The Case for Party-Centric Reform

The American two-party political system is broken. After decades when both parties were ideologically diffuse and capable of forging pragmatic compromises across the aisle, they’ve become polar opposites that see each other as mortal enemies. This leads them to focus on winning power at all costs. Since neither side is able to attain much more than a narrow majority in Congress, people on the extremes get to have a disproportionate say. Bad-faith actors also exploit partisan division, challenging democratic norms, spreading disinformation, and aggressively and even violently ignoring the rule of law. We have a system that now rewards extremism and radicalization.

The majority of voters, however, are fed up with this state of affairs. Experts who study democracies around the world say the United States is at risk of sliding toward authoritarianism as more people lose faith in the current political system and anti-democratic forces consolidate power. 

How should we address this crisis? We see two ways of breaking the two-party doom loop. One way, which we’ll call the “no parties” approach, is to try to get rid of political partisanship and create incentives for candidates and representatives to be more responsive to all voters and not just their most partisan supporters. The other way is to embrace parties and partisanship as a natural reality of politics – as the majority of political scientists do – but to create channels for voters to organize themselves into more – and more effective – parties for communicating their views to candidates and representatives. We call that the “party-centric” approach. Advocates for “no-partyism” favor reforms like open primaries, top-two or final-four voting, and ranked-choice voting (RCV). Advocates for “party-centric” reform favor fusion as the starting point for opening up the political system in a constructive and representative way, with the ultimate goal being a more representative multi-party democracy. That said, RCV is useful in primaries and nonpartisan elections.

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