My articles having themes related to pluralism are arranged according to the major research programs that I have pursued over the years. These programs have addressed:
- Political Protest in American Cities: the capacity of pluralist democratic communities to respond to the demands of normally inactive citizens who mobilize as ad hoc groups to make issue-specific demands on city officials
- Policy Responsiveness in 51 American Communities: the capacity of pluralist democracies to respond to citizen preferences, interest group demands, and social problems; the extent to which officials are equally responsive to lower-status citizens and minority groups as they are to upper-status citizens and groups composed mainly of whites
- Power in Lawrence: an in-depth case study of how well one community achieves three ideals stressed by the friends of pluralism: (a) policies that are congruent with dominant cultural values, (b) responsible representation, and (c) complex equality; the challenges to achieving these ideals and the processes available to approach their attainment
- Justice in 12 American Cities: the stories that councilmembers and school board members tell about instances of justice or injustice in their cities; their support for or opposition to various principles of justice (i.e., fairness in the distribution of policy benefits and burdens); the principles of justice they think are most applicable to various types of policies
- Ethics in 12 Cities in Kansas, Missouri, and California: the importance of a wide variety of ethical principles (goodness as well as fairness) – relative to other factors like economic considerations, group pressures, and public opinion – in the resolution of community issues; the ethical principles that most influence how city councilmembers vote on community issues
- The Pluralist Consensus: identifying a broader (but often hidden) underlying consensus than the “rules of the game” posited by orthodox pluralism; the anti-pluralist ideas held and expressed by extremists that threaten the stability of pluralist democracies
- Progressive Pluralism: the emergence of neoliberal globalism and progressivism as prominent ideologies that are “friends of pluralism” while pursuing their political objectives in contemporary pluralist societies; clarifying and criticizing global neoliberalism as the most dominant partisan outlook among elites after the Cold War; elaborating and defending progressive pluralism as a contrasting partisan philosophy that weds elements of liberalism and communitarianism
- The Electoral College: how political scientists evaluate the Electoral College as a method for electing U.S. presidents relative to various alternatives; why I regard a national popular vote using rank-order balloting to be a better method for electing presidents and for minimizing the chances that authoritarian demagogues and other extremists will subvert pluralist democracy
My Ph.D. dissertation, “The Power of Protest Groups: System Responsiveness to Citizen Demands,” defended in 1973, involved collecting two samples of cases when citizens mobilized on an ad hoc basis (i.e., they were excluded from on-going political processes within their local communities, lacked permanent organizations and other conventional resources, but formed “protest groups” to pursue their issue-specific political grievances). First, I coded highly visible cases of protest occurring mostly in the 1960s in various American cities that had been described in some detail by academics or journalists for their outcomes and the factors that were hypothesized to affect outcomes; this resulted in 93 cases in my “conspicuous cases” sample. Second, I sent agency officials in a random sample of 46 American communities a questionnaire asking them a variety of questions about the most recent protest incident targeted at their agencies; this resulted in 119 cases in my “questionnaire sample.” I then drew upon these data and the analyses initially reported in my dissertation to write the following papers.
“Policy Responsiveness to Protest Group Demands,” Journal of Politics (1975)
Orthodox pluralism had claimed that citizens who are normally inactive in politics can mobilize on an issue-specific basis and attain a fair hearing about their concerns and grievances. But there had been little work done examining what kinds of citizens formed such groups, what factors most affect outcomes, and indeed, how various outcomes should be conceptualized and measured. In this paper, I set aside the questions of simply getting a fair hearing (access responsiveness) and achieving desired long-term impacts (impact responsiveness) and focused on the intermediate level of policy responsiveness. I conceptualized such responsiveness as ranging from negative outcomes (repression) through achieving no change to getting policies adopted that met some or all protester demands. I found that factors within protesters’ direct control – like their leadership, demands, and tactics – had less impact on outcomes than the support or opposition of other actors, but more militant actions tended to generate opposition to protesters, and thus somewhat diminished policy responsiveness.
I believe that this finding was somewhat misinterpreted, as I gained a reputation as an advocate of “polite protest,” but, in my view, the article implied that pluralist processes were biased against those protesters whose demands challenged existing status structures and who lacked conventional resources. The lasting impact of this challenge to orthodox pluralism is suggested by the article being translated (in 2018) into Japanese for inclusion in a series on World Social Movements and Political Violence. Or perhaps the lasting impact of this article is to remind us that protest remains a viable way for citizens who are not normally involved in politics to resist those who enact policies that undermine social pluralism, social justice, and democratic processes.
“The Effectiveness of Militant Tactics in Contemporary Urban Protest,” Journal of Voluntary Action Research (1980)
Chagrined by being seen as unsympathetic to unconventional and disruptive protest, I followed up the JOP article by taking a closer look at the effectiveness of militancy. Rather than employing a single scale of militancy, I examined the effects of specific tactics and found that there was a curvilinear relationship between tactics and success. Protesters who stuck to conventional negotiation methods were most successful, but those who engaged in peaceful demonstrations were less successful than those who were more disruptive and who sometimes became violent. I provided weak evidence that using obstructive methods and violence were most successful when these tactics were novel at the beginning of the 1960s than later on after officials had learned how to counteract these more militant forms of protest. I also found that simple negative correlations between being militant and attaining sought policies reflected unresponsiveness increasing militancy as much as militancy increasing unresponsiveness.
“The Scope of Conflict and the Effectiveness of Constraints in Contemporary Urban Protest,” Sociological Quarterly (1978)
While militancy may generally be unproductive, there may be some circumstances when it pays. In this article, I found that disruptive protest is most ineffective when other groups and inactive citizens are initially supportive of protester demands. In such cases, militant tactics seem to alienate those third parties whose support is needed to get positive responses. But when third parties and the broader public are uninvolved (when the scope of conflict is reduced to being a two-party game between protesters and their targets), more militant tactics can sometimes provide the negative inducements that prompt officials to capitulate.
“Protest Outcomes in the Soviet Union,” with David A. Kowalewski, Sociological Quarterly (1981)
While I was pursuing my research on protest in American cities, a couple of my graduate students wondered if my findings only held for polities having the sort of pluralist power structures as existed in the United States, where the distribution of social support among the public is a key determinant of policy outcomes. David Kowalewski generated a dataset examining 303 protest events in the Soviet Union during the late 1960s and throughout the 70s, and he found that in such a “hegemony” (a nation where leaders act on their own without much concern for the views of others), it is the internal strength of protest groups, rather than their social support, that most affects protest effectiveness.
“Protest Effectiveness in Southeast Asia,” with Michael O’Keefe, American Behavioral Scientist (1983)
Another graduate student, Michael O’Keefe, generated a dataset examining 175 protest events in three developing countries in Southeast Asia – Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand – and he concluded that the “logic of protest” in developing countries is much like that in more developed pluralist societies: that while militant protest can sometimes prompt authorities to overreact in ways that generate sympathies for (student) protesters, effective protest groups seldom used more militant tactics.
“Protest Groups, Environmental Characteristics, and Policy Responsiveness,” presented at the Midwest Political Science Association (1974)
While my publications on political protest focused on the effectiveness of various protest tactics and other protester-controlled variables (such as group size, demands, and leadership), in this conference paper I looked at how broader environmental characteristics (e.g., economic conditions, political culture, political institutions, and the informal power structures of various communities) affected policy responsiveness to protest. For example, I found that protest may be most successful in cities having more dispersed power structures—i.e., the sort of broad distribution of power posited by orthodox pluralism – than in more centralized power structures where governmental leaders defer to the expertise of managers and bureaucrats in city hall and to those business leaders who are most responsible for economic development. Overall, I thought such findings were too weak and inconclusive to merit publication.
Policy Responsiveness in 51 American Cities
While I was working on the effectiveness of protest, many other political scientists also used American cities to conduct case studies – as laboratories for studying the distribution of power in communities that were nominally democratically. This resulted in a huge disciplinary debate between elite theorists (who maintained that power was concentrated among hidden elites who dominated capitalist economic institutions and rendered elected political officials little more than their errand boys) and orthodox pluralists (who maintained that power was much more broadly and democratically distributed). From my perspective, this debate was exaggerated and overheated, because pluralism did not deny the possible role of elites in community power structures. The most renowned pluralist, Robert Dahl, had in fact claimed that pluralist power structures could include elitist arrangements in some circumstances, in some policy areas, and at earlier stages of democratic development, and he and other pluralists developed methods that could reveal such democratic deficiencies and other “dilemmas of pluralist democracies.”
One approach to advancing a more adequate theory than an overly-simplified orthodox pluralism was to understand that “cities differ” in their power structures, that different power structures had systematic differences in policy outputs, and that these differences could be largely explained by differences in their environmental contexts. Such work had begun to find that cities varied in their policy responsiveness – the extent to which cities exhibited substantive democratic representation by generating public policies that were responsive to citizens. Terry Clark, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, had built an impressive data set dealing with a random sample of American cities – the Permanent Community Sample (PCS) – and Russell Getter (a colleague at KU) and I thought augmenting that data set with measures of citizen preferences, group demands, and various policy outcomes would be better than building from scratch a new data set for conducting studies on the overall pattern of responsiveness in American cities. Our primary concern was using Clark’s measures of the dispersion of community power for various cities to see if those having more dispersed (i.e., more pluralistic) distributions of direct power also gave more indirect power to citizens by being more responsive to their preferences. And, most importantly, we wanted to investigate whether pluralist power structures provided more “unbiased” responsiveness (i.e. whether they were equally responsive to low status citizens and minority groups as they were to high status citizens and groups comprised mainly of whites).
