A Plea to Change the Flawed Election Process
Do you have the courage to try something different next time?
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
-- Albert Einstein
Mixing economics with politics is an all-too-common, but deeply frustrating habit in America—especially in the major election years. So I usually try to avoid the populist practice of mingling the two. But just this once, I am going to advocate for a more rational process in the choice of elected officials. For a number of reasons, I believe that the ideas I am proposing are based in logic that is more economically sound.
Here is the problem I am hoping to address: recent polls show that Congress’s approval rating for the past few years is hovering between 10%-15%. This is abysmally low. Despite these low numbers, it is quite likely that close to 90% of the incumbents who run for re-election next year will be returned to office.
Further, both of the major political parties have drifted far away from the majority of American voters. Trump has unfavorable ratings, yet it is almost certain he will be the Republican nominee. And most of the Democratic candidates should be running as members of the Socialist party. No matter how much you dislike Trump, the enlightened response is not a Socialist.
Why do we continue to believe in a primary system that almost certainly will choose a pair of candidates we do not like? In the marketplace of ideas, this is most surely a market failure. But what should we do?
Like most people who consider themselves a conscientious citizen, I vote in every election and I encourage others to do the same. But unlike most people, I vote for third party candidates whenever possible. I am not shy about this--quite the contrary. I am willing to discuss politics with almost any one at almost any time. I must confess that I am perplexed by the amount of pushback I get from people when I encourage them to vote for a third-party candidate. The most common response I get is that voting for a third-party is a waste of a vote.
As an economist to the core it goes directly against my nature to waste anything. Especially something I hold as dear as the right to vote. So I will state emphatically that voting for either a Democrat or a Republican is in fact a waste of a vote. Furthermore, a vote for a third-party candidate is a rational and potentially powerful act against the egregious amount of waste and corruption in our government.
Both of the major political parties in the US are corrupt. Their primary mission is not to govern effectively, but rather to raise money and wield influence so that they can raise more money. This is not a new idea, George Washington warned against the corrupting influences of political parties.
However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
This is not a particularly controversial idea either, as most people I talk to agree that the political parties are all about money and influence peddling. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the votes cast in elections all across the nation are for either a Democrat or Republican.
Recently, it has become popular to blame the Supreme Court decision referred to as Citizens United for the corrupting influence of money in election processes. But from a constitutional perspective, the Supreme Court ruling was correct. We may not like it, but the Court is not going to protect us from ourselves on this one
It is the electorate that is to blame, and it is the electorate that must bear the responsibility for correcting this problem. The solution here seems simple to me. If you do not like the corrupting power of money on your elected officials, then vote for the candidates who spend the least. Then tell everyone who will listen--friends, pollsters, social media, journalists, party volunteers, etc.--that is why you voted the way you did.
This means you may have to resign yourself to the possibility that you will not be voting for the “winner.” But not choosing the winner does not mean you have wasted your vote. It means that you have voted for a principal or a cause you believe in rather than a personality. It means that you are not motivated by a short-term and over-hyped fear of the other side, but rather by a long-term and rational belief in self-government.
If enough people were to vote their conscience in this manner, I believe it would only take one or two election cycles to get a strong message through to future candidates and whatever party they may wish to join.
As citizens, we need to stop worrying so much about the election right in front of us, and start worrying more about our political process in general and the long-term future of our country.
My choice for the third-party candidate usually means I vote for a Libertarian. This choice is not merely a protest vote against the other two parties, I actually agree with much of the Libertarian platform. I do not agree with 100% of their platform, but I agree with far more of the Libertarian platform than the platforms of either the Republicans or Democrats.
Their overall philosophy of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism appeals to me. I believe it would have appealed to the founding fathers, and it also appeals to a lot of present day Americans--maybe even a majority. I will go as far as to say it is a mainstream philosophy amongst Americans.
The Libertarians are not the only third party that merits attention. I also take interest in ideas espoused by the Green party. They are not fiscally conservative, but I do place environmental issues high on my list of governmental priorities.
Like I said, there are a lot of people who agree with me, but they still won’t let go of their fear for choosing a color other than red or blue. The fact that Libertarian and Green party candidates do not get more votes is usually explained to me as “they can’t win.” Or “a vote for a third party candidate is really a vote for the (fill in the blank with either Republican or Democrat) in the race.
So third party candidates don’t get votes because they can’t win, and they can’t win because they don’t get votes. Or they don’t get votes because voters are compelled by the fear that a vote for a third party candidate takes a vote from one of the major party candidates who is the lesser of two evils.
Both of these excuses are wrong. For the sake of our hallowed political institutions, we must boldly proclaim our independence by breaking this cycle of the self-fulfilling prophecy of “they can’t win” of “we can’t afford to let the other guy win.”
We live in the most diverse country the world has ever known. No matter how you define diversity—cultural, racial, ethnic, religious, economic, geographic, demographic, etc.--America is truly diverse. To think that control of our government is best distilled down to just two major political parties is illogical. Put another way: we have over 330 million people of the most innovative, creative, productive and intelligent people in the world, yet our most important political office is always filled from just two parties.
All across the nation, candidates for office at the federal level of government talk a lot about their personal political philosophies and how they will make our lives better if elected. But actions speak louder than words. During the campaigns there are a lot of promises made over and over and over again. Yet as soon as the election is over and once the cameras and microphones are turned off, both Democrats and Republicans spend most of their time trying to raise money.
We can do better. A good start would be to stop the madness of voting for either a Democrat or a Republican and then expecting something to change.
Posted: to Politics and Economics on Fri, Sep 6, 2019
Updated: Fri, Sep 6, 2019