Friday, May 11, 2007

What is the explanation for the extraordinarily high turnout at this year's Nominating Convention?

I checked the turnout for the last 15 years of the Nominating Convention and discovered that this year the turnout was the highest it has been in the last 15 years. The second highest was in 1999 with 214 votes. The average during the fifteen year period was 141 votes. This year there were 248 votes. Does anyone have an explanation for this anomoly? Was there some unpublicized recruitment going on? For example, were any CACs lobbied?

By way of a possible explanation, consider a trend I’ve noticed. The Nominating Convention is most likely to be subverted when there are minimal political consequences for doing so. For example, the only two times in the last fifteen years when the Governor overlooked the Nominating Convention’s choices occurred when the Governor was in his 8th year in office and there were thus no long-term political consequences for bypassing the Nominating Convention’s recommendations. That is, there is a one-to-one correspondence between being in the 8th year of your term as governor and avoiding the choices of the Nominating Convention; it’s a perfect correspondence.

A rational explanation for this behavior can be found in a branch of political science known as “game theory.” In the last move of a political game there are no reputational effects to consider, so the political calculus tends to be dramatically different than in the earlier moves. This year was the last move for the Nominating Convention. Is it possible that some folks recognized and exploited that fact? Again, this is just a hypothesis and most hypotheses are wrong. But I think this is a worthy question to put out there to eliminate any nagging doubt.

One of the nice things about the Nominating Convention is that enough people are involved and there is enough transparency in the process that any large scale political corruption is hard to keep out of the sunlight. If something wasn’t quite right, I’m confident that at least some people on this mailing list would know about it and share their information via at least word-of-mouth. The Nominating Commission, in contrast, involves a handful of people--half appointed by only one person--and a much more secretive process. The opportunity for backroom deals that would not withstand the light of day is thus commensurately greater.

Consequently, whatever corrupution there might or might not have been with this year’s Nominating Convention (and by corruption I mean hidden exercise of power in a way that violates the democratic norm of political equality), the incentive for such corruption will only increase with the new Nominating Commission, not in its early years when the sunlight will shine most brightly and everybody will be on their best political behavior, but in its later years when its underlying political logic will work itself out.

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