would argue that the opposite is more likely the case. 

As one example, consider the rather remarkable turnaround in attitude of Senator Lindsey Graham, the three-term Senator from South Carolina who also served almost a decade in the House of Representatives.  A recent article from CNN explores this transformation. Before receiving the Republican nomination for president:

Graham said this of Trump: “You know how you make America great again?  Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.”  And, oh yeah, Graham also called Trump a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot”. 

Fast-forward to the here and now.  “To every Republican, if you don’t stand behind this President, we’re not going to stand behind you,” Graham said in South Carolina recently (Cillizza 2019).

So why has Graham reversed his tactics?  “While Graham’s number used to lag those of other Republicans among GOP identifiers, since he has taken up the President’s banner on most every issue, his approval among Republicans in South Carolina has steadily risen” (Cillizza 2019).  Senator Lindsey Graham is not burdened either by ideology or consistency and thus serves as a perfect illustration of David Mayhew’s theory that many politicians are “single-minded reelection seekers” (Mayhew 2004, 17).

Although simply looking at rhetoric and tweets might lead one to believe that Democratic leaders such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been in the House for the last 32 years, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has been in the Senate for 20 years, are bitter enemies of the president and thus would have little desire to work together, much of their mutual animosity is kabuki theater.  For example, as taken from an article from late March 2019, “President Donald Trump says he wants to work with Democrats to pass legislation to rebuild U.S. infrastructure…‘They want it, I want it,’ Trump said, adding that he spoke to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ‘the other day’ about the issue” (Breuinger 2019).

While senior members of both parties have seen presidents come and go, staying in power by working to pass legislation for the benefit of their constituents and thus bolster their reelection chances, the current crop of freshman Democrats have been a largely vocal group, several of them making headlines for bucking their own party leadership openly calling for the impeachment of the president despite opposition from Speaker Pelosi. (Perticone 2019).  In addition, others have found that once in office, legislators are typically relatively stable in their voting behavior (Asher & Weisber 1978) and thus new members, who are more polarized than the generation who came before, would be less likely to support the president.

Strength of the Opposition

Based upon the assumption of Mayhew, one would expect that congressional legislators are keenly sensitive to the power of presidential opposition in his or her district.  In the case of a Republican President such as Donald Trump, the greater Democratic candidates perform electorally, the less likely it would be for the member of Congress, regardless of their partisan affiliation, to support the president’s agenda.  “It may also be true that legislators who are truly insecure about their political standing, or that of the president, might be more willing to base their decisions on whatever local information they do have than to make risky inferences from national trends” (Borrelli & Simmons 1993, 107).

Hypothesis 1 – Representatives from states and districts which reported lower vote totals for Donald Trump in the 2016 elections ought to have correspondingly lower levels of support for him while in Congress.

Hypothesis 2 – Female legislators as a whole ought to have lower levels of support for President Trump as compared to male legislators, regardless of their party affiliation.

Hypothesis 3 – Support for the president in Congress ought to be positively correlated with legislators’ tenure in office, thus more senior members are more likely to support the president as compared to incoming freshman.

Hypothesis 4 –Higher vote totals for Democratic Congressional candidates in the 2018 midterm elections, regardless of victory, ought to correlate with lower support scores for a Republican president for the legislator of that district.

Data Collection and Analysis  

I gathered the data for my regressions from several sources.  My dependent variable, the Trump support score, and my independent variable of the 2016 Trump vote margin both come from Aaron Bycoffe on the website which he reports was compiled using data from ProPublica, Daily Kos, the Cook Political Report, and the U.S. Senate (Bycoffe 2019).   Although his data includes every senator and representative who have served in any portion of the Trump presidency, I’ve restricted my analysis to current members of Congress and thus have 100 observations for the U.S. Senate and 432 for the U.S. House of Representatives.  Although earlier political scientists have wrestled with the question of what Congressional votes one should consider, such as overall support, non-unanimous support, single-vote support, or the use of key votes, no matter what method one uses, so long as it is done uniformly, the differences between the measurements are usually minor.  (Edwards 1985).

