Shutting Down The Two-Party Duopoly Is on the Ballot in 2020

Created: 23 October, 2020
Updated: 14 August, 2022
4 min read

On October 21, US billionaire businessman Mark Cuban tweeted that the duopoly he would shut down “in a nanosecond” if he could was the Republican and Democratic Parties, asserting that their anti-competitive collusion was detrimental to the American people every single day:

Cuban understands what activists and leaders in the nonpartisan reform space have known for a long time. The rules at every level of our political infrastructure were written to serve the interests of the Republican and Democratic Parties. It’s a system that, as former Gehl Foods CEO Katherine Gehl likes to put it, isn’t broken -- it's fixed.

The crippling effect the two-party duopoly has had on political competition in the US was well-explained in Gehl and Michael Porter’s 2017 Harvard Business School study “Why Competition in the Politics Industry is Failing America,” and expounded on in their book, “The Political Industry: How Political Innovation Can Break Partisan Gridlock and Save Our Democracy.”

Consider for a moment: Who has the most to gain from our primary election laws? From the debate rules? Campaign finance regulations? Ballot access restrictions? The us-versus-them political narrative? The answer in all of these cases are the two dominant political parties. And, no matter how dissatisfied people are with the system, nothing ever changes.

No matter how low congressional approval gets, the reelection rate for incumbents remains at 94%. No matter how much support legislation has or doesn’t have, every bill has the same low odds of passing. No matter how many Americans say they want more options in presidential elections, they only get two candidates on the debate stage. 

We have a political system that accepts hyper-partisanship and policy paralysis as normal. Meanwhile, the frustrations of the American people build and build.

The consequence of having a manufactured two-party system is that the key players in this industry have to fall in line to survive. This means not just candidates and policymakers, but political consultants, pollsters, the media, data providers, lobbyists, and even academics who frame the conversation within the two-party structure.

They never look outside the box. They never challenge the status quo. They only serve and fuel the interests of the duopoly.

The Incentive Structure in the US Political Industry Needs to Change

Right now, elected officials are incentivized to put the interests of their party first. Reforming the system so that candidates have to compete for more voters shifts the incentive structure to put the needs of constituents first.

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Fortunately, the movements to transform the US political process to one that serves the interests of voters and provide them with elections that are fairer, more accountable, more transparent, and more competitive have substantial momentum behind them. And, these efforts are on the ballot in 2020 in several states. 

In Alaska, for instance, Ballot Measure 2 would implement the nation’s first nonpartisan top-four primary to level the playing field for all voters and candidates with ranked choice voting in the general election to ensure a majority winner. It would also end dark money in state elections.

In St. Louis, Missouri, Proposition D would implement nonpartisan primaries, but the reform calls for another alternative voting method, approval voting, which would allow voters to select as many candidates as they want. The reform is widely supported by the city's majority African-American population, which is severely under-represented in city government.

In Florida, Amendment 3 would open the primary process to all voters for state executive and legislative election, including 27 million registered independents. It is worth noting that the amendment is strongly opposed by both major parties.

At the core of nonpartisan primary reform is the idea that the foundation of a representative government is people, not parties. The party bosses don’t control the process, as they do in most states today, the voters do.

And, it is not just primary reform on the ballot.

In Massachusetts, Ballot Measure 2 would adopt ranked choice voting for state elections -- a voting method that has a documented history of boosting turnout and confidence in elections, while ensuring majority winners and a more positive campaign environment.

Ranked choice voting is also on the ballot in 5 cities, including Albany and Eureka, California, Bloomington and Minnetonka, Minnesota, and Boulder, Colorado. 

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In Virginia, gerrymandering reform is on the ballot under Amendment 1. Fair Maps VA wants to pass a constitutional amendment that would create a citizen-led redistricting commission, thus taking the process out of the hands of policymakers who have long used redistricting for political gain for their respective parties.

Nonpartisan reform efforts have been in the works for years, including monumental victories in 2018. So, 2020 is not the beginning, but it is also not the end. Shutting down the two-party duopoly is not something that can happen in a nanosecond, but it is something that can happen over time.

And nonpartisan reformers will learn from their successes and their experiences. They will learn what reforms are working for voters, and what reforms aren’t. And, they will build on collaborations and adapt to new ideas in the ongoing effort to give voters a system that better serves their interests and a system in which they can feel confident.

The work won’t end on November 3. Voters can expect further reform measures to be on the ballot in 2022, 2024, 2026, and beyond. 

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