I have been searching for an answer to the same question for four years now. Basically, the main question is “why is it that 44% of voters in this country are independents but almost 100% of the support in resources and votes goes to the major parties?"
There are secondary questions like “why haven’t the 44% that have only a choice between the ‘lesser of two evils’ demanded better choices?” These secondary questions will be answered though if we answer the main question. The answer to that question appears to be that we are doing this to ourselves.
The trail to the answer begins with mathematical studies of voting methods and predicted outcomes. The most famous results of these is still rather obscure outside of students of political science, but it is catching on. Duverger’s Law says that using a plurality voting system in single member districts tends to favor the development of a two party system. Since almost every election in this country meets this qualification, Duverger’s Law indicates we will have a two party system and that all third parties are doomed to fail. This is the nightshade that poisons all third parties both at the polls and in accumulating resources.
So how is this supposed to work? Dividing the average voters into major party supporters and everyone else, the major party supporters go to the polls and vote for the candidate they think will represent their views and interests the best. This is easy for them since either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party views will match up with theirs. No difficulty with Duverger’s Law working for that subset. Everyone else, however, is going to the polls as well and they do not think either major party candidate will more than partially represent their views and interests. The other alternative is voting for an independent or third party candidate that will represent their views and interests much better. The voter is rational, however, and understands that no matter who they vote for, the candidate that they feel will best represent them will not win. Never mind that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, the voter “knows” how this will end so it happens as they predict.
Instead of voting for the best candidate, the voter chooses to vote for the best candidate that can win the election. This gives the voter some say in who is elected and thus some satisfaction, although very little satisfaction comes from a “lesser of two evils” vote. Third parties and independent candidates lose elections they might otherwise have won from a rational choice by independent voters.
To make matters worse for third parties and independents, if they do not win elections, and there is a firm belief in this country, backed by statistical evidence, that they cannot, then who will volunteer their time, money, and vote to help them? If a vote for them is wasted, why isn’t a dollar or an hour donated a waste? Unfortunately, it may well be seen that way.
This all sounds like terrible news for third parties and it certainly encourages supporters for the major parties. Is this case as rock solid as it sounds, however? Certainly not. Exhibit A in the defense of third parties is that once a candidate is on the ballot, every voter stepping into the booth can pull the lever to vote for them. There is not a law or physical reason they cannot have as good a chance as anyone else on the ballot of winning their race. It is purely psychological, a prisoner’s dilemma of sorts, that prohibits voters from voting their conscience and a plurality of them picking the third party or independent candidate. In the prisoner’s dilemma, if the prisoners cannot talk to each other, they independently determine the best average outcome for themselves given the options and both settle on an option that is not the best for either. If they could talk to each other, they could determine that there was a better option if they could trust and cooperate with each other
I have been in team building sessions where this has been amply demonstrated. No talk = terrible results. Talk = best case scenario for both. Duverger’s Law is the non-talking individual’s rational solution. Our independent voters all vote rationally and independently and get poor results. We need to introduce them to the rational talking answer. Our voters need to know they can win and will win if they talk and cooperate in their voting instead of distrusting each other.
But what do they have to gain? Surely we cannot convince every independent voter that Duverger’s Law is making a chump out of them and they need to change their voting habits right now. There are three consolation prizes that become immediately available even if we do not turn voting habits around immediately.
First, when 90% of independent voters vote for a major party candidate, even when it is not a good choice but a “lesser of two evils”, we are telling the major parties that they are doing an adequate job of representing us when they are not. We are telling them they do not have to do anything extra to get our vote. When mathematical models are used and the party pollsters see that they can move further to the extreme to pick up more of their base and sacrifice very few votes in the middle, they can, have, are, and will continue to do so. We are fueling the widening political gap in the country and it must stop. We must make rational group decisions rather than rational individual ones. It must cost them to go further away from us.
Second, we will build strength in our center parties. As a chair of one of those, I can tell you we are all resource starved here in Centerville. If a golden opportunity comes along tomorrow for the center, there is not the infrastructure to support it. We must get healthy and a few percent turn every election cycle will make a huge difference.
Third, we have a chance to start making the major parties fear a center uprising. If 4% is all we get, then they have no reason to pay us any attention. If we get 8%, it will be an eye-opener. They will be interested in throwing us a bone here and there to keep us happy. If it gets to 12% you will see a revival of the shift to the middle the major party candidates used to do in the general elections but have been ignoring lately. If we get 20% it will turn to panic and the drift to extremes will reverse. Let’s make it 44%.
It is time for us to have a conversation with our voters.
Dale Ritchie is the National Chair of the Modern Whig Party