Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Interesting article about American political party realignment. My first thought is, wow, Walter Dean Burnham! Haven't heard that name in a long time. In a funny way, seeing him evoked tells us something interesting about the state of political science: it didn't used to be so scientific. Cats like Burnham represent something like the transition from alchemy to chemistry in the natural sciences, scholars who made observations and endeavored to draw conclusions from those observations although the necessary methodological tools had not been developed. In a way the Walter Dean Burnham model represents the current state of political journalism: Cokie Roberts, George F'ing Will, David Brooks and the rest aren't making fine-grained analyses because they don't know how: all they can do is compare what's happening now to something that happened before. (For Will, at least, the more obscure the predecessor event the better, so he can demonstrate his mastery of the details of the Chester A. Arthur administration or some damn thing. Cokie likes to compare things to LBJ and Nixon.) This is not an empirical method- it is solipsism, which is why their commentary is worthless.

Are American political parties realigning? Probably yes. Probably they constantly are. How do we measure this? With data, not anecdote. Does Trump (or, for that matter, Bernie Sanders) represent or embody a change in the structure of American political parties? Maybe. As we say in the social sciences, Further Study Is Needed.

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