My first “book” was a SETUPS manual written for the American Political Science Association and intended for use in urban politics classes; it accompanied the data that Clark, Getter, and I had compiled for the PCS. An overview of that project is provided under the BOOKS button on this website,
In the papers in this section, I discuss some of the background for this research program, some of the methods used to measure citizen preferences and group demands, the major findings, and their implications for the development of pluralist theory. In summary, this project made clear that orthodox pluralism was too simple of a theory to depict how all – or even most – communities are governed, that American cities vary widely in their distributions of power and democratic performance, but that there are some generalizations to be had about the extensiveness of pluralism in American cities.
Many of these theoretical concerns, methods, and findings preceded similar studies at the state and national levels that have resulted in disciplinary concerns about the health of pluralist democracy in America (see, for example, the Report of an American Political Science Association’s Task Force, “American democracy in an age of rising inequality,” Perspectives on Politics (2004) and “Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” Perspectives on Politics (2014).
“Responsiveness to Citizen Demands and Preferences: Reflections on Past Findings and Future Research.” Presented at the Missouri Political Science Conference (1975)
My first task was to take stock of the existing literature, in order to get a comprehensive understanding of the magnitude of the project, to see what was known, what was unknown, and what conceptual, theoretical, and methodological problems had to be addressed before commencing the research. My initial overview of these matters was awarded “best paper” and was published in its Proceedings of the Missouri Political Science Association. Here I report that responsiveness must be understood as a multi-dimensional concept, and that many environmental characteristics that promoted more responsiveness on one dimension seemed to reduce responsiveness on other dimensions – at least according to earlier explorations of these concerns. While such findings seemed to compromise political science’s ability to advocate any structural reforms to improve responsiveness on all dimensions, I hypothesized that more citizen participation and more party competition might be the best bets for enhancing responsiveness overall. But, much work remained to be done.
“Data Sources, Sampling, and Measurement,” An appendix to City Money, by Terry Clark and Lorna Ferguson (1983)
To begin such work, Getter and I conducted two mail surveys of officials in the 51 PCS cities, to get measures of group activity and preferences and public policies. The 1975 survey was sent to agency officials and various informants (such as the leaders of civic organizations like the League of Women Voters and the editors of city newspapers) in these cities. The 1976 survey was sent to the incumbent mayors and councilmembers of these cities. Beyond providing data for our work on policy responsiveness, these surveys were used by Clark in his work on city finances and fiscal strain. In City Money, he provided the following appendix, which describes the PCS project and our surveys that contributed to it.
“Synthetic Estimates of Citizen Policy Priorities for American Cities,” presented at the Western Political Science Association (1977)
While we attained official perceptions of citizen policy preferences in our mail surveys, I thought we needed independent measures of citizen preferences on various urban issues. Because conducting equivalent citizen surveys in a large sample of cities was prohibitively expensive and demanding, political scientists had mostly retreated to using demographic data about the composition of cities as surrogate measures of public preferences. For example, cities with more black citizens would presumably prefer stronger open housing ordinances and thus studies indicating relationships between the percent black within a community and having such ordinances were interpreted to indicate responsiveness – never mind how much opposition to such ordinances might exist among the public as a whole (including some blacks who might oppose such policies). To improve on such measures, I adapted a simulation model that combined what national surveys revealed about the policy preferences among various “citizen types” with census data on the prevalence of these citizen-types in each city. The validity of the measures attained by this simulation model was confirmed by comparing its results with actual samples of citizen preferences in ten Urban Observatory cities where public opinion polls had been conducted. Other research papers on the link between citizen preferences and policy outcomes made use of the measures attained using this method.
“An Idea in Need of Revival: The American City is a Democratic Community,” Praxis (1976)
While my research on responsiveness sought to be true to the standards of scientific objectivity and provide empirical descriptions and explanations of responsiveness and bias, my work was stimulated by and, I hoped, contributive to normative concerns. In an article in Praxis, I pointed out that John Rawls, in his monumental A Theory of Justice, provided a philosophical basis for these concerns – especially in his insistence that a democratic community must be to the mutual advantage of all citizens, the least disadvantaged as well as the most advantaged. I also made some prescriptions to urban officials about some things they might do to reduce any biases against the least advantaged.
“Responsiveness to Citizen Preferences and Social Problems in American Communities,” with Burdett Loomis, South Atlantic Urban Studies (1980)
Perhaps responding to citizen preferences would fail to respond to social problems. For example, cities having high levels of housing segregation may be comprised of citizens who mostly oppose more stringent open-housing regulations. In order to examine the multiple dimensions of responsiveness, I added to the PCS data set measures of the prevalence of various social problems, measures of citizen preferences in these issue areas, and measures of policy adoptions. Here we report that passage of open-housing ordinances occurred when housing segregation was most severe and when citizen preferences were most supportive. In a second policy area, higher amounts of air pollution were not a direct cause of more pollution regulation, but a developmental sequence was found in which higher pollution levels prompted citizens to prefer greater controls that, in turn, resulted in more extensive local environmental regulations. But in a third policy area, we found that there was no link among homicide rates in cities, citizen preferences, and more stringent gun control regulations.
Rather ominously for students who are currently seeking to rally legislators and public opinion behind stricter gun controls in the aftermath of the shootings on February 14, 2018, in Parkland, Florida, our data from the 1970s showed that elected officials did not respond to social problems and citizen preferences regarding gun control in the positive manner that orthodox pluralism had implied. Perhaps more responsive outcomes were thwarted by powerful interest groups like the NRA or by officials’ beliefs that America simply has a “gun culture” that cannot be messed with. The media is now full of speculation about such barriers to responsiveness in the area of gun control.
“The Contextual Basis of Responsiveness to Citizen Preferences and Group Demands,” with Russell Getter, Policy and Politics (1978)
Just as social problems and preferences of citizens form two distinct stimuli to which policymakers can respond, so citizen preferences can have distinct dimensions. Public opinion, as revealed by aggregating the policy preferences of all citizens, can be quite different from “net group demands,” the concerns of citizens who are active in groups and who use group organizations to express their preferences. Indeed, in this paper, we report that “unarticulated citizen preferences” are basically unrelated to “articulated group demands,” at least regarding the distribution of revenue sharing funds in cities. As a consequence, it is not surprising that contextual factors that enhance responsiveness to public opinion are often different from those contextual factors that enhance responsiveness to group demands. We found that unreformed governmental structures (having strong mayors, partisan elections, and ward constituencies) make city governments more responsive to unarticulated citizen preferences (perhaps because officials in unreformed cities need a good feel for broader community sentiments to get elected). While reformed cities (having city managers, nonpartisan elections, and at-large constituencies) are supposed to be “unpolitical,” officials in these cities come to understand citizen preferences by listening to the interest groups that make demands upon them between elections, and they are thus more responsiveness to well-organized, often high resource, groups. The one contextual factor that seems to enhance responsiveness to both public opinion and group demands is the extensiveness of media coverage. When city politics is well covered by the media, both active and inactive citizens can develop meaningful policy preferences, and officials have incentives to respond to both of these citizen inputs.
“Responsiveness Bias in 51 American Communities,” with Russell Getter. American Journal of Political Science (1977)
Being responsive to citizen preferences is one thing; being equally responsive to different types of citizens is something else. In this paper, we introduced the concept of responsiveness bias and developed a summary indicator of the extent of such unequal responsiveness. Overall, we observed that more cities exhibited responsiveness bias toward more advantaged citizens than to disadvantaged citizens. We found weak but inconclusive support for many prevailing theories of such political inequality. For example, we found higher levels of bias against the disadvantaged in cities where elected officials had lower levels of influence compared to economic elites, where the Democratic Party was weak, and blacks were underrepresented in interest groups.
While older analyses (such as those of E.E. Schattschneider) and subsequent analyses (such as those of Clarence Stone) had presented impressive arguments for the existence of systematic biases within democratic pluralism, this paper directs attention to the variability of such biases and the conditions which promote and retard these inequalities.
“The Structural Sources of Unequal Responsiveness to Group Demands,” with Russell Getter, Western Political Quarterly (1983)
Here we looked at questionnaires that we had sent to city officials in 1976 to examine biases in responsiveness to group demands. In this survey, elected officials had estimated the overall levels of responsiveness to a wide variety of groups. We separated these groups according to their racial and class composition and calculated racial and class biases in the treatment of group demands. We found that there was more such bias against groups having more black involvement than those groups composed of more lower-status citizens.
In short, racial discrimination was especially evident when groups articulated demands than when citizens of different races simply held different unarticulated preferences. This is particularly disconcerting, because blacks are doubtless more aware of racial bias when they get little positive response to their demands than when officials simply tilt toward their policies toward the preferences of whites as indicated by measures of public opinion of which they have little awareness.
When exploring the conditions of higher responsiveness to the demands of black groups, we found several things that matter. More dispersed power structures that increased points of access enabled black groups to attain better policy responses. We also found that it pays for disadvantaged groups to organize in large cities and for cities to have more party competition and stronger Democratic Parties, as these provide a political context where officials have incentives to pay attention to them. Given the overall tendency of pluralist democracies to have power structures that are tilted toward the advantaged, it is important for minorities and the poor to be more involved in groups and to have electoral arrangements that reduce biases against them.
“Group Representation in Local Bureaucracies,” with David Billeaux, Administration and Society (1978)
Because orthodox pluralism had stressed the importance of elected officials, much of my early work on responsiveness looked at how the public policies enacted by city councils responded to citizen preferences. But during the 1970s, a prominent newer model of “privatized pluralism” claimed that power was dispersed to many “subgovernments” within a polity. In this model, a great deal of power in cities was exercised by city agencies and their clientele groups who sought narrow or “privatized” benefits. The administrators (or bureaucrats) of these agencies were primarily motivated to increase their missions and resources, and they formed alliances with their clientele groups having similar goals. City officials were thought to provide little oversight over these subgovernments. Viewed from a community-wide perspective, power was broadly distributed among various agencies and groups but viewed from a more policy-specific perspective, power was highly concentrated.
