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Single Issue Voting: A Thought Experiment on the 2012 Election

By Rob Hager  Posted by George Flower (about the submitter)     Permalink
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The Republican Party has been pushed off the old political charts into the new territory of the "looney right" by Obama's occupation of most of their former positions in service to plutocrats on the far right. The only exceptions are those identity issues that have no bearing on the class allocation of wealth and power and on which the moneyed Republicans are stuck dancing with the unpopular minority that brung 'em: their "value voters" allies that money mobilizes to make the rich richer and the rest poorer, including the hapless value voters themselves. 

In a word, progressives, spurred on by the more partisan than principled "professional Progressive Movement," helped elect a neoliberal2 with some modest tolerance for diversity, just like the ruling class that hired him. See Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank, eds., Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (2012); Andrew Kreig, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters (2012); Roger D. Hodge, Mendacity of Hope: Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism (2010). The progressive and liberal majorities that currently exist on any given issue therefore remain unrepresented on the new re-adjusted Obama-era political spectrum that offers policy options all the way from right-of-center or far-right to the looney right. 

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2. Imagine. Given this limited choice between two parties, both of which serve their big political investors and are therefore incapable of enacting majority-supported policies opposed by those investors, the thought experiment goes like this:

What if progressives and other members of the movement Chris Hedges describes as those "who have as deep a revulsion for Democrats as they do for Republicans," rather than voting their fears or otherwise throwing their vote away, had in 2012 organized themselves into a swing voting bloc to mobilize and vote exclusively for real change on the single issue that determines everything else -- money in politics or, in Obama-speak, "how Washington does business?"

Could such a strategy have stopped Obama from 'going to China?'

The U.S. first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system rewards swing voters just as much as it punishes third-party voters. In such a system, third-party voting in any one election tends to be futile, splitting the base of the least disfavored (LOTE) party. Third-party voting helps elect its least favored of the two parties, but gets nothing but an expensive symbol of dissent and a footnote in history for its effort. If its goal were to win, the more than 33% vote required by a third party to win a general election would be enough to have made a successful primary challenge against the LOTE party regulars. That is a preferable strategy because primary turnouts can be exceedingly low, and therefore vulnerable to an organized voting bloc. Many who vote the party and not the candidate will supplement the primary winner's strength to add up to a potential victory in the general election. 

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Explaining his decision to join the Democrats, and walk away with their 1934 primary for California Governor, former Socialist Party candidate and muckraking author Upton Sinclair said: "Fifty percent of the people are going to vote a certain ticket because their grandfathers voted that ticket. In order to get anywhere, it is necessary to have a party which has grandfathers." Upton Sinclair, I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked (1935; reprint, 1994) 7. It took "nothing less than a revolution," the invention of the first full-blown political-propaganda campaign funded by plutocrats, and supported by the likes of William Randolph Hearst and LA Times' publisher Harry Chandler, Hollywood's Irving Thalberg,  and Louis B. Mayer, to keep Sinclair below 45% of the two-party vote. Greg Mitchell, The Campaign of the Century: Upton Sinclair's Race for Governor of California and the Birth of Media Politics (1992) xi-xii.

If the goal of a third party is to lose, but in doing so punish the LOTE party to make it more responsive in the future, there is a more effective way to do that too. Voters willing to swing between the two parties, rather than avoid them both, double their power over both parties. They subtract a vote from one party and add it to the other, for a two-vote impact on the victory margin. Unorganized independents currently occupy this powerful position. A third-party voter or non-voter just subtracts one vote from the party whose "base" they abandon, or might have joined, without adding a vote to its nearest opponent. Therefore attracting a swing voter is always twice as valuable for the two parties than merely retaining or recruiting a new partisan "base" voter. For this reason FPTP systems inherently tend to divide voters into two parties that contest primarily over the undecided nonpartisan centrist voters who swing between the two parties, and therefore govern as nearly identical centrists.  FPTP elections tend therefore to be very closely contested. The narrower the electoral margin of victory, the more powerful are the few swing voters who can determine the outcome of an election with only a small percentage of the vote. 

