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Republicans are bad for democracy


Glad to see a new working paper by my colleague Jake Grumbach getting a lot of attention. The latest writeup is at Vox:

In late March, Georgia passed a restrictive new voting law that, in effect, permits the Republican state legislature to put partisan operatives in charge of disqualifying ballots in Democratic-leaning precincts. The law is one of at least eight proposals from GOP lawmakers in state legislatures around the country for increasing partisan influence over electoral administration — and one of more than 360 state bills that would curtail voting rights in one way or another.

New political science research suggests this wave of attempts to restrict the franchise is not an anomaly: Republican control over state government is correlated with large and measurable declines in the health of a state’s democracy.

The paper, by University of Washington professor Jake Grumbach, constructs a quantitative measure of democratic health at the state level in the US. He looked at all 50 states between 2000 and 2018 to figure out why some states got more democratic over this period and others less. The conclusions were clear: The GOP is the problem.

“Results suggest a minimal role for all factors except Republican control of state government, which dramatically reduces states’ democratic performance during this period,” he writes.

While many researchers have attempted to quantify the health of democracy in different countries around the world, Grumbach’s paper is the first effort to develop some kind of ranking system for US states. It’s still in working paper form, which means it has not been peer-reviewed. But Grumbach’s work has been widely praised by other political scientists who had read a draft or seen him present it at a conference.

“This is one of those papers that makes me proud to be an empirical political scientist. It’s important, carefully done, and just plain smart,” writes Vin Arceneaux, a professor at Temple University. “It helps us not only understand American politics but democratic backsliding in general.”

And it’s yet another piece of evidence that the Republican Party has become an anti-democratic political faction.

Republicans have the choice of offering a more appealing agenda or continuing to limit democracy in the states they control, and they choice they’ve made it clear.

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