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Altered Consciousness: Tackling political partisanship by its roots

Published: March 26, 2010
Section: Opinions


If you haven’t noticed, the partisanship in Washington is intractable and endless. Republicans are declaring Democrats socialists while Democrats are calling their “friends on the other side of the aisle” obstructionists, and there seems to be little–if any–cooperation or camaraderie between the two sides. Perhaps one way to decrease the divisiveness of our political system is to introduce non-partisan blanket, or “jungle,” primaries nationwide.

Jungle primaries, which currently only exist in Louisiana on the local level, involve the following: In an election for a political office, there are two rounds. In the first round, every candidate in the race, regardless of party affiliation, receives a vote at the same time by the general electorate. If no candidate receives a plurality of the vote share, the two individuals with the highest levels of support will compete in a runoff. The winner of this runoff will win the election.

The main virtue of this system is it eliminates closed primaries in which only individuals who are registered with a particular party may participate. These types of primaries, which are currently most commonly used for federal, state and local races, incentivize candidates to appeal to their core constituencies, who form the majority of the voters in these rounds, while ignoring the political center.

Instead, in jungle primaries, everyone has the capacity to vote at the same time and choose their representative. This opens opportunities for more reasonable candidates, who would not be able to win in extremely partisan contests, to achieve victory.

The impact of this is that legislatures and other elected bodies across this country desperately need a dosage of moderation. In the United States Congress, for instance, the multitude of party-line votes for major initiatives, such as the recently passed health care reform package, is disconcerting. Instead of bipartisanship and national unity, we have only heard about filibusters, cloture votes, reconciliation (ironically-titled) and holds, among other hyper-partisan legislative tactics.

At the root of this problem is the fact that the Republican Party in particular is held captive to its base via the closed primary system.

Members of this group who are brave enough to even consider mustering the courage to vote with the Democrats are immediately deemed heretics and may very well be threatened in their next election by a party-line loyalist. This strongly deters them from forming coalitions or partnering with members of the opposition.

There are a couple of counterarguments to jungle primaries, the first of which being that they reduce the strength of political parties by increasing the chance for independents and independent-minded candidates to be elected. This is true.

However, I believe that most people would prefer an individual who takes into account the interests of all of his or her constituents instead of just one singular interest group, namely those who vote in primaries. Also, the two-party system is extremely rigid, and weakening it can perhaps make our politics as a whole more representative and democratic, albeit parliamentary.

A second counterargument is that a jungle primary can lead to chaos: that anyone can run and thus win. However, I still believe voters will make an informed decision and choose based on who can best serve their interests instead of voting for just any random candidate. Also, the runoff serves as a buffer in these cases.

Opponents also argue that a runoff can possibly produce a contest between two individuals of the same party. But this really does not matter, considering that the ideological outcome in such a case would remain nearly the same regardless of who is elected.

An alternative may be to have open primaries for each party. That is, Republicans and Independents could vote in Democratic primaries, and vice versa. However, this could lead to the potential manipulation of elections, with individuals of opposite parties voting for the weakest candidate in the hopes of that individual losing his or her general election.

Partisanship in Washington, as well as in state legislatures, is a grave problem. The best way to tackle it is by its roots. Consequently, it is imperative that our government replace closed primaries with jungle ones to ensure that political candidates represent not just one small faction, but rather, the people at large.