Political Gridlock: It's Time for a Reboot!

Political Gridlock: It's Time for a Reboot!

by Ned Witting

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Overview

Ned Witting is a political junkie with a businessman's perspective. In Political Gridlock, he looks at Congress through the eyes of an efficiency expert and considers why it isn't working the way it should. He doesn't concern himself with whether it produces tax reductions or affordable health care; he investigates why it produces so little of either. In Political Gridlock, he explains how our political process has invisibly disenfranchised moderates in favor of MoveOn.org liberals on the left and Tea Party conservatives on the right.

The book examines factors that are unrecognized and ignored by political pundits but that empower political extremes, allowing them to block constructive legislation. It is also the how-to manual on how to reboot our government. It evaluates the obstacles to effective governance and suggests solutions for each. In plain language, Political Gridlock outlines the steps necessary to reclaim Congress and get government working again. It is a book Americans have been waiting for.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781491869796
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 03/05/2014
Pages: 248
Sales rank: 996,788
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.56(d)

Read an Excerpt

Political Gridlock

It's Time for a Reboot!


By Ned Witting

AuthorHouse

Copyright © 2014 Ned Witting
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4918-6979-6



CHAPTER 1

Election Apparatus: Who Gets Elected and Why


Many Americans assume that the most popular candidate (the one who earns the most votes) wins the election. However, as we saw in the 2000 presidential election, this is not the case. Al Gore won five hundred thousand more votes than George Bush and still lost the election. This resulted because presidents are elected based on the number of electoral votes they receive rather than the popular vote of the people.

The Electoral College is part of what I will call the election apparatus, which includes all the rules around which an election is organized. It has a profound but, in many ways, unrecognized influence on election outcomes. Among other things, our existing election apparatus does the following:

1. Makes it virtually impossible for moderate candidates to win elections; eliminates moderate candidates in favor of more partisan ones and does so in a manner that is invisible to voters and pundits alike

2. Disenfranchises some voters and prevents their votes from ever affecting election outcomes

3. Creates congressional districts where the outcome of a general election is a forgone conclusion

4. Reduces the responsiveness of elected representatives to their constituents

5. Makes it possible for some groups to exert influence out of proportion to their numbers

6. Gives political organizations an inflated sense of their own popularity, thereby causing them to advance radical political agendas


In order to understand just how important the election apparatus really is, let's look at a simple example. In this example, a small town of fourteen registered voters will elect a new mayor from among four candidates. As you will discover, the outcome of the election depends entirely on how the votes are counted.


Rocky Top

The town of Rocky Top has fourteen registered voters. The last mayor has retired, and it is time to elect the new mayor. There are four candidates for the post. Each of the voters has been interviewed by Rachel Townsend, a reporter for the Rocky Top Herald, in an effort to predict the outcome of the election. She has recorded the preferences of each of the fourteen voters in exhibit A.1, ranking their choices from one, the preferred candidate, to four, the most disliked candidate. With this information, she figures it will be easy to identify the winner. She starts out by tabulating all of the first-place votes. Her results are shown at the bottom.

Abe Able won the most votes, so she concludes he will be the winner. Then it occurs to her that he has not won a majority. She decides to do some more analysis, but for now she records her preliminary result.


Winner popular vote: Abe Able

Next, she decides to analyze the results if a majority is required. She remembers that there are often primaries that select the top two candidates, so she decides to evaluate the results if the top two candidates, Abe Able (five votes) and Dan Darwin (four votes), have a runoff. She goes back to her chart and shades it in as shown in exhibit A.2. The dark boxes represent candidates who have been eliminated. The lighter boxes represent each voter's top preference between the two remaining candidates. Rachel now counts the votes for each candidate and again records the results at the bottom.

To her surprise, Rachel finds that Dan Darwin will outperform Abe Able if the race becomes a two-person runoff. She then adds another notation to her analysis.


Winner of top-two runoff: Dan Darwin

This result gets her thinking, and she wonders what would be the result if only the losing candidate were excluded from each round of voting. She goes back to her chart and repeats the process as though only the candidate with the lowest number of votes (Call) were excluded after the first round of balloting. The new results are shown in exhibit A.3.

Based on this evaluation, she discovers that Abe Able and Bob Barry are tied after the second round and that Dan Darwin has been eliminated. She then shades D. Darwin in dark gray in her chart and evaluates the result of a runoff between Able and Barry, the two remaining candidates as shown in exhibit A.4.

Her results now show that Bob Barry would be the victor, so she makes the following entry:

Winner when only the losing candidate is excluded: Bob Barry

She is amazed that she has three diff erent winners depending on how the votes are tabulated. To figure out who the real winner is, she decides to do a head-to-head runoff between each pair of candidates. She decides to start with Bob Barry and Cheryl Call, the two weakest candidates in the first round. Her results are shown in exhibit A.5.

She is amazed to find that Call has won a convincing victory over Barry.

