Early Returns

State Elections Matter for All Americans

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy.

Photographer: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

Nate Silver has an excellent item about what the fundamentals say for the off-year elections in Virginia and New Jersey this week, but he begins with an unfortunate preface, claiming not to care about the results except for what they portend for national politics because he doesn't live in those states. 

Why should those of us who live in New York (as Silver does) or Texas (as I do) care about Virginia and New Jersey politics?

I'll start with the most obvious practical reason: Redistricting is coming. Both governors and state legislatures matter nationally because they will redraw the district lines after the 2020 census. The effects of gerrymandering are overstated, but they're not zero, and in an evenly divided nation, even a handful of House seats could make a big difference. New Jersey is an independent commission state, but Virginia is not. And of course there's no guarantee that New Jersey won't change how it draws lines. 

There's more to it than that, however. State policy choices can affect national policy in lots of ways. Republican states filed lawsuit after lawsuit against the federal government to slow or stop implementation of Democratic policy changes during Barack Obama's presidency; Democratic states are already doing the same during Donald Trump's presidency. States can also, in the "laboratories of democracy" model, create policy that other states then adopt. The more states attempting to innovate liberal policies, the better the chances that Democratic New York will emulate them (and the fewer the opportunities for Republican Texas to find ideas to copy). And even in the most partisan times, members of Congress still care about representing their districts and their states, and that sometimes means protecting interests created by state policy even for politicians who would never have supported that policy. Create a clean-energy industry in a state, and both Democrats and Republicans in Congress will support the interests of local companies working in that industry. 

Beyond those considerations? Most of us care about more than our immediate self-interest; most of us, regardless of party and policy preferences, want to live in a better world. It's true that we tend to care more about those, even if they are strangers, if they're closer to us in some way -- our neighborhood, our city, our state. It may not be very rational, but it is true. However, while that's an understandable reason most care more about injustice or suffering in the United States than in foreign nations, I doubt it's true that state borders are a hard line in most people's thinking. In other words, I think it is true, regardless of whether it makes sense or not, that most of us do care quite a bit about injustice and suffering in other states. That explains boycotts of, say, North Carolina by liberal activists in other states over a state's law. 

Policy matters. States make a lot of important policy, and that matters even for people who live in other states. Keep that in mind when the election results come in Tuesday night. 

1. Boris Heersink at the Monkey Cage notes that, no, the Democratic National Committee did not rig the nomination for Hillary Clinton. 

2. Heather Hurlburt on Trump's Asia trip

3. My Bloomberg View colleague Megan McArdle, writing at Bloomberg Businessweek, on what to expect from Trump's second year.

4. James Hohmann on all those House committee chairs who are retiring

5. And a fun Matt Yglesias item with advice for Republicans: Just forget about doing public policy, or at least give up on legislation. 

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

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