As a result, Dave Billeaux (whose Ph.D. dissertation I was supervising) and I thought we should look more closely at what kind of responsiveness occurred at the level of city agencies, and we used data from the 1975 survey of agency officials to research that topic. While we found a great deal of variation in the groups that are involved and represented in subgovernments, we focused in this article on the lesser responsiveness to groups composed of lower-status citizens and minorities. While the underrepresentation of these groups was not found to be severe, we discovered enough unequal influence to be worried about continuing discrimination at the bureaucratic level.
“The Municipal Group Universe: Changes in Agency Penetration by Political Groups, 1975-1986,” with Howard A. Faye and Allan Cigler, presented at the American Political Science Association, 1986.
A decade after conducting our 1975 survey of municipal administrative agencies, one of my former students, Howard Faye, conducted another survey that replicated the original. Comparing the results, we found few changes in “the municipal group universe,” as business-oriented organizations continued their dominance. While neighborhood groups had emerged as better represented in municipal agencies than a decade earlier, they had lesser levels of influence than more established groups and had to appear to be “community regarding” and conventional to penetrate the subgovernments that were stressed by privatized pluralism.
“Citizen Preferences and Policy Responsiveness,” in Urban Policy Analysis, edited by Terry Clark (1981)
As my comparative urban analyses using the PCS was winding down, I summarized the theoretical and methodological issues that I had encountered, many of which I thought had been inadequately addressed. One of my concerns was that there seemed to be significant differences in the linkage between citizen preferences and policy responses in different issue areas, but that a broad range of such issues still needed to be sampled and analyzed. Another concern was that the older tradition of engaging in case studies had become viewed as less scientific than comparative research, but perhaps case studies could still provide insights into pluralism beyond those achieved by comparative analysis.
Power in Lawrence
Studying community power from the distance of comparative urban research provided many findings that advanced our understanding of pluralism, but such studies had left unaddressed some important questions. What role did local political cultures play in democratic pluralism? What were the relationships between various participants in the political process and the inactive audience? Were there other sources of community conflict than those defined by race and class that needed attention? Were there legitimate explanations for various inequalities? Were there other factors stressed by recent urban research that had escaped attention in our comparative analyses that might be better addressed by more detailed case studies – especially things that are not variables across communities but constants for all communities, like their having capitalist economies and being constrained by “economic imperatives”?
Perhaps conducting a case study of community power in Lawrence, Kansas, where I lived and worked, would be useful (as well as doable and interesting, as the needed data were close at hand and collecting it would be a nice diversion from my administrative responsibilities as chair of a large and fragmented department). Starting in the late 70s, I began to identify the controversial issues that arose in Lawrence, how these conflicts played out, who were involved, what citizens thought (as revealed by survey research rather than by my simulation model), who won and who lost, and how satisfactory were the policy outcomes. After a decade, I had studied 29 such issues, supervised five public opinion polls, conducted hundreds of interviews with elected officials, city administrators, elites ranked at the top of the city’s power structure, group leaders, and other activists on the issues. This project is reported in some detail in my book, Critical Pluralism, Democratic Performance, and Community Power, which can be accessed through the BOOKS button on this website.
As I was working on this project, I devised a new formulation of pluralism, which I thought of as a successor to the overly congratulatory orthodox pluralism (Pluralism I) and to the second generation of pluralist models that emphasized the various deficiencies in pluralism (Pluralism II). I conceived critical pluralism (Pluralism III) as both a synthesis of and extension of prior pluralist models. While the prior generations of pluralism had yielded first positive and then negative evaluations of the performance of pluralist democracy, Pluralism III sought to be evaluative in a more open-ended manner; it left to convincing research the question of how well various democratic ideals were realized. Critical Pluralism did not presuppose critical evaluations when evaluating democratic performance on the basis of these ideals, but it was capable of reaching them. Before providing overall evaluations in Critical Pluralism, I wrote a variety of journal articles and conference papers based on this research program.
“Economic Development Policy and Community Conflict,” with John Bolland and Richard Feoick,” in Research in Urban Policy, edited by Terry Clark (1986)
While still adding cases to my Lawrence Study and awaiting the outcomes of some of these cases, I explored a subset of what became my final sample. In this paper, John Bolland, Rick Feoick, and I examined 12 issues featuring conflicts between “the growth machine” and their anti-growth opponents on economic development issues. (Bolland was then a colleague at KU, and he had done me an enormous service by conducting a reputational study identifying the elites in Lawrence. Feoick was a Ph.D. candidate in the department who was interested in policy entrepreneurs, and he went on to have a very productive career as a distinguished professor of public administration at Florida State University.) While the theory that cities were dominated by the growth machine had become the latest adaptation of elite theory, we found economic issues to be resolved by processes that were more pluralistic than suggested by this new theory. The growth machine often contained economic elites but it was less some cohesive ongoing structure than a series of coalitions whose members varied from issue to issue. Pro-growth coalitions did not always prevail over their opponents, especially when governmental leaders and economic elites were little involved in them, when anti-growth protest groups arose, and when the public was opposed to their projects.
We conclude by cautioning Lawrence and other medium-sized cities about adding a “strong mayor” to their reformed “city manager” governing structures, because such mayors are often policy entrepreneurs who help pro-growth coalitions achieve their goals and thus enhance systemic bias favoring the advantaged over the disadvantaged.
“Gender Differences in Attitudes about the Role of Local Governments,” with Nancy Burns, Social Science Quarterly (1987)
I wasn’t very far along in my Lawrence project, when I met Nancy Burns, who had been admitted to the University Scholars Program, and I was assigned to be her mentor (she has since become a distinguished professor and chair of political science at the University of Michigan). As I was trying to learn about her primary interests, she asked what I was working on, and when I told her about the Lawrence project, she asked what I was finding about the unequal involvements and treatment of women. When I responded that I hadn’t thought that there were many gender differences in politics, she looked at me incredulously, suppressing the urge to ask “what planet do you inhabit?” So, I added that she was welcome to look at my data and show me that there were some significant gender differences. Focusing on large policy concepts relevant to local issues, she found that women were especially supportive of neighborhood preservation and the extension of public welfare programs, while men were especially supportive of property rights and economic development. Such findings prompted the suggestion that these attitudinal differences may be due to men being more rooted in “the public sphere” while women were more rooted in “the private sphere,” and that feminist theory emphasizing the public-private sphere distinction was perhaps useful for explaining these gender differences. In any event, this set the stage for a second study more relevant to examining another potential deficiency in pluralist democracy.
“Gender Cleavages and the Resolution of Local Policy Issues,” with Nancy Burns, American Journal of Political Science (1988)
Digging more deeply into the Lawrence data, we found that men were much more involved than women on the issues in my sample, even on the question of creating a birthing room at the Lawrence Memorial Hospital and giving expectant mothers more freedom of choice in childbirth, as many of the opponents of this proposal were male physicians. More generally, we found that on many other issues, men and women participants were again pitted against each other (among the general public, these gender cleavages were less in evidence). Next, we found that outcomes were more responsive to men’s preferences than to women’s preferences. Finally, we showed that even when we controlled for differences in the participation of men and women, it was male participants who tended to get what they wanted. While we considered alternatives to the conclusion that these results indicate direct discrimination against women, I don’t think Nancy seriously discounted the “pure discrimination” explanation. On the basis of in-depth interviews that she conducted for her honor’s thesis as a supplement to these findings, she found lots of evidence for such discrimination. While limited space in AJPS would not enable us to include these findings, I never doubted her view.
“Varieties of Pluralism,” a paper circulated among colleagues seeking feedback on the theoretical framework for my Power in Lawrence project (1989)
This paper presents the thesis that pluralism has evolved through various formulations. It proposes a new generation of pluralism that enables but does not presuppose critical evaluations of democratic performance in pluralistic communities. To enable critical assessments, I conceptualized these ideals in ways that reflect major concerns of the main ideological “friends of pluralism” – conservatives, liberals, and democratic socialists.
- Principle-Policy Congruence: This is the conservative ideal that policy be consistent with the broader, persistent values in local political cultures (sometimes expressed as public opinion on broad policy concepts and thought by conservative social theorists to be a superior way of attending to citizen concerns than by responding to popular opinion on specific policy issues, which they view as often ill-informed mass prejudices)
- Responsible Representation: This is the liberal ideal that the ultimate policy makers should normally be elected officials who are authorized by winning elections to act on their independent judgements about what is best for the community, who are normally (but not always) responsive to citizen preferences, and who are open to the concerns of other political actors in the community
- Complex Equality: This is the socialist ideal that there be no persistent and unjustified inequalities of political influence among the various sectors of a community; for example, that the well-off do not dominate the poor, that whites do not dominate minorities, that men do not dominate women, and so forth
These three ideals are central to my evaluations of Lawrence politics in Critical Pluralism and they are used in some of my subsequent papers in this section.
“Community Power as a Game,” presented at the American Political Science Association (1991)
As I was conducting my Lawrence study, I presented (preliminary) findings in my classes on community power, and I found that using a sports simile was useful for making this research interesting to students. Because Critical Pluralism targeted other scholars in the field more than students, it did not much include such metaphors or language. But I wanted to preserve this way of presenting my work and delivered this paper at the national convention, just after the publication of my book. In this formulation, games were scheduled when specific issues were placed on the institutional agenda of city governments. Players had different roles in these games, such as mayors and councilmembers perhaps being like “centers” in the middle of the action, elites and bureaucrats being like power forwards (who got lots of points but could become ball hogs), group leaders being like shooting guards (sometime active on the inside but sometimes taking long shots), and activists being like point guards who focused on assists. In this metaphor, citizens could be “the sixth man” in the audience, not active participants but rooting for one team or the other in ways that sometimes became important to the outcome. Competing teams (e.g., conservatives vs. liberals, the growth machine vs. preservationists, etc.) emerged, and some teams were more successful than their opponents. I generated standings with the win-loss records of the teams in various divisions (e.g. the class division, the race division, the age division, the ideology division, etc.) and thus could show whether there was competitive balance among the various teams or whether particular teams in a division were dominated by their divisional rivals. Given their prominence on the sports pages, the standings particularly resonated with students. And I could show how the standings evolved over time – for example, how well the poor had done up through 1982, 1984, 1986, etc. Sometimes the standings changed, as new games were played and resolved, and as new outcomes of old games became evident (as Yogi Berra allegedly said, “it ain’t over til it’s over”).