My remaining independent variables, Republican, Years in the U.S. Senate/U.S. House, Female, and Percentage of the Democratic vote in the last relevant general election all come from Politico as listed on four different sections on their website (2014 Election Results Senate, 2016 Election Results: Senate, House Election Results 2018, Senate Election Results 2018).

The U.S. Senate results provide highly statistically significant evidence for the first hypothesis only, which tested the theory put forth by Aaron Bycoffe, that legislators are influenced by presidential election outcomes as illustrated by the 2016 election results.  A greater percentage of the vote that President Trump captured in a state in the 2016 election is positively correlated with an increased likelihood of a U.S. Senator from that state voting with the president’s wishes.  Given that the Trump margin had a range of -32.2 to positive 46.3, means that two senators who have the highest and lowest Trump margins respectively are predicted to differ in support for President Trump’s legislative proposals by about 26.4% points.   As expected, the partisan variable is remarkably strong, predicting a Trump support score difference of 56.46 points and it is significant at the 99.9% level. 

In addition, the percentage of the Democratic vote in the last general election had a P value of .9, thus only statistically significant at the 90% CI level, but surprisingly it had a positive coefficient thus indicating that a greater level of Democratic support in a district is related to stronger support for the president.  Running the model again, with the percentage of the vote for the last Democratic candidate for Senate alongside the partisan control while excluding the other previously used variables, yields a negative coefficient for the Democratic vote, as predicted, but it is still not statistically significant.

Looking at the results for the U.S. House paints a markedly different picture.  Here, we find statistically significant evidence for the first three hypotheses.  Although part of the explanation could revolve around the sample size, which is more than four times as large as the previous model, research from other political scientists leads me to believe that there is more to this phenomenon than such a simple explanation.  As with the Senate, the partisanship plays the largest role in predicted support scores for President Trump though it is even larger than the value predicted for the U.S. Senate.  This finding coincides with the research of Sean Theriault who found that party polarization in the U.S. House of Representatives is greater than what is found in the U.S. Senate.  “Since the early 1970s, the Senate has polarized about 80 percent as much as the House” (Theriault 2008, 197).  In addition, almost all of Theriault’s “Gingrich Senators”, members of the Senate who previously served in the House with Newt Gingrich and are believed to be more polarized than those who have not, are no longer members of that chamber.

The House’s coefficient on the 2016 Trump vote margin is only about a third as strong as it in the Senate model, though I would suspect that part of this difference stems from the increased partisan polarization as well as state legislative efforts at gerrymandering to draw as many safe, noncompetitive districts as possible within their borders.  As potential evidence of gerrymandering, we observe an even greater disparity in the 2016 Trump vote margin ranging from a staggering -88.9 to a positive 63.  Thus, when considering legislators from two different House districts, one with the highest observed Trump vote margin and another from the lowest, this model would predict a support score difference of 16.1 points, holding everything else equal.

As predicted, the coefficient on the female variable in the House is negative and also statistically significant.  Again, this difference could stem from the fact that there are more women in the House, so the sample size is larger.  By proportion, they are roughly equal at the present time.  While 25 of the 100 U.S. Senators are female or 25%, 102 of the 432 or 24% of Representatives are female.  But there is a considerable disparity in partisanship between the two groups.  While 32% of female Senators are Republican, less than half of that number, 13%, of women in the House are members of the GOP (Women in the U.S. House of Representatives 2019, Women in the U.S. Senate 2019).

Lastly, as was the case with the Senate, the coefficient of the 2018 Democratic vote percentage in the district is positive and this time statistically significant.  Running the regression again with just the last Democratic vote tempered by partisanship still produces a positive coefficient, therefore I have to conclude that my hypothesis that greater support for Democrats in a district should produce lower Trump support scores does not hold up, at least with this data set.  I would be interested to see if other researchers have found similar outcomes, and, if so, what can account for this result. 

