The Economist’s Case for Systemic Reform

Polarization and voting systems are not only niche topics for political organizations and independent candidates to post on blogs or Facebook. In its July 14-20th edition, the esteemed publication, The Economist, released the article, “American democracy’s built-in bias towards rural Republicans.” The article is unique in that it highlights not only the geographic divisions between rural (primarily Republican) and urban (primarily Democrat) voters, but discusses how and why the voting system favors the minority of voters by giving more weight to rural votes in the United States. While the rural/urban division is more nuanced than a stark dichotomy, the author in The Economist explains that the voters in rural areas have considerable more weight than individual votes in densely populated cities.

The article is worth reading in its entirety, but here are a few main takeaways:

  1. The two parties have become increasingly divided based on rural and urban habitation.

  2. In two of the five elections in the 21st century, the minority won the electoral college.

  3. The Congressional electoral system that determines how votes are weighted now favors rural, Republican voters, yet the partisanship results in divisions, paralysis, and immediate reversals of policies, thus negatively affecting both parties.

  4. The voting system for Congress was last revised in 1967 even though reform is not exceptionally difficult since it is not mandated in the constitution. This indicates a lack of response in relation to how the country is changing.

The article suggests that, while not a panacea, voting reform such as implementing Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) could be a way to ameliorate the short and long term consequences that can disrupt the democratic system. When voters participate in RCV, they rank multiple candidates depending on preference. With RCV, candidates who are opposed by the majority of voters cannot win, ultimately forcing majority rule. Multi-member districts (MMDs) are another potential reform option where districts send two or more members to a legislative chamber. With MMDs, elected representatives can more easily represent the diversity within the community and are more likely to achieve proportional representation.

Similar to how voting reform will not solve the entirety of issues in the United States’ political environment, the urban/rural categorization cannot fully explain the stalemates and deadlocks recurrent in government. The Economist article complements a recent  report written by businesswoman Katherine Gehl and Harvard Professor Michael Porter, titled “Why Competition in the Politics Industry is Failing America: A Strategy for Reinvigorating our Democracy,” where the authors address the political system and the present duopoly that infringes on American democracy. Gehl and Porter discuss how over time, individuals in power develop rules to eliminate incentives for collaboration and perpetuate a political environment devoid of true competition. Once again, it is worth reading the report fully, but the below bullets summarize some of the author’s key points:

  1. The two party system in the US can be labeled a duopoly which means that true competition is absent. Instead, the two parties maintain power consistently. In the duopoly, the average voters and non-voters, the majority of voters in the US, have little weight and voice compared to the partisan primary voters, donors, and special interests.

  2. The two main political parties benefit from increasing their divisions and separating themselves from one another, thus creating a false either/or dichotomy.

  3. Parties and the political system evolve and those in office establish their own optimal rules to survive in the environment, thus undercutting democracy in the process. For example, creating high barriers to entry in elections discourages other competitors such as independents or third party candidates.

  4. The duopoly structure present in the US disincentivizes solution finding and compromises, since  a festering, seemingly intractable conflict will attract partisan voters.

  5. Ways to change the current political system involve fundamentally altering the underlying industry structure such as the election process and money in politics.

Common tropes in political literature today detail the current inefficacy of the government and the idea that there is no easy solution. These are both valuable topics that offer the platform for nuanced debates and dialogue. Voting reform, campaign finance, and decreasing other barriers to enter the political landscape are not simple, yet as the article and report illustrate, they are dire to address for a functioning democracy.


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  • Bryon MacDonald
    Just listened to the NPR based interview on Freakonomics and the authors Gehl and Porter on their ideas and research. I will be based soon near San Diego and welcome anyone contacting me to further discuss these reforms @bryonworks Twitter
    Bryon MacDonald
  • Tom Ufert
    TOTALLY AGREE w/the tenet of this article. I’ve been working IVN out of San Diego, CA, have just signed up w/Unite America & have been working hard privately to create basic foundations of a new centrist Independent political party, USA Unity Party. NEED HELP!!! Anyone interested, contact me thru FB, Tom Ufert.