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Political Moneyball: America’s unfair elections and the Republicans’ art of winning them

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2016

Why does the US have only two main political parties? Is it because that’s what people want? Nope! It’s just an artifact of our system of voting. From C.G.P. Grey, a video explaining the problems with first-past-the-post voting systems (like the one used in US elections). Great simple explanation…well worth watching. Check out the rest of Grey’s videos in this series, particularly the one on gerrymandering.

Nothing in politics gets my blood boiling faster than gerrymandering…it is so grossly and obviously unfair. I bet you don’t even need to guess which of the two US political parties has pushed unfair redistricting in recent years.

More than anything for me, this is the story of politics in America right now: a shrinking and increasingly extremist underdog party has punched above its weight over the past few election cycles by methodically exploiting the weaknesses in our current political system. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, the passing of voter ID laws, and spreading propaganda via conservative and social media channels has led to disproportionate Republican representation in many areas of the country which they then use to gerrymander and pass more restrictive voter ID laws. They’ve limited potential conservative third party candidates (like Trump!) by incorporating them and their views into the main party. I would not be surprised if Republican donors strategically support left-of-center third-party candidates as spoilers — it’s a good tactic, underhanded but effective. They increasingly ignore political norms and practices to stymie Democratic efforts, like the general inaction of the Republican-led Congress over the past few years and the Senate’s refusal to consider Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

None of this is an accident. They are a small but (and this is important) unified team that works for the benefit of the group above all else. In football terms, the Democrats are the stronger team: they gain more yards (look at Clinton’s ever-growing lead in the popular vote), they earn more first downs, and they might even score more points over the course of the season. But the Republicans won the Super Bowl by sticking together and deftly pressing their advantages to change the rules of the game in their favor. It’s a Moneyball strategy, but for politics.1 By almost any measure, the US is more liberal than it was 20 years ago and yet we have an incoming administration which is potentially authoritarian, influenced and advised by extremist white nationalists, and unapologetically corruptible. Somehow, we need to make the game more fair again. Fairness and justice should not be partisan. Americans — all Americans, liberal, centrist, and conservative — deserve a fair political process that reflects as closely as possible the collective needs and desires of the citizenry. Anything less should be unacceptable.

Update: Ross Lincoln makes some similar points about the election and liberal majority in America in a series of tweets about the importance of talking about Clinton’s popular vote totals.

14) Meanwhile, the great lie told by GOPs is that they’re ‘real’ America and that they’re a true majority, not liberals.

15) So when they win, regardless of circumstances, press & even many ostensible liberals fall in line w/demands liberals stop being liberal.

16) That’s happening now bigly. Even the LA Weekly published a horrid little illiterate screed about how liberals suck. LA Weekly!

17) but here’s the thing: Hill’s campaign seriously erred in ignoring key swing states. But she still is getting a historic pop vote margin

18) pushing 3 million more votes than Trump got. Possibly going to have gotten more votes than Obama got in 2012.

19) by any reasonable standard of judgment, clear majority of voters did not want Trump in office and most of those voters wanted Hillary.

20) Trump literally won only thanks to a technicality. And yet everyone is trying to push this idea that liberal votes don’t really count.

21) we’re told *we* live in a bubble. But as other ppl have noted, Los Angeles looks a hell of a lot more like America than Sapulpa, OK.

22) before anyone accuses me of being a snooty coastal elite, I am from Sapulpa, OK.

23) if Dems reacted to winning E.C. but not pop vote by saying OK isn’t a real place and doesn’t count, there’d be riots and impeachment.

24) That’s literally what is happening to liberals. But we didn’t just win the pop vote b/c of a quirk. We won it BIG. There are more of us.

25) if anything, we’re the ignored majority. Not conservatives, who literally cannot win fair and square.

See also Steven Johnson’s piece about how the wealthiest, most liberal, and most urban states pay the most taxes and have the least representation.

  1. I mean, the fake news on Facebook…that is a genius Moneyball tactic. Instead of blowing a lot of cash on expensive national TV ads, they bought a ton of cheap propaganda that Facebook and conservative voters spread around for free (or very cheap).

    And do you recall the subtitle of Michael Lewis’s book? I didn’t until I just looked it up. It’s “The Art of Winning an Unfair Game”. I can’t think of a better description of our political system and what the Republicans have achieved over the past decade.

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