Poltical Reform: Fixing A Deadlocked System

Dysfunction in Washington has reached a critical point. This dysfunction—the inability to reach minimum bipartisan agreement on legislation and move the country forward—is a result of increasingly polarized partisan politics. The problem manifests itself in the failure to do basic things like pass budgets and keep the government open, the increasingly prevalent use of wasteful continuing resolutions to fund the federal government (the average CR has increased in length by nearly 200% in the last decade), the frequency and duration of government shutdowns (once unthinkable, these have now grown from one-day flukes to weeks-long crises), and the inability of elected representatives to pull together and tackle pressing national issues such as immigration, crumbling infrastructure, and the ballooning national debt. 
 
In order to address this trend, CSPC launched the Commission on Civility and Effective Governance in 2018 to convene bipartisan leaders from government service and the private sector to identify the key issues contributing to this dysfunction and how to fix them. The fundamental fact is that there is a problem of misaligned incentives in our political system, which encourage elected leaders to cater to the most extreme voters who prioritize rigid ideology over the cooperation needed to move the country forward. 

While the gridlock in Washington is a grave matter, it is not an insurmountable challenge. Organizations across the nation have identified some of the largest contributing factors to this dysfunction, and solutions to them are attainable with determination and a will to fix the system. 
 
Gerrymandering is a top driver of dysfunction in American politics. Elected officials of both parties often use their power to draw legislative districts to advantage their party by maximizing the number of seats their party can win or by creating districts with such a strong partisan advantage that no real competition exists in the general election. This makes partisan primaries the determining factor in the vast majority of congressional races. Implementing reforms such as non-partisan redistricting commissions helps to combat this rigged system of districting and encourage more competitive elections, empowering a wider range of voters and incentivizing politicians to take a more pragmatic approach to governing. 
 
Closed Primary Elections favor more extreme candidates on both sides who are incentivized to appeal to the most ideologically extreme voters through divisive rhetoric and avoidance of compromise at all costs. This system of candidate selection is prevalent in many states, and efforts to change it are often opposed strongly by the two major parties in an effort to maintain a tight grip on power. A more open primary system, such as California’s Top-Two primary or Maine’s ranked-choice election system, which allows all candidates to run in the general election and includes an instant run-off feature, ensuring one candidate gets majority support, encourages candidates to appeal to a broader set of voters, and thus encourages more compromise among elected officials. 

 
• Partisan Echo Chambers have been created by major cable networks and social media sites, which facilitate a vicious cycle in which sensationalist news kindles extremist voters and extremist voters demand sensationalist news. Although this issue may not be solved through governmental action, platforms are being pioneered by private entities to encourage civil debate and factual, dispassionate reporting of the news. 
 
Money in Politics has grown steadily for decades and the influence of donors on political campaigns and policy making has damaged public faith in our institutions of democracy. While federal reforms have been limited by Supreme Court actions, there are many models being implemented at the state and local levels that provide options for federal action that would improve public trust in our political system.  
 
Organizations such as the Independent Voter Project and Represent.Us, among others, have sought to promote solutions to these issues; they have found success in multiple state ballot measures, accelerating greatly in 2018. Efforts to build broad coalitions, like the Bridge Alliance, and targeted coalitions focused on federal reforms, like ‘Fix-theSystem,’ have ambitious plans to provide additional momentum to reform efforts over 2019 and beyond, with an unprecedented coordination of efforts from within Washington and across various states. The progress and potential is described in the following sections. 
 
CSPC is dedicated to identifying compelling nonpartisan solutions to today’s pressing issues. This report is designed to assist decision-makers and citizens alike in bridging the divides that have stymied progress in Washington for too long. The ultimate goal is a democratic system that allows for healthy debate, inspires public trust, and encourages cooperation to move the country forward.   

 

 

About CSPC

CSPC's mission is to apply the lessons of history to address today’s political challenges; Develop real-world strategic policy solutions by convening representatives from government, academia, and the private sector; and educate the next generation of leaders.

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