27 December 2010

Mixed Preferences and Federalism

Inoljt at Daily Kos has made a nice post showing the regional breakdown of Colorado's Presidential vote on maps for the last five Presidential elections.

The really notable thing about it is that it underscores the extent to which Colorado politics at the state level is an eternal struggle between liberal forces in Boulder, Denver and Pueblo against conservative in Colorado Springs and Grand Junction, with a consistent and complex pattern of minor forces swaying the conflict elsewhere in the state.

Colorado is a poster child for the limits of federalism as a means of reconciling competing political ideologies. In Colorado, there is no way to neatly divide the state into a part that wants liberal policies and one that wants conservative one. Secession and division is an impossible answer to reconcile competing political forces because the mix of ideologies geographically is too muddled to be partitioned off with regard to genuinely state and federal level decisions. Concentrations of people with opposite political views live too close to each other to have different rules for each.

There is also no dominant political party in the state. No Presidential candidate in the last five elections has won by even 54% of the vote and in 1992, the winner got less than 41% of the vote. We cast our vote for two Democrats and three Republicans in five elections, the most even divide possible, and the margin of the winner in the closest Republican prevailling election was just 1.4 percentage points. Ross Perot, who ran as a center-right candidate between the Republican and Democrat in 1992 and 1996 received strong support here.

Our Congressional delegation has gone from red to blue and back again.

We are a state that is deeply entrenched in unavoidable political division and have no way to resolve it but to tussle it out as the electorate narrowly favors one party or the other, and to reach compromises. Neither party has any realistic hope of achieving a permanent majority here.

One of the easiest to utilize citizen initiative processes in the nation also means that there is always room for the wildcard of poitical actors who would have no hope of achieving their ends in the legislative process to bring their issues to the front of the public agenda.

We have intraparty conflicts, of course, but the center stage in Colorado is interparty conflict as the political center in Colorado is very close to the political center of the nation as a whole, but without the comparatively simple geographical divideds that we see nationally. The United States could rethink the decision it made in 1861, and neatly divide itself into one much more conservative country, and one much more liberal one. Colorado doesn't have that option.

From the point of view of political theory, this makes Colorado a great place to look at the issue of how parties interact to win power in the face of a fickle, evenly divided public and very different visions of the ideal government and its legal regime. Colorado is a place where the formal political process really has to resolve lots of issues upon which there is no natural consensus. Since the process often works, it could even be called a good model for how to go about doing it.

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