I think the structure of America’s electoral system creates many of the nation’s problems.
To explain, the processes by which Americans elect their leaders create many of our nation’s problems. Primary elections, for example, allow extremist minorities to choose candidates.
That leads to gridlock because candidates in some areas need to follow a narrow ideological path to win primaries. The narrow ideological path includes no compromise with the other side, which makes deals impossible and gridlock inevitable.
Process is everything in Elections
Similarly, winner-take-all elections allow candidates to win with tiny minorities.
For example, Republicans such as President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida); win by appealing to a narrow minority of conservative, white rural Christians. Likewise, “centrist” (conservative) Democrats; such as President-Elect Joe Biden (D-Delaware), win by appealing to shallow minorities of conservative blacks and suburban soccer moms.
Winner-take-all makes accusations of vote fraud, election rigging, voter suppression, and illegitimate elections inevitable. Charlatans such as Donald J. Trump; and the Democratic purveyors of the Russiagate nonsense, can accrue influence by offering upset voters the stolen election mythology.
Finally, America’s candidate-focused elections create policy and idea free elections. Instead, of discussions of policies, elections became a beauty contest and a debate over candidate’s personalities. This leads to mudslinging and attack ads that make all candidates look terrible and discredits the entire political process.
One result of this system is that truly awful candidates with long histories of corruption and racism, such as Donald J. Trump (R-Florida), look normal. It becomes impossible to discredit a bigot and blatant fraudster; such as Trump, because voters view all political attacks as bullshit.
Why Americans Do not Vote
A worse result of candidate focused elections is that a large percentage of the population views elections as meaningless personality contests.
Predictably, Pew Research estimates that around 44% of eligible Americans did not vote in 2016. In contrast, 80.8% of Australians, 82.1% of Swedes, and 89% of Turks voted in recent elections, Pew claims.
Instead of trying to understand why citizens do not vote. The political class attacks nonvoters as unpatriotic, ignorant, lazy, stupid, and antisocial.
However, many critics view nonvoting in America as an act of civil disobedience. These critics view nonvoting as a refusal to support a corrupt system that cannot address average citizens’ needs and concerns.
For example, neither Trump nor Biden discussed Social Security during the Presidential campaign. Yet the Social Security Administration estimates 65 million Americans received money from Social Security in 2020.*
Thus, a program that 65 million Americans depend on for income is not a matter of discussion in our politics. One result of this issue-free politics is that Presidents; such as Trump and Biden, are free to appoint extremist intellectuals who openly discuss abolishing Social Security to important federal offices.
When the mainstream cannot discuss issues, the cranks and the crackpots control the discussion. Crackpot intellectuals who cannot find teaching positions at cow colleges receive important offices. So-called leaders can discuss loony ideas because politics is about personalities rather than ideas.
For example, many so-called American journalists spend more time discussing Biden’s dog than Biden’s plans; or lack of plans for Social Security. Then the same journalists wonder why ordinary people tune out the so-called “political news.”
However, there is a great hunger for ideas and politicians who discuss policy among the American public. During the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, idea focused candidates did well. US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) whose speeches comprise long monologues about policy, attracted enormous crowds and came in second. Sanders carried America’s largest state, California.
Similarly, political novice Andrew Yang (D-New York) beat veteran pols, including veteran Senators and Governors with an idea-focused campaign. All Yang discussed was his plans for basic income, campaign-finance, and other reforms. Likewise, another idea-focused candidate US Senator Liz Warren (D-Massachusetts) out-polled charismatic traditional politicians.
Even Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) ran an idea-focused campaign. For all his faults, Trump constantly discussed policies such as border security, immigration, and trade in 2016. Indeed, when pundit Thomas Frank watched Trump’s 2016 speeches, he found most of the Donald’s stump speeches were dry monologues on issues such as trade.
Notably, Trump won in 2016 when he ran an idea-focused campaign against Hillary R. Clinton’s (D-New York) idea-free campaign. Yet Trump lost in 2020 when he ran a more traditional idea-free campaign.
Could Party-List Elections be an antidote for idea-free politics?
One interesting potential solution to idea-free politics is party-list elections.
A party-list election eliminates the personality-contest elements of politics by eliminating the candidates. To explain, citizens vote for a party to represent them in a legislature. The party that gets the most votes chooses a candidate to fill the legislative seat.
The Federal Republic of Germany has used this system since 1949. Under the German system, voters elect one party-list candidate and one popularly elected candidate. Hence, a German votes for one candidate and one party to fill to fill two seats in the Bundestag (national parliament).
New Zealand uses a similar system to elect its House of Representatives or parliament. The United Kingdom has adopted party-list for some seats in the Scottish and Welsh parliaments and the London Assembly. However, the House of Commons still relies on winner-take all personality contest elections.
I think party-list could work in the United States because many Americans already only vote for parties. Notably, blatantly, corrupt, incompetent, and sometimes crazy candidates win US Congressional elections from safe one-party districts. A perfect example of such a crazy is Colorado’s U.S. Representative Lauren Boebert (R-Grand Junction).
The advantage to party-list is that the party can screen out the total loony tunes and complete crooks. Another advantage to party-list is that it is in the party’s interest to send competent legislators to Washington and the statehouse.
Voters often have no way of knowing which candidate is a competent legislator. Remember, charismatic media-friendly candidates often turn out to be failures. However, party leaders could be more familiar with the candidates and their level of competence.
And why should voters be familiar with politicians’ abilities or records? After all, ordinary people have children to raise, jobs to do, money to make, and lives to lead. Why should America call upon the average voter to do the party’s job for it?
Another advantage to party-list elections is to ensure loyalty to the party. In many cases, party leaders have no control over individual legislators, particularity those from safe districts. Using a party list gives party leaders the power to remove bad or disloyal legislators.
A related problem is that the skills needed to win an election; such as making magnificent speeches and putting on a virtuoso performance for the crowd are not the skills a good legislator needs. A brilliant speechmaker could know nothing of policy or legislation and cannot get along with other legislators.
Hence, party-list elections could deliver more effective legislators For example, a dull-policy wonk could be a far more effective legislator than a vapid and likable glad-hander. However, the glad-hander is more apt to win an election.
I think election results show most Americans trust their party leaders. Most Republicans support Trump because the party leaders back him. Likewise, most Democrats fell in behind Biden fast during the primary, because Party leaders back Joe.
However, party leaders often have little influence over candidate choices in our current electoral system. Party-list voting could rectify that situation by putting party leaders in the driver’s seat.
How party list voting list could work in America
Here are four proposals for party-list votes for the US Congress.
- Straight party-list US Senate. Elect a minimum of two Senators from each every four or six years. Both Senators will be Party-List candidates chosen by the parties.
- Party-list proportional US Senate. In a proportional election, the two or three parties with the most votes receive seats. For instance, if Democrats win 45% and Republicans 48% both parties send a Senator to Congress
- Add Senate seats by population. Give states additional party-list proportional Senators for certain levels of population. For example, a state receives one additional party-list Senator for each five million in population. Thus Texas with its 29 million will have seven US Senators.
- Since the elections will be proportional, three of Texas’s Senators will be Democrats. Thus, Texas Democrats will get Senate representation for a change. Currently, both of Texas’s Senators are Republican, though 43.9% of Texans; or 4.889 million people, voted Democratic in the 2020 US Senate race. Hence 43.9% of Texans have no representation in the US Senate.
- Straight party-list US Representatives. Each Congressional district will get one party list candidate and one popularly elected candidate.
These are just a few thoughts. I think we need serious electoral and Congressional reform because our current system of government disenfranchises tens of millions of Americans.