canny political operators Oooh...I don't know what a canny political operator is, but I know it couldn't be good. :)
First, I'd like to point out that while your entire post related to it, nothing directly addressed my point: that the structure of elections in this country is one of the main reasons for the weakness of third parties, especially in relation to other countries around the world.
One of the things to look at is the geographical reason for a territory based representation scheme, rather than one of parties.
The House (but not the senate) does do a reasonably good job of representing the geography of the US. But I don't think geography is the only, or most important, aspect of the electorate to be represented. You could just as easily ask whether the House accurately reflects the religious views of the electorate (it doesn't) or, more importantly, whether it accurately reflects the political views of the country (it doesn't). Here in Massachusetts, all 12 of our representatives to Congress are Democrats; Democrats make up about 35% of registered voters and about 70% of voters lean democratic. So where's the representation for the 30% who disagree?
Party list proportional representation isn't the only (or best) kind of proportional representation. If you follow the link again (I know that sounds rude, but I don't mean it to) you'll find somewhere in there a description of choice voting. Choice voting is the more abstract case of Instant Runoff Voting. In instant runoff voting, as soon as one candidate, reaches the quota of votes (half plus one), they are elected. In choice voting with a multiple-member district, as soon as a candidate reaches their quota of votes (one divided by (the number of members from that district plus one) plus one), they are elected, and any further votes for them go to the next candidate on that ballot, until as many members as the district represents are elected.
Around the world, there are many systems that represent more than just geography. Some use party lists, some don't. Some are hybrids that use geography, some don't.
Now, about strategy. I can tell you exactly what the rationale for running Ralph Nader was, here in Massachusetts and probably around the country. In order to run any candidate for office in the state, you need to either have a whole lot of signatures, or already have a ballot line. In order to get (and retain) a ballot line, you must either have 1% of the registered voters in all of the state registered in your party as of the last election or have received 3% in a statewide race.
So now that we (the Green Party) received 3% in the race for the Massachusetts electors for the President of the United States, we have a ballot line and it becomes much easier to run candidates for local office. But in the next election, we will still have to run a (kamikaze) candidate for statewide office in order to maintain our ballot line, while we would really prefer to concentrate all our attention on our candidates for local office.
It will be a very uphill battle to get people to vote for the abstract concept of maintaining our ballot line to make it easier for us to receive a plurality in a few districts. (Which in itself is hard to achieve, because people fear their vote won't count.)
If any of these things weren't true:
it would be much easier for third parties (and the people whose views they represent) to be represented in government. Note that I'm not arguing (here) that that would be a good thing, just that it's true.
- single-member districts
- plurality winners
- ballot access laws that discourage candidates
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