While Carl was dipping into the subtleties of Bowie and Peter was off somewhere
blogging, I was doing my duty as a citizen of the association, attending its meeting.
And here is my comment, also found in this week’s Standard.
While most Americans spend their Labor Day weekend savoring the last moments of
summer vacation, political scientists are normally hard at work at their annual
association meeting, held this year in Seattle. This event is usually a rather sedate
affair, with scholars debating such recondite subjects as Bayesian approaches to
political research and The political?theological problem in Xenophons thought.
But this time things were a little different. A dissident group of members challenged
the American Political Science Associations governing system, asking for some
modest changes to the constitution to institute competition in the selection of
officers and the governing council. The dissidents billed their proposal as a small
step toward democratization. Imagine, then, their great surprise when defenders of
the status quo, who included some of the leading political scientists in the nation,
instructed them in no uncertain terms that devices like competitive elections,
labeled procedural democracy, counted as next to nothing in comparison to
substantive democracy. Substantive democracy meant diversity as computed by
race, gender, and ethnicity.
Without going into details who would care? the associations current form of
government might most accurately be described as a cooptocracy. A nominating
committee, appointed by the association president, proposes to the membership a
slate of nominees for all of the officers and representatives to the council. (The
president at the Seattle meeting was Professor Carole Pateman of UCLA, known best
for her work Participation and Democratic Theory.) The nominating committees
slate can be challenged by candidates nominated by a petition process from the
members; but the way things normally work and always, now, for the officers
elections take place with only one person competing for each slot. Only in the
case of council representatives have the dissidents put up alternatives in recent
years, winning a few seats.
The change advocated by the dissidents was to require the nominating committee to
name two candidates for each position. Democratic theory would suggest, they
insisted, that this limited competition would increase member interest and
participation in elections and afford an opportunity for an occasional candidate to
raise a substantive question. Professors Gregory Kasza of Indiana University and
Rogers Smith of the University of Pennsylvania led the way in arguing for the
importance of elections as an integral component of anything resembling
democracy, with Smith, a leading theorist of democracy in his own right, wondering
what signal would be sent to our students if the nations political scientists rejected
Hold on there, Professor Smith. The responses came fast and furious from a legion of
defenders of the coopt?ocracy. Such stalwarts in the profession as former presidents
Theda Skocpol of Harvard and Henry Brady of Berkeley pointed out the indignity of
asking great scholars to stand in competitive elections and invoked the old
conservative saw that if it aint broke dont fix it. But the nub of the case for
defenders of the status quo was that elections do not enhance, but limit democracy:
The key to democracy is found in the assurance of diversity, not of views but of
One self?described Latino speaker said it will be time enough to permit procedural
democracy when certain groups are assured, at some point in the future, of their
proper overall representation within the association. Until then, the great beast of
the mass of political scientists cannot be trusted. (It is rumored that certain group
caucuses own the privilege of naming candidates whom the nominating committee
slates, making the system one of managed diversity.)
Political scientists today generally consider themselves an empirically minded
group, less impressed by airy theoretical speculations than by attention to hard
data. On this dimension, the cooptocrats possessed a clear advantage in the debate.
The associations treasurer, Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan, one of the
professions most decorated methodologists, introduced the only real evidence. In a
lengthy speech, he proposed to answer the question How have competitive
elections changed the council? Analyzing the cases over the last six years in which
competitive elections for the council resulted in dissidents defeating the nominees
proposed by the nominating committee, Lupia generated a table, which he read in
full, that bears close study. It compares the diversity attributes of the victorious
dissident candidates with the diversity attributes of the candidates proposed by the
cooptocracy, but not elected.
Year Elected Write In Cand Not Elected Nominating Committee Candidate
2004 White American Male Asian Male from India
2005 White American Male Asian Woman from Taiwan
2006 White American Female White Male from Canada
2007 White American Female Black Male from Benin
2008 White American Female African?American Male
2009 White American Female White American Male
2010 White American Female White Female from Israel
2010 White American Male White Female from Germany
2010 White American Female African?American male
*Data from Arthur Lupia, University of Michigan.
Interpreting the result, Lupia observed, In nine of the ten cases [I counted nine],
competitive elections led to the council being more white or less international than
it would have been under the nominating committees recommendation . . . . From
the perspective of racial, ethnic, and international diversity, the actuality of these
elections is difficult to support.
This evidence, cited time and again, appeared to have a decisive impact on the
outcome of the debate. It was so impressive that on my return from the association
meeting, I immediately convened a panel of graduate students at the University of
Virginia to further mine this rich data set and allow it to speak in all of its nuance.
The heated objection of one panelist that Lupia had buried the fact that the
dissidents promoted more gender diversity (six females instead of three!) was
duly noted, but quickly set aside. Other panelists pointed out that there were several
factors in play here, not just gender, so the full matter could in fairness only be
determined by a more rigorous statistical approach that assigned weights to each
variable. The resulting Diversity Index the panel constructed adopted the
following weights. For gender, a male received a (?1) designation, a female (+1); for
race, White (?1), Asian (+1) and Black (+2). Country of origin provoked some
discussion, but in the end, in accord with the spirit of diversitys concern for
reversing the domination of hegemonic countries (and their allies) over oppressed
nations, the panel decided to accord a (?2) to America, (?1) to dependent American
allies like Taiwan and Israel, and up to a (+2) for the former French colony of Benin.
For each entrant on the table it became possible to calculate a single diversity score
[t = R(race)+O(origin)+G(gender)]. For example, to take the outliers, a White
American Male (WAM) was scored at ?4, while a Black Benin Male (BBM) rated an
impressive +3. The White Female from Israel netted ?1. When the totals for the
dissidents who were elected were compared with the totals of the candidates from
the nominating committee who were defeated, the panel had little difficulty
concluding that the cooptocracy had, if anything, understated the strength of its
case. These were robust findings in every sense of the word.
The wisdom of social science was happily confirmed at the association meeting.
Leaving the hall, I saw a smiling set of past association presidents being
congratulated by their coopted beneficiaries. Substantive democracy had prevailed
by an exercise of procedural democracy, no less.