We citizens have an overwhelmingly low opinion of our Congressmen and women. January’s Congress’ disapproval rating was 71% according to Statistica, a consumer data company. One thing that drives that disapproval is the fact that they seem to vote by party. The Cook Political Report tells us that even in the most competitive districts and states, Congress members voted differently than their party only 7.5% of the time. It seems impossible that after facts are brought out, all Democrats see it one way and all Republicans see it the other. The reason this happens is that if you stray from the party mandate, you will be punished. Party officials will find someone to run against you who is more liberal if you are a Democrat or more conservative if you are a Republican. The party will send in tons of money to support that new candidate, and you are out. The reality of this lack of freedom to be your own man or woman is undoubtedly the reason nine Senators have either retired or have announced they will not run again, and 36 House members are also quitting.
Despite having low expectations for Congress, most of us give much higher marks to our own Senator or Congress person. That is because we know much more about them and we see that they are a decent man or woman. So perhaps the problem is not the people of Congress, but the system by which Congress is elected and the processes by which they operate. I believe the problems are the product of the tyranny of our political parties. We are among only a few of the world’s democracies who have just two parties. If you are an extreme conservative or an extreme liberal, one of the parties represents you. But a recent Gallup poll shows that now 50% of all American voters are not affiliated with either party and most of us do not fall into either extreme. Most often the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and that includes the beliefs of most Americans.
Political parties, which our founders warned us about, are determined to have their way. It is hard to swallow the recent quotes by a party chair in Pennsylvania. He said, “we didn’t send him (Senator Pat Toomey) to “do the right thing or vote his conscience.”
Predicting the future is difficult. Chances are, you will be wrong as often as right given the rate of change in the world. In America, when citizens overwhelmingly want change, it happens. So, I feel confident in predicting that we will change the current system, which is simply not working.
We can learn a lot about how the future might look by studying Alaska. Alaska has ranked choice voting. The way it works is that candidates with deep support are favored by the system over those who have strong but less deep support. More moderate candidates who are likely to thwart party mandates and vote to “do the right thing or vote their conscience” are favored in this system. In the case of Alaska’s Senator Lisa Murkowski, she lost the Republican nomination, but she ran as an independent and won easily. Thus, she can thumb her nose at Republican extremists….and she often does. In Alaska 55% of voters are independent.
In fact, in states that register voters by party, over half see independents outnumbering one party. Eight other states, Colorado, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, all have more independents than either party.
So, I predict that the system will change based on the strong desire by voters to have a Congress who puts constituents before their political party. Ranked choice voting will likely be coming to Colorado soon. Perhaps more states will also adopt ranked choice voting and the result will give Congress members the freedom to vote their conscience and to do the right thing. After all, that is really what we want them to do.
Jim Rohrer of Evergreen is a business consultant and author of the bi-books “Improve Your Bottom Line … Develop MVPs Today” and “Never Lose Your Job … Become a More Valuable Player.” Jim’s belief is that common sense is becoming less common. (More about Jim at www.theloyaltypartners.com.)