Election 2020

Morris P. Fiorina: Why 'Electoral Chaos' Is Here To Stay

Whether Trump or Biden wins, the Stanford political scientist says "unstable majorities" will persist in the coming decade.

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Very little will likely be decided on Election Day, says Stanford and Hoover Institution political scientist Morris P. Fiorina, and that's not simply because a historically high percentage of mail-in ballots means the final tally might not be known for weeks or even months.

Fiorina says we are in an extended age of what he calls "unstable majorities" because neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party is popular enough to get and hold enduring legislative power. The result is a historically rare period in which control of the White House and each house of Congress regularly flips back and forth between the two parties.

Fiorina says the main cause of such "electoral chaos" is the way that parties select candidates and platforms. Party activists are more ideological and less representative not simply of most Americans but even of the other members of their own parties. When they take control, the parties push extreme agendas at odds with popular opinion, resulting in regular turnover the next time there's an election. In 2008, for instance, Barack Obama and the Democrats won in a landslide before losing control of Congress two years later. Similarly, Donald Trump won the White House in 2016 and had a Republican Congress, only to lose the House two years later.

Fiorina, who describes himself as a "soft libertarian," expects Joe Biden to win next week and figures it's likely that the Democrats will win a majority in the Senate while keeping the House. But he also expects "electoral chaos" to characterize the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential election because the underlying conditions that produce such unstable majorities haven't changed.

Despite deep discord stoked by COVID-19 lockdowns, economic collapse, and racial tensions, Fiorina is guardedly optimistic about the future. His work in books such as Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America shows that citizens actually agree overwhelmingly on many issues (including abortion, marijuana legalization, gay rights, and free trade) despite divisive political rhetoric. "There are big problems and no one seems to have a good idea of how to get a handle on them," he grants. But comparing the current moment to the late 1960s and early '70s, though, he says "we're not on the verge of civil war" and that today's violence is far less intense or extensive. "We somehow muddled through [the '60s]," he says, "and so I think we will probably as a country do that again, although it won't be pretty and it won't be quick."

NEXT: What Will President Biden Do to Us?

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  1. Almost all predictions are wrong.

  2. I know exactly how to deal with our big problems, prohibit government from initiating force because that’s the biggest problem.

    1. You should start a newsletter or magazine. I would subscribe.

      1. Lol. It would have one one page issue.

          1. “IceTrey Presents Samantha Fox”

  3. The political discord will end when large swaths of the electorate begin to let go of their unyielding desire to lord over others.

    1. So, the Thursday after the heat-death of the universe, then?

      1. When I was a kid, we were taught in public schools (of all places) to respect the opinions of all people, to listen to others even if we disagreed, to be civil, to treat others as we wished to be treated, and that words alone could never hurt us.

        I doubt such lessons are taught anywhere these days except private schools and religious schools.

        1. “words alone could never hurt us”

          A good example of a Noble Lie which hopefully limits kids’ misbehavior so they don’t constantly beat each other up over verbal provocations.

          For the advanced course, it might be useful to tell kids that, yes, verbal aggression is a form of aggression, part of the competition for social status and influence, but we can rise above our instinctual reactions to such aggression through various internal and external reactions which “pour oil on troubled waters” and defuse the situation to the extent it can be defused.

          1. However you want to parse it, the message is the same. The point is that such virtues are scarcely imparted to children throughout the course of their educations.

            1. Certainly, fair enough.

          2. It’s only aggression if it’s a threat of physical force.

            1. Again, that would be in the category of “rise above our instinctual reactions.”

      2. No, the third Tuesday after the 12th of Never.

        1. What a coincidence.
          I’m running a marathon and quitting beer that day.

  4. One of Garrison Keillor’s few funny jokes was about “electoral dysfunction.” And that was 20 years ago, it seems the problem persists.

    1. Lake Wobegone – where all the women are smart, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average.

  5. Stop electing democrats. Solved it for you.

    1. Give it your best shot, clingers.

      Prepare to be stomped into political irrelevance by your betters, beginning next week.

      1. Stop proving yourself to be a fucking lefty ignoramus.

      2. Keep hoping, Rev. But who would you blame then? Biden? Harris? Schumer? Pelosi? Or would you just go away for good with no one to blame?

  6. WTF is a soft libertarian?

    1. A progressive that has no problem with a government boot on their neck so long as they can smoke weed without being hassled.

      1. Sort of like the conservative that got busted for oxycontin.

        1. It’s not like that at all.

    2. A libertarian after they’ve pulled out.

  7. The fact that Hillary vs Trump was essentially 50/50, and that Biden vs Trump will be essentially 50/50, is not natural. Ditto for the nearly even 50/50 split we’ve had since Reagan. It’s just weird.

    Trump and Biden have wildly different platform, wildly different records, and wildly different demeanors. Yet somehow they have managed to divide the field equally among them.

    Political science explains this. Not only does our system result in a two party system no third party can ever break, it forces voters to conform to their side. It used to be that the Democrats were anti-trade and anti-immigration, with most Republicans following Eisenhower and Reagan in being in favor of immigration and free trade in general. Now it’s exactly reversed. Black is white and up is down.