Rather than delve into the more academic book, you can read the following paper to get an overview of my findings. I do point out, however, that the sports simile is limited in its usefulness, because in politics, unlike in sports, outcomes are not solely determined by who has the most power. While the moral and social principles of those engaged in sports are not thought to be relevant to the outcomes of their games, we think that they should matter in political games. Hence, Pluralism III needed to advance to Pluralism IV, where the relevance of bringing diverse principles into the game of politics is considered.
“Estimating the First (and some of) the Third Faces of Power,” Urban Affairs Quarterly (1993)
Shortly after publishing Critical Pluralism, I received a brief letter from a prominent elite theorist that said:
“At the recent APSA meeting, I was asking some urbanists if there had been any good work done recently on pluralism, and I was referred to your book. So, I look a quick look at it and concluded that if this was the best pluralism had to offer, it was in even worse shape than I imagined.”
While I was more amused than distraught by this, I pondered what might have prompted this judgment. The most plausible answer I could come up with was that my book was seen as having the same problems that elite theorists had long perceived in orthodox pluralism. Case studies that supported orthodox pluralism had often been criticized because they focused on “the first face of power” (measured by the extent to which various participants got the results they wanted on political issues) and ignored the second face of power (the capacity of elites to keep issues that they opposed from ever getting on the agenda of governing bodies) and the third face of power (the capacity of elites to influence citizen preferences in such ways that responsiveness to citizen preferences enabled elites to get what they wanted without much direct involvement on issues). Elite theorists argued that the methods used by pluralists could not test for the second and third faces of power. Since Critical Pluralism had used a “comparative issues method” that strongly incorporated aspects of the decisional method used by orthodox pluralists, perhaps these concerns needed to be answered.
I had earlier argued that having a larger and diverse sample of policy issues enabled me to address the “second face of power” criticism in two ways. First some of my issues – like property reassessment and the local funding of social services – had been kept off the municipal government agenda but that did not prevent their inclusion in my study. Second, even if elites managed to suppress some issues, elite dominance could be questioned by the frequent loses they incurred on issues that had gotten onto the municipal agenda.
In this paper I focused on the “third face of power” criticism by showing how a comparative issues analysis that measured the preferences of elites, citizens, and other actors could enable examination of the capacity of elites to determine the views of others. I found that when all the causal paths regarding the preferences of various kinds of actors are taken into account, elites may have had some influence over the preferences of bureaucrats and activists, but the preferences of these actors are not particularly determinative of policy decisions. And more importantly, the preferences of elected officials and citizens are not much influenced by the preferences of economic elites. Concerns about the elitist sources of the third face power did not invalidate the findings provided in Critical Pluralism.
“Democratic Ideals and Economic Imperatives in the Resolution of Downtown Redevelopment Issues,” State and Local Government Review (1994)
While I was working on Critical Pluralism, another theoretical perspective was put forth (by Paul Peterson) that maintained that cities had “a unitary interest” in economic growth that made economic imperatives more important than the political considerations emphasized by pluralism. I thought some crucial subset of my issues might allow an integration of Peterson’s theory and my revisions of pluralism. During the decade of my Lawrence project, the most controversial issues had dealt with building shopping malls, either downtown or on the outskirts of town. In Critical Pluralism, I reported how four such mall proposals had arisen and been defeated. Shortly after I decided to put that study to bed, five more mall proposals arose, and one of them was supported by the City Commission and developed on the edge of downtown, along The Riverfront. While these new issues could not be studied in the same depth as those in my larger study, I kept my eye on them and conducted enough interviews with informants to provide some reliable measures of how well the city’s pluralist democracy fared on the three pluralist ideals I had developed and studied in Critical Pluralism: having outcomes that corresponded with the dominant cultural principles in the community, having responsible representation, and achieving complex equality. Here I provide evidence that rejecting eight mall proposals before accepting the Riverfront Mall had enabled the city to downplay economic imperatives and instead give priority to the goals of pluralist democracy.
“Downtown Lawrence: Marketplace and the Heart of the Community,” in Embattled Lawrence: Conflict and Community, edited by Dennis Domer and Barbara Watkins (2001)
Democratic pluralism is an ongoing process. Even when long-standing issues like the mall wars in Lawrence are resolved, new related issues arise. Even the form of pluralist democracy that addresses these issues changes over time. This article places the resolution of Lawrence issues – especially those involving retail shopping – into historical perspective. Prior to the 80s, Lawrence had “skilled democracy,” where the fate of downtown was largely in the hands of economic elites and city administrators (especially the City Manager). The visibility of the mall issues and the threat that large shopping malls posed to “the heart of the community” stimulated widespread participation, and it is possible to characterize the politics of that era as approaching “participatory democracy.” Extensive political conflict accompanied extensive citizen participation. In the post-mall era that followed during the 1990s, the political process saw less participation but more consensus, less conflict and more cooperation. Such a “consensual democracy” included broadly-held understandings that the downtown was “the heart of the community,” and that market forces affecting it had to be subject to controls coming from City Hall. I closed this analysis by speculating that “strong democracy” – where there are simply more citizens and groups involved in defining consensual goals – could emerge in Lawrence. From the vantage point of 2018, it is hard to provide evidence that strong democracy has occurred. Nor is it clear that this would be a higher stage in the evolution of pluralist democracy. It is nice to theorize that such a process would achieve more buy-in to pluralist democracy by participants and relatively inactive citizens, but greater participation may simply add more veto-points (such as extensive public referenda where special interests and partisan principles are used to whip up public opposition) that lead to failures of proposals that otherwise meet the ideals stressed in Critical Pluralism. Future blogs on such developments may be forthcoming.
“Power and Gender in the ‘New View’ Public Schools,” with Cryss Brunner, Policy Studies Journal (1998)
A couple of years after the publication of Critical Pluralism, Cryss Brunner, an Ed.D. candidate in the School of Education, walked into my office and announced that she wanted me to supervise her dissertation on the power structures of public school systems. Having included but a couple of educational issues in my previous work, I was intrigued but frankly skeptical that her background would enable her to design and conduct a research program that met “political science standards.” I told her she would have to become well-acquainted with the relevant literature, and told her she could start by reading Dahl, Domhoff, Stone, Peterson, myself, and a lot of other guys who had written on the topic. In about a month, she reported back having read, understood, and assessed that material. She objected that the problem with the work of all us “guys” was that we proceeded with a distinctly male conception of “power over” – that we had conceived and measured power in terms of actors getting what they wanted in the resolution of community issues. She said she had gone on to also read some more feminist accounts of power, like that of Nancy Hartsock in Money, Sex, and Power, and she thought this literature pointed to a very different conception of “power to” that focused on more collaborative power arrangements featuring greater cooperation among various participants having diverse views in order to get things done. I pointed out that Clarence Stone had already introduced the distinction between “power over” and “power to,” but perhaps there was a dissertation to be had by looking into whether men and women revealed these different orientations to power in the politics of public schools. She agreed, conducted her research in “New View” (not Lawrence, but another Kansas community where she had offered anonymity to get access), and provided evidence for the idea that women are more oriented toward the “power to” conception. Between us, we developed the dimensions where these two conceptions of power differ, both in theory and in practice.
How significant are the gender differences in thinking about power continues to be questioned – as many men seem increasingly concerned with pursuing collaborative political processes, and many women seem to have “power over” orientations. Indeed, as Peter Beinart observed in the April 2018 issue of The Atlantic, the perception that women like Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and perhaps Elizabeth Warren have “power over” has probably reduced public support for them and the opportunities that women have for higher office.
In any event, this work led me to appreciate that pluralist democracy involved not just a proper distribution of “power over,” but could (and perhaps should) include actors seeking to exercise collaborative power in order to solve community problems and achieve collective goals.
Justice in 12 American Cities
As political science was rejecting the (orthodox) pluralism that focused on the distribution of power, political philosophers began to recall older traditions of pluralism, going back to such eminent public intellectuals as William James, John Dewey, Harold Lasky, Arthur Bentley, and Mary Parker Follet. Two contemporary works in this tradition that I found particularly stimulating were those of Michael Walzer and John Rawls.
In Spheres of Justice (1983), Walzer provided a pluralist account of justice. He suggested that Rawls’ monumental A Theory of Justice (1971) focused exclusively on social justice, that Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) focused exclusively on market justice, and that other philosophers preceding and following them had provided other “monistic” theories that reduced justice to one (or a couple of related) principle(s). As a result, just as political science had become mired in an apparently futile debate over whether orthodox pluralism or elite theory provided the best account of the distribution of community power, contemporary political philosophy had become mired in another apparently futile debate over whose monistic theory of justice was best. As a political theorist (a political philosopher with political science training), Walzer examined a lot of cases when considerations of the just distributions of social goods were at stake and showed that different principles of justice were applicable to the distribution of various social goods.
In response to the criticisms of Walzer and others, Rawls revised his theory in Political Liberalism (1993), introducing pluralist elements – especially his idea of an “overlapping consensus” – that was more general and less partisan than the two principles of justice stressed in his A Theory of Justice.
Together, these works led me to understand that work focusing on the distribution of power were too narrow; that principles matter and they had to be included in more advanced formulations of political pluralism. I will defer discussion of Rawls’ pluralism until the section below on “The Pluralist Consensus” and the presentation of materials in From Ideologies to Public Philosophies under the BOOKS button. In this section, I discuss my work trying to develop and apply Walzer’s theory of pluralist justice.
