The illusion of choice

This is the reality of the two party system. The sooner we do something about it…the better off we will be.


Are Independents “a confused and clueless horde,” who are “more myopic than moderate” and characterized above all else by their “thoughtlessness”? These are just a few of the claims put forward in an anti-Independent hit piece published this week in The New Republic.

In reality, the confused and clueless are those who think that either of the two major parties has their interests at heart or gives a hoot about carrying out what their party platform says.

Antiwar movement revitalized by independents and third parties

Damon Eris at CAIVN

According to a new study, the antiwar movement in the United States is now driven almost entirely by Independents and supporters of third parties. The findings have media outlets asking “Whatever happened to the antiwar movement?” even as thousands of Americans took to the streets in cities across the country earlier this month to protest the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

The new paper, published in the journal Mobilization by Michael Heaney and Fabio Rojas, analyzes what the authors call “the demobilization of the antiwar movement in the United States” between 2007 and 2009. Based on interviews with over 5,000 demonstrators at nearly 30 major antiwar protests across the country over that two year period, the researchers conclude that the electoral success of the Democratic party in the elections of 2006 and 2008 led to the large-scale abandonment of the antiwar movement by Democrats, even despite the party’s failure to deliver on its antiwar promises.

“Activists identified with the Democratic Party were disproportionately likely to leave the movement as time went on, as they considered Democratic electoral success to be concomitant with the achievement of their policy aims,” they write.

I helped organize anti-Iraq war protests. They did indeed die after Obama got elected. Apparently many of the protesters were anti-Bush not anti-war and now seem totally ok with bombing countries without the permission of Congress so long as a Democratic president ordered it.

Another problem with the anti-Iraq war protests was they were mostly organized by groups whose primary goal was to recruit for their little far left party that controlled the ostensible antiwar coalition. Thus, they deliberately drove away moderates. But a coalition can never be a genuine mass organization unless it allows everyone in.

Happily, those deceptive and curiously ineffective front groups are no longer prominent and real coalitions composed of independents and third parties are now opposing the wars.

Damon Eris, who blogs at Poli-Tea and here sometimes, will be our guest tomorrow night on the Polizeros Radio podcast, where he will discuss independent and third party politics, the increasing disconnect between elected officials and their constituents, ballot status issues, and more. Don’t miss it.

Third party voter registration and ballot status in California

There are four third parties in California with ballot status: American Independent, Green, Libertarian, and Peace and Freedom. I analyze their registration numbers and ballot status at CAIVN.

Most interesting to me was finding that, with the exception of Peace and Freedom in L.A. County, the highest registrations for third parties in California are generally in northern, rural, agricultural counties and not in urban areas.

The 2010 Elections and Democratic-Republican Bipolar Disorder

The 112th Congress will begin with a Democratic majority in the Senate and a Republican majority in the House.  This will be the second time the corporate parties have exchanged majority control of the House in the last five years.  While many Democrats were naive enough to believe, or cynical enough to pretend, that their victories in 2006 and 2008 were the result of something other than a simple rejection of undivided Republican Party government, this year the GOP is all-too-aware that their victory was ensured by voters’ rejection of undivided Democratic Party government.  The Hill quoted John McCain admitting as much earlier this week:

The 2010 election results should not be interpreted as an “affirmation” of Republicans, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Tuesday. . . . “The moral of this story is that this election is a repudiation of Obama and the Democrats,” McCain said on Fox News. “It is not an affirmation of Republicans. So Republicans have got to come through and satisfy this outcry — this anger and frustration — that’s been expressed.”

Republican-friendly pollster Scott Rasmussen made much the same point in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal on Monday, in which he argues that these quickly shifting majorities express a fundamental rejection of both ruling parties:

tomorrow Republicans will send more Republicans to Congress than at any time in the past 80 years . . . This isn’t a wave, it’s a tidal shift—and we’ve seen it coming for a long time. . . . But none of this means that Republicans are winning. The reality is that voters in 2010 are doing the same thing they did in 2006 and 2008: They are voting against the party in power. . . . This reflects a fundamental rejection of both political parties.

A new poll from Rasmussen indicates that the American public does not expect to be adequately represented by the new governing majority:

Most voters expected Republicans to win control of the House of Representatives on Election Day, but nearly as many expect to be disappointed with how they perform by the time the 2012 elections roll around.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds, in fact, that 59% of Likely U.S. Voters think it is at least somewhat likely that most voters will be disappointed with Republicans in Congress before the next national elections. That includes 38% who say it is Very Likely.

These quickly shifting majorities indicate the fundamental inability of the Democratic and Republican parties to adequately represent the interests of the people of the United States.  Trapped by the bipolar logic of the two-party state, the only way for voters to express their discontent with the current Democratic majority was to cast their ballots for a party they favor even less.  As CNN reported yesterday:

Democrats have a 10-point favorability gap: 43 percent of voters have a positive opinion of the party, while 53 percent aren’t thrilled. The Republican Party also gets a thumbs-down from 53 percent of the nation’s voters, with just 41 percent saying they’re happy with the party.