As for the remaining hypotheses, if the reader will recall, the Senate data only provides evidence only for the first hypothesis, that lower Trump margins in the 2016 election coincide with lower support scores for the president.  By comparison, the House data indicates backing for the first hypothesis along with the second, that female legislators ought to be less likely to support Trump’s proposals as compared to their male counterparts, and the third, the longer a representative has been in office, the greater likelihood it is that he or she will back the current president.


When David Mayhew wrote Congress, the Electoral Connection back in 1974, he observed that when it comes to the United States Congress, “its parties are exceptionally diffuse.  It is widely thought to be especially ‘strong’ among legislatures as a checker of executive power” (Mayhew 2004, 7).  Although presumably true at the time that they were written, his words sound out of place in the present American political climate where many activists expect their elected officials to steadfastly stand with their party’s president or in opposition to the other party’s president regardless of supposed party principles or previously held positions.  But Mayhew wrote during a period when the parties were less cohesive and before the rise of polarization in the mid-1990s.  It would be interesting to hear how he would update the theories in his book if it were written today.  As he admits in the preface to the second edition, published in 2004, “I have not tried to revise or update this 1974 work.  That would be a nightmarish task” (Mayhew 2004, xiii). 

The once common conservative Democrat, liberal Republican, or ideologically moderate Congressman has become a relic of a bygone area.  Although non-conformists thrived in the mid 20th century, due to the pressures of partisan polarization, by the 1990s they had become all but extinct.  Legislators such as Jim Jeffords of Vermont or Richard Shelby of Alabama who often voted against the interests of the majority of their party or their party’s president either ideologically sorted themselves into a different party or found themselves replaced by partisans who did a better job at toeing the party line (Fleisher and Bond 2004).

Although the parties have split, in part over support for the current president, given historic trends one does have to wonder about the fate of Congressional Republicans who oppose President Trump more than their fellow partisans or Democrats who unduly support him.  As two examples, there is talk that Representative Amash may end up leaving the Republican Party and seeking the Libertarian nomination to challenge Trump in 2020 (Kopp 2019).  Presumably, if he were to do so, he would be expelled from the party and likely lose his seat in the House should he decide to run again.  On the other side of the aisle, there are rumors that Senator Manchin might run for West Virginia Governor in 2020 (Everett 2019).  If successful, the Senate would lose one of the few Democrats left in an increasingly Republican state.

As mentioned in an earlier footnote, as an avenue of future exploration along the lines of descriptive representation, it would be interesting to explore additional personal attributes of members of Congress.  For example, are they are immigrants to this country or the children of immigrants?  For those recently arrived individuals, do those with a European background support President Trump to a greater degree than those who come from, as the president calls them, “shithole countries” (Watkins & Phillip 2018)?  What about race and religion?  How much of a role do these personal factors play in levels of Congressional support?

At the end of the day, it seems obvious that political party affiliation is the most important factor in determining the level of a legislator’s support for President Trump, although it isn’t the only issue at play.  About a decade ago, Cheibub wrote that “separation of power leads to independent legislators who act on the basis of their individual electoral needs; in response to these needs, they build personal ties with their constituencies.  Consequently, parties will play smaller roles and legislative behavior will be more individualistic.” (Cheibub 2009, 127).  But, after observing trends, especially now, during the years of The Donald, the reverse may be the case in the United States. 


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[1] Noting the exception of political scientists in the mindset of Keith Krehbiel who have argued that political parties have no influence on legislative behavior.

[2] As I’m conducting final revisions on this paper, I realize that this thought may help explain why Representative Justin Amash (R-MI-3) has the lowest support score for President Trump among Republicans in the House of Representatives given that his father is a Palestinian immigrant and his mother is a Syrian immigrant.  It would be a good variable to explore in future research.

Ballot Access Laws and the Two-Party System

Partisanship and the strength of the two major political parties have waxed and waned in the United States over the last several decades.  After Ross Perot’s strong performance in the 1992 Presidential Elections, “a number of political observers-Theodore Lowi (1994) and Gordon Black and Benjamin Black (1994) among them-began to argue for the creation of a third major party, citing strong public support that they claim exists for a viable, mainstream alternative” (Collet 1996, 431-432).  Almost two and a half decades later, public support for a viable third party remains high.  According to a Gallup poll in September of 2017, only 37% of respondents believe that Republicans and Democrats do an adequate job while 61% claim that these parties do a poor job and a third party is needed.  This mark of 61% in favor of a new party is the highest point in their reported data from 2003-2017. (Gallup 2017).

