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A Mathematical Formula for Chaos | Three Things Thursday

The math behind political polarization, independent redistricting in VA, and powerful political parties for this weeks Three Things Thursday.

Brett Maney
Sr. Communications Manager

These weeks are flying by, aren’t they? Yet every week, I feel us making bigger and bigger inroads. We’re making progress, and the momentum is palpable. 

Here are three things to think about this week. 

  1. There’s actually a formula that explains our polarization

Remember that physics class you took in high school? Well I don’t because I never took physics, but now I’m thinking it might have been useful: scientists at MIT have found that our polarization can be tracked using the Ising model, a formula developed to help explain ferromagnets and “other physical systems.”

They found that election outcomes are now resulting in “negative representation”; in other words, election outcomes are expressing the opposite of voter desires, largely because American elections have become so unstable. In fact, the researchers even found the year (and reason) our elections started to become unstable: partisan primaries. As ideologically fringe voters gained more power in choosing candidates, our elected officials became more extreme than the people they represented. 

“What happened in 1970 is a phase transition like the boiling of water,” Baneer Bar Yam, one of the researchers wrote, “Elections went from stable to unstable.” 

DID YOU KNOW: This is why we support nonpartisan primaries, and other reforms that expand the electorate and ensure that politicians are beholden to all of their constituents; not just those at the extremes. 

  1. It’s now or never: redistricting reform must pass

The census happens every 10 years. Every 10 years, maps are drawn based off of the results of the census.. This means we have one shot. One shot at being able to draw the maps that ensure all voters are heard from, and that their interests come before our political parties. 

This week, take a look at this opinion piece from one Virginia legislator, Delegate Schuylar VanValkenberg who urges his colleagues to pass redistricting legislation in the house of delegates. Virginians deserve maps that represent their choices -- not party bosses. 

Support the effort to get redistricting reform in Virginia, and check out our friends at OneVirginia2021 and sign the petition to end gerrymandering. The Virginia legislative session ends March 7th -- it’s now or never. 

  1. The weakness of parties shows just how strong they are

Regardless of who you plan on voting for in November, if current trends hold, the two names at the top of the ballot are unlikely to be someone that the political establishment wanted -- or even expected -- to win. In other words, political elites seem to have an ever-diminishing power over selecting their party’s candidate. 

Far from demonstrating the weakness of the two party structure, however, Eric Boehm at Reason argues that this trend actually indicates the strength of the two parties. If Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist, is running for the same party as Michael Bloomberg, a former Republican, then the power of the (D) Democratic signifier has never been stronger. Surely, Michael Bloomberg could pour his millions of dollars into an independent run, but he opted in to what has become a big tent liberal party. 

The parties have warped our political process in their own self interest, and are facing their own internal destruction as a result. Boehn writes, “Thanks to decades of self-serving rulemaking, the two major parties will continue to have a stranglehold on power long after they've been hollowed out by the populists.”

Now we, as Americans, have to undo the web of power the parties have amassed and ensure that voters come first.