#Election2016 – The Elephant in the Living Room: The (Winner-Take-All) Binary Choice

There has been much analysis of the unfortunate election of Donald Trump to be the next President of the United States. There’s the white, rural, poor working class, the racism, the sexism, the Electoral College, the “third party” candidates, and more.

Right away I want to say that there is such a thing as single cause fallacy. This is particularly used (and I think not fairly used) in blaming Ralph Nader or Jill Stein as costing the Democrats elections. There are clearly multiple factors in any election, and any number of perhaps dozens of factors plays a role. I want to discuss a large factor that seems to be ignored.

For the point of this post, take a look at this:

Dates Party Presidents # of years
1953-1960 Republican Eisenhower 8
1961-1968 Democrat Kennedy/Johnson 8
1969-1976 Republican Nixon/Ford 8
1977-1980 Democrat Carter 4
1981-1992 Republican Reagan/Bush Sr 12
1993-2000 Democrat Clinton 8
2001-2008 Republican Bush Jr 8
2009-2016 Democrat Obama 8
2017-? Republican Trump ?

This is a table of presidential tenures during my lifetime. What we see here is an alternation between Republican and Democratic administrations. In the 6 decades shown here, only once did any party reign for more than 8 years consecutively, and only once did one party get denied the second 4-year term, keeping it at 4 years. It appears that, in general, the elections have produced a pattern of alternating 8-year reigns for each major party.

Why is this? Enter The Binary Choice. As people chastising third party voters always say: one of the major two will win. Therefore, the thinking is, the only reasonable vote is to vote for one of the major two. And there is further implication on the left that the moderate, watered down Democrat is far preferable to the horrible choice in the Republican. This year, with the brash, openly racist/bigoted personality of Donald Trump, it was particularly distasteful to elect the Republican.

But look at the pattern, and then look at the dilemma. People who criticize whoever is/was the current President have/had ONLY ONE PLACE TO GO! Turn around and face the other direction. No one else has a chance. We have a system where only 2 parties have to represent the political ideas of an entire nation. One will win a given election and take everything.

Take 2016 as an example. There are different ways to look at the Obama legacy. One is that in almost every measurable way, things have improved over what Obama inherited from George W. Bush. This is factual. On the other hand, for progressives, centrist Democrats leave a lot to be desired. Conservatives and others in the middle can also see that big problems still exist. One can look at this and say: look at all these problems, let’s get rid of this one and put in the other one. Never mind that going back in the Republican direction is demonstrably and historically factually worse. People don’t seem to vote on data. It’s only: I don’t like this, so let’s go to the other. Then the other gets in for awhile, and problems will absolutely, inevitably happen, so then let’s go to the other. Alternating on and on and on and on.

So, the Democrats will be back. Donald Trump’s government will cause huge problems which will in turn have the election go back to the (watered down, centrist) Democrats.

But, even so, what about this Binary Choice? How is that working for us?

I think it totally sucks. It keeps the choice narrow and hold-your-nose uncomfortable. Candidates outside the major two, some of which have as a major part of their platform advocating much needed electoral reforms, are treated like flies at a picnic. Just go away and stop crashing the party. You’re outside of our traditional bounds, and we’ll blame you if we lose.

I wonder if the countries who have things like single payer universal healthcare, much lower military spending, higher marginal tax rates on the wealthy, free public education through university level, and other policies and programs which factually produce better results than we in the US get, have these things because they have a different way of doing democracy. They don’t have The Binary Choice. They have multiple parties and ideas on the table. They have proportional representation. If 25% of the people vote for a party, then 25% of the legislature is composed of that party. (Not 0% like we would have.)

Do we have to live in this binary world? And how can we ever get out of it?



One response

  1. Thanks for this analysis, Michael. It helped me clarify my own understanding of wtf just happened here and offers an important question that we have to explore and answer.

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