The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

The weekly student newspaper of Bucknell University

The Bucknellian

2024 Commencement Student Speaker: Lea Tarzy
Alexandra Slofkiss: 2024 Commencement Soloist
Outstanding Senior Award: Bernadette Maramis
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Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion: Gloria Sporea

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Excellence in Athletics Award: Meghan Quinn

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Excellence in the Arts Award: Joselyn Busato

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The American illusion of choice

Imagine you’re in a race with 100 other runners, but 98 of them – including yourself – have their legs tied; would you consider that fair? Of course not. This is a situation that is far too applicable to the state of modern American political parties. For over a century, only two parties have dominated American politics – the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Locating them on the political spectrum, the Democrats are on the left and the Republicans are on the right; while there is merit to the claim that the two parties are ideologically different, the same cannot be said about them on the functional level. What do I mean by this? Let me explain.

There is no doubt that the Republicans and Democrats have different views on issues like abortion, immigration and the Second Amendment. However, the two political entities support very similar policies to maintain their overwhelming power in Congress: they both exploit the media to shift public opinion and remain relevant in the headlines; they both accept billions of dollars from corporations and private lobbyists to fund campaigns and aid their aristocratic allies; and they both support a winner-take-all system of voting to curtail the success of alternative parties in Congress.

By consolidating power, the two parties have narrowed themselves as the only viable options to govern the nation. The Democrats and Republicans are two preselected choices which create an illusion of ultimate democracy. This peculiar dynamic in government feels more like a diarchy than a flourishing democracy. Moreover, it is essential to note that Americans are not satisfied with the current two party system. As a simple litmus test of American satisfaction with the current two party system, take the example of the candidates put up by the Democrats and Republicans for the upcoming presidential election; a 2024 Reuters poll on voter satisfaction found that 67% of Americans said that they are “tired of seeing the same candidates in presidential elections and want someone new.”

If people are so tired of old and familiar politicians put up by the same old and familiar parties, then why can’t they just vote new people and parties into power? To answer that question we have to look at the diarchy’s undying love of the ‘Single Member Plurality (SMP) Voting System’ which is technical jargon for a winner-take-all system. The SMP system works by disregarding other votes in an election and simply focusing on the majority. An example of the SMP system in action can be seen in these mock results for a congressional seat election: The results read: 51% to the Republican Party, 20% to the Libertarian Party, 20% to the Democratic Party and 9% to the Green Party. Because the Republican candidate got 51% of the vote, only one Republican will be sent to Congress to represent everyone, leaving the other 49% voiceless. 

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The SMP system is in contrast to the ‘Proportional Representation’ system where each party would gain a number of representatives in Congress according to their percentage won in the election; an eat what you hunt style voting system. By failing to win the majority of the votes, political groups become marginalized and ignored. And in places where Republican and Democratic political machines are cemented into power, the overwhelming power of the SMP system is insurmountable by alternative political parties. A Proportional Representation system combats this. 

The diarchy of Republicans and Democrats leads to a complacent government, a complacency rooted in the reliability of remaining in power. If there is no third party to threaten the political seesaw of swapping Republicans for Democrats – and vice versa – the two parties will simply continue to maintain the status quo. To reform the United States government, American constituents should take a lesson from European Parliaments and begin to examine the implications of proportional representation into the US government. The more perspectives a government can have the better; more well-rounded policies will emerge from understanding their impacts on different communities, people and industries. 

Using the SMP system to tarnish the representativeness of a republic is nothing short of a nightmarish irony, one which is detrimental to the progression of American democracy. I believe it is crucial for constituents to explore and vote for other candidates to begin to shake the pillars of power on which the diarchy reigns.

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  • J

    John WhitmerApr 22, 2024 at 7:38 pm

    This is a very perceptive, well-written, accurate review of the problems with our current (SMP) system. It is also a well-argued case for proportional representation. As mentioned, most modern democracies use some variation of proportional representation.

    Alas, changing our SMP system is difficult for several reasons: (1) our two major political parties have considerable power over elections with SMP and few groups willingly give up power; (2) elected legislators are reluctant to change a system that has worked for them; and (3) changing current practice – especially political practice – requires more than a proposed system that is demonstrably better than the current system – it requires a proposed system than is much, much better in the opinion of most folks. Alas, proportional RCV isn’t there yet. But articles like this one help.

    And we wonder why so many are simply not interested in elections and voting. Folks generally are interested in things where they have at least some influence. At the national level almost all of us have little if any influence in elections with SMP.

    Again, a fine article.

    Reply
  • S

    Shaun LippyApr 19, 2024 at 5:21 am

    I am not sure what is meant by “Because the Republican candidate got 51% of the vote, only one Republican will be sent to Congress to represent everyone, leaving the other 49% voiceless.”

    The other 49% isn’t “voiceless” in this scenario. They may not like their voice, but they have one. They would only be truly voiceless if there was no election at all.

    Elections always result in candidates with which some percentage of voters will be disappointed. That’s the reality of democratic systems. Changing the system to the political equivalent of a game of musical chairs where there is always exactly the same number of chairs as players isn’t the answer. The answer is for the losing side(s) to improve their message and to convince the majority to come to their side. The absolution of this obligation of the minority won’t lead to a more just system.

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