A Way Out Of The Doom-Loop?

I recently re-connected with an old friend who had moved out of state many years ago. Like so many of us “back in the day,” she was heavily involved in Republican politics, and like virtually all of us in that cohort, she is appalled by today’s GOP. Because she is politically sophisticated, she also understands that the takeover of that party and its successes at the polls have been enabled by manipulation of structural factors: gerrymandering, the Electoral College, the two-party system, etc.

Her question to me–which I was unable to answer–was: what avenues exist to modify/replace the structures that are obsolete, and/or might make it harder to misuse the others? What changes to our electoral systems could we work toward that might re-invigorate moderation and genuine, small-d democratic outcomes?

Not long after that conversation, I came across an interesting article in The New Republic, authored by two experienced political actors, one Republican, one Democrat, outlining one such possible change: fusion voting. (In the 1980s and 1990s, one had worked for Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush; the other had worked in Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaigns and co-founded a progressive third party.)

If America survives November, I think their approach offers hope…

The thesis of the article is fairly simple: while minor-party candidates are a waste of time, minor parties that can cross-endorse major-party candidates can make a huge difference.

What unites us is the understanding that our government is failing because politics is failing. At the heart of that political failure is a two-party system that pushes the citizenry into two hyper-polarized camps and discourages the coalitions and compromises essential to public problem-solving…

Substantial majorities tell pollsters that they want a way out of the “two-party doom loop.” But the solution is not a third party or independent presidential candidate: That always fails. At best they get a flurry of attention before fading into obscurity. A few are remembered, but only because they are seen, rightly or wrongly, as having played the role of a “spoiler.”

Still, the predictable failure of third-party candidates should not distract us from the need to solve the structural problems of the two-party system. The incentives baked into our system are in no small part responsible for bringing us to the precipice of authoritarianism.

The authors stress that this doesn’t require the invention of something new. Instead, they want to revive fusion voting, which was once commonplace in America. Fusion voting is the practice of a third party “cross-nominating” a candidate of one of the major parties. “This candidate appears on the ballot under two different labels, with the votes tallied separately but then added together—fused—to determine their total.”

I remember when New York’s Conservative Party still engaged in that “fusing,” typically endorsing a Republican candidate for Mayor or Governor in return for certain policy commitments. As the authors of the article explain,

In a fusion system, minor parties are both independent and relevant. They retain a “threat of exit” should neither major party nominate an acceptable candidate. More commonly, fusion parties will push or prod a major-party candidate to be better on a few key issues, and in return will nominate them. This is more constructive for the polity and more satisfying to the voter than a spoiler or wasted vote. “Vote for the candidate you prefer,” says the fusion party organizer, “under the party label closest to your values.

Fundamentally, fusion voting produces more choices for the voter—but it’s more parties, not more candidates. The path out of the two-party doom loop runs not through eliminating or weakening parties but rather through a system that encourages and rewards coalitions between parties.

Fusion allows minority parties to demonstrate that they have meaningful support among voters, support that allows them to negotiate with a major-party ally.

No doubt the major parties disliked having to bargain with minor-party partners, but bargaining is essential in politics. The Whigs were mushy on slavery, and Free Soilers spined them up. Democrats were nervous about taking on the trusts, but the Populists insisted that they stand up for debtors and farmers. Fusion creates incentives for compromise between groups that do not agree on everything but do agree on enough to get things done.

The two major parties managed to get fusion voting outlawed in most states, but reinstating it would work to re-energize the multitude of voters who shrink from extremism of either Left or Right and are unwilling to identify wholly with either party. 

It’s certainly worth a try.



  1. Here’s a thought which occurred to me watching Mica interview Vice President Harris and a victim of SCOTUS’ religious anti-abortion stand this morning on “Morning Joe”. Their special July 4th holiday edition. How close are ties to the Vatican is the Catholic majority whose recent actions are removing more and more of our rights and turning control to white men as is the basis of that religion. I doubt the controlling majority, sitting for life, would suddenly turn against this nation, democracy, Rule of Law and abort the Constitution, which is against their Constitutional responsibility and their Oaths of Office, if they didn’t have more than their life appointments to the court protecting them.

    It was stated recently on this blog that Ruth Bader Ginsberg should have retired long ago, an attempt to be against admittedly questionable life appointments in some cases. But; RBG actually GAVE her life to save America and all Americans, working for democracy, Rule of Law and the Constitution until she drew her final breath. She was most decidedly NOT of the Catholic faith but religion was never the basis for her decisions protecting rights for all of us.

    “Fusion allows minority parties to demonstrate that they have meaningful support among voters, support that allows them to negotiate with a major-party ally.” This is NOT true in the U.S. Senate today nor was it true in the House minority until the Trump/MAGA takeover using threats and bully tactics with the aid of McConnell’s aid appointing federal and SCOTUS judges during President Obama’s administration. I walked through my neighborhood two days in a row and shopped at a small strip mall wearing my “FUCK TRUMP” tee shirt and got only one response from a woman, people just looked and walked on. Like vaccinations, Trump has created an immunity to his diseased mindless rants of a mentally unstable man with too much money for our good. I intend to keep my “FUCK TRUMP” tee shirt laundered and will try Kroger and Walmart after the July 4th holiday weekend which might be our last celebration of Independence Day.


