Ever since we started Election Reformers Network, I’ve been using the email tagline:
“Fundamentally, we are not a divided people, but we do need to fix our rules.”
So I was very pleased to see a New York Times Opinion piece today by law professor Tim Wu pointing out how much Americans agree on key policy questions. As Wu writes, “The defining political fact of our time is not polarization. It’s the inability of even large bipartisan majorities to get what they want”
The anti-majoritarian bias that Tim Wu discusses arises in part from bad election rules we can fix. For example, by running primaries and general elections on a simple plurality basis, we often end up electing representatives who are not actually supported by the majority.
A study we did last year found that more than half of the members of 115th House of Representatives first reached office by winning a primary with less than 50% of the vote. We also found that Reps who had the lowest primary vote share scored higher on measures of extremism and were less well aligned with the political profile of their district. The fix for this problem is ranked choice voting, which ensures a winner supported by the majority, even from a crowded field.
A second problem is gerrymandering, which can yield state Congressional delegations that do not reflect the majority vote in the state. Independent redistricting commissions are starting to address that problem. And third, this “oppression of the supermajority” is directly related to our lack of rules effectively regulating campaign financing and reducing the outsize influence of major donors, for which we need a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.
Tim Wu’s point is much needed, we are not in fact a fundamentally divided people, but we do need to fix our rules!