Dare to be moderate

By Stefan Herlitz

Statistically speaking, you probably support gay marriage, the right to an abortion in the first trimester, paid sick and maternity leave and a higher national minimum wage—all socially liberal positions. But you also are likely to support offshore drilling, the death penalty and getting rid of affirmative action. You may prefer one party over the other, but don’t agree entirely with either on any issue, and the odds are increasingly likely that you aren’t registered as a member of either. In a political climate so widely recognized as partisan, you don’t fit. You probably disapprove of the job that Congress is doing and believe that the government is broken in some capacity. You don’t believe that the government represents your interests, and you’re right—it doesn’t. As a result of gerrymandered congressional districts, primary elections and the way our voting system works, political representation is skewed toward the fringes of society, shutting the centrist majority out.

Raul Luna/Flickr

Congressional districts are drawn by state legislatures, and are often specially tailored to heavily favor a certain party—there is no other explanation for the bizarre district shapes that exist today. For instance, the Illinois fourth congressional district, located in Chicago, was specifically designed to artificially create a majority-Hispanic congressional district by encompassing Chicago’s two major Hispanic neighborhoods. There is, however, a catch: the neighborhoods are on opposite sides of the city. The solution to this problem was to connect the two areas via a thin strip of land to the west of the city, which is nothing more than a highway median. The resulting district looks like a gigantic pair of earmuffs. Chicago as a whole is about 30 percent Hispanic. The fourth congressional district is 70 percent. This makes the Illinois fourth one of the safest Democratic districts in the country, virtually eliminating any possibility of a Republican challenge, meaning that the real election is the Democratic primary.

Primary elections are unlike normal elections. To begin with, each state addresses who is allowed to vote in primaries differently. In some states, one must be a registered member of a party in order to vote in its primary—in others, you can pick one each time, or even vote in all of them. Primary elections consistently have significantly low voter turnout, and those who do end up voting are the hard-line, more extreme members of their respective parties. Together, these factors mean that candidates for office need to pander not to the general public, but to the more extreme members of their party in order to even make it to the general election.

Primary elections consistently produce candidates that represent the political fringes, not the general populace, and so the average voter is often left to pick between the “lesser of two evils” when the election comes around, as neither candidate represents their views. What makes the primary system particularly devastating, however, is that there are only two political parties, each representing opposing ends of the political spectrum. While most other democratic countries around the world have more than two significant political parties, America has only two, for one reason and one reason alone: our voting system.

Our voting system strongly enforces a two-party system, as a result of the “spoiler effect.” Say there are three candidates running for Congressman in a certain district: one Republican, one Democrat and one slightly conservative Libertarian. Even if the majority of the voting population leans conservative, their votes will be split between the Republican and Libertarian candidates, meaning the Democrat wins the election despite the fact that most voters didn’t vote for him, and disagree with all of his political positions. In order to avoid this, both the Republican and Democratic parties are “big tent” parties, seeking to unify their respective halves of the political spectrum in order to avoid vote splitting. This process all but guarantees that every single election will be between a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican, despite the fact that a more moderate candidate would better represent the political positions of everyone.

Dare to be moderate. Hold on to your beliefs, and refuse to enroll in a party that doesn’t represent you. While it may seem futile to vote for a third-party candidate, do it anyway if you agree with their stances—as fewer and fewer Americans identify as Republicans or Democrats, the opportunity for centrist candidates to win on a national level only increases. Take initiative, and vote in every primary election you can for candidates that represent you. After all, you are not alone—you are part of the growing majority of Americans that don’t fit into a traditional political mold.

Stefan Herlitz is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]