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Primary Problem

The Motion to Vacate: Exposing the Primary Problem's Grip on Congress

Uncover the impact of the Primary Problem on Congressional dysfunction in our latest blog. Explore insights from Nick Troiano and learn how nonpartisan primaries can lead to more effective governance.

Alana Persson
Digital Marketing Associate
May 6, 2024

In a striking demonstration of political theater, Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar, and Thomas Massie have launched a bid to oust Speaker Mike Johnson. Yet, this is not just a simple power play; it's a revealing moment that underscores a systemic issue in our electoral system known as the Primary Problem.

The Primary Problem in Action 

The political turmoil involving the trio at the center of this drama underscores a critical issue: they were elected in ultra-safe districts with alarmingly low voter turnout. This scenario enables a minor segment of the electorate to wield outsized influence, significantly distorting our political landscape and contributing to legislative gridlock. This imbalance in representation has real consequences — recall the historic paralysis the House experienced when trying to elect then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy in January of 2023.

On a recent Smerconish podcast, Unite America Executive Director Nick Troiano emphasized that this issue transcends party lines, affecting both major political parties equally — “[Majorie Taylor Greene and AOC] were effectively elected in their party primary in which only very few voters turn out, and those who do tend to be on the fringes of both political parties. They're good examples of a Congress that has grown to be very unrepresented of the majority of Americans because of the way that we elect our officials."

The Bigger Picture: Congress's Failing Grade

This issue is emblematic of why Congress has a dismal 15% approval rating. During his appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Nick Troiano noted, "What we're seeing right now is a good example of why Congress has such a low approval rating because the American people desire and deserve public servants who are willing to work with each other and solve problems. But what they get are partisan extremists, if not conspiracy theorists who are chasing fame, money, and power."

The Broader Impact of Electoral Dysfunction

The trio behind the recent ousting motion represents 14.74% of their three districts' eligible voters combined. Each was effectively elected in their party primary, which typically sees low voter turnout, drawing mainly those on the fringes of both political parties.

This scenario is not isolated. Last year, the 'Chaos Caucus' — whose members represent less than 2% of U.S. voters — almost caused a government shutdown. These eight members were elected through partisan primaries, each determined by merely 12% of eligible voters in their districts, exemplifying the significant flaws of the Primary Problem

Troiano emphasizes in a FairVote interview, "The biggest reason why Congress is not representing a majority, even when a majority of us can agree on this issue or that, is that a majority of us don't elect them."

Over the past two decades, the consequences of the primary system have become increasingly apparent. "Something has gone awry, and the direct primary system has become anti-democratic and a threat to democracy because it is fueling political polarization," notes Troiano during his discussion on Big Ideas with Steve Hilton.

A Call to Action

Adopting reforms like nonpartisan primaries could pave the way toward more stable and representative governance. Explore these possibilities in Nick Troiano’s book, The Primary Solution: Reducing our Democracy from the Fringes. This read offers a measured examination of how nonpartisan primaries might reshape our political landscape, providing a hopeful perspective for voters across the political spectrum.

Search our website to learn more about the movement to put voters first.