Tag Archives: American politics

Consider all the options to end America’s political dysfunction

10 Apr

Democracies have two fundamental constitutional choices they can make about the structure of their political system: whether to use a presidential or parliamentary system of government, and whether to use a plurality or proportional electoral system. When faced with a political crisis or chronic political dysfunction, critics of the existing system often propose pursuing one of the roads not taken. Unfortunately, they often forget that there are two choices to reconsider, not one.

For example, election law expert Rick Hasen explores in a new paper whether constitutional change from a presidential system to a parliamentary form of government is necessary to address political polarization in the United States (Seth Masket and Jonathan Bernstein both have nice writeups).

Hasen starts with the proposition that :

The partisanship of our political branches and mismatch with our structure of government raise this fundamental question: Is the United States political system so broken that we should change the United States Constitution to adopt a parliamentary system either a Westminster system as in the United Kingdom or a different form of parliamentary democracy? Such a move toward unified government would allow the Democratic or Republican parties to act in a unified way to pursue a rational plan on budget reform on other issues. Voters could then hold the party in power accountable if the programs its pursued were against voter preferences. It seems a more logical way to organize politics and insure that each party will have a chance to present its platform to the voters, to have that platform enacted, and to allow voters at the next election to pass on how well the party has managed the country.

Hasen examines four arguments against making this level of constitutional change to deal with our current political dysfunction. He rejects three of them as insufficient, but finds it too soon to reject the fourth. He thus advocates a wait-in-see attitude. Unfortunately, Hasen’s analysis is only half-complete because he only considers the choice between presidentialism and parliamentarism, but he fails to consider the equally choice of electoral system beyond the vague idea of “a different form of parliamentary democracy.”

I do not have any great insights to make about Hasen’s analysis, but I would like to see more consideration of the role of electoral systems in producing and reducing party polarization. If we are going to entertain the unlikely possibility of constitutional change, let us entertain all the options.

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