And the Winner is: The Losing Party.
The winner is the losing party? Of course this article’s header must be a trick. How else can The Losing Party end up being the winner in American politics? Something isn’t straight and forward.
But true it is.
In the United States, the voting structure results in a winner-take-all outcome. Candidates compete for a single seat, and just fifty percent plus one vote is all it takes to win. Most races are not neck-and-neck and, on average, we can say that winners get about sixty percent of the cast votes. That’s part one in this two-part equation.
The second part is that another average is found by dividing up the seats: About half of them are going to the Democrats and half of them are going to the Republicans. Regionally, the break-down will be more slanted into one political direction, but at the national level both parties are indeed mostly in balance. The exact numbers change with every election cycle, yet we can say that about sixty percent of the voters get the candidate they voted for, and that both parties get about half the seats. These are the two parts of the equation.
Conclusion and following this overall setup, the Democratic voters that are getting their wishes fulfilled account for about half of that sixty percent (thirty percent) and the same is true for the Republican voters. The losing voters not getting their political wishes fulfilled is in this equation forty percent. The three groups total one hundred percent. No doubt about it:
The biggest party is the losing party.
The Losing Party is not an official party. It is a play on words because party can also mean group. The largest group of voters — of the three groups — points us unequivocally to the losing voters. Our democracy is an exclusive democracy because a very substantial group of voters do not get the one they picked. The collective declares the winner; the individual choice is not expressed. It may surprise you, but what takes place in our voting system is also known by the term divide-and-conquer.
Talking about voter power, we can state that our voting system is based on a competitive mechanism that leaves a large number of voters unrepresented, and yet no one seems to be bothered by that. To make it worse, this point is hardly ever debated, it is quickly pushed under the rug. Somehow, there must be a strong belief among us all that in the end our politicians in Washington, D.C. are making the right decisions — fair and square — for our entire society.
Why else would we willingly give up part of our voting power if we did not believe that the flawed process would ultimately still bring us what all voters want?
Deep down, we know there is something weird about our system, about our politicians. Yet putting the finger on the sore spot is complicated when everyone is pointing at a different sore spot. Let’s dig in.
While the candidates are competing — that is a good thing — the voters are competing among themselves as well. Though competition should always be fine, competing simultaneously at two levels indicates that something is not on the up and up. A doubled process is never a clean and straight forward process.
Let’s discuss this more, but then from a different angle. Where two dogs fight over a bone, there is always the chance for a third dog to run off with that bone. Yet because of the doubled competition in our electoral system, that third dog has now two chances.
First off, a political dark horse may end up spoiling the race between the two usual candidates, becoming the unexpected winner. This part of the competition is visible for all to see and in the end the voters make that decision. We can call this part fair and square.
But rather invisible, third parties such as special interests may embed themselves with all viable candidates. The voter has then little to no chance getting that third party out of the picture. Special interest groups ‘help’ the best candidates improve their chances. Candidates thus beholden will drag mud on the carpet once in office, together with their duty to represent the public’s interest. The voters cannot clean up this mess, even if all want to.
When reviewing American elections, the Losing Party represents a systemic and dominant aspect that simply cannot get removed from the competing candidates. The candidates cannot be clean in the purest sense of the word because the voters do not have the cleaning power.
The election is all about the win, and the emphasis is therefore not on the representatives being most representative. Rather, the election is a competition among voters — a clash — and in this clash almost all is fair (but not square). The voters have to accept that our chosen politicians will accept most if not all of the help they can get to win. Our winning candidates mostly come tainted.
Just to get this right, in proportional voting there is no Losing Party. It is good to take a look in our own mirror by reviewing what others do differently. All voters (99 percent) get the candidate or party they hand-picked themselves in nations with proportional voting. That system is a completely different system; it’s an inclusive democracy. The individual choice is fully expressed; there is no collective entity like a district deciding who gets to represent them.