    The two party system means who must pick between two bundles of opinions. Only two. Pick one or the other and embrace their poison pills. That’s why Republicans want smaller government but want to always increase spending and expand the military, and why the Democrats are for helping the minorities and the poor, but keep cutting off the lowest rungs of the ladder. Fifteen years ago it looked like the GOP was turning libertarian, now it’s thoroughly populist. Fifteen years ago it looked like neo-liberalism was making headway with the Democrats, now it’s a dirty word and they’re all quasi-socialists.

    Buy the bundle of opinions and don’t quibble over any of them. Once you start picking opinions from the other basket you become an iconoclast and must be destroyed.

    Welcome to ‘Murica.

    1. “Yet somehow they have managed to divide the field equally among them.”

      To be fair, we do not really know if this is true … yet.

      We sort of assume it is the case because the overwhelming majority of mainstream media outlets keep repeating it.

      Given that Democrats have doubled down on complete insanity since 2016, I cannot see Biden garnering anywhere near half of the electorate. I think it going to be far, far less. I could be completely wrong, but this is my sense.

      1. We will find out, but if you think Biden will lose by a landslide, you’re in a bubble. Frankly, the race looks close to me. I see less than a 10% spread between them, despite their being nearly polar opposites (other than both loving massive government).

        Remember, the voting population is not spread evenly across the land, they’re concentrated in cities, and cities are mostly blue.

        1. Thank god for the Electoral College.

          1. Exactly this.

        2. Trump wins by a wide margin.

      2. I think the Dems have over half the electorate, but their far left wing drags them too far left in the primaries, forcing the eventual standard bearer to push for far left wing priorities once in power. That turns off the moderate middle who drift back to the Repubs.

        Now Trump has turned off the moderate middle not with his policies, but with his personal demeanor and eccentricities, and the moderate middle types are fooling themselves into thinking that Biden is the same boring left of center Biden from the Obama Admin, and not beholden to the Bernie/AOC/Warren/Harris crazy radical fringe.

    2. Trump and Biden have wildly different platform, wildly different records, and wildly different demeanors. Yet somehow they have managed to divide the field equally among them.

      I dont’ see that. Trump (whatever you think of him) has pulled in one of the most oddball coalition of supporters I’ve probably seen in my lifetime. And I don’t say “oddball” as a way of describing his supporters, I merely mean that it has an interesting mix of left-ish and nominally right-leaning groups. The only thing the Democratic party has proved in our late stage political milieu is that they own the establishment.

    3. “Not only does our system result in a two party system no third party can ever break”

      This is technically not true as we haven’t always had the same two parties we have now.

      It is possible for a third party to create a temporary break in the two party system.

      So you have party A and Party B. Party C breaks in.

      What happens is that either C falters and the old A/B system resumes or A or B falters an you get a new equilibrium around C/A or C/B.

    4. The GOP doesn’t look any less libertarian to me now than 15 years ago. More populist, maybe, but populism isn’t an ideology.

  8. Part of the problem here is that politically successful groups may not be able to govern. I think we saw this best in the “Tea Party” which was very successful in winning seats (primarily Republican seats). But where really unable to implement a governing vision. In large part I think because they could not win outside of established Republican districts. They could not construct a majority for their ideas. I see a similar thing developing with Progressives in the Democratic party. The Progressive victories have primarily been in Democratic strong holds and yet they envision governing broadly. The article is correct in that their is broad agreement on many issues in the center majority.

  9. “Fiorina, who describes himself as a “soft libertarian,” expects Joe Biden to win next week and figures it’s likely that the Democrats will win a majority in the Senate while keeping the House. But he also expects “electoral chaos” to characterize the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential election . . . .”

    IF the democrats win the trifecta, the following elections will be models of calm certainty. Because we will all vote online using an app from Google, and Facebook will write the algorithm to interpret the results and announce them two days before the election. No more messy electoral college.

    1. I want what that guy’s smoking. I predict Trump wins 45 states.
      #45for45

      1. What 45 states?

      2. Look carefully, I did clearly capitalize the word “if”.
        Not 45, but enough.

    2. they will use that fast, convenient and accurate app the Democrats used in the Iowa circuses, the one designed by Clinton’s IT team, no doubt.

      1. 3 lines; take the ‘hello world’ and change to ‘Dems win”.

  10. Joe Biden is a Crook

    Joe Biden killed the #MeToo movement

  11. Joe Biden is a liar…Lawyers don’t have a union

  12. Fiorina says we are in an extended age of what he calls “unstable majorities” because neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party is popular enough to get and hold enduring legislative power. The result is a historically rare period in which control of the White House and each house of Congress regularly flips back and forth between the two parties.

    Do have have to listen to the whole thing to learn why this is a bad thing? Or is this another paean to return to the warm comforting womb of the center-left politics that culturally dominated the political discourse of… pretty much everything from the 1960s up through early 2000s?

