The Absent Center of the Two-Party State

At the Wash Park Prophet, Andrew Oh-Willike reflects on the "entrenched disconnect" between the people of the United States and the elected representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties.  He argues that the two-party system has led to the systematic under-representation of moderates throughout the country.  Excerpt:
Actual partisanship in legislative districts has a bell curve distribution. Elected legislators have a bimodal distribution, like a two humped camel. The political middle is systemically underpopulated by elected officials, despite the fact that the vast majority of voters are in the political middle between the typical elected Democrat and the typical elected Republican on the spectrum of ideology from the political left to the political right.
Oh-Willike then goes on to argue that there are electoral and legislative structural biases against moderation.  Electorally, he faults single member district plurality voting for "naturally gravitating toward" a two-party system.  I would argue, on the contrary, that there is nothing "natural" about this process whatsoever, since it is entirely controlled by the interested parties themselves.  But Oh-Willike would seem to agree, as he admits SMDP doesn't "necessarily" result a two-party system:
Single member plurality district election system naturally gravitates towards having two dominant political parties in any one geographic area. . . . [but . . .  The single member plurality district system doesn't necessarily have to create a two party system. It can support regional parties that have majority support in a particular area, like a Quebec Nationalist party or Irish Republican Party. It also doesn't require that the party of the right be the same everywhere, or that the party of the left be the same everywhere.
As potential fixes, he suggests a majority requirement, i.e. runoff elections, to ensure that elected officials have the support of over 50% of voters, or proportional representation, which he terms the "strong fix."  Oh-Willike then goes on to argue that the two-party state has a legislative bias against moderation as well, since political polarization and the ideological "realignment" between the major parties has resulted in the systematic purging of moderates from elected office.  Excerpt:
Today, after a process called "realignment" that has largely run its course, this isn't the case any more. There are few notable blocks of "moderates" in either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party in Congress who deviate from their party in a systematic way on a particular way.
He then elaborates on the biases against moderation in majoritarian legislative processes, and the risk of legislative gridlock, and concludes that the two-party state traps American voters in a Catch-22:
in American politics, voters are left between insisting that government function with deals negotiated between the left and right in exchange for a risk a damaging deadlock, within divided government, and government by a right of center, or left of center consensus with little to encourage it to be inclusive.
Read the whole thing.  It's a lengthy blog post that should make for interesting reading in the context of the ongoing discussion of moderation, centrism and independent political strategy that has taken place in the comments here over the last few days.


Samuel Wilson said...

It's an admirably judicious article free from special pleading for any particular panacea. It could be emphasized more strongly that the primary process combined with existing ballot rules too often leave voters without a "realistic" moderate choice, since the two major parties are guaranteed the first spots on most if not all ballots and fill them with base-friendly ideologues. Every base has a right to its candidate, of course, but if the two largest base-groups combined don't represent the beliefs of most Americans, why are we obliged to take their choices more seriously than anyone else's?

On the other hand, while many self-identified moderates may feel a lack of representation in government, it doesn't necessarily follow that the electoral rules should be rigged to encourage moderate or centrist results. Moderation shouldn't be equated with objectivity or even pragmatism, and moderates shouldn't be assumed automatically to be the people best qualified to govern the country.

TiradeFaction said...

I'd agree with Samuel here. The idea that the "centrist" position is always the wisest most pragmatic position is a myth, largely because "centrist" itself is largely a nebulous vague term that's always change.