Introducing the New Editors of The Western


In this edition, we would like to introduce the new editors of the Western Newsletter, Danielle Lemi and Janni Aragon. We are proud to continue the tradition of editors Daniellecoming from UC Riverside’s Political Science Department. It is a happy coincidence. Many thanks to the founding editors, Valerie O’Regan and Stephen Stambough for their hard work!

Danielle Lemi is a Ph.D. Candidate at  UC Riverside.  Her dissertation examines how multiracial categorization and multiracial identity interacts with media coverage of candidates in traditional and alternative media, how voters evaluate candidates, and how candidates themselves, once they are elected, view their racial identities and their legislative priorities. In short, the dissertation finds that race still plays a significant role in the packaging of, the perceptions of, and the actions of candidates considered non-white.  She is a Bay Area native, a Paleo enthusiast. She was also a 2012 recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

JanniJanni Aragon is the founding Director Technology Integrated Learning at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, and is an Assistant Professor, Adjunct in Political Science. In her administrative role, she helps support educational technology and pedagogy across campus. Janni  is the Chair of the Senate Committee on Learning and Teaching, and chairs an Information Technology committee, Teaching, Learning Technology. Janni is a former Chair of the Academic Women’s Caucus (AWC). Janni was a long time serving Undergraduate Advisor in Political Science. You can find Janni on Twitter @janniaragon or on her blog She is currently working on a book about teaching and mentoring.

To read this edition of The Western, download the full PDF here.

Low Voter Turnout: Not an Individual Moral Failure

By Jason A. McDaniel

Autumn is in the air and we are in an odd-numbered year, which makes it likely that a local election is taking place somewhere near you. Unfortunately, it is also likely that fewer than half of registered voters of any given city will be participating in that local election.

Perhaps even more importantly, the racial composition of the electorate will be disproportionately white, even in racially diverse cities. According to my analysis of data for the upcoming mayoral election in San Francisco, 65% of voters in the electorate will be white, in a city where just 42% of the population is white. In a city where 20% of the population is either Black or Latino, my estimates indicate they will make up less than 10% of the voting electorate.

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In addition to be disproportionately white, urban and local electorates are likely to be heavily skewed towards older voters. According to my research, there is about a 30% probability that an individual registered voter under the age of 40 will vote in an election in San Francisco, regardless of individual racial identity. By way of comparison, approximately 65% of registered voters in San Francisco under age 40 voted in the 2012 presidential election.

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The relatively low levels of participation in local elections has received some attention, and is certainly cause for concern. Too often, however, the low level of electoral participation in U.S. cities is framed as a moral failure of citizens who do not care enough to bother to embrace their civic duty. Such moralistic framing tends to obscure the importance of electoral institutions and demographic factors.

What explains the patterns of turnout that we see in places like San Francisco and other cities? Research into the subject points to a combination of factors, some of which are easier to ameliorate than others. In general, low levels of electoral participation urban elections can be explained by the specific set of electoral rules and institutions that are prevalent in big cities, a confluence of demographic changes, such as increased racial diversity and immigration, and the decline of partisan electoral competition in urban elections.

The most important factor, to my mind, is the electoral rules and institutions that have separated local elections from state and national elections. We know that people are motivated to participate in elections when they feel there is an important interest at stake. Holding local elections in different years from other state and federal elections makes it less likely that voters will perceive that there are important interests at stake. Changing the election calendar to coincide with other important elections would dramatically increase participation.

We know that some individual characteristics correlate with higher probability of electoral participation. People who have higher levels of education, people who are older, and people who have been citizens longer are more likely to perceive a compelling interest to vote. They are more likely to develop the habit of voting.

We also know that citizens who identify with racial-ethnic minority groups are more likely to participate in local elections when they have the opportunity to elect a candidate who is representative of their racial-ethnic group.

We know that people are more likely to participate when they are mobilized to do so. That is, when they are asked to participate by a family member, friend, neighbor, or (especially) by a candidate or campaign organization. I suspect that concentrated and sustained efforts to mobilize the Asian-American electorate in San Francisco explains why turnout has increased steadily since 2003 among Asian-American voters.

