The Republicans’ Rules Dilemma

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By Boris Heersink

In recent days the Republican Party has seen major conflict regarding the rules governing the 2016 presidential nomination race.

Frustrated with Ted Cruz’s success in sweeping delegates selected at local and state party meetings, Donald Trump has called the delegate selection process “rigged.” Although Trump and the RNC have clashed several times since last summer, his recent criticism is more severe, threatening the party with a “rough July” at the convention.

Meanwhile, Bruce Ash, the chairman of the RNC’s rules committee, has accused GOP leaders of improperly impeding changes in the party’s rules. Ash wants to create a rule to limit the candidates delegates can vote for at the convention to just Trump and Cruz. Other party leaders – including RNC chairman Reince Priebus – are trying to prevent such a change.

The RNC finds itself in an impossible position: if it changes the convention rules, the party limits itself to two candidates who seem unlikely to do well in the general election. On the other hand, if it maintains the rules as is, it keeps open the option of selecting another presidential nominee by ignoring the voices of millions of Republicans who voted in the primaries and caucuses.

This conflict is unique in its severity, and the extent to which party leaders are fighting it out in public. But it also illuminates the complexity of the current process through which political parties select their presidential candidates – pinpointing not only the importance of the primaries, but also of the complicated subsequent phase of delegate selection and convention management. Continue reading

Approaches to Transgender Politics and Inequality in Political Science

By Zein Murib

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North Carolina’s HB2, which was recently signed into law, criminalizes transgender and gender nonconforming people for using restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identities. The rapid passage of the bill in just 24-hours that didn’t allow for public comment or debate, as well as the claim that HB2 legislates discrimination against people who are trans and gender nonconforming, has drawn widespread scrutiny from across North Carolina and the U.S. An unlikely chorus of voices have come together to call for repeal, including interest groups, activists, governors, mayors, universities, and big business as well as an informal cultural ban that has resulted in Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr cancelling upcoming performances in North Carolina.

Although most of the media attention has been directed to North Carolina, legislation such as HB2 is not singular. Similar “bathroom bills” have been introduced or debated in a growing list of states that include Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, all of which seek to specify in varying ways that – in the language of North Carolina’s HB2 – people can only use facilities corresponding to their “biological sex as on a person’s birth certificate.”

I have written elsewhere about the implications of these bills for people who are transgender and gender nonconforming. Here, I address two different questions: What are these “bathroom bills” and how can we, as political scientists, use these contemporary political developments to teach about transgender politics and inequality in our courses?

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The People, the Senate, and the Supreme Court

By Remy Smith

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death has led to a constitutional showdown between Senate Republicans and President Obama over the conservative justice’s replacement. The inevitable brinksmanship and bargaining of this moment – an extension and culmination of the past five years’ gridlock and conflict – is further exacerbated by electoral antics. While most of the reasons for this confrontation have been analyzed, understood, and twisted to support ideological convictions, one culprit has yet to be vetted: Senate apportionment.

As will be shown, the Senate’s undemocratic apportionment inflates the number of Republicans in the chamber, which, in turn, alters the political dialogue over the Court’s nomination. Rather than discussing whether the Republicans would filibuster President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, or who Obama could nominate to attract Republican support to overcome a filibuster, current discourse centers around Republican refusal to even hold nomination hearings. Though ultimate outcome might not change, the findings call into question Senate deliberation and process, both now and in times when a different apportionment scheme would give Democrats a filibuster-proof majority.

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Racial Resentment and the Rise of Donald Trump

By Jason McDaniel and Sean McElwee

What explains the rise of Donald Trump? 

There are many potential answers, but over the course of the campaign two competing theories have emerged. The first holds that Trump’s message appeals to working-class white voters who’ve seen their incomes remain stagnant, manufacturing jobs vanish, and inequality skyrocket in recent decades. The root cause of Trumpism, in this view, is economic insecurity. The other, blunter theory is that Trump’s fans flock to him for the same reason elites view him as an existential threat to American democracy: his open appeals to racist, white nationalist sentiment.

Both of these theories have some truth to them. But polling data suggests that racial attitudes, including racial resentment and explicit racial stereotypes, are the more important factor.What’s more, the evidence presented below shows that racial attitudes uniquely predict support for Trump, compared to the other Republican candidates.

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The GOP “diversity problem” explained

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Nikki Haley 2010

By Meredith Conroy and Caroline Heldman

When it was announced that Nikki Haley, Republican governor of South Carolina, would be giving the official response to Obama’s final State of the Union address, Democratic National Committee chair and Representative of Florida’s 23rd District, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, commented that the choice by the GOP was because they have a “diversity problem.”

The GOP does elect fewer people of color than the Democratic Party, but does this mean they have a diversity problem?

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Introducing the New Editors of The Western

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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!

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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.

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