The current political rules guarantee control by a small set of voters. There are four layers of rules that severely limits “who matters” to politicians and the major political parties:
- Non-voters don’t matter
- Gerrymandering excludes voters
- Unaffiliated voters excluded from primaries
- The Electoral College privileges voters in swing states
Limit 1: Non-Voters Don’t Matter
Forty percent of the eligible electorate don’t vote in presidential elections. In the critical primary elections (local, state, national), only 5 – 20 percent of the electorate participate. The system cares only about the people that vote (and donate).
40% of the eligible electorate don’t vote in presidential elections
According to academic research at Princeton University over the last 20 years, desires of the average citizen have no impact on the likelihood of congress enacting any given law. This explains why 89 percent of the country can support universal background checks for gun sales, but nothing happens. In this case, the power of the NRA isn’t in direct contributions, but the grass-roots network committed to securing the Second Amendment.
Learn more about the structural problems of our political system.
Limit 2: Gerrymandering Excludes Voters
Gerrymandering establishes a political advantage for a particular party by manipulating state electoral district boundaries. An independent study found that Republicans won as many as 22 additional U.S. House seats over expectations in 2016 based on the average vote share in congressional districts across the country. Both parties do it. There are currently six gerrymandering cases pending before the Supreme Court – three claiming excessive Republican bias and three claiming Democratic bias.
Only 24 of 435 congressional districts (5%) were competitive in 2016
Only 24 of 435 congressional districts (5 percent) were competitive in 2016. If you voted in one of the 411 non-competitive districts, the outcome was predetermined. Your vote didn’t matter. The bias is so extreme that one or another of the major parties didn’t bother fielding a candidate in 43 percent of the state legislative elections in 2014.
Limit 3: Unaffiliated Voters are Excluded from Primaries
Primary elections determine the ticket offered voters by the Republican and the Democratic parties. Extreme partisan activists (the far left and the far right) play a disproportionate role in these outcomes. And, because up to 95 percent of the districts are considered “safe seats” for the major parties, the Republican or Democratic primary winner generally proceeds to win the general election.
+50% of millennials are registering as unaffiliated
Independent voters are entirely excluded from voting in primary elections in roughly one-third of the country and restricted in some form in another third.
More registered voters have declared themselves as unaffiliated than have registered within either the Republican or Democratic party. More than 50 percent of millennials are registering as unaffiliated. And if 17-year-old pre-registrations are any indication, the next generation is registering even more unaffiliated (57 percent in Colorado).
Limit 4: The Electoral College Privileges Voters in Swing States
The rules of the Electoral College system marginalize 75 percent of eligible voters in presidential elections. How? Only 11 swing states matter to the overall outcome.
Only 11 swing states matter in presidential elections
Given all these obstacles to participating in American-style democracy, it should come as no surprise that America ranks 14th out of 18 developed countries in voter turnout.
Non-partisan organizations are succeeding in creating a new set of rules. That’s why we created Change the Rules. With a single donation, you can support a set of eight organizations that are making the biggest difference.
Author: Tom Curren, Founder and Manager of Change the Rules