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Mon Sep 10, 2012, 01:17 PM

Thom Hartmann: How & Why Other Countries have Ended the 2-Party System



So the conventions are in the books, and we're two months away from the election. We're two months away from Americans having an ultimate choice - vote for the Democrat or vote for the Republican. Actually...that's not really much of a choice at all. In fact - other Democracies around the world would laugh at us if we claimed that a vote between one of two major parties here was ACTUALLY a legitimate choice. The truth is - a two-party system isn't really that Democratic at all. And most of the other Democracies on the planet know that - that's why they've reformed their elections to prevent a two-party duopoly from taking over their representative governments.

Did you know there are six political parties represented in the German Congress - the Bundestag - and even more parties represented in state parliaments around Germany - including the Pirate Party? Australia, too, has six parties represented in their parliament. In the Italian Parliament as well - there's six major parties represented - and more than two dozen smaller parties that are represented in some way as well. Brazil has 15 parties represented in Congress. Heck - Israel's Parliament has like 18 parties in it.

More parties means more ideas. More parties means more people have access to the political system. More parties means a more responsive Democratic government. In the United States though - we only have two parties represented in Congress...plus two independents - Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders. So why is that? How have other Democracies been able to break the two-party duopoly that we here in America have not been able to?

Well - in America we have something called first-past-the-post elections - or winner take all elections. Let's take the House of Representatives for example. There are 435 seats - each corresponding to a specific congressional district. In each district - a list of candidates run for office - and whichever candidate gets the most votes, wins the one seat that's up for grabs - and everyone else loses and gets nothing. Even if the winner wins by just one vote - he wins it all and the loser gets nothing. That's winner take all elections.

But only a handful of Democracies have winner take all elections like we do in the United States. In fact - more than 90 other Democracies around the world don't have winner take all elections like we do - they have something called proportional representation elections. And that's one key to breaking a two part-duopoly.

Now here's how proportional representation works. Rather than voting on the candidate you want to win - you'd vote on the political party that you want to win. The ballot will have the Democratic Party listed - the Republican Party - maybe the Libertarian Party - the Green Party - and perhaps the Socialist Party, too. And under each party will be the list of candidates affiliated with each party so you know who the individuals are that will be representing you should that party win. So let's have a sample election - and let's assume the Democratic Party wins 40% of the vote - the Republicans win 20% of the vote - the Green Party wins 20% of the vote - the Libertarians win 10% of the vote - and the Socialists win 10%, too. So Democrats - since they won 40% of the vote - would get 40% of the seats up for grabs - or 4 seats. Republicans got 20% - so they'd get two seats. The Greens won 20% as well - so they'd get two seats, too. And since the Libertarians and the Socialists each won 10% - they'd each get one seat.

So now we've filled ten seats in Congress in a way that's far more proportional to how the voters voted - rather than just a winner take all election. And smaller parties - like the Greens and the Libertarians - didn't have to have as much money to try to win - they just needed to get a certain threshold to have a voice in government. The important thing about proportional representation like this - is it lowers the barrier for third, fourth, or even fifth or eighth parties to have access to our government. And once multiple parties get a chance to govern - they can get their message out better - rally more supporters - and try to improve their party's standing in the next election. This is something we should seriously consider in the United States.

And if this is too radical - then at the very least we can try something called Instant Run-off Voting - or IRV. With IRV - voters aren't forced to select just one candidate - they have a chance to rank the candidates they want in order: putting the candidate they want most to win at the top - and the candidate they want least to win at the bottom. When the votes are counted - if one candidate received more than 50% of the first place votes - then they win. But if not - then the second choice votes are counted - and so on - until a candidate does receive 50% of the votes. With IRV - voters can boldly choose a third party candidate at the top of their list - without feeling like they're wasting their vote. More than a three hundred state and local governments are currently using instant runoff voting - but no federal elections aren't currently using it. Again - this is something we should seriously consider adopting to give third parties a better shot at winning seats in our federal government.

