Uncompetitive Elections and the American Political System

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American representative government suffersfrom the handicap of a largely uncompetitive politicalsystem. American politics has fewer and fewercompetitive elections. In arguing that political competitionmatters a great deal, this paper traces theincreasing trend toward uncompetitiveness anddetails the role and nature of incumbency advantagein fostering an uncompetitive political system.

Current redistricting practices and campaignfinance regulations, in tandem with publiclyfinanced careerism, have significantly negativeconsequences for the health of the political system.This study analyzes several of the majorinstruments of campaign finance regulation,such as contribution limits, public financing,and the ban on soft money, in terms of their relationshipto political competition. Simply put,campaign finance regulation and public financinghave not improved political competition.

In the past, campaign finance restrictions andtaxpayer-subsidized elections have generatedunintended consequences. The most recent regulatoryround is no exception to that rule. Thisstudy also looks at other reforms, namely, termlimits and improvements to the redistrictingprocess, in light of their comparatively successfulrecord regarding political competition.

Changes in the manner in which districts aredesigned, campaigns are funded, and politiciansare tenured require immediate implementation.In short, elected officials should be disconnectedfrom campaign and election rule making andregulation. There will not be an improvement inpolitical competition until the incumbent foxends his tenure as guardian of the democratichenhouse.

Patrick Basham and Dennis Polhill

Patrick Basham is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Representative Government. Dennis Polhill is a senior fellow at the Independence Institute.