The Pendulum Swings. And Then it Crashes.

I am so sick of hearing about this election (that is still 8 months away.)

Here’s what I aways say: you can root for the Dolphins, or you can root for the Bills, but the only person that loses is you… because all those players work for the same employer… the NFL.

Here’s what I aways say: you can root for the Dolphins, or you can root for the Bills, but the only person that loses is you… because all those players work for the same employer… the NFL.

Unfortunately, in our binary American political system, the same is true. Whether democrat or republican, there’s not much difference.

And that’s why I’m sick of hearing about this election… because the news media refuses to look at the possibilities of this election in any way other than through our typical binary blue/red lens… and that’s the wrong way to look at it.

Over the last decade, the “right” leaning political party in nearly every major English-speaking country has shattered. The Canadian “tories” (better known by their post 2004 moniker “PC” or Progressive Conservative) party “merged” (or split, depending on how you choose to see it) with a more right-leaning spin off called the Alliance. This shift (not unlike the emergence of the tea party in the US) effectively shattered the right of the political spectrum and gave an unparalleled free pass to the Liberal party to govern for more than 10 years. Liberals were (prematurely) dancing on the grave of the political right, and after more than a decade of increasingly lazy and lackluster liberal party leadership, the right regrouped, and the far left of the political spectrum blossomed a significant alternative in a newly-invigorated NDP (National Democratic Party) leaving the Liberals stuck in the middle. The NDP became such a powerhouse, it in fact, all but eviscerated the liberal party (to the degree that their single numbers of backbenchers threatened the party’s standing as a federally-recognized political party.) The result was more than a decade of minority governments made up of a bullying (and reformed) Conservative party, a struggling Liberal party, and an emboldened NDP. The moral of the story: while thinking they stole the show, the Liberals had a steep climb back to a strong majority (one they won this past election). The deeper moral: when the shift happens, it plays out over several election cycles of a decade or more and what can happen is anyone’s guess.

Similar shifts happened in the UK and in Australia. I won’t bore you with the details… but one needs only to look at the long tenure of the Labor party leader Tony Blair (followed by even more years of Liberal Gordon Brown) in the UK only to be followed by the first coalition government in the UK since World War II…. and one that has been struggling to gain traction and mandate since.

The same thing (nearly a complete carbon copy) is happening in the US.

And that’s what makes this election both fascinating and frustrating.

The days of a binary election are long over in this country, and in a country that touts freedom of choice, our choice shouldn’t be the lesser of two evils.

Every major polling site examines the likelihood of the binary.

What if…. Hillary runs agains Ted? What if… Bernie runs against Donald? What if… Hillary runs against Donald?

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Why is no one asking: what if it’s not a two way race?

Right now, Sanders/Clinton are leading the Democratic Left, and Trump/__________ (that name changes on a daily basis, so we’ll just say _________ for now… fill it in with any name you care to) on the Republican Right.

Let’s say that the GOP decides that they can’t rally behind Trump, and hands the nomination to their weaker candidate ___________, but that Trump decides to run. Trump is already a party outsider, so there’s not much to say that he hasn’t/wouldn’t consider running as an independent.

Why is no one asking: what if it’s not a two way race?

Oddly, the same holds true on the blue side of the bus. If the party rallies behind Clinton and Sanders (who is, after all, our only independent member of congress) decides to run as an independent… we could (very feasibly, and quite realistically) be looking at a 4-way race: Sanders, Clinton, Trump, and ____________. To the best of my knowledge, not a single talking head has mentioned this, and there’s no article (that I can find) that mentions this possibility.

The crazy thing is that our entire political system will pretty much short circuit if indeed this happens. If we elected our president by simple popular vote, we could be looking at our first first-past the post election in which the candidate with the most votes would win. (Most Americans are so engrained in a binary electoral system that they just read that and though… yeah. Isn’t that how all elections work?) The answer is: not in the way you think. In a multi-party (or in our likely case, multi-candidate) system, the winner with the most votes would (barring a landslide) not be elected by the majority.  I’ll illustrate this with an example:

If on election night (in this fictitious scenario), the outcome looks like:

Clinton, 24%
Sanders, 27%
Trump, 24%
__________, 23%

Sanders would be the winner. That would mean, that 73% of Americans would have voted for someone else.

However, our electoral college system would (in theory) never allow for something like this to occur.

Because delegates are bought and sold (in a crazy all-or-nothing) market in the US, each candidate in a 4-way race would (in theory) need 135 votes to win. That means that if any one candidate won only a handful of populous states, they could, in theory, win the election. So, in a 4-way race, if Sanders won California (not inconceivable), New York (not inconceivable), New England (nearly a given), and Florida (possible), he would be elected.

Similarly, if Trump won Texas (not inconceivable), Florida (possible), New York (possible), and a small number of red states (probable, he would be elected.

So oddly, the takeaway here is twofold: it behooves the non-mainline candidates to stick it out until the very end. Fracturing the vote increases their chances of winning, and if comparative politics is any guide, what we are about to enter into is a long period of ineffective, unpredictable governance, so the outcome of this election is anyones’ guess at this point… which is precisely why we should be interested in other things for the next 7.5 months, because regardless of the outcome, life (and politics) will go on.