Voter mobilization requires money, skill, and organization. Unfortunately, the combination of strict campaign finance rules and non-partisan elections makes it very difficult to connect money, skill, and organization to produce strong voter mobilization effects. Research consistently shows that electoral participation increases as campaign spending increases. Also, research shows that the chances of an incumbent winning re-election decline as spending increases. This research implies that we should consider making it easier to raise and spend money in local elections. Public financing of elections, including public matching schemes adopted by cities such as New York and San Francisco, can be part of the solution. But, as long as campaign finance reformers primary focus is on limiting contributions, public financing should not be expected to substantially increase voter turnout in local elections.

Automatic voter registration, recently adopted in California and other states, will improve things in some respects, but, unfortunately, it will not be a panacea. According to research by Michael McDonald, we should not expect substantial increases in voter turnout rates because the increase in registered voters will be concentrated in those portions of the electorate that are least likely to participate.

The low levels of local electoral participation in American cities does not represent a moral failure of voters. Treating declining participation as a moral failing is likely to perpetuate racial and age disparities in the electorate. Moreover, doing so shifts the focus away from the things that government institutions and political campaigns can do to improve electoral participation.

Jason A. McDaniel is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at San Francisco State University.

Fatherhood, Motherhood, and Political Viability

By Meredith Conroy

Paul Ryan and his family, in an instagram post.

The latest twist in the tale of the House Speaker vacancy has seen Paul Ryan, the resentful favorite, use his general appeal to ask for four concessions, one of which is that he would take on fewer fundraising duties than past Speakers, in order to maintain the time he now spends with his young children.

When I heard this I was struck by how unapologetic he was in his demands, and for this one demand in particular. Furthermore, I was struck by the praise he was receiving for this particular demand—“how refreshing for a man to put his family before work” etc. Via her Facebook profile, which boasts 1.7 million followers, Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, gave Ryan the “Lean In Award of the day” writing, “We need work to work for parents – and having leaders who weigh responsibilities as fathers as much as their responsibilities to their jobs shows all of us what is possible.” Although, not everyone agreed that he should be recognized; plenty of Sandberg’s followers were quick to point out Ryan’s hypocrisy—as a member of congress, Ryan has not supported paid family leave, or other measures that would give similar courtesy to working parents. [Sidenote: there was of course the sarcastic twitter response #PaulRyanConditions, which mocked the general premise of demands, but not the demands in particular.]

While the rationale for his demands is varied—certainly he wants to ensure that taking on the Speaker role will not preclude a future presidential run—the familial rationale is one that a similarly situated woman would never make, and is a not-so-friendly reminder that for a woman in politics, her family can be a liability, while for men, it is an asset.

In particular, recall this interview with Nancy Pelosi, featured in the outstanding documentary, Miss Representation, in which she reminisces about her first run for public office:


While Pelosi’s first run for public office was in the mid-90s, women who are mothers who run for office, today, are still more likely than their male counterparts to have their families, and role as mothers and wives, featured in media coverage (Banwart, Bystrom, and Robetson 2003; Conroy et al. 2015; Heldman, Carroll and Olsen 2005; Kahn 1994, 1996).

Even if media coverage that focuses on a woman’s family and her role as a mother is not judgmental, it is problematic. When a woman’s coverage is focused on her familial role as a mother, it takes away from coverage that might otherwise be focused on her issue positions, which would more clearly establish her as a viable, experienced, political candidate, instead of more exclusively a mother. This is not to say that motherhood doesn’t contribute to a woman’s leadership capacity—I would argue it enhances it—yet until the lingering stigma that a working mom is a neglectful mom is eradicated, describing women with political ambitions primarily in terms of their motherhood does not give her campaign an edge.

To be frank, media coverage that is focused on family and parental obligations can be more damaging for women than for men. This is because the persistent expectation in American society is largely that women are more responsible for raising children than men. This expectation is a major influence on whether a woman will even consider running for office. For example, Jennifer L. Lawless and Richard L. Fox (2010) uncover a shockingly wide gender gap in the role of parenthood on the decision to run for political office—sixty-five percent of women believe that having children makes it more difficult to run for public office, whereas only 3 percent of men agreed.

