That's right folks, 39 of 50 states are run by one party (or the other). 22 GOP, 17 Dem. In most parts of the US, the majority party tells the other to f-ck off and independent voters get swept under the bus.
Florida Turns Right, Minnesota Turns Left
Unified governments seem to attack the deepest convictions of voters in the minority.
By William A. Galston, WSJ
June 6, 2023 1:13 pm ET
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former President Donald Trump’s closest challenger for the Republican presidential nomination, is touting his record of legislative accomplishment. In its most recent session, Florida’s Legislature passed a raft of conservative bills, cutting taxes, expanding school choice, prohibiting the use of surgery and puberty blockers to treat gender dysphoria in minors, imposing a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, toughening bail and sentencing, cracking down on illegal immigration, and expanding the right to bear arms, among others.
As my Brookings colleague E.J. Dionne has reported, the most recent session of the Minnesota Legislature has been Florida’s in reverse. Democrats enacted a broad agenda of progressive legislation—codifying abortion rights, protecting transgender rights, providing drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants, restoring voting rights for felons after they complete their sentences—the list goes on.
These states exemplify a broad national trend with deep historical roots. Over the past half-century, the number of swing states has plunged as the number of states delivering large and reliable majorities to a single party has surged, as has the number of states where one party controls the governor’s mansion and both legislative chambers. After the 2022 election, 39 states—22 Republican, 17 Democratic—had unified party control, which enables the majority party to pursue its agenda without needing to compromise with the minority party.
Even in a more temperate age, this would leave voters in the minority feeling shut out. But with today’s deep polarization, voters in the minority experience the enactment of one-party programs as an attack on their deepest convictions. As they lose hope of turning the tide, many respond by leaving their states for others where the majority shares their beliefs. This further intensifies the link between partisanship and geography.
Our politics at the national level is reinforcing this tendency. Unlike in most states, the national electorate is evenly divided—and has been for the longest period since the Civil War. For most of the 20th century, presidential elections routinely were decided by margins of 10 percentage points or more. That hasn’t happened since Ronald Reagan’s landslide in 1984, and control of the White House has swung back and forth between the parties. In Congress, similarly, majorities have been smaller, and minorities larger, than in previous periods. Control of both houses has shifted several times.
These developments have made it harder for the parties to enact their agendas and sustain change over time. The past three presidents entered office with unified governments but lost control of the House after only two years, which hobbled their ability to govern. On several important issues—with immigration at the top of the list—the division between the parties has stalled reforms for a decade or more.
Bipartisan legislation is still possible, but as the pace has slowed, presidents of both parties have tried to take matters into their own hands, only to be thwarted by the courts. And the current Supreme Court seems likely to restrict further the ability of the executive branch and independent agencies to legislate through the regulatory process.
For nearly a century, our governance has tended toward increased centralization, in economics during the New Deal, in defense-related activities driven by the Cold War, and in social policy since President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. Today, the diminished capacity to act at the national level coupled with the more conservative orientation of the judiciary is shifting responsibility in many areas back to states. This means more divergence among the states, best exemplified by abortion laws.
Is this good or bad?
Both political parties tend to be fair-weather federalists, cheering or damning state-level authority depending on the issue at stake. But in circumstances of deep division, the shift of decision-making to the states can serve as a pressure-release valve. State-level majorities can make policy, and minorities can vote with their feet when living under laws made by the majority becomes too onerous.
There are limits to this strategy. Some issues—national defense, interstate commerce and immigration, among others—are inherently national. So is the defense of constitutionally guaranteed rights, although we often disagree about what they are and, when they are named in the Constitution, what they mean. Much damage can be done when the federal government fails to “secure these rights,” as it did in the case of African-Americans for nearly a century after the Civil War.
But not every controversy matches the civil-rights template. In circumstances of deep division, it may be better for the survival of our institutions if Florida and Minnesota can use their authority to head in very different directions.