  2. Today we host a gathering of extended family and neighbors on our golden pond here in southeastern Ontario, to celebrate July 4th. Political views differing, we are indeed a reasonable fusion of family and neighbors, yes … celebrating in The North. I like the central idea of Sheila’s advocacy this morning … and it begins “we are blessed more than we give ourselves credit for.”

  3. Geez! I reread my post above, and I just realized I sound like Kevin Roberts and Project 2025! 🤔

  4. At this point I would be willing to try anything to make it harder to implement “Project 2025.” I’m a little surprised that the Heritage Foundation has publicized the plan. It’s the continuation of plan that started years ago with the take over of SCOTUS. Reading even a small part of it sends chills up my spine.

    Happy Independence Day, everyone!

  5. Happy, we traded monarchs for oligarchs, 4th of July! 🙂

    Why do you think the two sides of the same oligarchic coin dismissed fusion voting?

    This sentence jumped off the post above by Sheila: “…fusion parties will push or prod a major-party candidate to be better on a few key issues, and in return will nominate them.”

    It’s hard to imagine how this could work in today’s political landscape. With so many issues where the two parties fall short, it seems like we’d need an army of fusion parties. We’d also need an informed electorate, which we don’t have anything resembling that today. When memes replace facts because we’re too lazy to do a simple Google search, then we have significant issues.

    It’s alarming how the influence of money in politics is often overlooked by so-called progressives and intellectuals on both sides. Einstein’s 1949 observation of us as an oligarchy and Martin Gilens’ 2004 Princeton study confirmed it should serve as a wake-up call. The situation has only worsened, and we must acknowledge and address this issue.

    Politicians don’t listen to the people—they listen to the wealthy oligarchs. I ran across the reclusive Tim Mellon, an heir to the Mellon fortune, and he’s got some extraordinary ideas. He gave Trump $50 million right after his 34 convictions. He wrote an autobiography but has since deleted any record of it.

    Project 2025 needed to be assembled by the people. However, it was put together by people and organizations owned by wealthy oligarchs. The ultimate decision about whether JB stays in the race will not be handled democratically, but the DNC will discuss the wishes of their donors.

    I could go on and on, giving one example after another. Still, we must focus on returning our government, especially the federal government, to the people by removing monied interests.

  6. To speak to Peggy Hannon’s fear of Project 2025, I agree with you that, of all the horror of a t*ump victory, this is the most terrifying, and that is saying something.
    I recommend reading today’s newsletter “Civil Discourse with Joyce Vance”. There is (finally) a coalition of Democrats organizing to oppose Project 2025, and spread awareness of it to the general population.
    I will post the link here and below:

  7. I don’t really believe that any citizen of this conglomeration of corrupt entities would be blessed in any form or fashion. After all, who would be the entity to bless them? If you don’t believe in God, how can you be blessed or offer blessings? Now that’s a conundrum.

    The Roman empire could not survive the amount of corruption that existed in every facet of their society. A powerful entity in its own right, it could defeat other powerful entities, and subjugate other civilizations, but it could not defeat corruption from its own ranks.

    Once government officials discover ways to circumvent rules and regulations, laws and sections, that government that they serve is doomed. It might take a long time, and a lot of back room midnight meetings, but in the end, if you pound on a door long enough and hard enough, it will open.

    So What is the solution to this conundrum? We can’t ask for blessings, because there’s no one to give us blessings, right? You can’t put your faith in politics because corruption will always be lurking in the backdrop. I see folks always talking about writing checks, and wearing derogatory t-shirts, and what does it accomplish? What makes that conduct any different from those that are being roiled against.

    There are ways that are perfectly legal to accomplish a stopgap. To stop or stave off the inevitable for a period of time. And of course there’s risks. But since there’s no divine intervention because there is no divine entity, the corrupt system must be used to stymie itself. And, that will probably only work once. And once the criminality figures out it’s circumvention, it’ll start all over again with even more gusto.

    The inevitability of failure is written on the wall. There will never be a human directed kumbaya where corruption is kicked to the curb. Because the desire of the flesh (corruption) occurs through the eyes, and once established, it tells you to look the other way. Sad but true! List any entity, any government, any civilizations, that haven’t been destroyed by the corruption of its own citizens! You will not find one. So the dye is cast here, it’s just how long can this demise be staved off? Probably not very long at all! The citizenry here has been duped to continue the loop. Write checks, pull the lever, and go home. The corruption will take care of the rest! No divinity, no blessings, just the confluence of history.

  8. Peggy, I daresay that what we have is the updated(?) version of “the Contract For America” put out by that staunch dirtbag who goes by the name of Newt Gingrich.
    It was, really a “Contact ON America.” Then there was Rick Scott’s plan, about which even the GOP was embarrassed to have out there.
    Th Heritage folks may have felt comfortable publicizing their horrendous plan because they thought it might bring still more dissatisfied people to their cause, or because they thought that the path to establishing it was/is guaranteed…by way of whatever flamingly odious pathway the Trump-thing might become POTUS again.
    About fusion voting, it sounds like a very worthwhile avenue to explore.