Next, she decides to run Call against Darwin. She uses the same shading scheme as she used with Barry. The results are shown in exhibit A.6.

She is shocked to find that Call has won again, but by a slightly narrower margin than with Bob Barry. By this time, it is time for lunch, but Rachel can't wait to see the results of the runoff between Call and Able. She quickly repeats her shading scheme for this additional contest. Her results are shown in exhibit A.7.

Cheryl has won again! Rachel can hardly believe her eyes. She just shakes her head and makes one last notation. Now her summary notations appear as shown below:

Winner popular vote: Abe Able

Winner top-two runoff: Dan Darwin

Winner when only the losing candidate is excluded: Bob Barry

Most popular head-to-head: Cheryl Call

After all her work, Rachel still can't figure out who the winner should be. She has definitely learned one thing, however: the election apparatus determines election outcomes!

Now let's consider which election apparatus is the best. For purposes of this discussion, let us limit ourselves to the four alternatives that Rachel identified. One way of identifying the best apparatus is to identify which one will elect the best candidate. So let's take a moment to consider our four hypothetical candidates and attempt to identify which might be the best.

Abe Able received five first-place votes, more than any of the other candidates. It is also worthwhile to observe that he is the most disliked candidate, earning fully half of the fourth-place votes and no second-place votes at all. Voters either love him or hate him, and more hate him than love him. He might be a good mayor if there are some hard choices facing Rocky Top that require radical but unpopular action, but in normal times he would probably not be a good choice.

In contrast, no one feels very strongly about Bob Barry. He got three first-place votes; four second-place votes; three third-place votes; and four fourth-place votes. All in all, he is probably not a very distinguished candidate. Dan Darwin is halfway between Able and Barry. More people dislike him than like him, but he wins almost as many first-place votes as Able.

Cheryl Call has the highest favorability rating, winning ten first- and second-place votes and no fourth-place votes. In this instance, we could reasonably conclude that she is the top choice among our four candidates. The election apparatus required to get her elected is the most problematic of all, requiring that all of the voters rank all the candidates. This option would not be reasonable in a town much larger than Rocky Top. It is also susceptible to manipulation. If Abe Able's supporters were highly motivated to get him elected, they could shift the outcome by simply rating Call their fourth-place candidate on each of their ballots.

From this discussion, I think we can conclude that there isn't any "best" election apparatus. We can, however, identify some qualities that are desirable in our apparatus. I would advance the following four:

1. Simplicity—Whenever possible, elections should yield a clear-cut winner with a minimum of fanfare. The election process should be transparent and easy to understand, and it should allow swiftidentification of winners and losers. This last characteristic would argue against using the popular vote in a presidential election because in a close race, a recount would be time consuming, costly, and very difficult to monitor. Imagine the Bush/Gore Florida recount on a national scale.

2. Free from Manipulation—Whenever there is the opportunity for manipulation, candidates or their supporters will try to exploit those opportunities for their own benefit. Such manipulation will generally lead to a loss of credibility and trust in the election process.

3. Reflective of the Will of the Majority—Clearly, as demonstrated by our hypothetical election, determining the will of the majority is not as easy as it might sound. There are, however, characteristics of our election apparatus that clearly bias the results. Most voters are not aware that these biases even exist, but they have a negative impact on the outcome of elections. These biases will be discussed in detail in later chapters.

4. Accepted by the Electorate—If an election apparatus enjoys all of the preceding characteristics, it is likely to be credible to voters. The litmus test for an election apparatus is whether victors and losers alike accept its outcomes without complaint.


Clearly, in this simple example with a small number of voters, the election apparatus had a big impact on the result of the election. Does election apparatus have a similar impact on national or even presidential elections? I have already mentioned the result of the 2000 election in which Al Gore, the winner of the popular vote, was defeated by George Bush in the Electoral College. That was actually the fourth time in US history that the winner of the popular vote was denied the presidency. The others include Benjamin Harrison in 1888 and Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876.

In the election of 1824, Andrew Jackson won the popular vote by a margin of more than 10 percentage points. In the Electoral College he also won, with twenty-five more electoral votes than his closest competitor, and yet he still failed to win the election. The presidential election apparatus gives the power to select the president to the House of Representatives in cases where no candidate wins a majority of the electoral votes. On that basis, the House of Representatives awarded the presidency to John Quincy Adams, the sixth president.

While each of those outcomes was highly controversial at the time, the election apparatus often determines election outcomes in more subtle ways. Let's consider a few other examples of how the election apparatus has shaped election outcomes in recent presidential elections. In the 2012 Republican primary, for instance, in primaries prior to Super Tuesday on March 8, Mitt Romney captured 41 percent of the vote but earned 54 percent of the delegates. This was due in large part to states with winner-take-all primaries. In Florida, a winner-take-all state, Romney captured less than half the vote (46 percent) but earned all fifty delegates. In contrast, in the Colorado caucuses, Rick Santorum beat Romney by a margin of greater than 5 percent, but the election apparatus allocated him only six of the thirty-six available delegates, while Romney earned thirteen. The remaining seventeen remained unpledged. The practice of winner-take-all voting has the effect of making primaries in those states more important because narrow victories yield all the delegates. They also serve to discount the opinions of all those who vote for the losing candidates in those states. In that way, they reflect the will of the majority at the state level but will often fail to do so at the national level.

