Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics

America needs a Centre Party.

Posted by Jason O on Jan 13, 2010 in US Politics |

us-flagPeople are complicated. You can be in favour of low taxes, gun ownership, and a balanced budget, which defines you, in American eyes,  as a conservative. Yet what if you also support same sex marriage, are secular, and oppose the death penalty, classic liberal positions? Who on Earth do you vote for?

US politics is banjaxed by the fact that the primary systems force candidates to pander to extremes, and then a two party electoral system ( With fixed districts) which pits the products of this malfunctioning system against each other, if redistricting hasn’t actually rigged the election before a single vote is cast. Where does the middle of the road voter go?

America needs a centre party, which is essentially libertarian in outlook, and tells the left to keep their hands off people’s wallets, and the right to keep their religious beliefs to themselves. And it  needs the single transferable vote, to allow for moderate voters, who represent a majority of American voters, to vote for such an option without splitting the vote of right or left and letting the other guy squeak through.

Well, that’s what I think, anyhow. Any of my American readers (And I know I have them) like to reply?


Jonathan Lundell
Jan 14, 2010 at 10:44 pm

STV would be a help, a big help, but the barrier to STV, or indeed PR in any form, is enormous in the US.

It’s not just a liberal/libertarian party that’s missing. The US has no viable left party and no recognizable social democrats. The non-lunatic Republicans have been absent for decades now.

Banjaxed is the word (for which thanks; new to me). Structural reform may be the answer (PR and some sane form of campaign finance for a start), but it’s hard to see how we get there from here.

Jason O
Jan 15, 2010 at 8:02 am

One of the interesting things is that STV, used in multi seat districts as in Ireland, would actually eliminate the need for primaries altogether, as all party candidates could run in the same election without fear of splitting the vote. As for campaign finance, it has always struck me that the way to reform election spending in the US is to abolish the advantage money brings. If the government basically topped up the top 3-4 candidates to the level of the best fundraiser (Funded through a tax on election spending, maybe?) It would defeat the purpose of building a massive fund raising machine. After a few election cycles, most candidates wouldn’t bother, because as soon as you started to do well, through huge effort, so does the other guy!

Jonathan Lundell
Jan 17, 2010 at 1:05 am

Campaign finance: yes, I believe that something like that is the answer. The state of Arizona has a scheme something like that, as do a couple of other states. There are campaigns to extend it to other states (there will be an initiative on the California ballot this year to use it experimentally for one statewide office). Of course, such proposals are strongly opposed by those who are able to afford to buy elections now, for obvious reasons.

California will be voting on another initiative, to institute a top-two runoff system for partisan elections. Everybody runs together in the “primary”, and the top two (even if there’s a majority) proceed to the general election. It’s a crappy system, but has the small advantage that voters will get used to seeing all the candidates on a single ballot. From there to IRV/AV to STV? It’s a stretch, but maybe….

Jason O
Jan 17, 2010 at 10:09 am

The problem with the top-two run off is that, as what happened in the French presidential election in 2002, you could end up with a well organised but obnoxious candidate like Jean Marie Le Pen squeaking into the second round with less than 17%, thus forcing second round voters to choose between two candidates on the basis of who the dislike the least. AV and STV will at least allow people to rank preferences, and not leap from favourite candidate to ” I don’t like this guy, but I HATE that guy!” I mean, if I had to choose between, say Mitt Romney (Depending on WHICH Mitt Romney turns up!) and Sarah Palin, I’d have to go for Romney. Uggh!

Daniel Sullivan
Jan 17, 2010 at 5:57 pm

You could have single seat with Alternative Vote and top two run off if no one gets more than 50%.

Brad Beattie
Jan 17, 2010 at 6:36 pm

The biggest stumbling block STV tends to run into (when switching from FPTP) is loosening the tight geographical representation that folks are used to. Instead of having one representative for a small region, you’ll have 4+ representatives for a larger region. Moreover, large sparsely populated areas often have a disproportionate amount of representative power (fewer people per representative) and are often unwilling to relinquish it. Not really sure what the solution to that is. By hyperbole, it’s like asking a dictator for fairer representation.

On the note of electoral systems, STV is decent but still subject to a type tactical voting called free riding. It’s the idea where if you’re sure your favourite candidate will win, you opt not to vote for them, increasing the portion of your vote that goes to your secondary preferences. Schulze STV is an interesting approach on this (I have a web app that implements it at http://www.modernballots.com) and I think if you play around with it, you’ll see that the results match up with what your intuition would call fair.

Jason O
Jan 17, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Brad, that’s a fair point about free riding. In Irish elections, candidates are terrified of exactly that happening, especially as parties run a number of candidates per district. Those party candidates tend to spend their time telling loyal party voters that the other candidate is fine, and they need the first preference vote more. It tends to lead to upsets, where candidates whom the polls say is safe lose their seats.



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