Voting Reform: The only fix I see for rising partisanship

The first-past-the-post voting systems we’ve been stuck with for too long create very bad incentives for politicians, even if they were “good people” that got into politics for all “right reasons”:

  • In negotiation, giving even an inch to the other party offers ammunition to your primary opponents, even if an available compromise would please the vast majority of citizens.
  • If your party’s base is strong enough in your district, you’ve little incentive to be nice to the other team when interacting with the media. Bad-mouthing the other team might even make you more-liked by your base.
  • The same goes for interacting with more fringe/partisan media outlets. Why not go onto some podcast or radio show that regularly demonizes the other side? The most partisan of your base will really love it.
  • Once you’ve alienated the other party’s voters completely, you need your base fired up hot to remain in office. Solving big problems does not fire up a base.
  • Your mantra eventually leads toward, “the other guys blocked us because they’re awful, but I’ll fight even harder next time!” and your base will keep sending you back.

All the above feed on each other, fooling voters into believing, “we can get everything we want once we finally demolish our opponents” instead of wondering about what could be achieved if negotiation were possible.

If any organization outside politics proposed problem-solving in a way that ran all negotiations into the ground with everyone left despising each other, it would seem absurd. That is what first-past-the-post voting yields.

One reform of many fine options is Approval Voting. The idea and implementation is simple: Same ballot, but you can vote for any and all candidates. The candidate with most votes still wins, but you no longer have to fear your vote “going to waste”. Every vote for every candidate counts.

Of course there are other solutions to reduce partisan animosity, but every other one I see faces extreme headwinds while alternatives to FPTP voting are gaining popularity. I think people are sick of choosing the lesser of two evils and ending up with someone in office that adopts more extreme measures that they’d like, or gets nothing fixed.

Really whether you can put in place Approval or STAR or Ranked Choice voting, any of these free voters to much better express their true preferences without fear, and they heavily incentivize a corner of politics to be less caustic and held hostage by extreme partisans and stalemates.