It’s no secret that the average American is fed up with Washington, DC and the state of our political dialogue. As evidenced by congressional approval ratings at an all-time low, hovering around 10 percent, the representative government we have built in this country has slowly drifted away from the very democratic principles we champion all over the world.Angst among the electorate has surfaced most dramatically in the form of ‘
Tea Parties’ and ‘Occupations,’ generally considered “right-wing” and “left-wing” ideological movements. In each of these cases, the movements were quickly absorbed and exploited by the partisan factions for their own political agenda. Regardless, there is a common grievance that defines not only these two groups, but the electorate as a whole.
Ironically, our political process now serves to amplify rather than temper the extremes. This, of course, is the exact opposite of what the framers of the Constitution sought to accomplish.
In fact, while Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton agreed on little, they would both be horrified to discover a Congress in which every resource of the institution is distributed through a binary partisan structure. It is a death of a thousand cuts.
Our lawmakers, their judicial appointees, and the often strident special interest groups behind them have reinforced the power of the left and the right by rewriting election laws state-by-state, concentrating power in the parties themselves. Unthreatened by the possibility of either an “independent” or a third party challenge, those who control the apparatus of each party are free to ignore the kinds of change in the broader society that previously influenced the evolution of the political parties themselves.
Election rules, gerrymandering, campaign finance regulations, and ballot restrictions have created two “sides” of the political spectrum that only exist because the two parties have entrenched themselves by forcing the electorate to divide itself into two increasingly color coded teams.
Naturally, as the two parties have become more and more secure in their institutionalized status, they have also become less responsive to calls for change. The result of this intellectual ossification: a dangerous disregard for the very purpose of representative government itself.
The political “game” has been disconnected from the governmental purpose to reconcile differences through, often temporary, compromises of strongly divergent views. Instead, the purpose of the political game is simply to win.
The changes in our society, driven by technology, over the past 20 years have produced a massive gap between our culture as a whole and our political culture. Ultimately, the political culture must adapt to survive.
The two parties are firmly in control and the rules of the game are firmly stacked in their favor. However, the early signs of cracks in their armor are beginning to appear. These cracks have their roots in the manner in which the broader society accesses and shares information.In
California, over 3.7 million of 18 million registered voters have no party preference (“independents”). In California, these voters were formally known as “Decline-to-State” or “DTS” voters. In all, voters who have declared no preference for any political party now comprise approximately 21 percent of all registered voters in California.
Minority and younger voters have been a large part of this growth. Between 1978 and 2009, Latino independent voters increased from 5 percent to 21 percent of all independent registrations, and Asian or “other” voters increased from 5 percent to 16 percent.Additionally, while California’s black population has not increased in number, black and “other” minority voters are more likely to register as independent than Republican. Younger voters are also more likely to register as independent than older voters. , and 60 percent of all independent voters are under age 50.
Yet, even as California’s electorate increasingly rejects party affiliation, the two major parties continue to dominate national and state-level politics.
However, as the American voters become increasingly dissatisfied with their partisan representatives, nonpartisan electoral reforms passed in states like California have the potential to revolutionize the way we elect our representatives and broaden the voters to whom they are accountable.