Is the American electoral system balkanized?

Is the American electoral system balkanized?

  • Conversations about the balkanization of American politics are marked by anxiety and uncertainty
  • Both political parties need to forcefully reject this harmful fallacy
  • The American electoral system calls for a new paradigm

The balkanization of the American political/electoral system has been one of the salient issues in presidential campaigns. Presidential candidates cozy up to the ethnic and/or racial groups that would most benefit them in terms of voting patterns and electoral victories.

The balkanization of the American electoral process, dividing ethnic and/or racial minorities into competing and, most of the time, conflicting electoral entities, will eventually and irreparably damage the American social fabric, if it hasn’t done so.

Conversations about the balkanization of American politics are marked by anxiety and uncertainty.

In “Each front-runner hits a hurdle,” an article  published in the April 6 issue of the Wall Street Journal, the authors write: “Democratic voting patterns mirrored those of many prior contests, with Mrs. Clinton building large margins among African-Americans and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders carrying younger voters, independents and liberals. In a state heavy on liberals and light on minority voters, the voting pool included far more of Mr. Sanders’s base voters than traditional Clinton supporters.” They continue, “Mrs. Clinton retained her hold on nonwhite voters, particularly African-Americans. Some 84% of voters in Wisconsin’s Democratic primary were white, exit polls showed, compared with 74% in Ohio.”

In the Republican presidential primaries, balkanization has taken a different configuration in which the supposedly angry and alienated dwindling white majority is seduced and misled by candidates who are zealously mischaracterizing and inflating America’s political and socioeconomic difficulties.

Balkanization (Lebanon is one example) creates a different trajectory for democratic societies. It causes deep divisions among ethnic and/or racial minorities and the proliferation of unmerited entitlements. Furthermore, it creates an “us vs. them” mentality that generates tension, distrust, and antagonism.

America is already one of the most racially and ethnically diverse nations in history. Adding another layer of political and electoral discord and conflict will exacerbate the growing polarization and political gridlock. The assumption that there must be winners and losers is antithetical to what tens of millions of students are being taught (but not consistently practiced) at American schools.

The overwhelming majority of African-Americans vote for Democratic candidates because the latter repeat ad nauseum what millions of disaffected and struggling African-Americans want to hear. On the other hand, Republican candidates blatantly exploit the bitterness and anger of low-income and unemployed white voters who would otherwise distance themselves from those unabashed scammers.

Moreover, Democratic candidates frequently hurl slogans supporting immigration (legal and illegal) just to woo Latino voters without seriously considering the long-term implications of such a comprehensive policy. Republican candidates advocate family and moral values and blame Liberals for the moral decay of the United States. They frantically pursue the Latino vote believing that Latino families are morally upright. However, Latino families compete with African-American families in terms of being dysfunctional and disintegrated.

Both political parties need to forcefully reject this harmful fallacy.

It is difficult to imagine that both Republicans and Democrats are cultivating this absurdity thinking that catering to a certain ethnic and/or racial minority will end up hurting no one. They also believe that this fatuity will somehow benefit the general population. This masquerade has clearly outlived its usefulness.

The current system favors political pundits and statisticians who eagerly construct electoral models to coopt a certain minority group at the expense of another, as if voters were pawns or numbers in this monumental chess game. We are also well aware of the nefarious consequences of this state of affairs, pitting minority and other groups against each other.

Unfortunately, balkanization plays a dominant role in structuring the political debate and electoral calculus. It also spurs the fragmentation of American society and the evolution of competing and conflicting interests that eviscerate and dilute the overarching vision and purpose of the American experiment.

The American electoral system calls for a new paradigm. This new paradigm, among other much-needed reforms, must be much more than electoral redistricting or short-lived strategies or a new set of ill-conceived policies that would eventually undermine the very change that it intends to accomplish.

This paradigm shift would trigger the creation of a completely new worldview that would define the fundamental features of the American political and electoral landscape. Political parties in the US need to develop comprehensive political and socioeconomic platforms that take into account the general welfare of the country.

Stronger and effective political parties are a necessity if we are serious about reversing the balkanization of the American society. Party identification is the linchpin of our electoral democracy. Furthermore, partisanship stimulates political participation and voting choice.

Partisanship might carry a negative connotation because of communist and/authoritarian regimes which are heavily based on tight partisanship. Moreover, partisans become the bulwark upon which the survival of the regime hinges on.  However, this notion needs to be challenged.

According to a study on political parties and democracy, political parties form a pivotal institution in a healthy democracy. Without well-functioning parties, governments and legislatures have little chance of representing wider society in a meaningful way. Parties are the bridge between government and society, both in the ways they translate society’s demands into political ideas and programs, and in the way they hold government to account on society’s behalf.

High levels of partisanship dampen electoral volatility and encourage party system stability. Partisanship indicates attachment to a key institution that integrates citizens into the democratic political order. Moreover, stable democratic party systems are partially build on widespread partisanship.

Furthermore, as an intended consequence of the strengthening of political parties, we might also witness the weakening of the power of the thousands of lobby groups which hover like vultures over Washington and state capitals alike.

This is true for both mature and emerging democracies.

About the author

Vahe Tcharkhoutian is the founder and editor of Los Angeles Intelligence. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Political Science [American Politics] and a Master of Arts degree in Educational Administration. He currently teaches in Glendale, California.