When an FPTP voting system is operated by two corrupt parties, as has been legalized in the US since 1976, the "center" of the policy spectrum is where the money falls, since the policies promoted by the "money-stream media" and actually implemented (as opposed to merely promised) by both parties all overlap there. On issues of money -- and the power to keep it -- both parties rule from this "center" where they contest for a share of money in politics, which money is spent largely to attract independents. 

Third parties without money are completely marginalized in such a system. Paid propaganda works -- whether for pepsi, coke, or plutocracy. The sporadic third party that has money is either wasting that money on a strategically defective tactic, or being manipulated to undercut a two-party candidate, or both.

The two corrupt parties appease their "base" voters at their respective ends of the political spectrum when out of power with insincere leadership or by making campaign promises to be honored when in power merely by word or symbolic gesture. Pres. Obama, a consummate practitioner of these political arts, sells his base the wisp of difference in the theatrics with which he embraces the economic policies of the other party. As the always astute commentator David Sirota put it, "Obama embodies a cynical ploy -- one that relies on a celebrity-entranced electorate focusing more on TV-packaged rhetoric than on legislative reality."

Money is not the only way to reach swing voters. Voters whose political priorities are known to them and who are uninfluenced by paid propaganda, if freed from partisan loyalty to such political theatrics and united as an organized single-issue voting (SIV) bloc, can define a new center where the money does not fall.

Such an organized bloc of progressive SIV voters could have credibly threatened defeat for the feckless or fraudulent incumbent Obama by pledging to vote for his nearest opponent, if necessary, rather than passively accept the same old alternatives of casting a) an ineffective, if not counterproductive, vote for a third party, b) a hopeful but later regretted LOTE vote for an Obama, or c) either boycotting in protest or ignoring the election (in a false dichotomy) "to organize around their causes."

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Lacking such a threat of organized opposition from progressives, Obama demonstrated their "futility and irrelevance" by delivering nothing to them prior to his re-election in exchange for their votes or neutrality. Because LOTE voters were not organized, Obama was not forced to even make any significant campaign promises to them in 2012. He ran as the not-Republican. The lies about change from Republican policies he told to get elected in 2008 were unnecessary, if any longer believable, in 2012. Nothing of credible importance to progressives was heard, other than Obama's gingerly prodding of popular identity issues and talk about taxing the rich -- which he also talked about in 2008, but failed to do in 2009 when he had the votes in Congress. It is clear that Obama's support for slightly increased taxes on the rich is little more than easily reversed camouflage for the irreversible weakening of the iconic safety-net programs Obama has been hired by Wall Street to deliver as the latest example of "Nixon-goes-to-China" politics.

A progressive SIV bloc of sufficient size could have bargained with Obama for change of the corrupt system that he has mastered and which determines his policy actions. Such an SIV bloc might have sought at least a firm promise -- such as about a future Supreme Court appointee committed to overturn the Court's jurisprudence of plutocracy -- if not a specific concrete action prior to the election, such as submitting to Congress and zealously supporting its approval of a comprehensive bill to get money out of politics. Or preferably both alternatives, plus more.

Although in the world of professional activism the "campaign-finance reform" issue may inhabit its own isolated fund-raising silo, in fact money in politics underlies nearly all dysfunctional public policies and will remain the single paramount obstacle to effective change of those policies until it is eliminated. Inequality and jobs, mortgage and finance, climate, environment, energy, taxes, trade and immigration, foreign policy, perpetual war and the MIC, social security, education, health industry, prison industry, agribusiness, telecoms, and every other aspect of American life where potential profit touches public policy is rigged. The universal spoils system of money in politics turns every policy against the public interests of citizens and consumers for the profit of the private interests who pay the rent.

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