Public Financed (aka “clean”) elections and polarization

A new article by the ever-active Seth Masket and Michael Miller examines the impact of publicly financed elections in Arizona and Maine on candidate extremism.  There are arguments on both sides of this issue; the authors seem sympathetic to the viewpoint that removing private money from the system may in fact help ideologically extreme candidates by removing “market forces.”  I suspect that conventional wisdom is just the opposite.

Nonetheless, the findings are pretty clear.  After comparing the voting records of legislators in both states, partitioned into those who have been “clean from the start” and those who entered the legislature using traditional funding, there is essentially no difference in ideology, at least as revealed by roll call votes.

Polarization, they conclude, is driven by “massive historical forces,” and is unlikely to be impacted by public financing.  Long and short: there may be many reasons to adopt public financing, but legislative moderation (or extremism) is not one of them.