Our nationalized winner-take-all election system collapses our big, diverse country into just two hyper-partisan political parties caught in a doom loop of hatred and gridlock. This binary “us vs. them” politics creates total war between the parties, escalates the stakes for each election, and incentivizes politicians and partisan media to dangerously dehumanize “the other side.”
To put it bluntly: this scorched-Earth style of partisan politics encourages gridlock, not governing.
Furthermore, our antiquated election rules ensure that the vast majority of House districts are completely safe for one party. This prevents millions of Americans, including many minority communities, from having any voice at all in the halls of power. Are you a left-leaning progressive living in a deep red district? Tough luck. Maybe you’re a center-right conservative living in a big, blue city? You’re out of luck too. This is the broken system we are forced to live with in America.
This broken system also opens the door to partisan gerrymandering, which allows politicians to rig districts and win more seats for their party even while getting fewer votes. And it prevents additional parties from forming without fear of becoming “spoilers.”
Democracy in America has reached a crisis point: anti-democratic forces have taken over one of the two major parties and are working to undermine faith in our elections, suppress the vote, and weaponize gerrymandering to preserve minority rule. Without significant reform, these problems will only get worse.
The two maps below reveal the problems with single-member districts and demonstrate how proportional representation could work instead, using a recently proposed congressional map in Wisconsin as an example:
In our current binary, “us vs. them” system, parties and politicians succeed by ginning up outrage and stoking fear about the other side winning. In a multiparty system, there is no single “other” side. Parties have to compete with each other and have far stronger incentives to stand for something and articulate who they would work with on different issues—not simply who they are against.
Proportional representation ensures all voters have real representation, including the many Democrats living in “red” districts, the many Republicans living in “blue” districts, and the many independents and third-party supporters who currently feel they have no voice at all.
With larger districts sending multiple representatives each to Congress, partisan politicians lose the ability to carve their states up into “safe” and “swing” districts to benefit their own side. Additionally, multi-member districts would eliminate “packing and cracking”—the practice of politicians diluting the collective power of minority groups by concentrating them all together or separating their communities by drawing district lines through them.
In our current House, compromise between the two parties is almost non-existent. However, under proportional representation, compromise is essential. Because outright majorities are rare, no single party is seduced by the lure of a permanent majority or lives in fear of permanent minority status. Instead, a multiparty democracy would facilitate coalition-building with the shifting alliances and bargaining that the Framers envisioned.
Instead of representatives being chosen in divisive, low-turnout primaries that reward the most combative partisan politics, under proportional representation different ideological factions would feel empowered to run candidates under their own party banners, no longer living under the fear of being a “spoiler.” This change would in turn spark higher-turnout general elections in which voters feel more engaged by parties that more closely represent them. And because every vote is now cast in a competitive district, parties will invest in and compete for votes across the country.