The primary data base of the Urban Justice project consisted of 120 interviews with councilmembers and school board members in 12 moderately large cities around the country. There were two parts to the interviews. I began by asking these elected officials to “tell me a story” about some issue(s) that had arisen while they were in office that exemplified their understanding of justice or injustice. While recording these stories, I would pose follow-up questions seeking clarification about the issues they were referencing and their thinking about the principles of justice that they thought relevant. These stories were all eventually transcribed, coded, and analyzed. [I hired Marisa Kelly, who was working on her Ph.D. dissertation under my supervision, to transcribe the stories and do reliability checks on my coding of these transcripts. She became a partner in this Urban Justice project and also was involved in a subsequent Ethic Matters project as described below, but she eventually moved into higher levels of university administration in ways that reduced her (still important) involvements.]
After the officials provided their stories, I preceded to a more structured interview format. Here I presented the officials with 21 principles of justice that had been proposed in the academic literature on justice but were rephrased to make them more simple and accessible. After asking interviewees to provide an initial rating of their overall support or opposition to each principle, I probed further to clarify how officials interpreted and applied each principle. (Sometimes the officials revised their initial ratings after these discussions.) I concluded the interviews by asking about their backgrounds and other such matters that might influence their allegiance to various principles of justice.
“Support for Alternative Principles of Justice,” presented at the Midwest Political Science Association (1994)
Urban officials expressed varying degrees of support for the 21 principles, ranging from almost universal support for “equal opportunity” to minimal support for “equity,” understood as providing policy benefits to people in proportion to their inputs (particularly the amount of taxes they paid to the city). My sample of elected officials were also considerably more supportive of Rawls’ “difference principle” (especially its stress on benefitting the least advantaged) than Nozick’s libertarian or “entitlement principles” (especially his rejection of redistributing resources in ways that fundamentally altered one’s shares obtained from the processes of the “free market.”)
Very few differences were observed between city councilmembers and school board members in their support for various justice principles, a finding that I thought justified merging their views into one broader sample, as least for some purposes in future studies. I also report how the backgrounds of officials were related to their support for various principles. Some encouragement for this approach was had by finding predictable correlations between such things as being a Democrat or being a liberal and opposing Nozick’s entitlement principles.
I conclude by proposing “principled pluralism” as an analytical framework for studying community politics. I urge analysts to discover the justice principles that are most applied to particular policy areas by an approach that resembles the method of common law: that they observe how policymakers work back and forth between their moral intuitions about justice and how they resolve particular cases. Analysts would discover and describe the justice principles that those involved in politics find most applicable to various policy areas, and they would then provide theories about the causes and consequences of how those involved in politics prioritize and apply the many justice principles available to them.
“Urban Justice: Findings from a Pluralist Theoretical Perspective,” with Marisa Kelly, a revised version of a paper presented at the American Political Science Association (1994)
We summarize developments in contemporary political philosophy (such as the famous Rawls-Nozick debate), discuss Walzer’s alternative pluralist theory of justice, and contrast his principled pluralism with orthodox pluralism. We argue that pluralist political processes and outcomes involve applications of different justice principles as well as differences in interests and power. Clearly, this orientation resonated with most of the officials we interviewed, as many appreciated being taken seriously as moral agents, and not simply as power brokers. The stories they told revealed their various commitments to justice.
Our formulations of each of the 21 principles presented to officials are provided. The overall support or opposition for all 21 principles is summarized, but we focus on ten principles that seemed especially prominent in theory and practice. The various interpretations that officials gave to these principles and the applications that officials provided are summarized. This paper provides evidence supporting Walzer’s principled pluralism, and our preliminary findings suggest that different principles are not only applicable to the distribution of various social goods, as Walzer had proposed, but that various principles of justice were also applicable to different policy areas in city politics. Most of our subsequent papers thus focused on a specific policy area with the intention of discovering which principles of justice were most often applied to the policy area under investigation.
“The Justice and Injustice of Alternative Approaches to School Desegregation: The Perceptions of School Board Members.” Presented at the American Political Science Association (1995)
Since its inception in the early 1970’s, there had been extensive public, legislative, and judicial resistance to two-way busing policies mandating that students be bused outside of the school district in which they lived to another school district, in order to attain racial balance between school districts having predominantly white or mostly black residents. As a consequence, I focused on alternative desegregation policies – such as more limited busing programs, closing predominantly black schools, redrawing boundaries, and creating magnet schools – that had been considered by school boards in nine of my 12 cities. The desegregation stories told by school board members in these cities made plain that all programs intended to desegregate schools and/or increase the educational attainment of minority students had required school board members to try to balance competing justice principles. Most basically, the most aggressive approaches tended to be consistent with Rawlsian principles that seek to benefit the least advantaged while undermining libertarian principles that upheld freedom of choice. The paper concludes by suggesting that the most successful processes for resolving cases and enhancing minority educational attainment are those using a pluralist political process, rather than administrative or market-based processes. An effective pluralist democracy makes use of extensive and inclusive deliberation, collaboration, and targeted investments of public resources that result in “moderate” policies that provide citizens with choices within well-specified constraints. While magnet schools are probably one result of such approaches, they are not sufficient and adopting multiple policies that get at pieces of the puzzle are best able to enhance minority educational attainment. While this paper is now more than 20 years old, the persistence of racial imbalances across schools suggests that it may still provide useful suggestions for addressing an on-going social problem.
“The Impact of Justice Principles on Urban Policymaking: The Case of Public Welfare at the Local Level,” with Marisa Kelly, presented at the American Political Science Association (1997)
The passage of national welfare reform in 1996 prompted Marisa and I to comb our Urban Justice interviews for stories and other data that might provide insights into how elected officials would respond to possible increases in their roles of providing public assistance to disadvantaged residents of their communities. The stories revealed that they had been more involved in public welfare than prevailing urban research had suggested. By looking at the stories they told, their basic policy concerns while in office, and their comments regarding the 21 principles, we estimated the willingness of each official to increase local welfare spending, and we report here that there was much more support for the expansion of local welfare policies than for reducing such policies. In accounting for variations in attitudes regarding public welfare, we stress the role of their deeper justice principles. Specifically, officials who were most supportive of welfare were also those who are most committed to principles that uphold distributing according to needs, to providing welfare rights, to establishing floors, to setting ceilings (which in practice reduced to supporting more progressive taxes), and to not interfering with market-based allocations. Officials who saw themselves as having ideological orientations to the left of center had greater support for welfare spending, even after controlling for their support for the five relevant justice principles. And officials on councils and boards having more minority representation also were more supportive of welfare spending, even after their support for justice principles is controlled. In short, there appeared to be receptivity for greater local provision of public welfare than normally assumed, and such receptivity was enhanced by electing officials having redistributive justice principles and by having boards that include minorities and liberals who may have reservations about such principles but can nevertheless support welfare programs sought by their fellow representatives.
“Affirmative Action, Principles of justice, and the Evolution of Urban Theory,” with Marisa Kelly, Urban Affairs Review (1999)
In the aftermath of the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s, the idea of supplementing non-discrimination policies with affirmative action policies that increased the prospects of those minorities seeking municipal employment or contracts has been widely discussed and debated, and much of that debate has included alternative justice principles. Supporters of affirmative action have argued that justice requires “tilting the playing field” in favor of those subjected to historical discrimination, while opponents of affirmative action have argued that justice requires “a level playing field” in which jobs and contracts are awarded on the basis of the current merits of applicants. Accordingly, we thought that policies regarding affirmative action provided a crucial case for testing our belief that the justice principles of decision-makers matter in resolving community issues; if officials did not act on the basis of their justice principles in this policy arena, we doubted they would do so in other policy arenas less infused with philosophical and normative debate.
Our Urban Justice project provides evidence that the justice principles of officials (and not just the norms that are dominant in a city’s political culture) affect their support for affirmative action. Indeed, we are able to specify the justice principles that matter most: providing fair equal opportunity, blocking cumulative inequalities, rejecting utilitarianism (acting for the “greatest good of the greatest number” if that means ignoring who is most hurt by pursuing the public interest so defined), and rejecting purely market-based allocations of social goods. Support for affirmative action was much more determined by officials’ conceptions of justice than by the sort of contextual factors stressed in most urban theories. Only black incorporation on councils and boards had an independent impact beyond the principles of officials in their support for affirmative action.
“The Moral Principles of Urban Elected Officials and the Resolution of Culture War Issues,” in Culture Wars and Local Politics, edited by Elaine Sharp (1999)
Among the more than 200 stories that urban officials provided in the Urban Justice project, 25 involved what were widely regarded as “culture war” issues. They dealt with matters like gambling, using recreational drugs, smoking in public places, prayers in public schools, access to family planning and abortions, and gay rights. Culture war issues involve moral principles (what is good for the community and for individuals within it) as much as justice principles (what is the fair way of distributing social goods), and so the Urban Justice project was not well designed to examine such culture war issues. Still, in their comments, officials often invoked moral principles beyond those explicitly covered in this study, and this paper describes such principles and how officials brought them to bear on culture war issues. For the most part, I found that most officials wanted to avoid resolving such issues – because they accepted the widely proclaimed principle of not legislating morality; most were liberals in that they thought each person has the right to define his or her own good, as long as they don’t harm or violate the rights of others. Still, culture war issues arose and had to be addressed in their communities, and some officials articulated moral principles to support imposing restrictions on the right of citizens to pursue their own conception of the good life. Some of the most prominent such moral principles stressed the importance of upholding some religiously specified prohibitions, recognizing some universal moral standards as specified in “natural law,” following dominant public opinion, preventing people from harming themselves, and to employ utilitarian principles that involve doing what is for the greater good of the greater number, even if that involves limiting the moral choices of some individuals. I regarded this study as highly exploratory, and thus provide only speculations about the kinds of officials who most support such principles. The need for more study of the role of moral principles, as well as justice principles, was made apparent, and this prompted my next major research project on “Ethics Matter.”