The point is - we haven't had any serious reforms to our democratic government in a really, really, long time. In fact - we have a pretty ancient Democracy compared to the rest of the world. In 1861 - philosopher John Stuart Mill argued for proportional representation in his book "Representative Government" He argued that winner take all elections inevitably disenfranchise minorities - or keep down minority parties - or third parties. And ever since Mill wrote about this - most democracies created after were based on proportional representation and not winner take all representation. We need to make the change here in America too. Obviously the two major parties will resist it - they love their stranglehold on power.

But several other political parties - spearheaded by the Green Party - are fighting for these critical reforms. We need more voices - we need a real choice in America. Something to think about it over the next few months as Democrats and Republicans dominate the election cycle - and a great reason to vote for a Democrat while still also participating in the Green Party, which is working so hard to bring IRV to communities across our nation.

The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann on RT TV & FSTV "live" 9pm and 11pm check www.thomhartmann.com/tv for local listings

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Reply Thom Hartmann: How & Why Other Countries have Ended the 2-Party System (Original post)
thomhartmann Sep 2012 OP
Hey Jude Sep 2012 #1
Bernardo de La Paz Sep 2012 #4
tama Sep 2012 #7
limpyhobbler Sep 2012 #2
Bernardo de La Paz Sep 2012 #3
Heather MC Sep 2012 #5
felix_numinous Sep 2012 #6

Response to thomhartmann (Original post)

Mon Sep 10, 2012, 01:48 PM

1. Sorry Thom, but the USA is not now nor was it ever constituted as a pure democracy

 

or even a representative democracy like Britain or Germany.

Our constitution provides for a Representative Republic form of government and it would take a major rewriting of that document to change it, and a major rewriting would require that a constitutional convention be called.

That would open a whole other can-o-worms that I'm not sure this country would survive.

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Response to Hey Jude (Reply #1)

Mon Sep 10, 2012, 02:06 PM

4. The Tyranny of the Duopoly is not written in the Constitution. nt

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Response to Hey Jude (Reply #1)

Thu Sep 13, 2012, 10:44 AM

7. True

 

Founding Fathers feared and loathed authentic democracy. Only reason it's called "democracy" is because that's what people really want instead of slavery and kleptocratic oligarchy, so they try to fool people into believing they live in a democracy so they don't revolt and do what they want. You may identify yourself and America with kleptocratic oligarchy, but one thing is sure: the country, the people and the planet cannot survive this kleptocratic oligarchy.

So why not give democracy a chance, authentic democracy? Those who had a taste of it in Occupy general assemblies liked it - and as expected, kleptocratic oligarchy didn't and sent cops to suffocate democracy.

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Response to thomhartmann (Original post)

Mon Sep 10, 2012, 01:52 PM

2. If we ever make a really big push for IVR,

the big 2 parties will work together and use every dirty trick in the book to crush it.

Well really it's the corporate power behind the parties.

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Response to thomhartmann (Original post)

Mon Sep 10, 2012, 02:04 PM

3. USA suffers from the Tyranny of the Duopoly. Both parties cooperate to maintain it. nt

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Response to thomhartmann (Original post)

Mon Sep 10, 2012, 02:19 PM

5. I think this is a brilliant Idea

but I don't think it will ever happen. Absolute power corupts absolutely. The Dems and Repubs would never let go

Look at how they don't even give 3rd party candidate a national stage
Why can't we start small.

There are 3 presidental Debates. Why can't one of those debates include all the candidates for the presidency? It will get that a chance to heard nationally. I think if we had a more inclusive government we would have less voter Apathy and more participation

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Response to thomhartmann (Original post)

Mon Sep 10, 2012, 03:41 PM

6. Thank you Thom Hartmann

-I have always wished we had a green party, and a labor party, to represent these issues in government in a more vocal way. I have not studied government enough to know how this country has gotten stuck with just two parties, or how we could ever break out of the two party system.

Because just having two parties--especially now when one party has been taken over by international (Big money) interests, is doing a lot of damage to this country.

This is a very interesting thread, I will keep an eye on it

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