The Quest to End Two-Party Rule: Part 2
“The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
In a previous blog, I suggested that there were three aspects that should be considered as we engage in our quest to end two-party political rule: 1) an elaboration on the nature of the Opportunity that lies before us, 2) an identification of the Barriers to change that stand in our way, and 3) a preliminary list of possible Strategies that might be considered as we develop plans for successfully bringing about change. In this installment …
We are clearly in an era of extreme voter dissatisfaction. Already at historic lows, the voting public’s opinion of US electoral politics continues to sink. The last Presidential election featured two of the most disliked major party candidates of all time. Voter turnout in 2016 was only 55%. Dissatisfaction is leading voters to identify with neither of the two old establishment parties. 42% of American voters (50% of Millennials) now self-identify as independents – a record number that is larger than with either major party.
Opportunity #1: Citizens who don’t vote, along with independent voters.
The candidacies of outsiders Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were driven by high voter dissatisfaction – from both ends of the political spectrum. Voters want change. The rise of both left and right populism in the US and elsewhere is driven by widespread beliefs that the establishment parties are not serving us well.
Dissatisfaction with duopoly candidates in 2016 also caused a significant surge in attention for alternatives. Non-duopoly votes for President were nearly 6% of the total, by far the highest since Ross Perot last ran in 1996. Some non-duopoly candidates received significant numbers of votes in individual states – the highest being Evan McMullin in UT (over 20%). In six states (UT, ID, VT, AK, NM, OR, WA), non-duopoly votes exceeded 10% of the total.
Opportunity #2: Voters looking for alternatives to candidates that have historically been nominated by the two major parties.
Though we often focus on presidential and gubernatorial elections, perhaps the biggest “bang for the buck” might come by electing non-duopoly candidates to state and/or federal legislatures. This might be particularly true in those many legislatures, such as Texas’, that have effectively become dominated by one party. As few as 10% of an elected body without major party allegiances could become the deal-makers that help us get past partisan gridlock.
Opportunity #3: Election of a small number of non-duopoly representatives and/or senators could have a significant effect on legislative polarization.
A rural/urban divide seems to also be increasingly driving our politics. In the 2016 Presidential election, most of Texas’ large urban counties voted Democrat. Trump received Texas’ presidential electors because of his overwhelming (70+%) support in the smaller rural counties. If Texas had consisted of only the 37 counties that make up 80% of its voters, Clinton would have won the state. Maps of the last presidential vote results show that the rest of the country appears as geographically divided as Texas.
Opportunity #4: Candidates with platforms who can effectively address the common concerns of both rural and urban voters.
Taking advantage of voter concerns will undoubtedly be a challenge given the immense barriers to change that have been erected in our political system (to be addressed further in Part 3 of this series). But there are a few cracks in system that might give alternative parties and independent candidates a toe hold.
For one, Texas is scheduled to eliminate the one-punch straight-ticket voting option starting in 2020. In the runup to the 2020 elections, we might expect many elections officials and others to embark on programs to educate voters about the coming change. Eliminating the one-punch option will obviously not prevent voters from voting straight-ticket. It could, however, have positive effects for electoral competition, particularly in down-ballot races. It certainly is an opportunity to educate voters about their options.
Opportunity #5: Elimination of one-punch straight-ticket voting provides an opportunity to educate voters about their voting options.
In the 85th Texas Legislature, the Texans for Voter Choice coalition managed to get a bill considered (HB 3068) that would have significantly improved ballot access for independent candidates and minor parties by establishing more reasonable ballot access and retention requirements. Though the bill failed to get voted out of committee, there was little opposition to its provisions at hearing. In the 86th Texas Legislature (2019), Texans for Voter Choice coalition will again pursue this legislation.
Opportunity #6: Legislative and/or legal action that would improve ballot access for alternative parties and independent candidates.
In addition, politically-driven gerrymandering is increasingly being challenged in the courts, including in Texas. Though both major parties resist alternatives to partisan gerrymandering, the egregiousness of this practice is causing increased legal scrutiny that could result in less distressing gerrymandering practices.
Opportunity #7: Legislative and/or legal action that could decrease the deleterious effects of gerrymandering on electoral competition.
In the next installment of this blog, we’ll explore the barriers that will need to be addressed in our pursuit to diminish two-party rule.