The Ethics Matter Project
To further expand pluralist theory by covering the roles of both justice principles and moral principles (as well as the interests and power of various interests) in the resolution of community issues, I designed my Ethics Matter Project. Rather than tour the country as I had done for the Urban Justice interviews, I wanted to stick closer to home and thus choose eight cities in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Marisa Kelly, who was teaching in Stockton, California, also agreed to conduct the same interviews in four cities near her home in Stockton. While I had little difficulty getting all, or almost all, of the incumbent mayors and city councilmembers in my Kansas and Missouri cities to participate in the interviews, she encountered more resistance from the councilmembers in her four California cities, though she did succeed in getting an acceptable number to do so.
Between 2003 and 2006 we scheduled two interviews with each of 95 participants. The first interview focused on officials’ attitudes regarding 30 principles, much as had been measured in the Urban Justice project but now expanded to include principles of morality as well as justice. The second main part of these interviews sought officials’ perceptions about the involvements and influence of a wide variety of groups in the community. The third main part of these initial interviews involved measuring their reactions to twelve “hypothetical issues.” Here we presented officials with identical stories about the sort of issues that had arisen across the country, though not necessarily in their cities and almost certainly not in the precise manner we framed them (we hoped to remedy one of the limitations of the Urban Justice project by getting equivalent measures regarding official’s attitudes on issues that were identical regardless of where the councilmember lived). We closed the initial interviews by asking them to identify what they regarded as the most important and/or controversial issues that had arisen during their terms in office.
After examining their responses to this final set of questions in the initial interview, we selected the most frequently mentioned issues for more study, we discovered what we could about these issues from public and staff documents, newspaper accounts, and inquiries with informants, and prepared a second interview schedule to attain officials’ perceptions about the resolution of these specific issues in their communities. The most important element of these interviews involved their responses to a checklist of factors that had, according to scholarship on city policymaking, been regarded as possible major or minor influences on voting behavior and policy outcomes. For example, we asked about how important citizen preferences were to them on each issue (and what they perceived public opinion to be), how important on each issue were various group demands (and what various groups had sought), and what moral and justice principles (if any) had guided their stances on each issue. At various stages of the interviews, we also attained information on the backgrounds of the officials and the characteristics of their cities and districts that had frequently been considered by urbanists as important explanations of the policymaking behavior of city officials.
Some of the issues we studied were unresolved by the time we finished our interviews, and so we had to await some resolutions, and we had to conduct some follow-up phone interviews to bring the data collection aspect of this project to completion. While this delayed our having a comprehensive data set dealing with all of the concepts under investigation, we were able to start presenting some conference papers.
“Economic Development and Ethics: The Role of the Moral and Justice Principles of Urban Officials,” with Marisa Kelly, presented at the Midwest Political Science Association (2007)
Here we focused on economic development issues. We describe 12 concrete issues in some detail, reporting that officials thought that economic considerations were by far the most important influences on these decisions. But officials also claimed that various moral and justice considerations did result in modifications of initial economic development proposals. For example, officials in Kansas City, Mo, insisted that there be minority participation in the downtown redevelopments that they authorized. And in St. Joseph, Mo, a proposal to spur the community’s sagging economy by allowing Seaboard Foods to build a pork processing plant was rejected because its wage and labor policies were deemed to provide little benefit for the lower-income residents of the city, but a similar proposal by Premium Pork was approved because it was deemed more consistent with (Rawlsian) justice principles.
In general, we found that on economic development proposals it was difficult to disentangle “economic considerations” and “economic imperatives” from utilitarian moral principles. When such proposals were seen as serving the city’s unitary interest in economic growth and prosperity, they were also thought to satisfy the utilitarian principle of “being for the greater good of the greater number.” Sometimes officials provided various other “moral” concerns such as increasing public revenues, reducing tax rates, and providing public amenities as less abstract ways of amplifying how the “common good” was served. But sometimes officials provided aesthetic and ecological principles as the moral basis for opposing some developmental proposals.
Of course, such moral concerns may simply be ad hoc rationalizations for positions they took on other grounds, and so more demanding tests examined relationships between officials’ stances of our hypothetical economic development issues and the moral and justice principles that they had either supported or opposed elsewhere in the interviews. Perhaps the most interesting finding here is that officials support for a hypothetical living-wage ordinance was enhanced by their support for Rawls’ difference principle, independent of their ideological and partisan orientations and various contextual factors.
“Ethics Matter: The Morality and Justice Principles of Elected City Officials and Their Impact on Urban Issues,” with Marisa Kelly, Journal of Urban Affairs (2013)
Like regime theory, the theory of ethical pluralism questions the assumption that officials are prisoners of their environments. While regime theory direct attention to the normative goals of officials, the identified goals tend to be too specific to particular policy areas to give much purchase on the broader ethical orientations of officials and the policies the pursue. Ethical pluralism assumes that urban officials are moral agents, and it points beyond policy goals to a wide array of moral and justice principles, such as those described here. We show that officials believe that their own moral and justice principles are very important to the concrete issues they resolved, with only “economic considerations” being generally regarded as more important. And on issues concerned with public assistance and social regulation, ethical principles are generally more important than economic considerations (and other factors thought to constrain their ability to pursue their own ethical concerns – things like citizen preferences, group demands, and cultural norms).
“Studying the Importance of Ethics by Examining the Reactions of Urban Elected Officials to Various Hypothetical Issues,” presented at the Midwest Political Science Association (2011)
The term “culture war” is used differently here than in our 1999 paper that examined the role of ethical principles on such policy issues as restricting abortions, pornography, marijuana, and gambling. Here “culture war” refers to the broader thesis that has taken root in political science: that liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans are pitted against each other on a wider array of policy issues, and that the deep polarization along this partisan axis has inhibited negotiation and compromise, two essential elements of pluralist politics. While such a culture war perspective has been useful for stressing the conflicting principles of morality and justice that are held by culture warriors, this paper stresses that dividing people into two opposing partisan camps based on their ideological differences is too simple. Perhaps party polarization is strong in Washington, but in community politics, conflict is not very polarized along ideological lines; and this suggests that pluralist policymaking processes may still be alive and well in our cities. Simply put, ideological orientations are multi-dimensional and few urban officials are committed to all of the ideas held by the ideological purists stressed in the culture war thesis. As a consequence, it is necessary to go beyond ideological labels and consider the diverse moral and justice principles that officials hold and apply in order to understand how ethics affects community policymaking.
We show the payoff of looking not just at ideology but at diverse ethical principles by modelling the causal impact of these normative concerns on officials’ stances on ten hypothetical issues. Our analysis shows that there are some cases – like using eminent domain to take property for economic development – when neither the ideologies nor the ethical principles of officials much matter. There are other cases – like increasing taxes – that are more determined by the ideological orientations of officials than by their ethical principles. But on most issues, specific moral and justice principles play independent roles (beyond the ideological orientations of officials) in affecting the policy orientations of officials.
“The Public Assistance Policies of Cities and the Justice Concerns of Elected Officials: The Centrality of the Floors Principle in Addressing Urban Poverty,” with Marisa Kelly, Policy Studies Journal (2013)
Pluralist politics occurs at various levels in a federal system. Students of city politics had long thought that welfare and redistributive issues fall within the domains of national and state governments and are absent from the agendas of local officials. But we found that our officials wrestled with a significant number of issues involving public assistance to the less advantaged, and most officials held principles that made them supportive of welfare policies. Indeed, when public assistance issues arose, officials claim that it is their principles of justice and morality – more than other considerations – that drive their decisions.
But which of the many ethical principles are most important? To study this, we examined four hypothetical issues: exempting welfare provisions from budget cuts, providing homeless shelters, supporting living wages, and providing “linkage policies” that require developers to provide policy benefits to the least advantaged citizens who are otherwise excluded from the benefits that flow from their proposals. While many principles are related to officials’ attitudes on these issues, the “floors” principle is the most important one that enhances support for public assistance. Many officials believe that they have a responsibility to adopt policies that “ensure all citizens a minimal level of the goods they need.”
“Group Involvements in City Politics and Pluralist Theory,” Urban Affairs Review (2013)
Pluralist theory has long emphasized the role of groups in politics, but ethical pluralism posits that conflict occurs over the relevant principles to apply to policy issues, perhaps more so than the diverse group interests that officials must somehow negotiate. In this paper, I examine the continuing involvements of groups. I do not argue that they are irrelevant, but they are much less important than many earlier pluralist theories have suggested.
Officials assessments about the overall involvements and influence of 24 types of groups reveal that there are indeed wide disparities in group activity, with the Chamber of Commerce and neighborhood groups being most involved and influential. But most officials report that these or other groups were not very important to their being elected to public office, and they regard group pressures as much less important than constituent preferences, economic considerations, and their own ethical principles in the stances they take on issues.
What accounts for this low group influence in pluralist politics at the local level? Officials report that on many issues there simply were no active groups. On many other issues, there were active groups, but their conflicting demands offset each other, leaving officials free to apply their own ethical judgments. On still other issues, a lot of group involvement was observed, but the active groups all lined up on the same side of the issue; on such consensual issues, no particular group dominates in resolving the issue because they had no opponents to overcome. On only a quarter of the issues did our officials observe competing groups duking it out, as is the normal image in orthodox pluralism. And a close look at these issues indicates how difficult it is to claim that a particular group dominated the outcome.
While more advanced formulations of pluralist politics should include the role of groups, it appears that the diversity of moral and justice principles that move policymakers are more important factors affecting policy decisions.
“Interest Groups in Local Politics,” in Research Guide to U.S. and International Interest groups, edited by Clive Thomas (2004)
This earlier short article reveals why the importance of groups might be deemphasized, but their role never ignored, in pluralist democracy. The limited role of interest groups had been suggested by earlier research on city politics like “the state autonomy model,” and Robert Putnam’s research in Bowling Alone that found declining group activity in civil society since the arrival of home entertainment. It also points out that my stress on the frequently cooperative – rather than conflictive – relationships among groups had an earlier recognition in such work as Clarence Stone’s Regime Politics.