In proportional voting, voters select their pick from a rich choice according to their own political views and — next — the entire pie of seats is cut up according to all cast votes.
Politicians will always be politicians, so let’s not imagine ourselves represented by politicians with angel wings in that system either. Special interests are still in play in this other form of democracy. Important distinction, however, is that they are now visible, hand-in-hand with their specific candidates. Instead of buying all politicians they can get their hands on, special interests form their own political parties.
The pro-business party will compete out in the open with a religious party or a labor party and, to complete the voters’ options, there is an environmental party and an America First party as well.
The special interests are visible on the outside for all to see, and all political shoes are squeaky clean — they just want to walk into different political directions.
Voters quickly boot out candidates that are not squeaky clean. Candidates can say whatever they want, but they cannot blow smoke in two different directions. Those elected and who then lie during their time in office are punished into oblivion during the next election. There is plenty of choice and the voting system is direct and honest. People do not like politicians all that much, and in this system they do not need to have patience with a lying politician.
No surprise therefore that the chosen representatives in proportional voting are on average almost ten years younger than in our voting system. The incumbents do not have any benefits over the other candidates in the system with equal representation. That’s real cleaning power!
Over the years, many parties will have taken place in coalition governments, and many will have been able to implement parts of their program. The outcomes tend to be smart because group-think is not a natural part of coalition governments. A single party in full control, implementing anything they and their special interest groups paid for, is not a common sight in nations with proportional voting.
Since there is no Losing Party, voters are less dissatisfied with their politicians. Voters are fully empowered while the parties compete out in the open for the most votes. Next to touting their own specific interests, most parties look out for all voters. They actively try to get on as many voters’ best sides as possible, with as goal to optimize the party’s chances.
Politics is always about the decision-making process. In modern nations, there is no king or president making all the decisions, and the decision-making process is where powers come together and work things out.
Access to that decision-making process is how one can measure the power of the voter. In the best voting systems, the voters are the ultimate decision-makers when they are able to tie the chosen representatives close to the voters’ political views and needs.
If there is a competitive system in place that puts voters against voters to win representation (like the system we have), then the voters are not that empowered, because… the Losing Party is then the ultimate winner. With the Losing Party literally representing lost voter power, third-party interests end up being more important than the voters. Mud will be dragged onto the carpet. The decision making process in the US is not fair, and was never square.
How to move forward in the US?
The author does not propose a proportional voting system everywhere in the United States. Not only would that be a near-impossible constitutional challenge, but improving voter empowerment can already be put in place, starting from the ground up. Change, started at the local level, will reach the higher level.
- The US Constitution as it exists today requires full proportional voting for cities and counties. Nothing in that document prevents this system being put in place, and there is actually wording that declares that governments must put the best possible system in place and not use a flawed system. Strangely, proportional voting has never been tried in the US, though some tinkering of our usual system has taken place in some locations — with limited improvements in voter power. Proportional voting would empower voters to the max in a safe, local environment. More about that here.
- Constitutionally feasible, and relatively easy to implement, is that states can change their voting systems and establish a 3-to-5 party system. This would empower voters, while keeping the number of parties limited. There is then real competition among the parties, but power doesn’t fracture in so many pieces there is no power left. An example for limiting the number of parties is found with a threshold of five percent of all the votes before a party can receive any seats. It can even be done keeping all voting districts intact. More about that here.
- The Federal level is near-impossible to change. So, let’s make the easy changes at the bottom — local and state levels — and expect this change to trickle up.
- For sure, make your frustration be heard: Vote for candidates that stand up for electoral change and become part of the change you (and we all) want. Become a member of the Green Party or the Libertarian Party and if need be drag them toward supporting electoral change; they are now failing the voters for not putting electoral change at the hearts of their parties.
The United States of America should have a new form of democracy, peacefully established, to serve us all toward the best outcomes possible.
I’m ready for USA 2.0. Are you?