  13. Plenty of wishful thinking from a clinger at Hoover.

    Republicans may not win another national election for 20 years.

    Our electorate becomes less White, less bigoted, less rural, less backward, and less religious every day, as cranky old conservatives take their stale, ugly thinking to the grave and are replaced by better, younger Americans.

    Democrats seem likely to enlarge the Senate and the House (and, with it, the Electoral College) and to eliminate the filibuster, each of which would reduce our system’s structural, undeserved amplification of rural votes.

    Trump is fighting for his life in Texas and Georgia. When Texas goes blue — 2024, most likely, as the slack-jawed backwaters empty and Houston and Austin grow — it will be the end of Republican relevance in national elections.

    The culture war isn’t over but it has been settled. And Democrats seem positioned to politically bomb the Republicans back to the Stone Age.

    This Fiorina guy seems to be offering fake hope to clingers.

    1. I forgot to mention that Democrats are certain to enact a new voting rights act, establishing federal standards and criminalizing voter suppression. How many Republicans are going to be willing to risk imprisonment to continue conservatives’ traditional, race-targeting voter suppression programs?

      And that Democrats are positioned to control redistricting in several important states. For an example of the consequence of this point, check Pennsylvania.

      1. And the great thing is, we don’t even have to wait for the election for the clingers to get their comeuppance!

        Clinger store-owners are getting curb-stomped by their betters and relieved of their ill-gotten right-wing racist property.

        The Revolution has already begun, and it’s being televised.

        1. Your whimpering is fine entertainment, which I expect to become more enjoyable next week.

          1. “Your whimpering is fine entertainment, which I expect to become more enjoyable next week.”

            As a fucking lefty ignoramus, you assume that Joe the ho is gonna win.
            It’s possible; there may be enough slack-jawed, drooling adolescents who never want to take any responsibility to elect *that* slack-jawed drooling piece of lefty shit.
            Adults can hope for a more intelligent electorate, but we realize lefty shits like you exist.

          2. Life is a vale of tears. It would not surprise me if the Democrats – nay, the most fanatical faction of the Democrats – took over and made things worse than they already are. They would get busy curb-stomping their adversaries and stuffing “progress” down their opponents’ throats. I wouldn’t begrudge you your enjoyment, up until the time they discover your old posts saying even bigots have rights, and you then become a reactionary element and get treated accordingly.

            Your identity is tied up in being on the winning side – you cannot even conceive of the attitude shown by Whittaker Chambers, when he said: “I know that I am leaving the winning side for the losing side, but it is better to die on the losing side than to live under Communism.”

            1. It turns out that Chambers didn’t die from Communism, and he even managed to expose some of their activities and turn public opinion in an anti-Communist direction. Temporary victories, of course, but isn’t *everything* on earth temporary?

    2. Where I live at least half of the Republican candidates running for office (state rep, state senate, county stuff, judges) are Latino.

      I don’t see the two-party structure going anywhere solely because of demographics. As the old conservative white guys retire, they are replaced with a younger and more ethnically and racially nonwhite group (with more women.) But still Republicans. There are some people on the Republican ticket I think because they wanted to run and the Democrats already had someone lined up.

      The idea that conservatism will wither away along with the disappearing white people is weird. People on the left take consolation from it but I think it’s misguided.

      1. The progressives only keep minorities on the DNC vote plantations through fearmongering about whitey and the Republicans. If white people actually disappeared as a demographic force it’d be harder to keep the naturally conservative blacks and Hispanics on the political reservation.

        1. Indeed, most brown people do not have a high opinion of LGBTQ people and are pro-life, positions anathema to white suburban progs, so a marriage of convenience at best. White suburbanites also won’t be too thrilled when their retirement and college savings plans are appropriated in the name of social justice.

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  15. “Fiorina says the main cause of such “electoral chaos” is the way that parties select candidates and platforms. Party activists are more ideological and less representative not simply of most Americans but even of the other members of their own parties. When they take control, the parties push extreme agendas at odds with popular opinion, resulting in regular turnover the next time there’s an election.”

    this is the issue, right here….. both major parties actually represent a minority of the country. both sides of the duopoly are run by extremists.

    the second issue is the barriers that have been systematically installed to keep third parties out of the discussion. because there are only two ways this trajectory changes. the first would be for enough normals to get involved to overpower the voice of the radicals….. as normal people by definition are less passionate about activism, good luck waiting for that. the second would be for people to finally reach the point where they are so fed up they break ranks and vote 3rd party, forcing the radicals to either soften their positions or die as a political party. as long as people will still vote for the major parties, even though the don’t represent us…. it won’t change.

  16. The problem is the primary system used for parties to select their candidates. It’s a big money free for all where anyone can say they’re an R or a D and run for that party’s nomination. It’d be better if each party, the top people in the RNC or DNC, senior elected officials from the party, take applications from party members who want to be considered. Have these people vetted from top to bottom, screen them completely, then pick the best pair to be your President/VP ticket to go on the national ballot. Like a job application.

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