The Failure of our Two-Party Election System
Our two-party system of politics is failing due to Polarization. Historically, political parties in the U.S. held some common ground. During the earliest years of our country, for example, we had the Federalist Party, founded by Alexander Hamilton with the help of urban bankers and businessmen, and the Democrat-Republican Party, organized by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in 1791, which its members referred to simply as the Republican Party.
Both supported an American Revolution, but the difference is the Federalists desired a strong central government, with state’s rights all but completely disappearing, while the Democrat-Republican Party did not. Some Federalists did not even want governors to continue, and without opposition, the thirteen original colonies would have become little more than thirteen counties of the State.
FYI, the term “state” is synonymous with “country,” and some of the thirteen original colonies had established themselves as independent states i.e. countries, including the negotiation of treaties with other nations as well as between one another. Thus, the United States was, in its infancy, much like the EU is today – a collection of independent and sovereign nations, or “states,” who had agreed to give up some of their autonomy and authority for the purpose of facilitating both commerce and a common defense, while retaining most of their autonomy and authority to run their own affairs within their own borders.
Over time, these two parties and morphed, changed names, and have died and been reborn under new names. Today, their closest relatives are the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, with the Democrats more closely aligned with the old Federalist Party and the Republicans more closely aligned with the old Democrat-Republican party.
The problem with our two-party system is that it’s been flawed from start, and the root cause and reason has to do with the way we vote.
The Flaw: Our +Only Voting System
With getting into the nuances of the Electoral College, we have a +Only Voting System here in the United States of American. In fact, this is standard throughout the world, though only by knuckle-dragging default, and not by intelligent design. Basically speaking, no matter how many options are available, each voter can only cast one vote, and then, only for one option.
The problem occurs when you have three strong candidates but two of those candidates hold similar views. Those holding similar views will split the vote and lose the election, even if they would have been able to win had there been no similar candidate.
Let’s put this into more mathematical terms, with three candidates, A and B (both conservatives) and C (a liberal). Let’s also assume the voters as a whole prefer voting conservative, say 60%.
Since most of the voters prefer a conservative candidate to a liberal candidate, the conservative candidate should win, right? Nope. The conservative candidates will split the vote, each getting 30%, while the liberal candidate will receive a winning 40%.
Another problem occurs when you have two strong candidates splitting the vote (A and B) and a splinter candidate (C) who pulls more votes from one candidate than the other. If A & B would have split the vote 50-50 before the arrival of C, but C pulls just 1% of the vote from A but 2% from B, then A will win with 49% of the votes, B looses with 48% of the votes, and C (who never stood a chance in the first place) also looses with a meager 3% of the vote.
Rationally, if both B & C’s goals were united to defeat candidate A, then C should have withdrawn from the race. Not all candidates are rational, however, and people like Ross Perot and his supporters idiotically and quite foolishly helped hand the election to the Democrats. The same thing may very well happen if Ron Paul decides to run as a write-in or independent. I can’t even admire his drive because he’s losing sight of the forest through the trees. If the mission is to defeat Obama, the only rational choice is to drop out of the race completely and allow the far more likely candidate, Mitt Romney, full access to those conservative votes.
That’s part of the problem. The other part involves one of polarization, the likelihood that the beliefs of a two-party system will tend to diverge over time, not only as a whole, but on each and every point. The main cause is lack of political diversity, which encourages party politics i.e. voting the party line instead of the conscious of the elected representative. Those who don’t consistently vote the party line are viewed as weak by the party and are usually replaced with a more polarized candidate.
The end result is that a single-vote system encourages polarization, which in turn leads to the rise of two predominant and highly polarized parties who’re incapable of working together rationally to accomplish much of anything.
The Fix: A +/- Voting System
A +/- voting system largely negates polarization, thereby removing the drive towards a two-party system. Put simply, each voter is allowed to cast a single vote for each and every mutually-exclusive option, but that vote can be either a + vote or a – vote. If the individual mis-votes, their vote doesn’t count, but modern voting kiosks, but in general elections as well as Congress, would enforce these rules in order to count the maximum number of votes.
Let’s see how this works in one of our previous examples, with the popular vote split evenly between two conservatives but with the liberal pulling in strongly with 40% of the vote. In a perfectly polarized world, the conservatives would each get 30%+ votes and 40% – votes, while the liberal receive 40%+ votes and 60%- votes. Thus, each conservative would wind up with -10%, but the liberal would wind up with -20%. The conservatives would tie and perform a runoff election.
Now let’s see how this would work in the case of a weak third candidate pulling more votes from one candidate than the other. Originally, it was:
If A & B would have split the vote 50-50 before the arrival of C, but C pulls just 1% of the vote from A but 2% from B, then A will win with 49% of the votes, B looses with 48% of the votes, and C (who never stood a chance in the first place) also looses with a meager 3% of the vote.
Now, however, we have A and B both receiving 50%+ votes and 50%- votes, while C receives 3%+ votes (1% from A, 2% from B), but a whopping 49%- votes from the A folks and 48%- from the B folks. In short, the C candidate, who never stood a chance to begin with, never stands a chance.
But that’s in a “perfectly polarized” world, and with the +/- voting system, most people will not give a + vote to their best candidate and a – vote to everyone else. Instead, they’ll give a + vote to every candidate they feel is qualified for the position, and a – vote only to those candidates who they feel are unqualified.
This system is used with great success in the business world, and it works like this: Let’s say a company has a limited amount of resources, and is faced with seven different mutually-exclusive investment opportunities, each of which has both tangible (financial) and intangible qualities associated with it. Proposals are drafted for each of the opportunities and are reviewed by the board of directors. They vote on these projects using the +/- system, and the results are rank-ordered. The limited funds are then given to the projects by rank order. If any project needs more funds than remain, they go down the list to see if another, smaller project is available. At no time, however, are funds given to projects with a net negative vote, because those projects are almost always those which will either result in a net financial or intangible loss i.e. bad for the company regardless of how much cash is lying around.
Interesting enough, this approach has vast implications for how Congress is run, as well. Projects are voted on based on their own merits, and they’re funded only insofar as their merits and the availability of funding dictates. Even if one to a few state’s representatives attempt to game the system on any particularly issue, the members from the other 49 states will largely avoid any such gaming as they have no fight in the matter. They will not avoid the matter, however, and will vote according to what’s best for the country as a whole.
In summary, our two-party system is broken because the way we vote is broken. Fix the way we vote, both in general elections, as well as in Congress, and we’ll have fixed, if not eliminated, the two-party system, but we’ll also have fixed Congress, the budget, and many other ails in our country.
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