Unfortunately, women who are mothers may be right to exercise caution when deciding to run for office. Using an experiment, Brittany L. Stalsburg (2010) manipulated otherwise identical candidates’ parental statuses and found respondents to indicate that men with young children are more politically viable than women with young children. As Stalsburg notes,

This line of research suggests that gender role expectations and family obligations are more salient for political women than for political men. Women are constrained by family responsibilities and must negotiate their private lives in ways that men do not (2010, 378).

As such, men are more likely to feature their families when campaigning than female candidates (Bystrom et al. 2004), to overcome the presumption that they are primarily wives and mothers, less capable of politicking.

And it is in this environment that we find Paul Ryan able to unapologetically demand that if he accepts the House Speaker position he be able to travel less, to be a present father. Hopefully, our future is one where women can make the same demands, without being perceived as politically weak, or less viable.

Works Cited

Banwart, Mary Christine, Dianne G. Bystrom, and Terry Robertson. “From the Primary to the General Election: A Comparative Analysis of Candidate Media Coverage in Mixed-Gender 2000 Races for Governor and U.S. Senate.” American Behavioral Scientist 46, no. 5 (2003): 658–

Bystrom, Dianne G., Mary C. Banwart, Lynda Lee Kaid, and Terry A. Robertson. Gender and Candidate Communication: VideoStyle. WebStyle. NewsStyle. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Conroy, Meredith, Sarah Oliver, Ian Breckenridge-Jackson, and Caroline Heldman. “From Ferraro to Palin: Sexism in Media Coverage of Vice Presidential Candidates,” Politics, Groups, and Identities, 2015. DOI: 10.1080/21565503.2015.1050412.

Heldman, Caroline, Susan J. Carroll, and Stephanie Olson. “‘She Brought Only a Skirt’: Print Media Coverage of Elizabeth Dole’s Bid for the Republican Presidential Nomination.” Political Communication 22, no. 3 (2005): 315–35.

Kahn, Kim Fridkin. “Does Gender Make a Difference? An Experimental Examination of Sex Stereotypes and Press Patterns in Statewide Campaigns.” American Journal of Political Science 38, no. 1 (1994): 162−95.

Kahn, Kim Fridkin. The Political Consequences of Being a Woman. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Lawless, Jennifer L., and Richard L. Fox. It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office. Revised Edition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Stalsburg, Brittany L. “Voting for Mom: The Political Consequences of Being a Parent for Male and Female Candidates.” Politics and Gender 6 (2010): 373−404.

Meredith Conroy is an assistant professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino. Her book, Masculinity, Media, and the American Presidency, is now available from Palgrave Macmillan. To order a copy at a discounted rate, visit, and enter discount code PM15THIRTY.

Religion and presidential elections

Library of Congress

Source: Library of Congress

by William Adler

There’s been a lot of talk lately among a certain segment of Republicans claiming that President Obama is a Muslim; or that maybe he’s too sympathetic to clock-building “terrorist” teenagers; or that, perhaps, Muslims are unfit to be considered for higher office altogether (article VI of the Constitution notwithstanding). Sadly, virtually none of this is surprising (something something history repeating itself).

Interestingly, though, this isn’t the first time in U.S. history that a president’s political opponents have accused him of lying about his true religious faith. When Thomas Jefferson ran for president in 1800, preachers and Federalist hatchet-men called him a “confirmed infidel,” who professed “disbelief in the Holy Scriptures” and was in fact a “howling atheist.” At best, some argued, Jefferson was a closeted Deist who rejected the active hand of God in the world. William Linn, a Dutch Reformed minister in New York, authored a pamphlet entitled, “Considerations on the Election of a President: Addressed to the Citizens of the United States,” in which he stated:

“No professed deist, be his talents and achievements what they may, ought to be promoted to this place by the suffrages of a Christian nation… Would Jews or Mahometans, consistently with their belief, elect a Christian? Shall Christians be less zealous and active than they?”

Jefferson won the election, of course, but the smear campaign against him left a mark. Federalists spent most of Jefferson’s two terms in office continuing to find new ways to impeach his character: that he was too much of a philosopher, or too professorial in bearing, to make a good president; that his attachments to France and the French way of living made him all too likely to foment an American version of the French Revolution; that he was attempting to become a dictator; that he opposed the Constitution and secretly despised the national government; that he wanted to weaken the U.S. military for the sake of inviting foreign powers in; and that he slept with his female slaves who then gave birth to his unrecognized children (probably true).

