Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Citizens United: Potential Effects on Presidential Candidate Polarization?

The Supreme Court’s controversial ruling on Citizens United v. FEC has radically changed the frameworks that political primaries follow.  The most recent Republican presidential primary is clear evidence of these changes.  You see, I am currently undertaking a research project on the political forces behind presidential primary elections.  Scholar Larry Bartels offers his theory of momentum: essentially that the front-runner will eventually become unstoppable, because he or she will gradually gain media coverage and important endorsements. These lead to the majority of money being donated to their campaign--essentially silencing their competitors.  This lack of funds forces their competitors to drop out, ending the nomination race.

My plan for my research project was to read up on different recent presidential nomination races (08 and 2012), and to compare differences between the Republican and Democratic processes.  What I’ve found is that, because of SuperPACs, Bartels’ concept of momentum no longer exists in modern politics.  There is little comparison that one can do between elections before and after the Citizens United Ruling.  Candidates who have no chance of winning the nomination now can and, in Santorum and Gingrich’s cases, will, fight for the nomination until Mitt Romney absolutely clinches all of his needed delegates.

This huge change in election structure leads to many concerns about the polarization of Presidential candidates.  While Romney’s three wins yesterday all but confirmed his status as the nominee, his “shift to the center” to compete with President Obama will be more complicated while he still competes with Santorum and Gingrich in the remaining primaries.  In addition, Gingrich and Santorum may be able to have some influence on Romney’s policy stances/administration appointees, as he may need to negotiate with them to receive their delegates.  

It is clear that American elections have changed drastically, and the 2012 and 2016 elections will help illustrate the more complex consequences of the Citizens United ruling.

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