Is America's political divide caused by its political process?

Republicans and Democrats seem to be permanently slinging mud at each other. I’m talking about going well beyond the usual political sniping. The Presidential election has been going on for at least 18 months and gets repeated every 4 years, and there are Representative elections every other year (and Senatorial elections too). So politically, America’s pretty much in a state of war. That cannot be good for the country. Parliamentary democracies like the U.K., Canada, and NZ seem to get their elections over in a month or two, then everyone settles back.

What do you think?

Well, we certainly do have mud-slinging on an epic scale here in the UK, but we do have the advantage of having a democratic means of resolving institutional conflicts: a Government majority, the constitutional superiority of the elected House over the unelected one, and at a pinch provision for early elections.

It can be said this leaves too much advantage in the hands of the Government but it’s balanced by the Government alone being responsible for what happens on their watch - they can’t blame the Opposition for blocking them as that rarely happens.

I would say that the US political system exacerbates the popular divide, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it causes it. Everything is targeted toward winning elections, and since 50.00001% is as good a win as 100%, there isn’t much incentive to compromise.

Bringing more minority opinion into positions of power would be a good start. I personally think a much larger House of Representatives with proportional representation would be a good start.

Agreed… I think the “national character” is also involved: we aren’t a people who takes defeat well. We never give up. Our judicial system, for instance, involves layer after layer of appeal. Convicted? Appeal. Lost a suit? Appeal. It never ends. Same with divisive issues: abortion? Gay rights? Never give up; keep fighting through every possible avenue. We’re hyper-stubborn, and our system reflects this.

Yes and no… We have lots of weird “supermajoritan” rules. The Filibuster, for instance. Or intricate zoning regulations that make it harder than hell to build a new bowling alley. Sometimes, 50%+ isn’t enough, and you need 66.7% or more.

This is one of the reasons California is in such a stinking mess: we wrote laws that require 2/3 of the legislature before any taxes can be raised. Since this can’t happen – but since Californians insist on the full level of government services – we’re well and truly screwn. “We the People” insist that 2 + 2 = 20, and we cry like babies when it doesn’t work.

I tend to think the American political divide, in the sense of the more or less accepted existence of two distinct camps and where the dividing line falls, is the result of the two-party system. The American system creates coalitions within parties, as people with differing interests compete to steer the agenda of the party. The big difference between this an a parliamentary system is that your own particular interest group is more or less shackled to your party and so the coalitions are much longer lived. As a result, political relationships that might have been originally forged for convenience get internalized.

For example, take modern American conservatives. I would argue the relationship between what we now call economic and social conservatism started out simply as a relationship of convenience, but as that relationship persisted over the decades the link has become cemented and the two almost always go hand in hand. Ditto with the labor movement and civil rights factions of the Democratic Party.

This in turn feeds into the whole “us vs. them” mentality. In a two-party system, your electoral aims are either in direct alignment or direct opposition to the same bunch of people in election after election. It’s a little harder to break down if large numbers of people identify with smaller parties who aren’t all in zero sum opposition to each other and who routinely change who they work with for political expediency.

The trouble, though, is that (IMO) if we broke up these alliances and every special interest had its own party and representation – the Abortion Rights Party; the Pro-Life Party; the Greens; Labor; Animal Rights; the Jesus First party, etc. – then there would be a lot of (hellish!) swapping going on.

I might sell out women’s issues to promote environmental issues; another guy might sacrifice separation of church and state in order to put forward his support of nuclear power; someone else might sacrifice on Voter ID laws to get more oil drilling done.

It would be not only a free-for-all, but one based on compromise, to the degree of betrayal. Small parties would end up being decisive – the tail wagging the dog – as coalitions adding up to 49% scrape like hell to get just enough votes to put their agenda over the top.

I will never forget the horrible years in Israel, with two large parties having 47% and 48% of the Knesset, and the tiny religious conservative parties, having the necessary 3% to make a majority. Those little pukes ruled the roost; they got everything they ever wanted, simply by threatening to defect and make a new coalition with the other guys.

I think that the five-week campaigns we have here in Canada are possible mainly because there’s less power (and by extension money) at stake in our elections.

I’d predict that the political divide is going to be here for the foreseeable future and I roll my eyes at naive folks who think that it can be easily eliminated. However, I do have one suggestion that would improve the political process and the election process.

Scrap the current primary system. Instead, both parties should have a national primary scheduled exactly four weeks before the election.

There’s really no benefit at all to having seven or eight months separating the primaries from the real election. In all that time, it’s inevitable that people will grow bored with repeating the same talking points and attention will drift to stupid insult-hurling matches. If we had only a four-week contest between the two major candidates, we’d have a debate during every week, so most of the attention would be focused on what got said at the debate. A shorter election season would mean less times for candidates to make gaffes, thus eliminating another source of distraction. Lastly if they didn’t have to blanket the airwaves for months on end, they’d have less need for money.

For Presidential politics, I don’t see anything grossly wrong with the process. While people like to complain about the Electoral College, it produces the same result as a direct popular vote almost every time. So changing the E.C. would not affect the partisanship we’re seeing now. We’re a large, diverse democracy–you’re going to see big differences of opinions.

For Congressional politics, I think the prevalence of gerrymandering is a huge distortion. The House is supposed to mirror the populace, but it does not. Instead we get a very skewed picture of us. This needs to be fixed (in any number of ways). Of course, there’ll still be obnoxious Congressional fights even without gerrymandered districts. But most Americans prefer practical compromises over ideological purity (large majorities in every poll I’ve seen) and a reflective Congress would take that into account (unlike our recent Congresses).

No way to know, but I think this wouldn’t work. There would be some other form of pre-sorting. Maybe an extended round of debates; maybe a bunch of internet balloting. It’s too useful to the candidates. They get exposure, and they get to jockey for position.

A simple, straight-up primary, of the sort you describe, would probably have put Rick Perry forward as the candidate. We’d have lost the drama (and humor!) of the “rotating front-runner” affair – which was useful, as it sequentially eliminated the would-be candidates who were revealed to be grievously unfit for office.

The “Free Market” would re-invent some similar process.

Yea, I think this is the main reason for the US’s disfunction. The over-abundence in checks and balances (particularly the Presidential being from a different party then the legislature and the Senatorial filibuster) means that no party is ever really able to win an election, enact their platform and then take responsibility for the results.

Instead we get a bunch of finger-pointing, and accusations about what the other guy would do if they really got their ditherers. This would make a lot less sense in a Parlimentary system, where the things that the candidates “really” want to do is the things they are doing, and the people responsible for those things is the party that enacted them.

The US system seems designed to obfuscate who exactly wants what, and the result is a seemingly endless opportunity for the other party to fill in the blanks with accusations of secret-communists or heartless plutocrats.

The US political is very divided and always been that way with blue states mostly city and red states suburbs , towns and country. The south mostly red states and north east and west coast blue states.

Where in Europe and Canada popular vote swings from minority government 40% to 80% or more where in the US geography it locked and swings 40% to 55%

This may have do with sates feel other states telling them what to do thus feel the need for state to to represent them. The red states hate the blue states and the blue states hate the red states.Where in Europe and Canada it more nation than geography of nation thus US is very divided .