For both Jefferson and Obama, these smears are linked to the broader critique their political opponents have had of their policies and governing projects. Jefferson, a committed Enlightenment rationalist, believed strongly in a strict division between religion and state, famously calling for a “wall” between them. Obama entered office in strong opposition to George W. Bush’s policies on the Iraq War and the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. As a result, it’s easy for those so inclined to re-read these political stances as the product of some deeper, hidden motivation that supposedly disqualifies them as leader of the nation. In a nation where religion occupies such a central part of our political discourse, it’s all too easy for political opportunists to use this kind of moral denigration to eat away at someone’s political legitimacy.

Sources/further reading

Joanne B. Freeman, “The Election of 1800: A Study in the Logic of Political Change,” The Yale Law Journal 108:8 (June 1999): 1959-1994.

Frank Lambert, “’God – and a Religious President… [or] Jefferson and No God’: Campaigning for a Voter-Imposed Religious Test in 1800,” Journal of Church and State 39:4 (Autumn 1997): 769-789.

Charles O. Lerche, Jr., “Jefferson and the Election of 1800: A Case Study in the Political Smear,” The William and Mary Quarterly 5:4 (Oct 1948): 467-491.

William D. Adler is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northeastern Illinois University.  His research interests include American political development and the presidency.  He has published articles in the Journal of Policy History, Studies in American Political Development, Presidential Studies Quarterly, Political Science Quarterly, and Polity.

Rethinking state capacity in the face of crisis

By Lama Mourad

By Mstyslav Chernov (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo via Wikimedia Commons; Women and children among Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 4 September 2015.

The current migrant crisis,[1] primarily fuelled by the ongoing civil war in Syria and parts of Iraq, has been the subject of much writing over the last few weeks. The vast majority of the focus has been on how this crisis is affected by, and affects, politics in Europe (and to a lesser extent Canada and the USA). While for Europe, it appears that this “crisis” is a recent one – with this summer seeing a remarkable increase in numbers of asylum claimants and refugees attempting to come into Europe – for neighbouring countries, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, it has been a reality for years now.

Contrast, for example, the most generous commitment of any European country by far, Germany’s decision to take in 800 000 refugees by year’s end, with the more than 1.1 million refugees[2] already in Lebanon, a country with a population twenty times smaller and with a fifth of Germany’s per capita GDP. Jordan and Turkey host, by the most conservative estimates, over 600 000 and 1.9 million refugees respectively.

Therefore, as we look for lasting solutions and responses to the migrant crisis, we should be aware not to reproduce the general emphasis on South-North (as opposed to South-South) migration by focusing on refugees and asylum seekers who aim to settle in Europe. Rather, we should remember that the vast majority of migrants remain in the Middle East, either displaced within their country or in neighbouring countries — a trend that holds true in other regions and major cases of displacement. Therefore, we would be well served — both as a discipline and as citizens — to look at learning from these cases and to ensure that they do not slip out of the limelight when they do not directly impact on politics of Western states.

While the issues of concern for political scientists in this crisis are many, including the importance of what we teach in our syllabi, there has been little discussion of how this crisis should force us to rethink some of our most basic assumptions regarding state capacity and strength — critical concepts in the field.

State strength is generally understood as a function of two main factors: capacity and sovereignty. Based on the Weberian definition, strong states are those who hold the monopoly of power over their territory, and provide a core set of political goods to their citizens, not least of which is security. In contrast, weak states are understood to either lack the capacity to provide a set of core goods, and/or are unable to do so independently. This broad definition has a number of scholarly and policy implications, namely an emphasis on ‘state-building’ through a focus on the central institutions of the state, such as strengthening the capacity of security institutions, legislatures, and judiciaries.

Based on these notions, international rankings of state strength, such as the Fragile State Index (FSI) (formerly the Failed States Index) serve to tell scholars and policy makers which states are most likely to buckle under pressure or to experience greater instability. Under this rubric Lebanon – which now hosts the largest refugee population per capita in the world – has consistently ranked among countries with a high or very high warning on the FSI. This, along with its history of civil war, has led many to warn of its (imminent) collapse or, at the very least, of the reemergence of civil conflict.

