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Built-in Bias

Bias problems

Vote manipulation.  The US has lower voter turnout than many other countries.  People are increasing turned off and don’t vote.  It is frustrating to be a Republican in a district that always votes Democratic, or vice-versa.  It can also be annoying when even your own party can betray you, giving you only a radical choice - it’s only those radical zealots who have time to attend debates and vote in primaries.

dollars raining

Compromised leaders.  Because of the high costs (TV) of running a campaign, politicians must raise huge sums of money.  The 2004 campaign between Bush and Kerry cost over $2 billion. Is it any wonder laws favor companies that donate large sums and have full-time lobbyists, rather than favoring the rest of us, who have better things to do than pay attention?

man and woman not talking

 

Polarization.  Voters, and thus elected politicians, are increasingly polarized and partisan, unwilling to compromise, resulting in deadlock, with issues such as health care, schools and prisons not being adequately addressed.

 

Structural Sources of problems

Asking us to pay more attention and become better informed is a non-starter.  We’re all too busy, and it’s too complex.  That’s why we hire representatives to spend full time studying the issues and make the right choices for us.

Vote manipulation is due to Gerrymandering and radicals of both parties controlling primaries (gerrymandering is unfairly drawing district boundaries to favor incumbents).    Those that do vote are the radicals of both parties that push the politicians to the extremes, not the middle.  Many think their vote doesn't count, and they are right - gerrymandered districts turn majority voting on its head.

This results not just in disproportionately more representatives from the party drawing the lines, but also in more extreme candidates being elected.  This is because since the primary determines the winner, not the general election.  To win the primary, the radicals of each party need to be courted.  True believers, or radicals, are the ones who spend the time to get involved in their party and thus control who gets nominated.  The only reason moderate Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected was because it was a special election that bypassed the Republican primary.   Recent trends have made this worse - sophisticated software making it more effective, the targeting of incumbents homes into a different district, and an unholy alliance of Black Democrats and Republicans.

Compromised leaders are caused by the enormous need for fundraising to run for office.

Polarization is due to Gerrymandering, radicalized primaries and the media.  Specialized media outlets now pander to the left or the right, instead of everyone watching the same network news as in the past.  To stay profitable, these specialized stations present news that conforms to the prejudices of their viewers, keeping ratings and thus revenue high.  This is a sinister feedback loop, reinforcing prejudices and making them more engrained.  This exacerbates the effect of gerrymandered districts, forcing candidates to appeal to more and more radicalized constituents.  The spirit of compromise is lost.

Media is failing us.  The media, in particular TV news and newspapers, have cut budgets and moved to presenting sensational fluff instead of substance to attract viewers and thus advertising profits.  The media has been consolidated and is driven by profits to focus on sensationalism (see Current Problems in the Media).  Partisan TV "news" shows include the right-wing Fox News.   There are also opinion shows that many people use for their news, such as the right-wing O'Reilly Factor and the left-wing Keith Olbermann show.

Solutions

Asking us to pay more attention and become better informed is a non-starter.  We’re all too busy, and it’s too complex.  That’s why we hire representatives to spend full time studying the issues and make the right choices for us.

Have open primaries

By allowing all parties to vote for each candidate in a primary election, the moderate, centrist voters will have more influence, offsetting the current advantage of the radicals. California approved open primaries in 2010, so we will get to see the effect in the 2012 primaries. One challenge was declined by the California Supreme Court, although other challenges are still pending in the courts. Now, we just need the other states to follow suit.

Lessen Money Influence

Public Funding of Campaigns

Many other countries and some US states provide for public funding of political campaigns (currently, the US only provides matching funds, and only for the presidential candidates).  The cost of public funding would be more than covered by the potential cut back on pork Congress doles out to contributors and the waste resulting from their addressing special interests instead of the people.  A similar benefit is postulated for California campaigns

Free TV Time

The top candidates should get Free TV time. Most of the money spent by politicians is for TV advertising.  Is it too much to ask that in return for media companies being given public airwave frequencies they should have to run free ads during election campaigns? 

Support a truly independent media

Fact checker sites correct disinformation.  The drive for profits has caused the consolidation of media and the shift of news toward entertainment.  Non-profit media sources are one answer.  Another is to provide an Associated Press type service to the for profit media, giving them content that is not only balanced and informative, but entertaining.

End Gerrymandering

California has approved redistricting reform, and the new districts have been drawn and survived a challenge to the California Supreme Court. The first elections with the new districts will be the June 2012 primaries. Now we just need Texas and the other states to get on board.

 

In Texas, after the 2002 gerrymandering, Republicans won 50% of the vote, but 70% of the seats.

In California, after the 1980 gerrymandering Democrats increased their House advantage from 22-21 to 27-18.

Ominously, people not only associate with only those of similar political beliefs, they choose where to live on this basis.  The Big Sort.

 

 

Radical "news" shows stir up and radicalize people, damaging our democracy, so they can make profits.

 


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