The Frustration of the American Voting System

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Thursday, December 3, 2020


There is much to be desired by the American people within previous election cycles. More than ever before, people are dissatisfied with the candidates chosen by each party. 

Between 2000 and 2016, voter satisfaction rates for the Presidential elections have fallen in percentage from the high sixties, down to the mid-thirties. Data is not yet available for the 2020 election, but every indication is that it will be the same or lower. This change has happened across both voters registered as Democrats and Republicans. 

A growing sentiment that neither party is producing likable candidates is growing among the American population.

The United States’ voting system is a single ballot plurality vote, also known as “first past the post.” This means that each citizen gets a single vote in a race they are an eligible voter for, that vote is assigned to a single candidate, and the candidate with the most votes in a district wins that district. This system is utilized in nearly all of the districts in the United States. 

As each Political Party is negatively affected by infighting, parties hold primary elections in order to decide which candidate they field. Under this system, voters only truly have the choice to vote between two parties, and one candidate from each party.

 First, past the post systems bring into play a tactic known as strategic voting. Strategic voting is when you don’t vote for the candidate you truly wish to win, but rather the one you think has the best chance of beating the person you oppose the most. For example, in the 2020 election, a voter whose candidate preference goes in the order of Jo Jorgenson, Joe Biden, and Donald Trump, is strongly incentivized to vote for Joe Biden. This is due to Jorgenson’s low chance of winning, along with Biden’s far more reasonable chance at beating Trump. 

Strategic voting eliminates support for third parties over time, resulting in only two opposing political parties. This lack of choice is one of the primary drivers of voter dissatisfaction.

French sociologist Maurice Duverger theorized that consolidation into only two political parties is common within societies that utilize variations of a single ballot plurality, primarily due to strategic voting. When voters are incentivized to vote only for candidates they believe have a significant chance of winning, smaller parties lose support, and, in turn, representation. These voters who would have voted for a smaller party, are now forced to consolidate their support behind one of the two most prominent parties. These voters, which make up a substantial portion of the population, are now forced to typically choose the lesser of two evils in elections.

Opponents of the current state have relatively recently begun to advocate for alternative structures for our voting systems. The leading of these alternatives is ranked-choice voting. Ranked voting gives voters the opportunity to rank their candidates in order of preference. When counting the votes, if a candidate receives a majority of First choice votes, they are declared the winner. If no candidate receives fifty percent of the first-choice vote, the candidate with the least first-choice votes is eliminated, and the votes are counted again, with the eliminated candidates voters now having their votes applied to their second choice. This process is repeated until a candidate receives over half of the votes. The method has already been implemented in Maine and was a key policy position of 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang

Proponents of ranked-choice argue the system has many benefits over first past the post. The system is theorized to produce more likable candidates by forcing candidates to appeal to more than just their base, and decrease negative campaigning. It is also thought that, due to the elimination of the need for primary elections, we will have more condensed and cheaper election cycles. Detractors, however, argue that the system leads to some voters’ choices not being counted, if they vote only for candidates that are ultimately eliminated. It is also difficult to see if parties would truly field more than one candidate, due to the fact that different candidates of the same party winning different states in the electoral college is not beneficial for either winning the election. 

Few prominent politicians have even criticized our first past the post system, and even fewer have advocated for its replacement. However, growing public sentiment against the current establishment could bring conversations on this topic to the forefront in the coming years. It remains to be seen if the current plummet of voter satisfaction will continue beyond this election. It will largely depend on who the nominees are in 2024. 

Although this problem did not begin with the Trump era, the current climate is both a contributor to and the result of a lack of candidate satisfaction among voters.

Dace Potas is a sophomore at DePaul University, studying Political Science and Mandarin Chinese. He plans to pursue a career relating to political commentary or journalism.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Dace Potas

Dace Potas is a sophomore at DePaul University, studying Political Science and Mandarin Chinese. He plans to pursue a career relating to political commentary or journalism.

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