New Harvard Business School Report Says Open Primaries Can Help Fix a Failing Political System - Open Primaries
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New Harvard Business School Report Says Open Primaries Can Help Fix a Failing Political System

Posted by jesse shayne on October 07, 2017 at 4:23 PM

New Harvard Business School Report Says Open Primaries Can Help Fix a Failing Political System

By Open Primaries intern Stephanie Geier

With Congress’ failure to pass bipartisan legislation on any pressing issue, from healthcare to immigration reform, it’s clearer than ever that gridlock and polarization are derailing our political system and obstructing progress. Pragmatic, bipartisan problem-solving has given way to political theatrics and partisan division, which oversimplify issues and rarely produce the solutions we need to move forward.

This problem is urgent, and was recently detailed by Harvard Business School in its insightful new report, “Why Competition in the Politics Industry is Failing America.” by Katherine M. Gehl and Michael E. Porter. The report compares the current political system to a failing “industry,” in which the two major parties function as a duopoly, thereby intentionally enforcing their differences and raising barriers to entry for new competition -- particularly more moderate candidates who might be more willing to compromise. These barriers include closed primary laws.

With such high barriers to entry and the rules of competition largely left to private actors, major party candidates need only appeal to “extreme” voters who align with their ideology, rather than the “rational middle,” or the majority of the voting eligible population. And that’s a large majority, as up to 70% of the voting eligible population consist of “average” voters and non-voters, according to Gehl and Porter.

Candidates need only convince these middle voters that they’re the “lesser of two evils” -- something that’s becoming all too common in elections. Uninspiring elected officials should create demand for new, better candidates. But because the barriers to entry are so high for new candidates, and millions of voters are locked out of their primaries, challengers to established incumbents have a harder time getting elected.

Thus, politics is rife with competition, but not the good kind, as Gehl and Porter contend. It’s the kind that produces division and gridlock, rather than candidates who compete to serve voters with solutions.

It’s a system whose fundamental design Gehl and Porter say needs changing. With this in mind, they propose a four-pillar strategy to save the system, including a restructuring of the election process.

Of course, one of their suggestions lies in fixing the current partisan primary system, which they called “perhaps the single most powerful obstacle to achieving outcomes for the common good." Gehl and Porter specifically call for nonpartisan “top-four” open primaries, in which everyone votes in the primaries, and the top four candidates advance to the general election.

Their reasoning? “The current partisan primary system shifts both campaigns and governance toward the extremes. States should move to a single primary ballot for all candidates, no matter what their affiliation, and open up primaries to all voters, not just registered party voters.”

We couldn’t agree more.

A system in which all voters vote incentivizes candidates to appeal to everyone, not just those on the extreme ends of the political spectrum. It produces lawmakers who strive to meet the needs of all citizens and actually work with each other in office to deliver bipartisan solutions. Open primaries bring the political system away from private actors and back to its original intent -- serving the public interest.

And while a host of reforms are needed before politics fully returns to serving the people, open primaries is a good place to start. Furthermore, establishing open primaries is powerful, achievable, and can be done at the state level -- precisely the kind of reform that Gehl and Porter claim is most vital.

Systemic change doesn’t come easily, but it’s entirely in our reach if we keep working persistently, strategically, and collectively. Whether it’s organizing a rally, calling your legislator, or signing a petition to get open primaries on the ballot in your state, you can help bring the system back to us, the people.


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