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Which contentious issues are not partisan?

Summary:
With America’s politics being increasingly polarized, it’s worth giving some thought to the issues are not partisan. What makes an issue cross party lines?  In San Diego, a proposal to limit growth has split the Democratic party: “The ‘Yes on A’ side was unable to address the racial problem, in a way that clearly made our African-American voting members very uncomfortable,” he said. “Some language in the initiative seemed coded, things like defending neighborhood character and preventing urbanization – those are words long associated with communities of color. The optics of their case just were not good.” . . . A watershed moment? As Democrats are ascendant in local politics, we’ve been keeping a close eye for clues that traditionally right-of-center groups are

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With America’s politics being increasingly polarized, it’s worth giving some thought to the issues are not partisan. What makes an issue cross party lines?  In San Diego, a proposal to limit growth has split the Democratic party:

“The ‘Yes on A’ side was unable to address the racial problem, in a way that clearly made our African-American voting members very uncomfortable,” he said. “Some language in the initiative seemed coded, things like defending neighborhood character and preventing urbanization – those are words long associated with communities of color. The optics of their case just were not good.” . . .

A watershed moment? As Democrats are ascendant in local politics, we’ve been keeping a close eye for clues that traditionally right-of-center groups are reorienting themselves.

Is this the start of a relationship between the Democratic Party, and the Building Industry Association, which vehemently opposes Measure A?

“The alliance might be shifting, but I’m not sure it’s settled yet and I wouldn’t say this is a beginning of a relationship with the BIA or any other institution,” Rodriguez-Kennedy said. “You might see the BIA endorse Democrats, but I don’t think it’s fundamentally changed the coalition.” . . .

While lots of Democrats had already sided against Measure A, so too had many lined up for it. The Climate Action Campaign, a nonprofit group led by Nicole Capretz that started to push cities into adopting and enforcing aggressive plans to combat climate change and shift to renewable energy, has endorsed the “Yes on A” side.

In Virginia, the housing issue also crosses party lines.  Some Democrats are pushing for more housing development in the DC suburbs, while others are wary:

H.B. 152 is almost certain to face pushback in Virginia, a state where Democrats now control the legislature for the first time since the 1990s. Housing and zoning don’t line up neatly with traditional partisan divides on other issues, though. Conservatives may wind up backing the measure as a market deregulation, while liberals might balk at a measure that could bring density to their doorstep.

School vouchers are another example of an issue that crosses party lines.  Another example is occupational licensure:

Inequality and low productivity growth are two of the biggest problems that vex the U.S. economy. For Jonathan Rothwell, they are of a piece, driven by the power of large and influential groups of professionals in fields like finance, medicine, and law to wall themselves off from competition.

Rothwell, formerly of Brookings Institution and now Gallup’s senior economist, shows that the United States is unique among the advanced nations in the power afforded to these groups. The huge differences in incomes we see in this country are not the result of education or skills, but of political power. Inequality in the United States is also bound up with race and racism, from slavery, to the exclusion of minorities from early professional organizations, to exclusionary zoning that denies minority and low-income people access to suburban schools.

Suppose each party contains a coalition of disparate interest groups.  Then an issue will be non-partisan if it splits the voters in each party.  Thus affluent GOP suburbanites and Democratic public school teachers may both oppose school vouchers, while free market ideologues (GOP) and minority parents may support them.

Home building may be supported by younger and minority voters (Dem) who can’t afford a home, and also by free market ideologues plus building contractors (GOP).  Occupational licensing may be supported by affluent GOP professionals and also by Democratic union members, and opposed by free market ideologues plus minority voters.

When issues are non-partisan, they become invisible to the media.  That creates a distorted perception among voters.  Many of the most important issues facing America don’t even come up in debate, as they are not seen as part of the political war between the parties.  As parties become more tribal, they shy away from these non-partisan issues, in fear of alienating members of their own party.

The GOP tends to demonize “socialism” and hence doesn’t want to highlight the fact that their members often support socialistic policies such as trade barriers, regulatory barriers to entry, farm subsidies, and social insurance for the elderly.  The Democrats like to rail against the evils of unrestrained capitalism, and hence don’t wish to emphasize areas where more capitalism would help the poor.

In my view, the most important problems facing the country are typically issues that neither party wishes to discuss.

PS.  The NYT claims that “non-compete clauses” in labor contracts are also an issue that crosses party lines. What are some others?

Scott Sumner
Scott B. Sumner is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, the Director of the Program on Monetary Policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and an economist who teaches at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. His economics blog, The Money Illusion, popularized the idea of nominal GDP targeting, which says that the Fed should target nominal GDP—i.e., real GDP growth plus the rate of inflation—to better "induce the correct level of business investment". In May 2012, Chicago Fed President Charles L. Evans became the first sitting member of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to endorse the idea.

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