In light of this, it’s rather remarkable how resilient the Lebanese state appears in the face of the most recent crisis. While “strong”, prosperous states in Europe and North America frequently speak of a limit to their absorptive capacity, despite the relatively low numbers of refugees most of these countries anticipate hosting, otherwise “weak” states such as Lebanon bear an exponentially larger burden and continue to function, admittedly not without problems.

It is with this in mind that I suggest that we look beyond the emphasis on state-level (macro) indicators when trying to understand a country’s capacity to cope with crisis. In doing so, it may be fruitful to look from the bottom-up to see how the communities most affected by the crisis are adapting and coping with the major changes of the last few years. For instance, as has been noted, one village in Lebanon is currently hosting more Syrian refugees than the entire United States. In the absence of a central policy to deal with the refugee crisis – with the exception of the major decision to not build refugee camps – local communities and municipalities, with the participation of local and international NGOs and actors, are creating and implementing initiatives and policies that most directly affect the lives of both citizens and refugees.

Considering these cases should cause us to rethink some of the taken-for-granted assumptions about what makes states otherwise “weak” or “strong,” and help us move away from this entrenched dichotomy. In this regard, local-level resilience and adaptability may have important effects on macro-level patterns and state strength.

Lama Mourad is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto, where she researches migration and local governance in the Middle East. From 2012-2015, Lama was a CGS-Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) doctoral fellow, and is currently a fellow at the Trudeau Centre for Peace, Conflict, and Justice. She will be returning to the Middle East as an affiliate of the Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies at the American University of Beirut in the fall of 2015.

[1] Debate surrounding the terminology used to define the crisis has abounded over the last few weeks. I choose to retain the broader category of migrant to characterize the crisis, as many of those fleeing do not fit the overly-restrictive Convention definition of refugees, and denying this reality would serve to reinforce an extant hierarchy in the international migration regime. For more on this, please see a recent piece by Kelsey Norman and I in Muftah.

[2] By official estimates. Due to challenges in registering refugees, the unofficial numbers are higher, with some estimates as high as 2 million.

John Boehner resigns


Photo Source: Wikipedia

by Chera LaForge

It’s been a big week for the United States Congress. On Thursday, they hosted Pope Francis in a joint session, an event possible only because of the long-time efforts of Speaker of the House, John Boehner. On Friday, Boehner announced his resignation from his leadership position and congressional seat in a closed door meeting of the Republican caucus. Boehner’s resignation ends an interesting and tumultuous period for the Republican leadership. In 2014, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (VA) lost his Virginia primary race to an unknown economics professor and Tea Party candidate, Dave Brat, the first sitting majority leader to lose his position. And while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would eventually win handily in both races, he faced an expensive primary battle from the right and a highly qualified Democratic challenger in the general election. The electoral challenges leadership has faced in the past two years mirror the increasing difficulty of managing the increasingly conservative Republican rank and file.

The resignation of Boehner isn’t actually as abrupt as we might expect. Vote View predicted that Boehner may be “one casualty of this fight over Planned Parenthood” on September 19 and rumors were floating that Boehner supporters in Congress were trying to prevent his ouster until after the Pope’s visit. Yet, Boehner’s challenges reach back much farther than the most recent threat of a government shutdown. In July, House Freedom Caucus member, Mark Meadows (R-NC), filed a motion to vacate the chair, arguing that Boehner had tried to consolidate power, punish members that voted against his wishes, limited the power of the legislative branch, and bypassed the wishes of most of the Republican caucus. While the motion didn’t move beyond being referred to the House Rules Committee, it did cap off two cycles where an increasing number of Republicans voted against his campaign for the speakership. At the start of the 114th Congress, 25 Republicans voted against him, casting ballots for a wide array of other members including Louis Gohmert (TX), Jeff Duncan (SC), Daniel Webster (FL), and Kevin McCarthy (CA). At the start of the 113th Congress in 2013, nine Republicans had voted against Boehner.

