Gridlock… Dysfunction… Polarization…
Washington is broken, right?

Actually, Washington isn’t broken, it’s doing exactly what it’s designed to do – because it wasn’t designed for us, the citizens, the voters, the public interest. In other words, the problem is the design.

Two rules lie at the heart of today’s dysfunction:

1. Party Primaries
Most Congressional elections today are actually decided in the primary. The 10-20% of people who vote in party primaries tend to only agree on one thing: they want their side to win and not compromise with the other side. Candidates are forced to move further to partisan extremes just to make it out of their party primary.

The Primary Problem
courtesy of Unite America

2. General Election “Spoiler Problem”
In the general election when voters are only given the ability to express a single preference, voters are regularly discouraged from voting for any candidate other than the party primary winner out of fear that their vote might “spoil” the election. Party primary winners therefore only need to be chosen as the “lesser of two evils” on the general election ballot, thereby reducing competition and accountability for results.

Current State – Unhealthy Competition
In the current system, if congresspeople do their jobs by acting in the public interest, they’re likely to lose their jobs.

Public interest graphic

Copyright 2020 © Katherine M. Gehl and Michael E. Porter

This combination of party primaries and single-choice voting creates a system that institutionalizes dysfunction and gridlock by incentivizing politicians to stake out and maintain extreme positions. To reverse these perverse incentives, we must make the general election the most important election, ensuring accountability lies with the widest swath of the electorate.