Yeah, I was going to put some bullshit about Jerry Maguire here. You know, how go-betweens like agents and lawyers get a bad name for being two-faced, but how the “help me help you” scene, where Jerry tries to convince Cuba Gooding’s character to do touchdown dances, shows a way to embody the dichotomy of the underlying tension … or whatever.
But really, I’m writing this article not because I have a solution, but because I have a problem. I want to be a go-between between large groups of people who hate each other and don’t even know I exist. I have a solution to real problems that each group has, but if they hear what I say to the other groups, they’ll think I’m a double agent, working for the enemy.
So yeah, this is kinda a bait-and-switch of an article. Because I really want to talk about proportional representation. I’m going to do my best to also relate this to the article you wanted when you clicked on that title, and I want you to let me know if I succeed. But first I have to cover some background.
The US mostly uses just one horrible voting method for all the different kinds of elections. When used for electing a bunch of representatives for a larger population, this voting method is known as “first past the post” (for reasons I’ve never understood; I think “choose-one plurality” would be a better name). Among its many flaws, FPTP tends to reduce elections to a two-way contest between the frontrunners. And that leads to zero-sum thinking, mudslinging, etc.
So we have Democrats and Republicans; each stewing in their separate broths of clickbait schadenfreude. Many Republicans are never happier than when they can piss off a liberal; many Democrats, when they can feel superior to a Republican. (A side note: while this two-way dynamic is unhealthy on both sides, I think it’s more so for Republicans, and I think Trump is pretty good evidence of that.)
And FPTP even forces third parties to define themselves by opposition; in this case, by opposition to their closest allies. The literal defining characteristic of a Green voter is that they’re not a Democratic voter; and similarly, a Libertarian voter must necessarily reject both main parties.
This is the situation where I want to be a middle-man. I believe that proportional representation, and specifically PLACE voting, would help encourage us to move beyond mutually-assured-destructive partisanship and enable positive-sum alliances and solutions. But that’s a message that only really resonates with beltway pundits. The teams on the field don’t care about changing the game, they just want to win.
And so I need specific messages for each different audience. I need to be two-faced.
- To Democratic politicians, I can say: “Gerrymandering tilts the field against you and your goals, and it always will. Better districting could help some but it can never fully solve the problem; demographic patterns are against you. Proportional representation methods such as PLACE voting are the real solution, and YOU need to be ready to pass them into law when YOU get power.”
- To moderate Republican voters, I can say: “You’re in a no-win situation. Either you live in a Democratic district, where your vote is routinely ignored; or you live in a Republican district, where the extreme faction of your party dominates the primary elections and holds you hostage. Good proportional representation methods such as PLACE voting would free you from that tyranny, and ensure you could help elect people who’d really represent you.”
- To independents, or to any interest group or identity group that is underrepresented by the current system, I can say: “At best, today your vote is no more than an anonymous chip in a game played between the two major parties. All the incentives are for them to give you as little as possible in order to get that vote. Good proportional representation methods such as PLACE voting would give you the freedom to vote for a candidate who truly represents your interests, even if they weren’t running in your district. And then if they won, great; and even if they didn’t win, the assurance of your vote would still empower them before the election to negotiate with other candidates on your behalf, endorsing and passing on your vote to the viable candidates who would do the best job for your issues. This would boost turnout of people like you and increase your power still further, opening the dialog beyond the same old two-sided debate.”
- To partisans of a specific third party, I can say: “Proportional representation would break the dam of the two-party monopoly. It’s true, PLACE voting is not the most pro-third-party of PR methods, and so if you didn’t have enough localized support bases, you might win a bit less than a proportional share. But even then, you’d have a proportional say in which major-party candidates won, so you could further your interests. And most importantly, voters would be free to choose you without any fear-mongering about spoiled elections.”
Each of these groups already hates gerrymandering. And since proportional representation methods are the best solutions for gerrymandering, they should already be primed to love PR. But even more than gerrymandering, they hate each other. And that makes it hard to talk to all of them at once. To gain trust with one group, it’s tempting to bad-mouth another; but if I get caught doing that on all sides, I’ll get less trust than ever.
This would be hard enough if I only had to pitch proportional representation. But there are actually various possible PR methods. The one I’m pitching, PLACE voting, is designed to be a compromise: to keep the advantages of FPTP while adding those of PR. I’ve given a lot of thought to these issues, and I think that by giving a little bit to each group, PLACE makes itself the most viable option.
And yes, there are other PR methods out there that might be better for one group or another. Democratic politicians would probably prefer a closed-list method, where party insiders could make sure their seats were safe. Loyal Democratic voters might want a mixed member proportional method with a high threshold to keep most third parties from winning seats. Moderate Republicans might prefer a single-winner Condorcet method that tends to favor moderates. Independents and third party voters might want STV, which makes splitting parties easier.
Most of these other methods (except closed-list) would be good solutions to the problem of gerrymandering. But though each would have strong appeal to certain groups, each also has downsides. I think PLACE is the fairest, most-viable compromise. And though my voting-methods-geek heart delights in back-and-forth discussion of the specific advantages and disadvantages of each method, my voting-activist toes curl at that interminable detour from the path of actual real-world reform.
So basically, I’m this random guy with an idea that nobody’s ever heard of (though I actually have as much experience and credentials on this issue as anyone, as I’ll happily explain to anybody who asks), trying to convince various warring factions to declare a truce and follow me. And while I’m happy to spend hours answering specific questions about my plan, I don’t want to do that in too public a forum, because too many nitty-gritty details will either scare or bore most people away.
So there’s the dilemma. I have to be two-faced, and the best I can do to keep it under control is to at least be up-front about it. I hope the tone of voice I’m using here works. But I don’t know.
What do you think?