Is our government really representing its people?

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Adam Zientarski’s opinion does not represent the opinion of the TPE Post or TPE foundation.

Throughout history, minorities in race, religion, gender, and ideas struggled to be represented in Congress and given equal rights as the ruling majority. Despite the progress that the United States made in the 20th century, minorities still go without many privileges that the majority of Caucasians enjoy.  African Americans in the United States, according to congressional law, have the same rights as everyone else. However, many African Americans suffer from poor housing and a high unemployment rate in some areas. Homosexuals are still not allowed to marry in many states, denying them access to their partner’s healthcare, leaving them uninsured and completely vulnerable to disease. Many citizens of Muslim dissent are constantly discriminated against and are even racially profiled by government agencies in the transportation industry. With the current political system in the United States, it is extremely difficult for a minority’s opinion to be heard, and even more difficult for effective legislature to run its course through Congress to ratification. The two-party system in the United States needs to be replaced with a more flexible multi-party system because it represents minority views in the government effectively.

The United States political system is classified as a “two-party” system. A two-party system simply means that only two large party blocks control the position of president, senate, and house seats. In the case of the United States, the two parties in the political system are the conservative Republicans and the liberal Democrats. The two parties, at their core, have two completely contrasting ideologies.  The Republicans are traditionally for lower taxes and loose regulation on the economy and businesses. The party’s ethical principles are very closely related to Christian morals. It is not uncommon for the Republican Party to sacrifice the environment or the average citizen’s tax dollars to protect corporations. On the other side, the Democrats are in favor of a larger government that spends money trying to improve numerous government projects and agencies. Liberals also would like to tax and regulate businesses more. The Democrats are also more socially conscious to the issues described in the first paragraph and do a much better job of representing minorities.

The 2012 presidential election is right around the corner.  Many voters consider themselves independent and will be faced with four choices. They can vote for Republicans knowing that the party might more closely follow their beliefs on the economy or they can vote for Democrats knowing that their fellow man will have a better chance of acquiring the rights that he has been denied. Their other options are to not vote or vote for a third party (effectively a throw-away vote). Even the so-called Caucasian privileged majority is forced to choose the lesser of the two party’s evils. A Caucasian voter may think that since none of the social conflicts that the Democrats are much better at representing actually affect them, it is only in their best interest to vote Republican because they gain no social benefit. In a recent poll of 15,000 Americans by Ramussen Reports, 34.9% identify with the Democratic Party and 34.3% identify with the Republican Party. The other roughly one-third of the voters are either independent or identify with a small third party. Neither of the two large parties holds a majority of voters until the actual election is held, when the rest of the independents are forced to pick one party or the other because the American media only publicizes the two major parties. However, the label of “two-party” is a bit misleading. The United States political structure does allow for additional parties. Such parties include the Green Party, Libertarian Party, and even the Communist Party. Many attempts have been made, but none of these parties gained enough traction to propel their candidates anywhere close to winning elections. A small handful of independent candidates have managed to get placed into congressional or governor positions (most times after they were elected under either a democrat or republican banner and later converted to an independent while in office). The closest independent candidate to win the presidency was Ross Perot in the 1992 election, where he received 18.9% of the popular vote, but no electoral college votes. While 18.9% of the popular vote is a very large portion that should not be ignored, the way the two-party system is structured does not allow that 18.9% of the voters to be represented in the government.

Another common political structure exists called the multi-party system. The multi-party system is friendlier to smaller parties because the system awards seats to parties relative to how much of the percentage of the vote that party takes in the election. Awarding seats to parties in this manner usually results in around 5 to 6 different parties being represented instead of only two parties. In most multi-party countries, citizens are no longer voting for a candidate that associates themselves with a party but for the party itself. In the multi-party system, a party cannot rule unless it truly gained a majority of the vote. For example, in an election, Party A receives 35% of the popular vote while the second place Party B receives 30%. The remainder of the popular vote is spilt between other smaller parties. Even though Party A won the most amount of votes, it still does not earn the right to govern the country because it does not hold a 51% majority of the vote. In order for Party A to govern the country, it must form a coalition with one or more of the other parties to gain 51% of the votes. While in many multi-party systems there are two dominant parties, the other smaller parties that gain enough votes to hold seats can hold significant power over the other two parties in the result of a close vote on new legislation or a tie.