One does have to wonder that if the majority of the American public favors the creation of a new political party then was hasn’t a viable alternative emerged?  In answering this question, it seems likely that many political scientists would point to Maurice Duverger and his famous political law.  As William Riker states, “Duverger’s law proposes that ‘the simple majority single-ballot system favors the two-party system.’  Duverger described this sentence by saying: ‘Of all the hypotheses…in this book, this approaches most nearly perhaps to a true sociological law’” (Riker 1982, 754).  I would wager that is unlikely the average American knows the name of Duverger or his law, nevertheless, throughout my exploration of politics I’ve heard it time and time again that voters don’t end up casting their ballots for their sincere choice due to worries of wasting a vote or throwing a vote away due to the idea that the United States is a two-party system.  But, is it possible that the reason why we don’t see an abundance of supposedly badly desired third-party options listed on the ballot is that there are other institutional factors at play, specifically in the area of ballot access laws?

In his famous work, An Economic Theory of Democracy, Anthony Downs explores the topic of party systems and ideologies in chapter 8.  He argues that in a population where political opinions are normally distributed in a bell curve, two major political parties will emerge on each end of the ideological spectrum and, over time, they will become more and more alike as they converge toward the median voter (Downs 1957, 114-119).  In the latter half of the chapter, Downs considers the topic of new political parties.  In particular, he explores the creation of the Labour Party in Britain who, thanks to the expanded franchise of the working class, was able to position itself to the left of the Liberal Party to become the dominant party to rival the Conservatives.  “New parties are most likely to appear and survive when there is an opportunity for them to cut off a large part of the support of an older party by sprouting up between it and its former voters” (Downs 1957, 128).  If, as Downs claims, parties shift over time, and new parties either spring up to supplant the old ones or in order to shift a political party in a certain ideological direction, why have we not observed this trend in the United States?

Randall Holcombe suggests an answer.  “In the Downsian model of political competition there are no barriers to entry, and suppliers of legislation are chosen from those who are competing to become suppliers based on how closely the output they propose to supply matches the desires of demanders” (Holcombe 1991, 233-234).  So why then have these ballot access laws emerged?  Holcombe compares incumbent legislators to a cartel and makes the claim that given that they control entry into the political marketplace, they can set thresholds, such as ballot access laws, to secure their continued monopoly on political power and keep competition at a minimum.  “The coalition of incumbents uses barriers to entry to place challengers at a competitive disadvantage, which frees incumbents from having to strictly follow the desires of the voters” (Holcombe 1991, 231).

Thomas Stratmann explored the topic of ballot access restrictions about 15 years ago by examining both signature requirements and filing fees.  He found “that monetary ballot access restrictions are an impediment to both major- and minor-party candidate entries into electoral contests…a $1000 increase in the filing fee leads to a 4% decrease in major-party candidates and a 43%…decrease in minor-party candidates” (Stratmann 2005, 69).  He also determined that “signature requirements have no statistically significant effect on a minor-party candidate’s decision to enter the race” (Stratmann 2005, 69).  I found this second statement particularly curious and one that demanded further investigation.

Unlike many other nations, the United States does not have uniform ballot access laws.  “US electoral administration is decentralized and the exact voting experience (such as ballot format and voting technology) can vary from state to state (and even within states)” (Taylor 2018, 721).  He goes on to add, “a cursory look at the US party and electoral systems would suggest that they represent clear-cut proof of Duverger’s law, the notion that single-seat plurality elections tend to create two-party systems” (Taylor 725).  From 1946 to 2014, he reports that in the United States the effective number of political parties is 2.07 while the effective number of parliamentary parties is even lower, 1.94. (Taylor 2018, 725).  He briefly touches on ballot access laws, “state election laws essentially guarantee a ballot slot for major party nominees in the United States, but not for smaller third parties (most especially not new ones)” (Taylor 2018, 727), but his central theory is that the rigid American two-party system results from a presidential system and the phenomenon of primary elections.

