A near-fatal case of polarization

The U.S. is suffering from a near-fatal case of polarization,

That’s the opinion of Sam Wang, over at Princeton Election Consortium.

I think he’s overstating the case but I agree its bad. How bad? This bad.

A chart showing which Congressional districts are not contested.
Polarization as lack of choice

One cause of this lack of choice is the use of gerrymandering to create safe seats for a party. If a district is drawn to contain 60% voters from one party and 40% from the other, it is pretty much a given that the 60% party will win all the time. This leads the 40% to stop running candidates it knows will lose, and that disenfranchises the 40% vote share.

The argument that gerrymandering is disenfranchisement has just moved forward in the courts.

A map of Maryland showing gerrymandered districts.
Gerrymandering – bad no matter who does it

A Federal court has ruled that these districts were drawn to favor Democratic candidates, and that should not be allowed. This is a good thing, because we are now closer to the Supreme Court deciding to ban political gerrymandering.

Our democracy is undermined by threats to the one person, one vote principle. Threats such as gerrymandering, voter suppression, and corporate influence are systemic threats and have to be opposed whether they offer a momentary advantage or not.

Single party districts are a symptom of these threats. That they have grown to 15% of all Congressional districts is shocking.

Hidden in the map of CDs is another issue – the use of ‘top 2’ primaries. In this system, the top 2 vote-getters of a single combined primary appear on the final ballot. This can lead to two candidates of the same party, as it has in Washington, California, and Louisiana.

The top 2 system, like open primaries, diminishes the importance of political parties in our electoral system. This is bad for the country. Individuals running without strong party support, but within the party-based ecosystem, are much more open to corporate influence and their policy positions are much harder to ascertain.

Returning to Sam Wang’s point, polarization has paralyzed Congress. This is mostly seen in the House, where the majority party is more concerned with a faction of bomb-throwers than with legislating. The Senate has also slowed to a glacial pace, and refused to advance appointments for votes. Rather than being a successful exercise in power, these tactics have shifted power away from Congress and towards the President.

The short term effect of the coming election will be to further polarize the Republican Party, as moderates are swept out and conservative politicians in safe seats remain in place. In contrast, the Democratic Party will have become more moderate, in order to win those same seats. In 2018, the Dems will have to become more moderate still, as they have to defend these gains and face a tough group of seats up for election in the Senate.

Polarization and one-party politics does not benefit America. It opens the political process further to corruption. We should support all efforts to create a healthy two party system.

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