Forward This to Every Naderite and Bloomberg(ite? ian?) You Know


bloomberg.jpg

Some Democrats are worried that Michael Bloomberg, the liberal Democrat-turned-Republican mayor of New York City, might run for President as an independent. After all, Democrats have always tried to convince (or force) left-leaning third-party candidates not to run. The argument is that people like Ralph Nader and Michael Bloomberg split the Left-wing vote, damage Democrats’ electoral prospects, and allow Right-wingers like George W. Bush to waltz into the White House. There might be something to that.

But third-party types, for their part, tend to argue that the country has a need for more diversity in politics, and that one day the public will come around to their line of thinking. But reasonable people know that’s not particularly likely. Why? Because the nature of our voting system create an environment that favors two stable parties:

From FactCheck.org (emphasis mine):

The winner-take-all system in the U.S. favors two stable parties.
The U.S. political system is based on what political scientists call a single-member district plurality (SMDP). That’s a fancy way of saying that the U.S. elects representatives from particular districts, with the person who gets the most votes in a district (also called a plurality) winning the seat. Each district is winner-take-all, and votes in one district have no effect on other districts. Presidential elections, though nationwide contests, are likewise really state-by-state races, thanks to the Electoral College, in which every state except Maine and Nebraska awards all of its electoral votes to whichever candidate wins a plurality of the state’s votes.

So basically, the United States’ electoral system doesn’t support a viable third party, because a third party that was actually successful would mean the demise of one of the two existing parties. Why?

The reasons here are mainly statistical. Third parties may have statistically significant support (maybe 15 percent of voters in every district supports a third party). But in an SMDP system, the third party may well not win any seats. So those voters will likely join with another party and look for a compromise candidate that could represent them. Similarly, suppose that a district has 200,000 conservative voters and 110,000 liberal voters. One would expect a conservative candidate to be elected. But if two conservative parties each run a candidate, then a liberal candidate may well be elected – unless the conservative parties unite behind a single candidate.

So it turns out that voting for a third party just because you think there should be more than two parties is economically and electorally irrational. Because unless we change the first-past-the-post system, it’s unlikely that the U.S. is ever going to have more than two major parties. My colleague Jonathan Stein points out that Michael Bloomberg, who is no dummy, probably knows all this. If he doesn’t think he can actually win electoral votes (i.e., win states and force either the Democrats or the Republicans into third place nationally), he probably won’t run. And who knows. If you have Mike Bloomberg’s kind of money, it’s quite possible that even basic laws of political science will bend to your will. Good luck with that, Mr. Mayor.

(If you want to learn more—way more—about our voting system and potential alternatives, check out Michael Mechanic’s great interview with the author William Poundstone.)

OUR NEW CORRUPTION PROJECT

The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate