Penn State’s McCourtney Institute for Democracy through the College of the Liberal Arts hosted 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang and former U.S. House Rep. Charlie Dent for “Andrew Yang and Charlie Dent: The Future of America’s Two-Party System.”
“The two-party system is driving us to ‘Civil War 2.0,’” Yang said at the beginning of the event.
McCourtney Institute Communications Specialist Jenna Spinelle moderated the event and began by asking the two panelists to “diagnose” what they believe to be wrong with the American political system.
Yang said the answer is a reform of America’s “decrepit” and “kludgy” two-party system.
Following his 2020 presidential campaign, Yang said he “started trying to figure out” why American citizens “feel so stuck,” which culminated in his book titled “Forward: Notes on the Future of Our Democracy” about the “institutional failure” America is experiencing.
“What do we do?” Yang said. “Do we let it just sink into the mud? Do we let the mistrust rise to this level?”
One of the solutions is to get rid of America’s “duopoly” since it has “run its course,” according to Yang.
“We need to try and transition to either multimember districts and the rest of it through the Fair Representation Act or a multi-party democracy with more than two parties,” Yang said.
The Fair Representation Act would “establish the use of ranked choice voting” in elections for U.S. senators and representatives — a voting system in which electors rank candidates in the order of their preference, according to the proposed legislation in the act.
In 2017, Rep. Don Beyer introduced the act to the House, and it has been voted down two times.
Action to pass the act for the third time hasn’t been taken by the House since its third introduction in June.
Yang said he believes passing the Fair Representation Act is an integral step in mitigating the issues posed by America’s two-party system.
The act would “recreate the political incentives” that secure far-right and far-left politicians' “votes, media and money," Yang said.
“The only thing we can do is try to invest in a better, more resilient system that actually carries with it some of these reforms and new incentives that we would like to see,” Yang said.
Next, Dent said he believes current “incentives” in American political culture are “misaligned” and to blame for the “broken” nature of the two-party system.
“Until these incentives are changed, I don’t see the system getting better,” Dent said.
Dent said he believes open primaries — which would eventually become “jungle” primaries — should replace closed and partially closed primaries.
Open primaries are defined as elections “that do not ask voters to choose parties on the voter registration form” and for which “voters may choose privately in which primary to vote,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
As of 2021 statistics, 15 states have primaries defined as open, with California, Washington, Louisiana and Nebraska having forms of open primaries with specific distinctions that set them apart from the other 15 states.
The system present in California and Washington is referred to as a “top-two” primary, which is also known as a “jungle” primary. In such a system, a singular ballot is filled with every candidate, with notes establishing the party affiliation of each candidate — or in Washington, that candidate’s party preference, according to the NCSL.
A “top-two” primary would narrow the ballot down to two candidates — regardless of political parties — by the general election in November.
Dent said closed and partially closed primaries in 15 states, including Pennsylvania, and partially open primaries in 15 other states enables the “period of negative partisanship” in the U.S.
“We’ve moved away from a system of separation of powers and went into a system of separation of parties,” Dent said. “It’s not that people in one party or another like their party that much. They just hate the other party more.”
Dent then said this “hate” has caused political parties to employ what he called “purity tests” that “force some level of indoctrination” in party members — with consequences for those who “deviate” from the party’s ideological beliefs.
“If somebody takes a position that’s heterodox and they’re not orthodox in their viewpoint, they get called traitors,” Dent said.
Yang then said he believes the current system is “vulnerable to authoritarianism” because of the way parties have “gone ideological and political to the extreme” so that they are “not policy oriented,” “not principled” and “not even trying to help [their] side win.”
This philosophy causes the parties to be “trapped in a game of ‘you lose, I lose,’ while the [American] people lose faith, lose trust and none of the problems get solved,” Yang said.
Yang said some politicians may vote against their personal beliefs in order to align with their party.
“We need a new chapter in American democracy that enables different points of view to actually emerge,” Yang said. “One big step forward would be to improve the incentives of legislators to make them vote their conscience and not get castigated by their party.”
Dent said he remembers when America’s political parties “were less ideologically unified,” resulting in “a diversity of opinion,” which is “healthy.”
“The role of a political party was to help [its] candidates get elected,” Dent said. “The parties shouldn’t take their members for granted and assume a blind loyalty.”
Electing representatives in the House who “more closely reflect the American population” and the diversity it encompasses may be a solution, according to Dent.
Yang said this and a reform of the primary election system across the country would start with legislation at the local and state levels — legislation that would be made possible by a greater voter turnout.
“If you had more people participating, [they] would realize just how bizarre and dysfunctional our current system is,” Yang said.
However, Yang and Dent had different ideas for ways to incentivize voters. Yang supported compulsory voting, while Dent said he prefers “informed” voters who make the choice to vote on their own.
Both agreed the problem of voter turnout is caused by what Yang called “fatigue” in politics caused by the trepidation surrounding elections.
Yang said he fears the worst if reforms to the current system aren’t made.
“Our clear choice right now is either to degenerate into political strife and conflict and violence,” Yang said, “or have a political reawakening and rejuvenation to reach a different arrangement than this two-party duopoly.”
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