We deserve representation for our votes
Perhaps the true message of the inability of the major parties to maintain real dominance is that we require alternatives to extended power reigns. That desire to impede long, tight grips on the government by individuals (or monolithic groups like the aristocracy or the Democrats or Wall Street or…) may well have been the true motivator of the Founding Fathers. Perhaps some of them feared that more than they felt the need to distribute freedoms.
Bear in Mind
Much of what I have posted over the past two weeks suggests that voting behavior in 2016 was not too far afield from the norm, but this caveat must be raised:
- None of this suggests election meddling did not occur or that such meddling is not heinous and criminal. The voting was close enough and the ultimate representation skewed enough that nothing about the data rules out meddling. In fact, historical precedents (such as Hayes/Tilden) should encourage a thorough review of the election. The last thing we need is a regression in validity.
The two primary parties have an immense investment in ensuring that no third party rises to challenge their hegemony.
- Voter turnout in 2016 has been studied endlessly with the weird conclusion that it was up and down from prior elections. Either way, the turnout from those who could vote was somewhere between 55% and 60%. This means that the Democrats captured 28.6% and the Republicans 26.4% of eligible voters. (I used 57.5% as a good mid-point for turnout and the total voting pattern I outlined a few days ago for the 2016 federal government.)
- The two major parties have a clear vested interest in keeping turnout low. If a third party could energize another 25% of the voter population to show up at the polls, then they would be in the driver’s seat. If that sounds impossible, we are talking about 75% turnout, which puts us within the realm of the possible compared to other nations. Keep this in mind the next time you hear about support for voter ID laws and all the rest. Neither party benefits when too many of us actually vote.
- The most successful third parties (at getting people into federal seats) have been geographically limited. This should be a model for getting such a thing rolling. As a humble suggestion, start some local third parties with quality funding and telegenic candidates. Get elected and then start merging parties across regions. Find some common ground among Green and Libertarian and Conservative and all the rest and refuse to back candidates running with the two major parties.
- The occasional independent candidate can break out, but they often run on a single issue (sometimes in opposition to a single issue). Often, they melt into one of the parties upon election. I would argue that an independent candidate with means and likelihood of victory ought to join a nascent third party.
The majority of the eligible population do not participate in most elections.
- I understand that we have done a good job making it inconvenient and difficult to vote. We vote on week days and often work a distance from our polling station. The primary last week in New York was conveniently scheduled from noon until nine, which sounds good, except that I know people who work that entire time. We can’t vote on a Saturday? Not even try it? Of course, as I mention above, it does work to the advantage of the two major parties to keep turnout low.
- No matter how annoying or difficult, we all still need to vote. Maybe start taking the day off until your workplace actually closes for a couple hours from lack of employees and puts up a sign that says “Be back in two hours – we are celebrating our nation by voting”.
- Not voting is a vote for the winner. That doesn’t bother enough people. The two major parties rely on ennui to keep potential voters at home. That ought to anger people, but then… ennui.
They last had a good run when Truman annoyed voters and Eisenhower excited them. Otherwise, most people haven’t really been inclined to vote Republican.
- Stole a few pages from the old Democratic party and learned to game the system. All of this worked well for the Democrats until well after WW II.
- Hit the smaller states hard
- Gain control of state governments and manage state-wide decisions on federal voting; this would be gerrymandering and voter ID
- Appeal to people with staunch conservative views on social issues
- Drape yourself in the local version of patriotism
- Essentially, the Republican party was the minority party for the past 70 years based on voter preference. Any claim to a right to govern is based on the shady math of our election process. It does feel like we have forgotten that we became an independent nation in the first place because our government representation did not reflect the reality of our population.
Somehow, the Democrats have turned themselves into the meritorious party done wrong by the system.
- In the past 50 years, the Democrats earned an outright majority of the popular vote for all federal offices only three times: twice under Jimmy Carter and once under Barrack Obama. That’s not much on which to base a claim to general popularity.
- Probably can claim that they are playing the long game. That sounds good anyway. We do tend to switch back and forth between the parties for President, but that’s a shell game with a lot of visual appeal. In the long run, the Democratic party will no doubt adopt the 21st century version of its old tactics (currently employed by the Republicans) and we’ll all look back on these days and wonder what we (currently aligned with either party) were thinking.
What I Expected
Laying my cards on the table, this series was not my original intention. I had been thinking about the way politicians and political parties influence the populace. While pulling together my thoughts in that area, I casually dug around in past election results. Obviously, that distraction turned into full blown research.
Even so, I expected to find that the Democrats had been generally ill-used of late and that it was a recent phenomenon. My current view of a pendulum swinging back and forth in favor of each party is an evolution from that earlier perception that the Republican party had found a new way to play the game.
The real problem took a while to crystallize. I simply do not believe that the make-up of our elected representatives at the federal level reflects the will of the people. Moreover, I believe that has long been the case. The fault in my research is that I did not go back far enough in time. I do not know when (or of) the elected representation ever did reflect the will of the people. Perhaps some day.