A Political Oligopoly

Friday, October 15th 2004


The U.S. voting system is screwed up. How can Americans have freedom of choice when their choices are limited to two candidates who don't represent them? The Republican and Democratic parties have become so wealthy and powerful that they hedge out any and all competition with little effort. It's not quite a political monopoly, since there are two competing parties. It's an oligopoly.

There are numerous third party groups: The Green Party, The Libertarian Party, The Reform Party, and more. But their candidates are not allowed into the presidential debates, and not included in "equal time" laws.

We're so locked into a two-party system, and compelled to vote for the lesser of two evils that most of us never even consider third party options. CNN has an excellent synopsis of third parties, and a good summary of Ralph Nader.

Comments on A Political Oligopoly
Comment Friday, October 15th 2004 by tagger
Interesting word choice -- in my experience, the term 'oligopoly' is more common in marketing circles than in politics, but you make your point with it.

Adding parties (choices) is a option that, it seems to me, would have the effect of fragmenting the vote so that one could win an election with a small number of votes. Candidates could calculate the percentage of solid votes they expect, then win simply by driving votes to three or four other parties. With, say, five parties, 25% of the vote would ensure a win for any candidate able to split the remaining 75% more or less evenly among the other four parties. There are analysts who claim that Ralph Nader cost Gore the election simply be stealing enough votes to let Bush win with what he already had. Bush didn't need more votes -- he just needed Gore to get fewer votes. Who's to say that Bush's campaign wasn't behind a strategy of driving voters who would never vote for Bush over to Nader? It really wouldn't matter who they voted for as long as they didn't vote for Al Gore, right?

Understand that I am not defending (or attacking, for that matter) the so-called "Two-party" system, but simply pointing out that by increasing the number of choices, one could well wind up in an even worse mess than currently exists.

I wonder if a possible solution might be to find some way to "encourage" parties to choose better candidates? Perhaps we should be taking a closer look at the mechanism by which one gets a Party nomination in the first place.
Comment Friday, October 15th 2004 by Greg
Well, the ideal solution would be to change the way voting works, but I doubt that's going to happen.

The way it is now, if there were 5 candidates, and the winner got 25%, we'd have a president who 75% of the country didn't want.

Ideally, you'd pick a first, second, and third choice candidate, potentially up to an Nth choice. When the votes are tallied, a process takes place where you determine the candidate with the least votes, and since that candidate will obviously not win, those who voted for him have their 2nd choice cast as a vote instead. Then you do the same if more than two remain, and continue until you find who wins. It sounds complicated, but if computer voting were instituted, it wouldn't be so bad.

With that system, if 45% voted Republican, 44% Democrat, and 6% Green Party, you'd take that 6% and award those votes to the voters' second choice candidates. That way, a vote for Nader is NOT a vote for Bush.

In a more complex election, with 5 candidates, it still works. Imagine that the five nominees are Republican, Democrat, Green Party, Libertarian, and Socialist. Imagine that their initial (first choice) votes tally as follows:

Republican: 41%
Democrat: 38%
Green Party: 12%
Libertarian: 7%
Socialist: 2%

The Socialists have the least vote, so we look at their second choices. 1% each goes to the Libertarian and Green Parties. Now we have...

Republican: 41%
Democrat: 38%
Green Party: 13%
Libertarian: 8%

Now that the Libertarians are on bottom, we look at their second choices, or the third choices of the 1% that originally voted for the Socialist Party candidate. Of the votes, 4% goes to The Green Party, 3% to Democrats, and 1% to Republicans, giving us...

Republican: 42%
Democrat: 41%
Green Party: 17%

Finally, the Green Party votes are dispersed to the voters' highest remaining choice. 2% happens to go to the Republican Candidate, and the rest to the Democrat, and the Democratic candidate wins 56% to 44%.

It'll never happen, but it works.
Comment Friday, October 15th 2004 by tagger
Yes, it does work, and you're right -- it'll never happen. The electorate is too dumb and lazy to make it work.

I've always wanted to see voting made an obligation of citizenship, rather than a right. In other words, citizens would be required to vote, even if the vote is "no preference."

In addition, I believe polls should be open for 24 hours on election day and there should be a news blackout and no pollsters allowed.

If that sounds extreme, consider this: The last time I lived on the west coast, Jimmy Carter was running for reelection against Ronald Reagan. I had to teach a night school class at Cal State L.A., and my polling place (open till 9 PM) was in Inglewood -- down by the airport. I did my class, got in the car about 7:30 PM and headed home to vote. On the way, I heard a news broadcast projecting Reagan the winner and Carter threw in the towel. It was 10:30 PM in New York, but the polls were STILL OPEN in L.A. I went ahead and voted anyway, but I'm sure a whole lot of people said, "Why bother?"
Comment Saturday, October 16th 2004 by PMD
Thought I would share this since it's somewhat related... John Stewart on Crossfire.
Comment Thursday, November 4th 2004 by Greg
Duopoly! That's the word I wanted.

Just found it in this article.
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