Yellow Dog

Michael Kinsley had a column in Slate today espousing the virtues of yellow-dogism.  Historically, many Democrats, especially in the Solid South, were referred to as “Yellow Dog Democrats” because they would vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for a Republican.  This is quite an unfashionable idea in modern American politics where you are supposed to vote for the best person, not the party, but Kinsley nicely explains why it makes sense to vote based purely on party– especially in political times as these:

There is nothing wrong with voting for the party and not the person.
There is even nothing wrong with blindly voting for the Democrat (or, I
suppose, the Republican) even if you know nothing else about him or
her. In other democracies, such as Britain, this person-not-the-party
piety is not just unknown but would be hard to comprehend. Whatever
Burke may have said, a member of Parliament is your representative. He
or she runs on a party platform promising various things, and if that
party wins a majority of seats it “forms a government.” You would be
silly to vote for the person and not the party. The party's views are
what counts. The person's own views are almost irrelevant.

under the American arrangement, there is nothing ignoble about voting
the party line. It is an efficient way to minimize your information
costs. Voting is an irrational act: Despite what they drum into you
starting in kindergarten, your vote does not matter unless
it's a tie. And even 2000 was not a tie. The more effort you put into
learning about the candidates, the more irrational voting becomes, and
the more likely you are not to bother. A candidate's party affiliation
doesn't tell you everything you would like to know, but it tells you
something. In fact, it tells you a lot–?enough so that it even makes
sense to vote your party preference even when you know nothing else
about a candidate. Or even vote for a candidate that you actively

Kinsley considers the example of Connecticut's Chris Shays– a solid person and quite moderate Republican by all accounts.  Yet, Shays is just 1 of 435 members of the House and he will vote for Republican House leadership.  If somebody is opposed to the agenda of the Republican leadership, they should vote against Shays, period.  I'm proud to be a yellow dog Democrat.  I'd rather have an incompetent boob pursuing policies I agree with than a skillful politician pursuing policies I think are bad for the country.  I've often said that my own yellow dog would be preferable to George Bush.

At least she wouldn't screw things up.  And she'd surely be much better at diplomacy. 


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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