Finding Common Ground: How to Fix our Broken Political System

Most Americans have come to see our political system as highly dysfunctional.

An October 2013 Gallup poll shows that 60 percent of Americans do not feel well-represented by either major party and favor the formation of a third “independent” party. Another Gallup poll, dated June 30, 2014, places confidence in the Supreme Court at 30 percent, the presidency at 29 percent, and Congress at just 7 percent. Another pollster recently showed that Americans view dysfunction in government as the number one problem facing our country.

So, if dysfunction is the biggest problem, how do we fix it? In an earlier post, I discussed how the top-two primary can help improve things by making races more competitive and reducing the reward for partisanship in government.

If it’s true that the structure of our elections plays a role in increased partisanship, it is also true that part of the problem is rooted in the approach of the political parties themselves.

During the past two decades, both major parties have become more strident and ideological. We have reached the point where the major parties have come to define themselves, first and foremost, based on what divides us from one another rather than what unites us as Americans.

Over the last 6 years, I have spent a great deal of time surveying political independents as part of the Independent Party of Oregon’s primary election and member survey. Those surveys have shown a broad consensus among independents (left, right, and center) on four major issues:

  • Encouraging businesses to expand in Oregon through incentives that return more benefit to the public than they cost.
  • Increasing transparency in government, particularly with respect to how our tax dollars are spent.
  • Reducing special-interest influence over our legislative process.
  • Protecting Oregon consumers.

In our most recent election, we asked specific questions to help the Independent Party of Oregon develop its legislative agenda. Here are the top performing issues among the 1,700+ members who participated:

  • 83.7% – Requiring that political advertisements identify their main sources of funding.
  • 79.0% – Increasing vocational training opportunities for students in high school and community college
  • 74.4% – Ensuring that tax dollars spent to encourage economic development return more benefits to the public than they cost.
  • 73.4% – Establishing limits on political campaign contributions.
  • 68.3% – The state should look at ways to make college more affordable.
  • 66.5% – Reforming the state primary election so that more voters can participate.
  • 63.6% – Protecting farmland and increasing diversity of agricultural products.
  • 63.5% – Reducing government spending.
  • 53.5% – Requiring labels on food containing genetically modified organisms.
  • 51.2% – Providing tax credits to employers that engage in new construction for the purpose of expanding their workforce in Oregon.

View the full results here.

IPO leaders have long believed that if we take the position that hot button issues are matters of personal choice and not party policy, then it becomes easier to identify a populist agenda for which coalitions can be built across traditional ideological, social, and party lines.

In the areas of education, campaign finance reform, tax breaks for corporations, and how government can help grow the economy, there is a great deal of cross-partisan consensus.

Oregonians want higher education and vocational training to be more accessible to more people. Oregonians want to protect the diversity and strength of our agricultural economy. People want a political system that is transparent and fair. And, they want citizens to have a bigger voice than they currently do in the political process.

For that reason, we are currently drafting “A Contract for Oregon,” which will articulate a clear cross-partisan agenda that ties specific legislation to these general concepts. More details will be released as they become available.

About the Independent Party of Oregon

The Independent Party of Oregon (IPO) is Oregon’s third largest political party with more than 100,000 members. The party was founded in 2007 after Democrats and Republicans passed legislation that made it harder to run for public office and removed the word “independent” on all ballots and voter registration cards.

The IPO does not adhere to rigid ideology that characterizes many “third party” movements in Oregon and America, and is not affiliated with any other party on any level (international, national, state). Instead, we recruit candidates from across the political spectrum.

Candidates who are not members of the Independent Party are required to agree with the party’s agenda and are expected to champion one or more legislative goals of the party, as determined by the party’s membership.

In 2014, the IPO held its third statewide primary election in Oregon. Thirty-seven candidates participated, including 17 incumbents. Because of Oregon’s fusion voting law, candidates who receive more than one nomination from a political party may list up to three nominations on the general election ballot.