The speaker’s role is not an easy one, especially in an era of increasing polarization both within the chamber and across the country. With the growth in the number of conservative, Tea Party Republicans in Congress, Boehner’s position became increasingly imperiled. These members pushed for hardline responses on issues like defunding Planned Parenthood, primarily because their personal ideology and district make-up allowed for it. However, as Speaker of the House, Boehner had to balance multiple strategic considerations. The move to defund Planned Parenthood has been described as “quixotic” by The Washington Times, primarily because it faced no chance of passing the Senate (and, in fact, the Senate vote failed 47-52 yesterday) and President Obama had threatened to veto the legislation even if it had. Forcing a government shutdown because of the issue could be disastrous for the Republican Party moving into an election season, a point Boehner was well aware of. During the last government shutdown in 2013, Gallup found favorability for the Republican Party fell to a record low of 28 percent, a much lower rating than the Congressional Democrats held (43 percent). While the members who pushed for Boehner to hold a vote on the issue may have been safe, vulnerable Republicans in more moderate districts might not have been. The speaker’s role is to ensure those members and the party hold the majority.

The question still remains why Boehner chose to resign from not only the speakership, but also the Ohio District he has held since 1991. Career decisions often involve multiple calculations and it’s difficult to know exactly what Boehner was thinking. Perhaps he was inspired or chastened by the Pope’s message to seek compromise and collaboration. More likely, however, Boehner’s retirement and resignation was a strategic one. It seems likely that Boehner would have faced an increasingly hostile Republican caucus, one that seemed dead set on removing him from his position. Whether the removal was a voluntary one or a high profile conservative coup to vacate the chair, Boehner would have been in a weakened position heading into the 2016 elections. While the Ohio 8th District is solidly Republican, it wouldn’t have prevented a strong primary challenge from the right. Boehner’s resignation removes him from the ensuing battle over the shutdown and helps to maintain some of his legislative legacy. Who will replace him and what effect his resignation will have on the potential shutdown is still up in the air, however.

Chera LaForge is an assistant professor of political science. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her main research interests lie in Congress and legislative behavior. Specifically, she looks at how progressive ambition impacts the quality of representation and campaign behavior.

Bernie-mania and the Democrats

by Aaron Shapiro 

The run up to the 2016 election has been full of surprises, and the persistence of Bernie Sanders’ popularity has certainly been one of them. The steady rise of support for the self-described independent socialist continues to chip away at the Hillary Clinton leviathan. Making sense of Sanders’ run remains difficult. What historical analogy is there– if any– for his candidacy; and what impact might it have on the Democratic Party?

When Sanders began talk of running, his forceful leftism seemed to relegate him as a marginal protest candidate. Yet ambivalence toward Clinton within the party base and a dearth of alternatives quickly upped his profile. Still, it is tempting to shrug him off, given the failures of past insurgent-reformers, who also made an appearance around this time in the presidential campaign cycle. These are candidates like fellow Vermonter Howard Dean, Bill Bradley, and Gary Hart, who catch fire early, threatening the “establishment” choice, only to eventually fade away. As sure as their rise, narrow appeal and often weak organization dooms them long before the convention. Indeed it’s easy to assume that Sanders, with his New England pedigree, and white middle-class base, will also endure this fate.

However, Sanders, and the uniqueness of the political moment surrounding him, deserve more credit. As the least compromised articulator of full-throated economic populism, he would seem a compelling choice for the Democratic zeitgeist. Really, one shouldn’t have to strain too hard to imagine a scenario where a candidate with the right narrative for the moment upsets Hillary Clinton. Though Sanders has thus far struggled to assemble a coalition broad enough compete widely amongst all Democrats, this is not intrinsically damning. Barack Obama himself, spent the summer of 2007 suffering from lackluster polls, fending off accusations of being a ‘wine-track’ phenomenon, as his would-be coalition (especially African-Americans) remained leery of throwing their support behind such an apparent longshot. It was not until Obama proved viable with his victory in Iowa that his national numbers began to reflect his latent appeal.

If this suggests Sanders may still be far from his apex and have a different fate than past insurgents, there are at least two reasons to remain cautious. First, is whether he is a skilled enough politician to carry his coalition through the primary. Sanders’ uneven dealings with the #BlackLivesMatter movement have already previewed how his at times unpolished demeanor could weaken his ability to lead a more broad Democratic coalition through an election season. Aware of his deficit amongst African Americans, Sanders did head to the South last weekend with well known Black Studies professor Cornell West. Second, and more concretely, is the organizational gap. There is little evidence that Sanders has built the sort of state-by-state field apparatus characteristic of the Obama campaign. What separated Obama from grassroots darlings past was a superior field organization tethered to the magic number of delegates necessary to carry the nomination. So far in 2016 it is Clinton, who learning her lesson, has assembled a staff comprised of Obama veterans, frontloading resources toward building up her field program for the long march through primary season.

