What Does Thomas Ferguson Know That Other Political Scientists Don’t?

Thomas  Ferguson, professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts (Boston) and father of the “investment theory of party competition” is joining Alternet as a contributing editor. When asked what is unique about his method of analysis, this is what he said:

Tom Ferguson: My favorite short take is Andrew Gelman’s: “It’s interesting reading Ferguson because his perspective is completely different from most political scientists. We talk about opinion, he talks about money.” Of course, at some point we all take account of opinion data and I’m no exception. But, yes, the core differences relate to the meaning and role of money in elections.

Political parties today are first of all bank accounts: what is said to be the voice of the people is mostly the sound of money talking. With unions in decline and community organizations basically broke or dependent on philanthropy from the 1 percent, political party conflicts mainly represent battles between investor blocs. Election analysts of course need to study the votes, but their primary problem is to puzzle out the patterns of bloc formation taking form behind specific candidates. They have to look beyond the horse race and the rhetoric to identify the specific policies that these blocs are seeking.

Studying elections from this “investment” perspective changes everything. It matters whether someone’s campaign is chiefly aligned with, say, defense industries, finance, or oil. And analyzing campaigns in this way has real predictive power. It’s like an x-ray of the system. Contrast my prediction that Obama would not promote serious financial reform, published in April 2008, after I had analyzed early money in the primaries, with what virtually everyone else was saying then.

Or, look at Congress. Congressional polarization is plainly driven first of all by money flows, and not by public opinion. Both major parties now operate virtually a “posted price” system in which representatives essentially have to buy their committee chair slots by raising money for their colleagues and, crucially, for the national party political committees. These latter are controlled by the leadership, which thus acquires enormous power over the average member. The swelling resource imbalance makes crossing party lines very costly by comparison with a generation ago.

To see what Ferguson is predicting for the 2012 election cycle, continue reading here.

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