In most of the elections under the multi-party system, the party winning the most votes does not win the majority of votes, forcing them to consider views of minority parties. When coalitions must be formed to gain majority, the minority parties become the customer and the majority party must sell their ideology to them and create an agreement that will ensure that some of both parties’ legislation goals will be met. The coalitions that are formed are not permanent, and they only last as long as the term, unlike the Republican and Democrat parties in the United States two-party system. These parties have existed for over 100 years with relatively unchanged economic and social policies. Recreating coalitions as needed at the beginning of each term provides more opportunities for minority views to play a part in the government.

Germany is an example of a country with a multi-party system of government. Since the reunification of Germany, the government has seen a steady increase in the number of non-German representatives in the legislature resulting in an increase in minority related laws. Germany’s Green party was responsible for revising the Citizen’s Act—legislation pertaining to the naturalization of immigrants—not once but twice in a five year period to help migrants gain German citizenship (Donovan). The Green Party continues to find success by appealing to the large Turkish population and other minorities in Germany. The success that the Green Party had in fighting for the rights of minorities also forced the two majority parties to adopt better policies for minorities because they lost voters.

Opponents of the multi-party system reference that the fragmentation of the two major political blocks will create an unstable government that will not pass legislature in a timely manner. In Michigan, an anti-bullying law is finally set to be passed that requires all schools to adopt an anti-bullying policy, making it easier for cases of bullying to be prevented and tried in court if the incidents persist. The legislature, first introduced in 2006, will be signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder by the end of 2011—a full five years after it was introduced. Five years is a very long time to leave a first world country’s innocent children unprotected from bullying. Bullying is major problem and continues to be publicized as more teens commit suicide due to bullying every year. The National Association of School Psychologists found that approximately 3.2 million students are the victims of bullying each year and that school officials only intervene in 4% of occurrences (Canter). While it cannot be certain that lives would have been saved, passing the law in a timely manner would have certainly cut down on the number of incidents because the law holds schools accountable for enforcing anti-bullying policies. The lag in passing this important bill is caused by a two-party system that creates a polarization of views that is even more dangerous than the fragmentation that is suggested by the multi-party system. When the number of seats that each party holds in the legislature is close to equal, the polarization can become even more fatal. At one point in 2010, there were 290 bills that passed in the House but stalled in the Senate because of party differences and internal party conflicts (Rushing). The causes that affect how it takes for laws to get ratified cannot be pinpointed onto one specific government structure. Many factors go into how long the legislative process takes besides the political system. For instance, the size of the government plays a large part in how long it takes for laws to be passed. Even though a country may follow a two-party or multi-party system, each country has its own set of specific laws which outline the process for passing laws. Countries with multi-party systems can decrease the fragmentation that is bound to occur when more than two parties are involved by altering the legal threshold required to gain representation. Too low of a threshold allows many parties to hold seats in the legislature, while too high of a threshold creates a winner take all system. Germany encountered this issue shortly after reunification, but tweaked its threshold to remedy having too little representation (Fesnic). Denmark is also a prime example of a multi-party system. The number of minority politicians in the government is above average compared to other countries, and in some municipalities, minorities are actually overrepresented (Togeby 331).

