Jan. 4, 2018
Lee Drutman wrote for National Affairs about how proportional voting could address some of the political problems in our current system.
Such a system would allow multiple parties to truly compete to win seats in the legislature, and their representation would be in proportion to their electoral support. In this system, a new conservative party would likely win about 15% of the seats in the legislature — and without boosting Democrats' fortunes. Right-of-center voters who wanted to vote for a non-Trump conservative party would have that option, and their representatives could bargain and negotiate as an independent force in what would be a multi-party legislature.
By passing electoral reforms to open up the party system, conservative lawmakers now living in fear of right-wing primary challengers could carve out a new role for themselves. Instead of being forced out one by one by the powerful and angry Republican base that our totalizing partisan conflict has created, they could find an opportunity to lead a pivotal center-right party. Such reforms would restore representation to some disenfranchised Republicans and many other Americans whose political views are widely shared yet not dominant enough to command one of our two major parties. Most important, it would help to restore all citizens' faith in the democratic process.
Fundamental electoral reform may seem improbable, but it's not as unlikely as it first appears. During the first half of the 20th century, the vast majority of Western democracies changed their electoral systems from single-member majority- or plurality-winner elections like ours to proportional systems. About four in five of the world's democracies now have a proportional representation system with multiple parties, and they have benefited overwhelmingly from the change. Proportional voting democracies with multi-party systems consistently have more centrist governments, more political stability, higher voter turnout, and citizens who are more satisfied with democracy. It's also what Americans want: In 2017, Gallup found that a record-high 61% of respondents said they wanted a third-party option.
A new, more representative system is possible, and, crucially, it could be achieved within the bounds of our constitutional system. In an era of pernicious politics and dwindling faith in the institutions of democracy, such reforms should not seem so much radical as necessary.