So, do ballot access laws make an observable difference in elections?  If so, how?  One particular election springs readily to mind.  During Super Tuesday on March 6th, 2012, along with a multitude of other states Virginia held its Republican presidential primary.  Although several candidates sought to have their names listed, including Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, according to the Republican Party of Virginia “Gingrich and Perry fell short of the 10,000 signatures of registered voters required for a candidate’s name to be on the ballot…it was unclear if Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, or former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman submitted petitions to the state board” (NBC News).  Gingrich, Huntsman, Perry, and Santorum filed a lawsuit in order to be listed as candidates but were unsuccessful (Myers 2012).  As a result, Virginia voters ended up with only two choices, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.  

After this election lawmakers sprang into action to lower ballot access laws presumably in order to provide greater competition.  Where primary challengers once needed 10,000 valid signatures with at least 400 signatures from each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts to run for any statewide office, (§ 24.2-506) after 2012 both of these requirements were cut in half (§ 24.2-545).  In the next election which followed these reduced requirements, 13 candidates appeared on the ballot for the 2016 Virginia Republican presidential primary.  Although certainly curious, one should be wary of drawing conclusions based upon a single observation.  Once more contests have taken place, it will be interesting to note if the average number of candidates on the ballot in a primary is statistically higher after the signature requirement slashing. 

However, it is also important to note that unless they are running for a party’s nomination in a primary, neither Republican nor Democratic candidates need to collect any signatures to have their names placed on the ballot for a general election.  But, any third party or independent candidate is still required to cross this threshold (§ 24.2-506).  Along these same lines, one does have to wonder if ballot access laws are used as a tool to keep third-party and independent candidates out of competition (as Virginia State Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26) mentioned to me in late 2014).

With all of these thoughts in mind, my hypothesis is two-fold.  First, there is an inverse relationship between the hurdles of ballot access and the appearance of third-party candidates.  That is to say that greater restrictions on ballot access will result in fewer third-party candidates running for office and fewer restrictions will result in a greater number of third-party candidates.  Second, one would expect fewer uncontested elections in times when ballot access requirements are reduced.

Testing my hypothesis turned out to be a more difficult task than originally anticipated.  Unfortunately, ballot access laws are not readily available for most states and require poring through either state code or election laws.  My original thought was to have “a tale of two Virginias”.  Given that both West Virginia and Virginia have a bicameral General Assembly featuring a 100-member House of Delegates and either a 40- or 34-member State Senate, it seemed like a natural comparison at first glance.  Virginia requires third party and independent candidates to gather 125 voter signatures to appear on the ballot for House of Delegates and 250 signatures for the State Senate while West Virginia requires 1% of the number of voters in the previous election.  However, upon closer inspection, this comparison quickly became exceedingly messy.  For starters, while Virginia elects its House of Delegates in every odd-numbered year and the entire Virginia Senate in every other odd-numbered year, West Virginia elects its House of Delegates in every even-numbered year along with an alternating half of the West Virginia Senate.  Adding further complication, although the Virginia House of Delegates is elected in 100 single-member districts, presently the West Virginia House of Delegates is broken into 58 districts where most are elected through single-member plurality and others in multi-member block votes.  Given these considerable differences in election times and district magnitude, it seemed nearly impossible to draw any meaningful comparison between the General Assemblies of the two states.

Exploring the idea of changes in ballot access further, I discovered that West Virginia had modified its ballot access laws in 1999, doubling the signature requirement from 1% of the votes cast in the previous election to 2%.  However, in 2009, the West Virginia General Assembly voted to return to their earlier requirement of 1%.  (West Virginia 2017).  Even though I could not find the lines in the West Virginia Code which listed these changes, I contacted the office of the Secretary of State who confirmed the details mentioned above.  In addition, although I would have preferred to look strictly at single-member districts, as I believe it would yield more precise results, using this information I would be able to examine the total number of third-party candidates who ran in each election cycle in years where the 1% rule was employed and others where the 2% hurdle was in place to determine if either resulted in statistically significant differences.  At the same time, these results would show if times of lower ballot thresholds would yield more political competition through fewer uncontested elections.

