Greg Shufeldt, Butler University – Political Party Competition in States

On Butler University Week: If one political party controls a state, people lose interest.

Greg Shufeldt, assistant professor of political science, discusses how healthy competition could benefit citizens.

Greg Shufeldt is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Butler University. Previously, he worked as an Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas – Little Rock. He earned his PhD in Political Science with a concentration in American Politics from the University of Notre Dame. He also earned an MSW from Saint Louis University with a focus on community organizing and policy advocacy.

Within American Politics, his research and teaching interests include political parties, state and local politics, and political inequality. His research has been published in American Politics Research, State Politics & Policy Quarterly, Social Indicators Research, Labor Studies Journal, Journal of Elections, Public Opinion & Parties, Electoral Studies, and other journals.

Political Party Competition in States

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What do you think about if I asked you whether you live in a blue, red, or swing state? While you might think about a map on Election Night, my research – with colleague Patrick Flavin, examines the political consequences when the two parties closely contest control of state government. Across a series of works, we have explored the relationship between party competition and the quality of democracy in the American states.

Citizens living in states with more competition are 1) more likely to be interested, vote, and participate in politics and 2) more likely to feel that government will listen to them. Moreover, competition can act as a great equalizer as these positive benefits are felt most amongst citizens with lower levels of education and income.

On the other hand, more than 75% of all Americans currently live in a “trifecta” – a state where one political party controls both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion. Thirty-six states currently experience this unified party control – 22 by Republicans and 14 by Democrats. Trifectas give states the ability to be more aggressive in choosing a more conservative or progressive direction on a diverse set of policies. Take the minimum wage for example, Democratic trifectas are more likely to have a minimum wage higher than the federal floor of $7.25. On the other hand, 25 states – the vast majority of which are Republican trifectas – have implemented preemption laws – prohibiting local governments from setting their minimum wage higher than the state floor. We see this sort of trend across a variety of public policies.

Whether one party dominates or the two parties fiercely contest control of state government has real consequences on the quality of life and quality of democracy that citizens experience.

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