The key to solving political polarization is in the primaries
Zaidane is the President and CEO of Millennium Action Project.
The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto principle, is a philosophy that 80% of the results are derived from about 20% of the activities. In business, it is a positive and simple way to project the investments and productivity of a sales team.
In our democracy, the Pareto principle is not a good thing.
According to a recent report, due to demographic dynamics and extreme partisan gerrymandering, 83% of congressional seats were decided by just 10% of eligible Americans. This powerful minority of citizens votes in the primary elections. This year, more than 80% of people did not vote in the Texas primary, meaning less than one in five eligible voters in Texas participated in the democratic process.
As state legislatures complete their redistricting and set the political landscape for the next 10 years, it is imperative to discuss primary reform. Not only to combat hyperpartisanship, but also to increase civic participation, ensure more diverse candidate pools, and ultimately represent leadership with diverse experiences and viewpoints needed to write effective policy and serve better. the American public.
Problem, primary voters do not reflect the demographics and ideology of the general population. For example, early primaries and caucuses like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina represent less than 4% of the US population in presidential elections. They also underrepresent the country’s ethnic diversity, but mainstream pundits view these states as indicative of a candidate’s overall strength. Additionally, at the local level, Democratic and Republican primary voters are older than the population of their neighborhoods and districts despite the fact that those under 40 and political independents rank among the largest groups in the United States. By comparison, only 7% of congressmen and 5% of state legislators are millennials. As a result, it increases polarization as the status quo retains its power, the most extreme candidates are pushed into general elections, and leaders do not necessarily reflect the communities they serve.
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The case for reviewing our primary system is clear. From gerrymandering to low turnout, primaries can often be the breeding ground for democratic upheaval and unrepresentative outcomes.
Fortunately, several states are putting aside their political differences and working on a systematic reform of their primary elections. At the Millennium Action Project, we believe that increased engagement among voters and elected leaders—especially youth—can facilitate opportunities for creative problem-solving on political issues across partisan and generational lines. Here are two initiatives to consider:
General, non-partisan and open primaries
It is expected that 11 million registered independent voters will be excluded from primary elections due to closed systems. But not all states have a closed primary.
Nebraska has used “general primaries” for its unicameral legislature since 1937. All candidates, regardless of party, run together in a grand primary, and the candidates with the most votes go to the general election, with some states allowing the top two, top four or even top five candidates to advance.
Washington State has used this process for state, state, and local elections since 2008. In 2010, California, the nation’s most populous state, followed with an almost identical system. More recently, Alaska implemented a general primary system in 2020. Proponents cite an increase in the number of candidates and independent voter turnout when primaries are open to all voters.
Voting by ranking
Reforms like preferential voting have also put power back in the hands of the people. By removing the all-or-nothing approach from our current system, we see opportunities for consensus candidates, innovative policy ideas, and coalition building.
In an RCV election, voters rank their candidates in order of preference. However, suppose no candidate receives a majority of votes. In this case, the candidate with the fewest votes has their ballots redistributed to the second- or third-tier candidates of voters until one candidate has obtained a majority. Primary analysis of New York City in 2021 found that campaigns have shifted their strategies to build coalitions beyond traditional electoral bases.
Moreover, voting habits told a story in a traditional voting system. For example, Eric Adams, now mayor, won the majority of head-to-head contests against all candidates; however, there were instances where he was listed as second choice over non-institutional candidates like Andrew Yang and doubled his support. Additionally, there were clear preferences for female candidates in specific wards. The Elections Council reported an increase in voter turnout, with nearly one million residents taking part in the RCV election, up from 770,000 voters eight years earlier.
Political polarization gives the illusion that society is more divided than we are. By fixing the way we run primaries, we change who participates in our civic systems and create a democracy that works better for all of us.
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