Normative Narratives

Transparency Thursday: “The Vote No Hope Yes” G.O.P. Constituency in Congress and The American Voting System

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“House Republicans have their Tea Party Caucus. They have their G.O.P. Doctors Caucus. And, joining the list of varied special interest caucuses, they recently picked up another influential but much more unofficial group — the Vote No/Hope Yes Caucus….These are the small but significant number of Republican representatives who, on the recent legislation to head off the broad tax increases and spending cuts mandated by the so-called fiscal cliff, voted no while privately hoping — and at times even lobbying — in favor of the bill’s passage, given the potential harmful economic consequences otherwise.”

America has a “First Past The Pole” voting system.  Whatever party gets the most votes in any given election wins all the seats up for grabs. This “winner takes all” system tends to manifest itself in a two-party political system, as we have here in America.

Another potential system is the “Proportional Representation” system, which assigns seats based on the percentage of total votes a party receives. In a proportional representation system, it is much likely that a larger number of parties will get seats, and no absolute majority will exist. This makes coalition governance and compromise a crucial aspect of “proportional representation systems”.

In a two-party system, a majority will naturally exist. If this majority is in line with the executive branch, every legislative action could pass (there may be insufficient critical analysis of political actions; too many “yes men”). If the majority is against the executive, as we have now with the Obama administration and the G.O.P. majority in the House of Representatives, it is possible that nothing will get passed.

This political gridlock can often cause real problems (ex: downgrading of U.S. debt after debt ceiling negotiations summer 2011, slow economic recovery and high unemployment post-recession due to inadequate stimulus measures,  delayed passage of Hurricane Sandy relief measures; the list goes on).

It is essential, in order for a two-party political system to work, to have politicians that are willing to put the will of the people ahead of their political agendas. Not only have fringe special interest groups, like the tea-party, made this impossible (by running extreme right wing candidates against anybody who supports any tax increase or spending program increase, regardless of the merits of the program), but now it appears that there is even a group of legislators who are unwilling to vote on what they believe to be in the best interest of the American people, in fear or alienating themselves from their political party / constituents.

“Some members are worried about being primaried from the right, and some members don’t want to be hounded by their constituents,” (said) Mr. Feehery [Republican lobbyist and also a former top spokesman for Mr. Hastert, a Republican House member] said. “It’s always easier to vote no. No one will yell at you if you vote no. They’ll only yell at you in the grocery store if you vote yes.”  

It seems political gridlock has become the order of the day in American politics. Not only do politicians have the difficult job of creating legislation that will work for 300 million Americans and a complex, globalized, modern economy, which is moderate enough to convince their party and the opposition it is in the best interest of the country. Now legislators must somehow also convince the opposing party’s not to fear its own “loud minority” if they want to pass any legislation.

The American public also seems disenfranchised with the Electoral College system—many people do not vote in presidential elections because they feel “my vote doesn’t matter, my state X always votes Y”. The U.S. lags behind the rest of the developed world in voter turnout for both legislative and executive elections. In light of these low turnout rates, the  real social cost of political gridlock, and record low congressional approval ratings, perhaps it is time to reconsider our voting systems in America.
As to the legal process of doing that, I have no idea what would have to occur. I guess constitutional amendments would have to be involved at some point. If anybody knows what it would take to change the U.S. voting system, leave your insights in the comment section.

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2 thoughts on “Transparency Thursday: “The Vote No Hope Yes” G.O.P. Constituency in Congress and The American Voting System

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