If this should lead one to be skeptical of Sanders’ chances, it should also lead one to question the prevailing logic of his detractors within the Democratic Party. The anti-Sanders argument rests on the presumption that a prolonged primary battle will harm Clinton in the general election, forcing her to expend valuable campaign that could otherwise be hoarded for battle with the GOP. This argument rests on an anachronistic assumption that campaign resources are “expended” in a zero-sum context. This may well be true if they were primarily focused on television advertising. Indeed, if Clinton were forced to spend $50 million dollars on ads implying Sanders suffers a deep hatred for puppies to discredit him, this would be unlikely to give much help to Democrats in the general election. However, 2008 showed that competitive primaries waged through voter mobilization might in fact be a boon to whomever winds up the party standard-bearer. In an era in which data has become an increasingly important campaign resource, having a multitude of candidates appealing to different slices of the party’s potential electorate may indeed be of long term benefit to the party as well as its eventual nominee. Primary campaign field organization efforts were a down payment on scaling the apparatus for the 2008 general election.

As Daniel Kreiss has illustrated, this template can be traced back to Dean’s campaign in 2004, which married traditional grassroots insurgent enthusiasm to the potential of digital campaigning strategies. By harnessing the power of the Internet (yes, in 2004, the internet was still viewed by campaigns as wielding powers both strange and exhilarating), Dean made tremendous advances in small donor fundraising and the cultivation of grassroots activists, creating a model that Obama with greater sophistication would ride to victory four years later. It is this ability to use digital tools to cultivate grassroots resources with virtually no transaction costs that has been integral to Sanders’ success.

Even if Sanders’ falls short, the networks and resources he has generated may still be of lasting impact. The appeal of particular politicians to the base can help them leverage their power in government, and this is where Sanders’ greatest opportunity might lie. This has been certainty true for Elizabeth Warren, whose fast-rising star as a legislator can be largely attributed to the electoral support she has provided for fellow Democrats and ability to garner public support for pet issues such as the Trans Pacific Partnership. Sanders’ has a unique opportunity in the high salience of a presidential campaign combined with a prominent institutional position in government. While Warren had to climb the ranks as a freshman senator, Sanders will return to congress as the Democrats ranking member on the all-important Senate Budget committee.

If Sanders can transition his campaign’s support to assistance for Democrats in 2016, it could be a win-win both for Sanders’ progressive policy preferences and the party. He could tempt activists unenthusiastic about supporting the Clinton campaign to still help vital party efforts. The impact of this would be most dramatic in states that might have more competitive congressional races than presidential ones. These candidates are unlikely to benefit from the organizational resources dedicated to mobilizing for the Democratic ticket in presidential battlegrounds. Sanders’ support could help him increase his influence by returning Democrats to the majority and winning the often-cantankerous senator friends among both a new class of Democrats in the senate and party leadership.

The story of party organization over the Obama years is one that has pitted a presidentially led party apparatus most sensitive to presidential battleground against other party electoral prerogatives that have felt the short shrift, including on the congressional level. Further, given the senate’s penchant for being the elected branch of the federal government most resistant to progressive change, the implications of creating more leverage for its more liberal members is vital, maybe even more so than a staunchly progressive president.

The question is whether such a strategy is in Sanders’ plan. Party building has after all never seemed at the fore of his concerns. Implicit in his worldview is that participatory linkages must be detached from the broadly coopted Democratic Party, not strengthened to overcome both special interest influence within the party and the veto powers that obstruct its agenda. Yet perhaps Sanders’ run as a Democrat suggests a new amenability for working within the party. It may in fact be far more consequential to both the party and Sanders’ long term goals than the fate of his presidential campaign.

Aaron B. Shapiro is a PhD candidate at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is currently working on his dissertation, a study of Democratic Party organization in the Obama era. He can be reached at