Sunday, February 03, 2008

Single issue coalitions as an electoral strategy

     Super Tuesday isn't still for a couple of days, but already, most of the big issues of our country have already been decided for us. Whether or not a Republican or a Democrat wins the Presidency, it seems that our government will remain in Iraq, that healthcare matters will still be controlled by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, that the military will still eat up a gigantic fraction of our tax dollars, that the American government will continue to pursue an aggressive and unilateral foreign policy, that homosexuals will still be denied their rights, that our voting system will remain ineffective, that media companies will continue to consolidate power, torture by government agents will still be considered a topic of debate, and judging by the complete lack of discussion on environmental matters we will continue to ignore the adverse effect that we are having on the environment. Let's face it, we lost the 2008 election. Our strategy does not work, and we desperately need a new one.

     It seems like the vast majority of educated Democratic voters (i.e., the ones who follow politics from reasonable sources, say, online) scrambled to distance themselves from the progressive candidates such as Kucinich and Edwards and jumped on the 'ship of viability' in order to 'win'. But what has this accomplished? Have we succeeded in advancing even one progressive issue? If you think so, please do tell.

     An idea of how to change this is the subject of this post. It's somewhat similar to my previous stated ideas about a Progressive Front but perhaps more realistic and achievable. The idea would be to pick a single progressive issue and attempt to unite as many progressive voters as we could behind that issue. We would try to organize as many people as possible to agree to not vote for any candidate who did not support this single issue. Outside of this single issue, it's up to each individual. But we strive for at least one issue with which to be united. To me it seems like if we do not focus our attention around one specific issue it's too easy for us as voters to get distracted, fragmented, and then race to the right-wing of the Democratic party where the corporate-funded,'viable' candidates are so that the even worse Republicans do not win.

     An obvious question would be, how do we pick the issue? Well, the best answer I have for that is that some of us get together, pick what we think is the best issue to unite behind, and hope to convince others to join us. Now a careful choice of this first issue may be result in this being easier than you might think. The issue I have in mind is IRV, or instant runoff voting. I think IRV is a very important electoral achievement that we could strive for. It would then allow for people who supported say, the Green party, to vote their conscience without worrying about whether they are 'helping' the Republicans win. Whether or not this would open up our political system to third-parties is debatable (money and advertising would still play a powerful role in the election process) but it would certainly force the Democrats to offer some real alternative to the Republicans. The 'secret weapon' behind choosing IRV as the first issue to test this strategy is this: as more and more of us agree to not vote for any candidate who doesn't support IRV there will be an increasing number of people who vote for Green or other third-parties instead of the Democrats (I'm supposing that initially the Democratic candidates don't support IRV). This will, in some states, put the Democrats in a position that they might lose to the Republicans without our votes (like what happened in Florida in 2000, not paying attention to the cheating of course). And this will put pressure on other Democrats to support IRV-backing candidates, even if they don't think that it's the most important issue or think that our strategy is worthwhile. In this respect, a couple of Republican wins over the Democrats due to third-party voters would be a huge boost to getting more people behind the issue and having it succeed. In addition, I think it's hard for someone to argue that IRV wouldn't be a good idea. In fact, there are libertarians on the other side of the spectrum that would be interested in this sort of change themselves. After achieving success with getting IRV passed, we would have demonstrated that single issue coalitions can actually make a difference and would continue with some other issue. But I think it's important that as voters we unite and force our government to fix a particular problem rather than be disorganized and have nothing of any value happen at all.

     This strategy is of course not restricted to electing a president, it would be applied to all elected offices. We would need a sympathetic Congress and House to help make IRV a reality. And of course, just like with the Progressive Front idea, an important part of this strategy would be to give ourselves visibility. We would need heavy blogger support, t-shirts, bumper stickers (e.g., 'I only vote for IRV candidates'), and the like to let our neighbors know what we are trying to accomplish. With enough funding we could pursue more ambitious outreach, such as newspaper ads.

     One of the biggest advocates out there for IRV is FairVote, whose influence and existing infrastructure could be used to launch this campaign if those who run it are interested in it. Then we as bloggers would help play a support role and could volunteer in the FairVote efforts. But I think it's important to not mix the issue with others issues (such as some of the other initiatives that FairVote sponsors), and this may require an independent organization to do so if it's impossible to do this within FairVote. We would need a website to allow people to 'sign up' (projecting our strength in numbers is crucial I think to success) and to organize the campaign (although this, in many respects, should be as decentralized as the efforts to impeach Cheney and Bush are from

     Okay, does anyone else think this is a good idea? Have a better one? Or are we just hopeless?



Mookie said...

I think if there is to be a single-issue voting strategy, it should be one that leads to greater representation and citizen participation - something like the NPV or something. The electoral college has bound our voting hands for quite some time. A lot of my friends here in TX feel that to vote for a non-red candidate might as well be not voting at all.

As it is now, candidates mostly campaign in states that have a lot of electoral points and a roughly-even split in voting habits, all but disenfranchising everyone else.

I can get behind a plan that leads to elected leaders becoming accountable to citizens again.

vjack said...

I think that Edwards was reasonably successful in injecting poverty into the campaign. Clearly, it did not go far enough, but I do not think it even would have been addressed without him.

I am skeptical that single-issue campaigns would rally enough supporters to make the sort of difference we need. Look at Iraq. Most Americans would like to see our involvement in Iraq end, but we ended up with a pool of candidates who do not seem particularly committed to making that happen anytime soon. The same could be said for impeachment.

I don't have any answers on this, and I share your frustration. It is easy to feel disenfranchised these days.

Delta said...


I agree. I don't know of any good arguments for the electoral college, from either side of the political spectrum. It certainly makes it such that many people in the country don't really get a vote at all.


Yes, Edwards did bring up notions of class and poverty, which I don't think would have been mentioned had it simply been Clinton and Obama.

You also make a good point about Iraq and impeachment. People are upset about these issues but do nothing, if not simply because of the fact that they don't know what to do. Sure, they could vote, but for who? They'd have to do a little digging to find someone, since these types aren't involved in the media coverage.

Thanks for the comments guys. I'm desperate to find something that I can do to improve the situation, although it's hard to figure out the best way to go about that.

libhom said...

Thanks for joining the blogswarm.