For this data, I combed through election results from the West Virginia Secretary of State’s website.  I decided to use general election data from 1996 to 2018 for several reasons.  First, one of the major third parties in West Virginia, the Libertarian Party of West Virginia, was founded in 1994.  Although a Libertarian candidate ran for governor in the 1980 gubernatorial election, the party did not field another candidate for this office until 1996.  Similarly, the Mountain Party did not run a candidate for governor until 2000 (Historical Election Results).  Second, I discovered that as one explores the publicly available data, the farther one goes back in time, the spottier information becomes.  For example, for several elections in the mid-1990s, the website fails to list the party affiliation of some or all of the General Assembly candidates.  Therefore, I would need to exclude such elections and thus each year would not have the same number of elections, 100 for the House of Delegates and 17 for the State Senate.  Along these same lines, for uniformity purposes, I excluded the results for any special elections that took place for either of these bodies during the time frame.

Figure 1 shows both the total number of 3rd party candidates (those who are neither Republican nor Democrat) who ran for the West Virginia House of Delegates in a given year, as well as the total number of unopposed elections.  As mentioned, after the 1998 elections, the General Assembly doubled the signature requirements from 1% to 2% and, as the chart shows, one does not see the number of 3rd party candidates return or exceed the 1998 levels until 2012 after the ballot requirements were lowered once more.

Running a regression with the dichotomous variable of ballot reform (the elections of 1996-1998 and 2010-2018 as opposed to 2000-2008), we find a fairly substantial coefficient of 6.14 with a P value of .05, lending considerable support for the idea that yes, in the West Virginia House of Delegates 3rd party competition is statistically higher when ballot access laws are at a lower threshold.

By comparison, running a similar regression using the same dichotomous variable of ballot reform, we find that, on average, that during times of lower ballot access thresholds, there are about 4 fewer uncontested races per election cycle.  However, this result is not statistically significant. 

Moving on to the West Virginia State Senate we observe a similar pattern.  Right before the ballot access signature requirement was doubled, there was a high-water mark of 3 3rd party candidates that was not met or exceeded until the 2014 elections.  I find it also especially interesting the sharp decline in uncontested Senate elections after 2012, dropping to 0 for these last two cycles. 

Looking at a regression for the Senate using the same variables as the previous tables, we find that this lower threshold for ballot access predicts about 1.5 more 3rd party candidates per cycle as compared to the higher percentage.  The P value is .09, which is higher than the desired .05 or lower, but given that only 17 seats are elected each cycle and only 10 elections are in the data set, I think it still shows some important significance.

Moving on to unopposed Senate elections we find that lower ballot access laws predict 1.5 fewer uncontested contests.  However, like the House results, the high P value means that we shouldn’t think too much of this outcome.

After presenting these findings in my class, Elections and Political Parties Around the World, my professor, Dr. Herron, suggested examining the results of local elections in West Virginia as well, based upon the assumption that third parties are more likely to run candidates at the local level given that costs of running such a campaign would be lower as would be the signature requirements necessary to achieve ballot access.  The three largest cities in West Virginia, Charleston, Morgantown, and Huntington, seemed to be the most logical places to examine.  After some preliminary research, I discovered that cities in West Virginia hold their council elections in the spring of odd-numbered years.  However, with the exception of the road bond issue in 2017 and a vote on an amendment to the West Virginia Constitution in 2005, the Secretary of State’s website had no other information about odd-numbered year elections.  Calling Mac Warner’s office revealed that state law did not require localities to present their municipal election results to the secretary and so they chose not to do so. 