The Pluralist Consensus
In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist bombings, I was invited to provide a paper at a conference sponsored by the CIA identifying possible future threats to democratic pluralism. This began a series of efforts on my part to identify what I call “the pluralist consensus.” While suicide bombers and various terrorist groups were the obvious threats to democratic pluralism in the U.S. and other democratic countries, I explored the underlying belief systems that prompt various extremists to undermine and destroy pluralist societies. Of course, identifying the ideas that threatened democratic pluralism first required identification of those ideas that were essential to it, what I call the pluralist consensus – or, simply, pluralist public philosophy. Perhaps the most important effort to identify the pluralist consensus is my book From Ideologies to Public Philosophies (see BOOKS). But six papers and articles are included here that represent both earlier and later efforts to explore the consensual ideas within pluralism. Together, these papers try to expand on what orthodox pluralism called “the rules of the game,” “the democratic creed,” and other procedural ideals that adversaries within pluralism were thought to accept – such as the need for elections to hold officials accountable and providing various political rights. I propose that theoretical and philosophical agreement has emerged supporting a wider array of political principles and philosophical assumptions that are essential to democratic pluralism, and that holding and expressing diametrically opposed principles and assumptions are likely to be future threats to pluralist societies.
“Dangerous Ideas: A Conceptual Framework for Anticipating Threats to Pluralist and Decent Societies,” presented at a conference on Globalism and Contemporary Realities, sponsored by The Strategic Assessment Group within the CIA (2005)
Here I propose a conceptual framework for identifying the ideas that challenge pluralist societies by first identifying their antitheses, the core ideas essential to the maintenance of pluralist democracies. These core ideas – what I call the pluralist consensus – are widely accepted ideals within our political culture. They are widely praised by scholars and columnists. They have long been invoked by political leaders, especially presidents, congressional leaders, and the courts. As depicted in Figure 1 of this paper, these are the core principles answering “the perennial questions” about how to structure communities, about the rights and duties of citizenship, the authority of rulers, the requirements of justice, and so forth. They also include very general philosophical assumptions about human nature, society, ontology, and epistemology.
Despite embracing these consensual ideas, disagreements on many more specific principles and assumptions are evident in different partisan philosophies and different policy orientations that are prominent in pluralist societies, but such disagreements do not endanger democratic pluralism as long as most people have greater allegiances to the pluralist consensus.
Sometimes there are leaders and social movements that reject key ideas within the pluralist consensus. Such ideas should be separated into two kinds of “challenges.”
First are the ideas of those who call for “decent” but not pluralistic societies. Nationalists can rail against cultural, racial, and/or ethnic diversity, and theocrats can call for allegiance to a national religion. Such nationalists and/or theocrats usually support authoritarian leaders to overcome the political paralysis that can occur due to cultural, religious, and social gridlock. In this paper, I follow John Rawls in understanding that nationalists, theocrats, and authoritarians can reject pluralism but still be “decent” if they provide basic rights for cultural, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities and if they do not seek to undermine pluralist democracies in the global system. In short, these are the anti-pluralist ideas that nevertheless are minimally tolerant of pluralist ones.
But, there are a second and more dangerous set of challenges by extremists who do not meet the minimal requirements for being decent. Such extremists not only reject ideas in the pluralist consensus, but they seek to eliminate or at least silence those who do not conform to their preferred cultural, religious, and ethnic identities or who continue to hold pluralist principles and assumptions.
Thus, this paper seeks to separate out four types of answers to the perennial questions of politics: (1) the consensual ideas of pluralists, (2) those conflicting ideas held by partisans within pluralism that do not undermine pluralism, (3) those ideas that propose decent but non-pluralist societies, and (4) those ideas that seek to eliminate pluralism within a society and that threaten pluralism globally.
“The ‘Old Friends’ of Pluralism and When They Stray from the Underlying Consensus of Pluralism,” presented at the Midwest Political Science Association (2005)
When writing the CIA paper, I had in mind foreign threats beyond Al Qaeda that could engage in terrorist acts against the US in the future, but in this paper, I worry about internal actors who regard themselves as patriotic Americas who would deny any hostility to our democratic institutions, but who nevertheless express ideas and endorse policies that could undermine pluralism. Some of these ideas include:having and honoring singular community identities; denying equal political rights; emphasizing one social structure – such as a capitalist economy, a particular church, or an authoritative government – while forgetting the importance of countervailing structures; denying that governments should sometimes restrict individual freedoms to pursue various collective interests; having strong ontologies that see the world as determined and thus leave scant room for human choices, and having commitments to an absolute truth.
Perhaps embracing such ideas would not make us a dictatorship or even deny fundamental rights of minorities, but widespread acceptance of such ideas could move us toward being a “decent” non-pluralist society.
Re-examining this paper in 2018 suggests that a variety of nationalist leaders – ranging from Putin in Russia, Orban in Hungary, Kaczynsi in Poland, Correa in Ecuador, Erodgan in Turkey, Duterte in the Philippines, and Maduro in Venezuela – have undermined democratic pluralism, and that, in order to attain and retain power, extremists in many other countries are appealing to nationalist and populist beliefs among the masses. Of course, this poses the question of whether Donald Trump is pursuing a similar agenda that strays from the pluralist consensus to such an extent he is pushing America toward becoming a “decent but non-pluralist” society, that could ultimately descend into one that has eradicated remaining vestiges of pluralism.
“A Reconstructed Pluralist Public Philosophy: Elaborations and Implications,” presented at the Midwest Political Science Association (2010)
My two earlier papers sought to impress on political authorities and the informed public the importance of a pluralist consensus, but this paper is aimed at academics, especially in political science. I make “the admittedly audacious claim” that pluralism should be considered a viable candidate for paradigmatic status within the discipline, a claim that was not much supported by those in the attendance when I gave the paper. But they did not so much reject the characterization of pluralism that I provided as they rejected any effort to make political science paradigmatic, I assume because those whose research had nothing to do with pluralism would feel marginalized and excluded by the disciplinary strictures imposed by any paradigm, even one as general and undogmatic as pluralism. Not wanting to be seen as unsympathetic to research agendas outside of pluralism (especially those of the post-modernists and poststructuralists in my own department who believe that pluralism excludes too many marginalized voices), I never tried to publish this paper, but I still endorse its ideas.
I begin by articulating three basic principles that I thought could be accepted by most if not all pluralists (and political scientists): a liberal equal liberty principle; a communitarian community sovereignty principle; and a democratic citizen engagement principle. I then elaborate other principles that are central to pluralism like the importance of having multiple community identities, ensuring the basic opportunities and rights of citizens, promoting in citizens their acceptance of basic responsibilities and virtues, understanding the importance of countervailing social structures, and recognizing the role of continuous reform as a means of achieving change that is not too de-stabilizing. I also elaborate the meaning and importance of such philosophical assumptions as “a thin ontology,” an “open conception of human nature,” a “contingent conception of society,” and a “tentative epistemology.” I argue that both utopianism and nihilism are contrary to pluralist public philosophy.
“Amitai Etzioni: Communitarian Centrist and Principled Pluralist,” The Social Science Journal, (Spring 2018)
One reason that pluralism might be an acceptable paradigm for political science and other social sciences is that it is broad enough to encompass those working within other important theoretical traditions. In this short paper, I argue that pluralism is consistent with the communitarianism of Amitai Etzioni, a leader in the American communitarian movement.
“Obama’s Pluralism,” a preface to the Korean translation of From Ideologies to Public Philosophy (2010)
While finishing his Korean translation of my From Ideologies to Public Philosophy, Professor Hyo-Je Cho asked me to provide another preface for the book that focused on how the new American President, Barack Obama, seemed to fit into the book’s major themes. In the attached paper (in English!) I consider how Obama had, during his campaign and first year in office, put his commitments to pluralism ahead of his more liberal ideals, and in so doing disappointed some of his most partisan supporters.
“John Rawls, Barack Obama, and the Pluralist Political Consensus,” in American Political Thought (2016)
During the next few years of Obama’s presidency, I continued to examine his speeches and policies for evidence of their liberalism and/or pluralism. The following paper summarizes my thoughts on how Obama’s pluralism was more important than his liberalism, and in so doing, it clarifying the similarities and differences between liberalism as a partisan outlook and pluralism as a public philosophy. For academics, I wanted to embed work on pluralism within the Rawlsian tradition, especially his emphasis on an “overlapping consensus.” For the informed public, I wanted to vindicate President Obama. Of course, reading the paper now raises the question of whether Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, who has so often vilified Obama has done so because of his pluralism. If so, this increases concern that Trump is a threat – or at least a challenge – to the maintenance of pluralist democracy.
Partisan Perspectives within Pluralism
Pluralist societies have always contained many partisan perspectives. To learn about the main ideologies within pluralism (such as various liberalisms, conservatisms, and socialisms) you can go to BOOKS and read my texts on these subjects. In this section, I provide unpublished papers on global neoliberalism and progressive pluralism that were made available to my students. I suggest that these were replacing contemporary conservatism and contemporary liberalism as the main contending partisan perspectives within advanced pluralist societies in the 21st century.
“The Political Principles and Philosophical Assumptions of Globalism,” presented at a seminar of the Office of International Programs at the University of Kansas (2005).
This is a revision of a paper that I had presented at Thammasat University, Bangkok, Thailand, in January of 2004. I point out that elites who sit atop national governments and multinational corporations have proclaimed “global neoliberalism” to be a new ideological consensus in the post-cold-war era. I delineate the principles of this perspective, which include: accepting that nation-states should recede in importance so that other political identities can flourish, that national borders should be more open to the free flow of trade, capital, and workers, that capitalism must thrive without being under-written by democratic governments that nevertheless provide rules facilitating its processes, that justice requires fair procedures, enhanced opportunities, and safety nets, that such governments must provide stability without imposing extensive taxes and stifling regulations, and that stable democratic capitalism produces extensive and beneficial social change.