The economy is always one of the hot issues every election. The two-party system built the United States into the largest economy in the world and the country and is going on over 200 years of existence. How is a stable government defined? The economy of the United States shows a mostly upward trend over the past 100 years, showing that it is very stable economically. But the economy is not the only factor in determining how stable a government is. A somewhat humorous, yet extremely distressing, article the Huffington Post published in November 2011 found that Congress’s approval rating had reached a record low of 9% over the years according to a Times Magazine Poll. The article then goes on to note how a recent Gallup poll found that about 11% of Americans viewed polygamy as accepted and 30% of Americans thought that pornography was acceptable (Horowitz). Also, the number of incidents of social unrest has almost doubled since the number of incidents in the 1980’s and 1990’s. A government, regardless of structure, cannot possibly be viewed as stable if the majority of the government’s citizens disapprove of it, because a government holds its power in the consent of the people to be governed.

Opponents of the multi-party system also argue that the system harbors an environment that promotes parties to be formed based on religion, ethnicity, and perhaps even extremist views. The belief is that allowing parties based on race or religion will lead to legislation that will discriminate against other races or religions. In reality, what the opponents to the two-party system fear has already been happening for years. The Republican Party in the United States draws a lot of its values from various forms of Christianity and many of its party members are opposed to marriage between homosexuals or, at the very least, domestic partnership. In this case, homosexuals are discriminated against because of an ideology of a party that heavily follows supposed Christian morals. It is impossible for a minority party to become the majority unless millions of people immigrated to a country overnight. The representation that any minority party receives is still small. The multi-party system only provides more opportunity for the minority to have a voice.

Regardless of party system, governments are only as good as the representatives that they employ. Both systems are susceptible to corruption and abuse when loopholes are used to gain political leverage. Both systems have disadvantages, but strictly speaking of social issues and minority representation, the multi-party system is by far more effective than the two-party system. The two-party system is narrow minded, sticking to the “us vs. them” mentality that is further perpetuated by the absence of proportional distribution of legislature seats to popular vote received. The multi-party system allows more parties to be represented in the legislature process which forces law-makers to work together and prevents the polarization of views that the two-party system harbors. Minorities will never win all the battles they fight because they are still the minority. The multi-party system is not only more suited to represent minority views, but is also impressive when it comes to the actual number of representatives in the legislature with a minority background. The multi-party system also provides them more opportunity to be represented, creating a more stable government socially and unity between different cultures and ideas.

 

Works Cited

Canter, Andrea, and Andrea Cohn. “Bullying: Facts for Schools and Parents.” NASP Resources. National Association of School Psychologists, 7 Oct. 2003. Web. 6 Dec. 2011. <http://www.nasponline.org/resources/factsheets/bullying_fs.aspx>.

Donovan, Barbara. “’Minority’ Representation in Germany, German Politics.” 2007. 16:4. 455-480. 6 Dec. 2011.

Fesnic, Florin. “Proportional Representation.” Encyclopedia of U.S. Campaigns, Elections, and Electoral Behavior. 2008. SAGE Publications. 8 Dec. 2011. <http://sage-ereference.com.proxy.lib.umich.edu/view/campaigns/n349.xml>.

Horowitz, Alana. “Congress Approval Rating Lower Than Porn, Polygamy, BP Oil Spill, ‘U.S. Going Communist’ (VIDEO).” Huff Post Politics. N.p., 16 Nov. 2011. Web. 6 Dec. 2011. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/16/congress-approval-rating-porn-polygamy_n_1098497.html>.

“Partisan Trends: Democrats Up in November.” Rasmussen Reports. Rasmussen Reports, LLC, 1 Dec. 2011. Web. 6 Dec. 2011. <http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/mood_of_america/partisan_trends>.

Rushing, J. Taylor. “Senate sitting on 290 bills already passed by House; tension mounts.” The Hill. News Communications, Inc., 23 Feb. 2010. Web. 6 Dec. 2011. <http://thehill.com/homenews/house/83059-senate-sitting-on-290-house-bills>.

Togeby L. “The political representation of ethnic minorities: Denmark as a deviant case.” 2008. Party Politics, 14 (3). 325-343. 7 Dec. 2011.

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