Analysts point to the asymmetry of American policy. Comparative studies put the Republican Party far right of the Western political spectrum and the Democrats closer to the center. But the growing division within the United States heightened the sense of conflict with the zero sum, which could be seen in the passions and terror of the deadly January 6 attack. Trump may be to blame for the flammable atmosphere surrounding Washington, but the problems are deepening, all the way to the aging pillars of the American political experiment.
For Drutman, the experience of the Trump presidency and his violent code created the need for substantial political reform. An angry, conspiratorial stamp of politics backed by a minority of voters has captured half of the two-party system. “We need a center-right party that believes in free and fair and legitimate elections, and that party can only exist if the Republican Party is divided into pieces,” Drutman told Today’s WorldView.
Drutman is hardly alone in this regard. According to a Gallup poll released on Monday, about 62 percent of Americans want a third party – the most since Gallup began asking about a third party in 2003 – while only a third of Americans said they thought the current two parties adequately represented the public.
Of course, there is no consensus on what this sustainable third party should be like and there is certainly no clear path for its takeover. One can already see how American politics is grossly broken between the four factions, with the often-quarreling progressive and centrist wings of the Democrats on the one hand, and the establishment and the Trumpist wings of the Republicans on the other. But the entire architecture of the American electoral system discourages political disintegration. And the practice of gerrymandering, which sees state governments draw districts in such a way that votes are distorted in favor of the ruling party, has made competitive elections even more difficult.
As Drutman sees it, multi-party democracy can flourish in the United States only on top of a new electoral system that allows for a more accurate reflection of the electorate. He is an advocate of the forms of proportional representation that exist in many other countries, where elections share seats in national legislation based on the share of votes won by that party. Proportional representation or PR voting varies by country, but a different version Drutman loves it the most is a combination of multi-seat Irish counties and voting by election rank, allowing voters rank their order of preferences for the list of candidates and helps ensure that each ballot has weight.
There can also be drawbacks – Israel’s dizzying PR system has put the country in its own ruin in the election campaign of recent years. But scholars agree that it yields healthier democratic outcomes. “Parliamentary democracies with PR elections and stable multi-party coalition governments, typical of the Nordic region, are generating a broader consensus on social welfare policies dealing with inequality, exclusion and social justice,” wrote Harvard political scientist Pippa Norris, “And this avoids the contradictory division of winning policies and the social inequality more characteristic of majority systems.”
There are a lot of other countries that also hold elections “before the past,” like the United States. In Canada and Britain, calls for proportional representation routinely come from parties that win a far larger share of the total vote than their number of seats in parliament reflects. But multi-party parliamentary systems can still create the kind of conciliatory politics it makes hard to imagine in today’s partisan climate in Washington.
“Incentives for compromise or co-operation with political rivals are absent in a bipartisan system, which takes all winners – while co-operation between opposing parties through coalition governments, which is common in proportional voting countries, promotes gentler, kinder policies.” pointed out political scientists Noam Gidron, James Adams and Will Horne. They added that, “without reforming the basic characteristics of the American electoral system, party competition based on pluralism and winners is likely to continue to maintain political hostility.”
In a thoughtful exercise, Drutman ventured into Today’s WorldView scenario in which the United States had something like a German hybrid system, where the Bundestag, or national parliament, is elected by a combination of proportional representation and pluralism-based voting. A firm Trumpist wing of Republicans in this environment would be closest to the anti-establishment, the far-right Alternative for Germany or the AfD. “They would be a marginal, far-right party that would stay out of power or, at best, a younger partner in the coalition,” Drutman said.
Instead, in the United States, the political system has made it functionally possible de facto minority rule, a state of affairs that caused a volatile partisan division and distorted the priorities of national policy. In opinion for The Washington Post last week, Drutman wrote that some of the proposed political reforms around the vote would ultimately be in the interest of major Republicans and force them to stop “chasing a shrinking electorate that is mobilized through increasingly extreme rhetoric of threats.”
Restoring American democracy seems like a daunting project, but Drutman argues that there is nothing in the Constitution that prevents substantive electoral reforms. At the state level, voting in ranked elections has already been conducted in several places. Democrats are running the main law, called the Law of Men, which would standardize election rules, establish independent state-level redistribution commissions, make voter registration automatic and campaign funding more transparent, among other provisions. Another law promoted by Representative Don Beyer (D-Va.) Bi to convert the House into a council elected in new districts with more seats by voting in ranked elections.
Drutman cites the experience of New Zealand, which abolished its model of the first past after years of public discontent a form of proportional representation in 1993 – and he didn’t look back. “It’s one of those questions that once you think about it, it makes sense,” he said. “But we just don’t think about it.”