I then go on to criticize such a neoliberalism because of its being based on such inadequate philosophical assumptions as: having an ontology of economic determinism, giving too much emphasis to material and hedonistic motivations as being primary elements of human nature, forgetting the coercion that occurs within “voluntary societies,” and having an overly thin and skeptical epistemology that opens the door to power being the only basis for knowledge. I also point out that neoliberalism has not provided all the benefits that it has promised. For example, the prosperity it has produced is much less widespread and enduring than claimed, that its increased freedoms are seldom experienced by the least advantaged, and that the democracies that have accompanied it are thinner than previous more adequate means of advancing citizen interests.
“Progressive Pluralism and Democracy,” an extract of an unpublished book that I provided to students in graduate seminars on democracy (2006) and pluralism (2007).
This paper introduces “progressive pluralism” as a partisan perspective that is superior to global neoliberalism for situating people within pluralist polities. It is drawn from a manuscript entitled In Praise of Progressive Pluralism that I had drafted to define and defend my own partisan perspective in a manner analogous to how A Theory of Justice (TJ) had defined and defended Rawls’ more partisan “egalitarian liberalism.” In TJ, Rawls had tried to show that his egalitarian liberalism was a more rational choice as a public philosophy than a liberalism based on utilitarian principles. So, I wanted to show that progressive pluralism was a more rational choice than global neoliberalism. That was clearly a grandiose ambition that I abandoned without seeking publication, but I may someday take up the project again.
In the meanwhile, this paper simply provides some instrumental principles and procedures for strengthening democracy, which is one of the core principles of my progressive pluralism. These more focused democratic principles include such things as increasing voter equality in elections, enlarging the agenda of democratic politics by giving more attention to the concerns of social movements, having more inclusive deliberative bodies, and requiring supra-majorities for legislation that might curtail minority rights. It calls for a social movement on behalf of deeper democracy itself, and not just particular progressive issues such as more progressive tax policies, women’s and gay rights, and gun control. That such a movement could evolve into a third party that competes with the Republican and Democratic parties is suggested.
The Electoral College
Since 1888 and prior to the 2000 election, the winner of the national popular vote had always gotten enough votes in the Electoral College (EC) to become president, prompting little attention being given to how the votes of citizens were aggregated to determine the winner of presidential elections. But when George W. Bush became President by getting a few more EC votes than Al Gore, who had a decisive lead over Bush in popular votes nationally, I was besieged by journalists and students seeking explanations and commentary about our “archaic” method of choosing our presidents. Trips to the library and Internet searches convinced me that political science had very little to say about this. I thought it was a disgrace that there was little good research – let alone any scholarly consensus – on a question as central to the functioning of American democracy as our method for choosing our leader.
I devised a strategy for addressing this deficiency which involved recruiting three dozen political scientists, prominent in the various fields of the discipline who could report on how the EC affected behavior in their research areas. For example, how did it affect citizen participation? how did it affect political parties? And how would various reforms of, or alternatives to, the EC be expected to change behavior? My colleague, Burdett Loomis, was the first person I recruited because his expertise in American politics could sharpen my research strategy, his networking in the field would be helpful in recruiting others to participate in the project, and his familiarity with publishers might help us find one that would fund the project and publish our findings. Together, we soon recruited 35 other participants, who were assigned to nine topic areas. We asked them to collaborate with others in their topic areas to generate papers on how relevant electoral rules affected their topic areas. We circulated their papers among all participants in the project, held a conference, and circulated ballots asking them to indicate their approval or disapproval of the EC and alternatives to it, to indicate their preferred option, and to rank-order all the options. Then we tabulated their votes (in various ways) to determine our collective judgment on the best method.
This did not produce the scholarly consensus that we hoped for. While most participants indicated they “approved” of the EC, it was not the first choice of a majority of our participants. Yet, the Electoral College was clearly the most supported system, as those who had significant reservations about it could not agree on the best alternative.
Few participants had significantly revised their ratings of the EC and its various alternatives from their preferences at the beginning of the project. Most seemed to give precedence to their beliefs about how these electoral rules affected behavior in their field. For example, specialists in political party tended to think that the EC promoted the two-party system, and because they thought that system was essential to the workings of American democracy, so too was the EC. Specialists in campaigns thought that the EC resulted in campaigns that focused on those few states that “were in play” under the EC system, thought this exclusiveness was unfair, and thus favored a national popular election that could remove this bias.
The project increased my appreciation of the EC, and it pointed out some of the problems with my initial preferred choice of a national popular-plurality election (i.e., counting equally all votes cast throughout the country, and awarding the presidency to the candidate that got the most votes (even if he or she did not get a majority of the votes). Based on what I had learned from the project, I preferred the rank-order single-transferrable vote (the instant runoff) that was used in a few other countries (and American cities).
Despite thinking the project a failure in its inability to produce a clear disciplinary conclusion and despite its luke-warm endorsement of a electoral system that was not my choice, our contractual obligation to produce the book had to be met and so Choosing A President was written, published, and released within days of the 9/11 attack. Lost in the attention given to that horrible event, it was hardly noticed. Details about that book can be found under the BOOKS button. Here I discuss and provide papers I wrote (sometimes with others) in the aftermath.
“Reaching Collective Judgment about the Electoral College and Its Alternatives,” with Burdett Loomis, presented at the Southern Political Science Association conference (2001)
This paper summarizes the results of the project. Beyond indicating our tepid support for the EC and our assessments of the various alternatives to it, we discussed some of the problems that undermined our coming to any kind of disciplinary consensus. There simply was no data available on how the EC affected such things as voter turnout. Since some of the alternatives had never been tried anywhere, participants could only speculate about some of their effects. Most options seemed to have some positive and some negative effects, and so participants had to make value judgments about which effects were most important to them. And a constitutional amendment would be required even to reform the most problematic aspects of the EC, such as the possibility that a House Contingency Election being mandated by the Constitution if no candidate received a majority of EC votes, and the possibility that the apparent winner of the November election could be sidelined by “rogue voters” who reneged on their commitments to vote faithfully for the candidate who carried their states.
Pondering these results and the problems we encountered coming to them, I concluded that we had needed a clearer analytical framework for sifting through all the considerations that had been brought out by our participants. By the time our participants had to cast their votes among the options, we had not determined the criteria that were most central to fair elections and assigned some sort of intersubjective judgments about how well each option fared on each of these criteria. After having written this paper but before making our presentation at the conference, I developed the matrix of criteria and options provided at the end of this paper, and my talk focused on this matrix which, it seemed to me, pointed to the superiority of the “instant run-off.” Discussion ensued about the adequacy of these criteria and the way I had characterized how well each option fared on various criteria.
“Electoral College Reform at the State-Level,” with Bruce Oppenheimer, in Counting Votes, edited by Robert Watson (2004)
Bruce Oppenheimer had participated in our project and he presented his views on the superiority of a popular-plurality election at the same panel that I summarized the overall project and presented my matrix. Afterward, he agreed to join Loomis and I in seeking more intersubjective agreement on the evaluations in my matrix and then applying the matrix to those options that could be pursued by states. A constitutional amendment to ditch the EC and choose some sort of national popular election was unlikely, but states could revise their rules that might mitigate some of the problems that were evident in the EC system. For example, states were free to abandon the “winner-take-all” feature of the EC whereby all the electors of a state voted in the EC for the candidate that won the popular-plurality vote in their state. As Nebraska and Maine had done, they could aggregate popular votes for each congressional district in the state, and if a candidate lost in the state-as-a-whole but won in one (or a few) district(s), he/she could be awarded the elector from that district. Or states could use a “proportionality rule” that would simply allocate its electors to candidates in proportion to the percentage of votes they got in the state-as-a-whole. States could also have a run-off election if no candidate got a majority of the popular votes. Or states could use “the instant runoff” to determine who would win the state’s electoral votes. While we doubted that state changes in these methods were likely to affect national outcomes, we thought such state level reforms could be studied, that states could be “laboratories of democracy” for better understanding the effects of various reforms.
“The Good, the Better, and the Best: Improving on the ‘Acceptable’ Electoral College,” in Electoral College Reform, edited by Gary Bugh (2010).
I note that no process of electing the US President is perfect. I acknowledge the verdict of the participants in the Electoral College project that our existing Electoral College method is acceptable (or “good”). I consider the popular-plurality method, achieved not by eliminating Constitutional provisions for the Electoral College but by an Interstate Compact, and find that it is “better” than the EC. But I find the “best” method to be having rank-order voting with an instant runoff. Since this would require a Constitutional amendment, I speculate that popular opposition to the EC could prompt a movement for such a Constitutional amendment, and perhaps other related shortcomings in the Constitution.
It became apparent that interest in the EC and alternatives to it peaked every time there was a close presidential election, when the outcome depended on whether the rules of the EC were still in play or whether some sort of popular vote would alter the outcome. Public opinion polls showed extensive support for ending the EC (even though few citizens understood how it worked). Think tanks devised new schemes for improving on or working around the EC as mandated by the Constitution. I was invited to participate in some of these activities, and I would trot out my matrix and express my preference for the “instant runoff.” The following is the matrix and a discussion of it.
During the 2016 election, I warned of the dangers that lurked and I wrote some op-ed pieces on how to fix the problem – now replacing the endless primaries with a first round featuring an “approval ballot” as a method to reduce the chances of extremists capturing a party’s nomination – but got no takers. The New York Times, for example, preferred to run a similar op-ed piece by Howard Dean. You can go to BLOGS (dated on 10/06/16) to read an example of my futile efforts to provide a more comprehensive method for choosing our president than the one proposed by Dean.