Another example of how the election apparatus affects presidential elections was evident in the 2008 Democratic primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. While many convention delegates were selected in state primaries and caucuses, there were 850 who were not elected at all. These "superdelegates" were members of Congress, state governors, and Democratic Party officials who were delegates by virtue of their positions, not the will of the people. Superdelegates represented almost 20 percent of the total and over 40 percent of the number of delegates required for nomination. In a race as close as the 2008 Democratic primary, these delegates were extremely important, leading both candidates to actively court them. Selection of these delegates and how they cast their votes fail two of our tests for a desirable election apparatus. First, they are subject to manipulation, and second, they do not reflect the will of the majority.

Our discussion up to now has focused on aspects of elections that are very evident and are thoroughly discussed in the media. The next section of this book will address aspects of the election apparatus that are largely overlooked but play an important role in every election, particularly our congressional elections. Because they are not understood and are largely ignored, their effects are often attributed to other factors. As a consequence, politicians and the media will often draw incorrect conclusions that have an adverse effect on campaign strategy and even how successful candidates conduct themselves in Congress.

As outlined at the beginning of the chapter, the election apparatus in place has the following effects:

1. Makes it virtually impossible for moderate candidates to win elections; eliminates moderate candidates in favor of more partisan ones, and it does so in a manner that is invisible to voters and pundits alike

2. Disenfranchises some voters and prevents their votes from ever affecting election outcomes

3. Creates congressional districts in which the outcome of a general election is a foregone conclusion

4. Reduces the responsiveness of elected representatives

5. Makes it possible for some groups to exert influence way out of proportion to their numbers

6. Gives political organizations an inflated sense of their own popularity, thereby causing them to advance radical political agendas


These forces are currently at work to polarize our country, produce gridlock in Congress, and create plummeting ratings and anger within the electorate. Only by understanding the concept of election apparatus can we figure out how to moderate its effects. It would be nice to change it to eliminate these built-in biases, but efforts to do so will encounter intense resistance and take considerable time to accomplish, particularly in an environment where trust is lacking. Efforts to restore civility to Congress cannot, therefore, rely on efforts to reform our existing political system. Rather, they must rely initially on efforts at the micro level to understand how they operate and identify what can be done to neutralize some of their effects.

Then, individual voters can begin to regain the influence that in recent decades has been ceded to our political parties. In doing so, we can restore the health of our country and even the political parties that are the source of many of our current problems. For too long, the United States has been like a ship without a rudder. Now is the time we must learn to pull together to reverse the national decline that is all too evident.

It is no wonder that a November 2013 Gallup poll found the approval rating for Congress had dropped to an all-time low of 9 percent. As a people, our trust in government has fallen to below 20 percent, according to an October 2013 Pew research poll. Fortunately, in a democracy, we have the opportunity to "throw the bums out" every two, four, or six years. And yet this situation continues to persist year after year, election after election, and it seems to be getting worse.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Political Gridlock by Ned Witting. Copyright © 2014 Ned Witting. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction: When Did the Patients Take Over the Asylum?, 1,
Part I: Factors That Contribute to Polarization, 9,
Election Apparatus: Who Gets Elected and Why, 11,
The Two-Primary Effect: The Root of Extremism, 30,
The District-Design Effect: Is Your Vote a Placebo?, 45,
The Motivation Effect: An Ounce of Motivation Is Worth a Pound of Everything Else, 53,
Party Leverage: The Power Multiplier, 64,
The Road Ahead: A Parable, 77,
Legislative Apparatus: What Determines What Gets Done, 94,
Media Influence: Truth, Lies, and Propaganda?, 102,
Political Spin, 111,
Part II: Strategies to Reduce Polarization and Gridlock, 117,
Existing Efforts to Reduce Gridlock, 119,
Ways to Bolster Bipartisanship: Mitigation Strategies, 125,
Two-Primary Effect Strategies, 126,
District-Design Effect Strategies, 129,
The Motivation Effect Strategies, 138,
Party Leverage Strategies, 145,
Political Spin Strategies, 151,
Media Influence Strategies, 156,
Summary, 158,
Part III: The Moderate Manifesto, 161,
Overview, 163,
The Plan of Action, 165,
Phase 1: Individual Initiatives, 167,
Phase 2: Legislative Initiatives, 181,
Phase 3: Other Initiatives, 184,
We Can Do This!, 186,
Summary and Conclusions, 189,
Glossary, 191,
Appendix A, 195,
Appendix B, 202,
Appendix C, 210,
Appendix D, 216,
Appendix E, 219,
Appendix F, 233,
Endnotes, 237,

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