Political parties are not necessary and cause more havoc in politics than they are worth. Let’s abolish them.
Missouri legislators started down this path by discontinuing straight-ticket voting a few years ago. The House passed HB 2294 last week, removing party symbols from the ballot. Let’s go all the way and remove the political parties from candidate filing and legislative organization.
In the United States, we have never really decided what we expect of political parties. Our national and state constitutions do not provide for them, and elected officials take them or leave them, whichever is expedient. On the whole, our constitutional founders did a fine job, but not foreseeing the role political parties would develop was a major oversight.
Political parties are “quasi-governmental organizations” and are still considered private organizations in our legal system. They should continue to exist as political clubs and fraternal organizations but not as a key component of government.
Political parties tend to short-circuit citizens thinking process, especially among elected officials. Rather than thinking hard about charter schools or balancing the state budget, it is too easy for legislators to go with the flow and support the party position — except when it is not in their own political interest. We do not know who the next U.S. Supreme Court nominee will be, but we know who will support and oppose him or her.
With a slightly different electoral system, we could manage very well without political parties in state politics. We should retain the primary and the general election but not require candidates to file as a party candidate. The top two vote-getters in the primary would face each other in the general election.
This will increase competition. All the legislative races with two or more candidates will have a competitive primary and a competitive general election. Most likely it will increase the number of candidates because it would be more viable for a Republican to run in a Democratic district and vice versa.
Campaign and election costs will be reduced because presently so much time and so many resources are invested in keeping, or achieving, the majority. If legislators didn’t have R's and D's behind their names, legislative ideas would be considered on their merits. Some bad ideas supported by the present-day majority would be defeated, and some good ideas that had the misfortune of being birthed by a member in the minority might be embraced and enacted.
Although voters’ party identification varies with the campaign cycle and depends on how citizens are asked, at least a third of citizens consistently claim to be Independents. The most recent Gallup poll shows 40 percent of respondents identifying with Independents compared with the 28 percent identifying with Republicans and 31 percent with Democrats. It is common for American voters to say, “I vote for the person, not the party.”
Even citizens who “identify” with a party seldom see themselves as real members of parties. It’s the rare citizen who is an active member of a political party and not just a temporary guest working for the election of a specific candidate.
Political parities build in the adversarial nature of the “we vs. them” that ends up in so much nastiness. In the American system, checks and balances comes from the “separation of powers” provided in the Constitution, not from rival stables of political consultants.
Political parties are a large reason we have gridlock and a “do nothing political system” that is better designed for political fundraising than for policy-making. The recent national health care reform would have been improved, and I venture to predict, the 40-year record of national deficits would have been less likely, had political party posturing not been the prevailing practice.
Political parties are the reason for gerrymandered legislative districts and limited political competition, and do not foster accountability to the general public. In the extreme, if the Missouri Senate was divided 18-16 between the two major parties, and if the majority enforced strong party rule, it would take only 10 senators to control the Missouri Senate — that’s 10 out of 34 senators, or 29 percent. It is possible that many of these 10 Senators could come from “one-party districts” facing little electoral competition. That’s not good.
Third parties are not a viable option in American politics mostly playing a spoiler rule. Until a third party candidate gets more votes than a Democratic or Republican, it is not prudent to run for office.
Legislatures do not need to be organized by political party, either. Present Missouri House and Senate would have to be changed to eliminate majority and minority states, but they could operate just fine. A legislature would still have committees and still have chamber leadership, but they would be elected by the full membership giving each legislator an equal voice. Now there is a radical idea.
Human organizations generally do not operate with an artificially created bifurcated adversarial system. School boards, municipalities, corporations, law firms, academic departments, fraternal organizations, and churches do not have an innate majority-minority contingent from Day One. Most have an internal committee structure that shapes policy proposals based on members’ experience and judgment, not on their membership status.
It is time to eliminate parties from Missouri electoral and legislative politics.
David Webber is an associate professor of political science at MU. This article is presented courtesy of The Missouri Record, which carries Webber’s column each Tuesday.