America’s Political System is Broken

As the tedious process of picking the potential president begins, the candidates seem to be increasingly divided. Not only this, but issues that divide the American population are emphasised more now than ever. This creates a sense of division and ultimately gets in the way of progress. According to a Gallup poll released in early January, 72% of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job. This rate has been on a steep incline since the early 2000s.

Congress approval rating (Source: Gallup)

In the democratic process, competition should be encouraged. However, candidates are beginning to run solely on the premise that they aren’t as “bad” as others. This creates a cycle in which each candidate makes personal attacks on other candidates, making the presidential race one of trying to avoid the most attacks rather than providing the most creative solutions to problems facing the United States at the time. 

North Carolina’s Congressional Districts. These lopsided boundaries give a distinct advantage to one political party over the other (Source: Tri-City Herald)

Another way in which the political system is broken is on a regional level. Congressional boundaries allow political parties to take advantage of continuities in the concentration of votes; this is called gerrymandering.

On top of this, the United States is ranked 14th out of 18 developed democratic countries in terms of voter turnout. This is due to the exclusion of independents from participating in the democratic process. According to a December 2019 poll by Gallup, 28% of Americans identify as Democrats or Republicans respectively, while 41% identify as Independent. Why, then, were there only two candidates from each side of the spectrum in the 2016 election?

The candidates are too polarizing

SAS Student Ankan Chakrabarty

Ankan Chakrabarty, an SAS student who will soon be eligible to vote, stated, “I’m not sure if I will vote.” He expressed concerns with partisanship and corruption, saying that “the candidates are too polarising.”

The electoral college also plays a major role in inequity between the parties and low voter turnout. If the popular vote in any given state tallies 51% Republican, the electorates for the state will vote 100% Republican, essentially throwing away the rest of the votes. This gives more power to states which historically switch between parties. On the contrary, in states where one party has been historically voted for, there is less incentive for those in the opposing party to vote.

All of the issues mentioned so far have surrounded voting, but the issues don’t end there. In the Senate, the Filibuster, as well as a 3/5 vote requirement for bills to pass have created an environment in which both parties can’t get things done.

The Filibuster is a form of spoken opposition of a proposed bill, where a Senator stands on a podium delivering a speech, or just stalling, for as long as possible to try and persuade the Senate. An example of this is when Texas Senator Ted Cruz, in opposition to the Obamacare proposal, spoke for 21 hours, passing the time by reciting Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz reading Green Eggs and Ham during his 21 hour “talkathon” (Source: Associated Press)

Many that support the Filibuster and the 3/5 rule argue that they prevent one party from gaining too much control, but in reality they prevent progress for both parties. Many presidents who get elected based on the proposal of a bill or program often can’t get it through the Senate, leading to mistrust from the population and a lack of support for America’s leader.

It is one thing to list out these issues and not do anything about them and another to actually propose solutions, so, what are some ways these issues can be improved?

What RCV may look like on a ballot (Source: greatbook.com)

The first step is to implement fair voting practices. One organization that has garnered support and made progress toward this is fairvote.org. This independent group supports ranked choice voting; a system in which a list of four candidates are shown on the ballot as opposed to the two leading candidates, and the voter ranks their “top choices.” This grants more flexibility to the population and allows for the independents to be involved in the process.

The next step is to change rules which block progress in the Senate, especially in passing bipartisan bills. Right now, even a majority bipartisan bill can be stopped through the filibuster. Thus, the filibuster needs to either be restructured so that a Senator can make a case against it (although not necessarily blocking it completely) or removed from the political system.

Finally, the most important thing that can be done is on a personal level. Americans must realise that the government was made to be flexible and accommodate to change, and it has been changed many times throughout history. Nowhere in the Constitution is a two-party system mentioned, nor is the filibuster. America has seen similar problems in the past, and it has come out of them stronger and more adaptable.

Author: Cameron Ragsdale

Cameron Ragsdale is currently a senior at SAS and this is his first year reporting for The Eye. This is his 10th year in Singapore, having moved back and forth from Austin, TX, starting at the age of 6. He enjoys watching Breaking Bad for the 12th time and listening to music. You can reach him at ragsdale34890@sas.edu.sg

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