Compare that with 1994 and 2006, when voters had a net positive view of the incoming party. The numbers suggest Tuesday night may signal a rejection of the Democratic Party — but something less than an embrace of the GOP.

The American electorate clearly suffers from a form of political bipolar disorder, in which incidents of manic political enthusiasm alternate with lengthy depressive episodes.  The seriousness of the illness is all-too-clear from the fact that we have entered a lengthy stage of so-called rapid cycling, in which manic periods alternate ever more quickly with depressive episodes.  Following this week’s elections, Democrats are likely to enter a depressive state:

Signs and symptoms of the depressive phase of bipolar disorder include persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, guilt, anger, isolation, or hopelessness; disturbances in sleep and appetite; fatigue and loss of interest in usually enjoyable activities; problems concentrating; loneliness, self-loathing, apathy or indifference; depersonalization; loss of interest in sexual activity; shyness or social anxiety; irritability, chronic pain (with or without a known cause); lack of motivation; and morbid suicidal ideation.

Republicans, on the other hand, will likely be found exhibiting signs and symptoms of mania:

Mania is generally characterized by a distinct period of an elevated, expansive, or irritable mood state. People commonly experience an increase in energy and a decreased need for sleep. A person’s speech may be pressured, with thoughts experienced as racing. Attention span is low, and a person in a manic state may be easily distracted. Judgment may become impaired, and sufferers may go on spending sprees or engage in behavior that is quite abnormal for them. They may indulge in substance abuse, particularly alcohol or other depressants, cocaine or other stimulants, or sleeping pills. Their behavior may become aggressive, intolerant, or intrusive. People may feel out of control or unstoppable. People may feel they have been “chosen” and are “on a special mission” or have other grandiose or delusional ideas. Sexual drive may increase.

If you are someone you know exhibits any of the above symptoms, contact a political professional immediately for appropriate doses of partisan spin and propaganda.  Of course, this does nothing but mask the symptoms of the illness.  Political independence may be the only viable, long-term treatment for Democrat-Republican bipolar disorder.

Cross-posted from Poli-Tea.

Score voting and approval voting. Ways to break the duopoly

Our two-party duopoly is supported and kept in power by a plurality voting system that makes it difficult for third parties to break through. But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are other, far more equitable voting methods. Among them are score voting and approval voting. I plan to explore these methods deeper in future posts, but for now, here’s some useful links. If you have thoughts and ideas on this, please, jump into the discussion.

Duopoly must go: An appeal for score voting

Progressive thinkers on all sides of the political spectrum often wonder why the United States seems incapable of escaping a two-party political system. Is it a result of an extreme demographic situation, an urban and a rural America so large and obstinate that they are incapable of cooperation? Does it somehow come from the unique American spirit, a tradition steeped in individualism and adventure? Are the third parties being silently stifled because of their opposition to our incessant march toward rule by large corporations? The answer, in fact, may be so simple that it is right at our fingertips at least once a year. Every time we vote, in fact.

The plurality voting method tends to favor a two-party system, whereas “the double ballot majority system [a.k.a. ‘top-two runoff’] and proportional representation tend to multipartism.” Observations in the social sciences are never absolute, but this tendency for plurality voting to maintain two-party domination is so reliable that it has become known as Duverger’s Law.

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

More and more Americans are agitating for a “third party”, most without even realizing that there are already dozens of active third parties to choose from. But they don’t win. They can’t win. And this is without even acknowledging the effects of tactical voting, this is with honest voters! In this simulation, the only ones voting for the big-two are the ones who honestly believe them to be the uniquely best option available.

The existence of a multitude of third parties hasn’t change this. Screaming that we need even more third parties won’t change this. You cannot win this game. The only way you can win, is if you change the rules.

And the rules that would give third parties a chance to win are approval voting and score voting.

Approval Voting

Approval Voting is a voting procedure in which voters can vote for as many candidates as they wish. Each candidate approved of receives one vote and the candidate with the most votes wins. It was independently proposed by several people in the 1970s. In the United States, the case for Approval Voting seems particularly strong in primary and nonpartisan elections which often draw large fields of candidates.

Range or Score Voting

Score voting … is a voting system for one-seat elections under which voters score each candidate, the scores are added up, and the candidate with the highest score wins.

[It] uses a ratings ballot; that is, each voter rates each candidate with a number within a specified range, such as 0 to 99 or 1 to 5. Although in cumulative voting voters are not permitted to provide scores for more than some number of candidates, in range voting all candidates can be and should be rated. The scores for each candidate are summed, and the candidate with the highest sum is the winner.

Another problem the US voting system has is that the country is not a parliamentary system. To my knowledge, it is the only democracy that is not. In a parliamentary system, a vote of no confidence can bring down and government – no waiting four years – and by its nature, smaller parties can join the ruling coalition and thus have real power.