Delving further, I tried calling the clerk in the respective cities in the hopes of gleaning information.  In Charleston, they told me that they did not keep any records of their previous council elections.  In Morgantown, the elections are nonpartisan and thus it would be nearly impossible to determine if any of the candidates were associated with third parties.  Lastly, in Huntington, the clerk told me that they did not have any electronic records of their city council elections.  However, as the election results are listed in the council meeting following the election, one could go through the council minutes for the past two decades to compile the data.  Unfortunately, that data collection would have to take place by hand in the municipal building in Huntington which although may prove valuable, will require considerably more time to collect.  By comparison, the Virginia Board of Elections website includes results for city council elections from 2000 to the present, General Assembly elections from 1947 to the present, and federal elections all the way back to 1789 (though the data appears to be incomplete prior to 1851) (Virginia Elections Database).  If I could offer a policy recommendation for the West Virginia General Assembly, I would suggest that not only should they require localities to report their results to the secretary of state, they should make certain that the records listed on the website are as complete and accurate as possible. 

In a 2012 article comparing the single-member plurality systems in the United States, the United Kingdom, and India, Patrick Dunleavy declares “Duverger’s law is now junk”, finding that “perfect two-party systems like this are now found almost nowhere outside of the USA…in particular, all the major Westminster system countries have shown strong trends toward multi-partism” (Dunleavy 2012).  Richard Winger has the same observation stating “in most two-party systems, there are substantial third parties.  In Great Britain…the Liberal Democratic Party is a very substantial third party…Canada has several very substantial third parties…only in the United States is there a two-party system with no substantial, long-lived third parties” (Winger 1996, 321).  Returning to Taylor, he adds, “the presence of first-past-the post systems do not create such outcomes in Canada, India, or the United Kingdom, such rules do not typically create the type of rigidity that we see in the United States” (Taylor 2018, 725).

What is the difference which can account for the abundance and success of third parties in other first past the post systems and their almost nonexistence in American politics?  Could stringent and unfairly applied ballot access, as mentioned in the case of both Virginia and West Virginia be the key?  Although he explores a much earlier time period than the focus of this paper, Winger argues “ballot access laws for new and small political parties were lenient in the United States, prior to 1930.  In fact, there were no ballot access laws in the U.S. before 1888.”  As a result, “there were several substantial third parties before 1930” (Winger 1996, 322).  He goes on to state that changes were made in ballot access laws due to fears surrounding the Communist Party and although these stringent requirements were successful in their aims to thwart the Communists, they also successfully squelched every other third party as well. (Winger 1996).

However, as mentioned in the early paragraphs, not all researchers agree that more stringent ballot access laws have led to a decline in American third parties.  For example, although Tamas and Hindman admit, as Winger does, that “ballot access laws became gradually more difficult for third-parties since the inception of the Australian ballot…[and]…there was a dramatic drop in the percent of House districts in which third-party candidates were getting onto the ballot…[however]…except in extreme cases, ballot access laws have had only a small impact on the ability of third-parties to get their House candidates onto the ballot” (Tamas & Hindman 2014, 273).  It is important to note that these researchers used data from federal level elections while I focused on state-level results.  It is possible, of course, that there is a discernable difference between the two and invites further explorations. 

In conclusion, the topic of ballot access laws and how they can influence third-party competition and electoral competition in general is an ongoing debate between political scientists that this paper cannot resolve by itself.  However, these West Virginia results provide some clues.  Given the findings of Dunleavy and others, I’d like to examine ballot access laws in both the UK and India to see if they have high thresholds or laws, as found in some US states, which create uneven playing fields so that existing political parties can use their advantage to squelch competition and potential rivals.  If not, this discovery would help explain why Duverger’s Law is still alive and well in this country while other researchers have discredited it when discussing single member plurality systems elsewhere.  Free and fair elections are the supposed hallmark of democratic nations.  After all, unequal ballot access laws clearly violate the international concept of free and fair elections.  “All candidates, parties, and political organizations that wish to run for office should be able to do so and to compete on the basis of equal and impartial treatment under the law and by the authorities” (The OSCE 2007).  If one or more political parties are using electoral laws to enforce a monopoly (or perhaps more appropriately called a duopoly) and prevent potential rivals from mounting a challenge, then the wishes of a majority of the American people for more options at the ballot box will continue to go unrealized. 


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