  9. I realize the probability of this happening is near zero, but just wanted to posit the fact that W lost the popular vote in 2000 by over half a million votes (Gore should have won), and trump lost the popular in 2016 by nearly 2 million votes (Hillary should have easily won). I predict that someday, in the distant future, we will elect our president by choosing the one with the most votes. The Electoral College is an archaic and abysmal 237 year old relic.

  10. On this day, it continues to amaze me that there are a few key structural changes to our country that could re-energize democracy and, I believe, would have strong majority support: end gerrymandering, repeal Citizens United, get rid of the Electoral College. And the “power” behind keeping all three is the same: parties/money.

    On this day, I continue to idealistically ponder how did we lost “of, for, by The People”? And then I recall my two favorite books that help me understand: “Amusing Ourselves to Death” and “Bowling Alone”. IGIO

  11. This is just right: “What unites us is the understanding that our government is failing because politics is failing. At the heart of that political failure is a two-party system that pushes the citizenry into two hyper-polarized camps and discourages the coalitions and compromises essential to public problem-solving…” Fusion voting offers one way out of where we find ourselves. I’m also thinking that the fall-out from (or perhaps the fuel that feeds) polarized politics rests in society, in changes that Thomas Paine would find repulsive to his concept of a unique American identity. A concept, as we know, that he invested his considerable talents in supporting with a passion and intelligence that still resonates today. I refer to this condition: Americans have enjoyed greater individual freedoms of expression, association, and conscience than are common anywhere else in the world, as I see it, while forces for authoritarianism gather steam. As a consequence of those freedoms, we take liberties with our liberties to the point of decadence, assuming that we may enjoy them without compromise, in a nation of diverse ethnicities, religions, languages, and gender identities. We are wrong. As Paine wrote, “what we obtain too cheaply, we value too lightly.” And abuse. Coming together, where we can, is essential to the future of our fragile democracy.

  12. Democracy can lead to “tyranny” by the majority. That’s why the states were made sovereign, to avoid national uniformity. It was done to retain slavery, but it has helped in advancing unpopular cause — good and bad. There would be no labor unions or Planned Parenthood without, dare I say it, States Rights.
    Liberals should support the Electoral College as it works in Maine and oppose with great vigor gerrymandering.
    The dispersion of power is the best guarantee of freedom. It can lead to mediocracy as we have had in Indiana for decades. Yet that was a Golden Era compared to today’s Era of the Super Majority.
    And, this will make no friends, the concentration of population, as in the Indy Metro, has deleterious as well as beneficial effects on a state.
    It’s all about economies and diseconomies of scale, if one wants to be pedantic.

  13. As one interested in how the goodies of life are distributed, allow me to comment on the Comments section of this extraordinary daily posting by Sheila.
    Space on Comments is allocated, without limits, on a first-come, first posted basis.
    This favors early-risers and, secondarily, the most loquacious. But is that a “democratic” allocation? Should different, perhaps random, allocation algorithms be introduced? Should those of us who rarely get to Sheila’s observations of the world before 11 a.m. (regardless of our sleeping patterns) be denied a higher posting site? Is the management of this site (which is beyond Sheila’s technical achievements) discriminating against certain classes of persons. Perhaps we need a motto to govern: “Terse is First!”

  14. Imagine my surprise when I opened my favorite Democratic Underground site and at the top of the page is a link to yesterday’s post:

    I would go to the link and see the comments to the thread. They all appreciate your views Professor.

    All the best to you and yours from sunny California. I have left Europe. Cheers!

  15. Don’t let the pursuit of perfection become the enemy of what is good. I have lived in the Middle East and Africa … traveled all other continents … and still by far the best place to live is our homeland.

  16. Project 2025 is a nightmare manual.
    I think the fusion-party idea is a good one. How does one get that started?
    Best to everyone on here for a Happy 4th.

  17. Can’t wait for the Libertarians, Constitution Law and Natural Law parties to “fuse” with the GOP.

  18. Too often we worry that if we tell our children about our complex and sometimes dark history, their response will be debilitating shame. But instead of lying to our youth, we can give them a task that demands the best of them. We can call upon them to close the often-gaping chasm between our ideals and practices. This is the gift the past offers us, a chance to flee old evils and pursue new goods.

    Esau McCaulley in today”s New York Times

  19. Four decisions by a corrupt and completely compromised SCOTUS will cause chaos and profound disruption to not only the federal government but the state and local entities that routinely interact with those federal administrations.
    First, Dobbs which re-endowed states with power over women’s choice and those medical professionals trained to deliver services to them, essentially dehumanizing women.
    Second, Chevron, which will allow complete deregulation of federal financial, health, safety, communications, environmental and trade administrative agencies, to name a few.
    Third, Snyder, which will now allow the U.S. to join much of the rest of the third world in which citizens understand that paying an official a “gratuity” for services rendered is the only way to deal with officials. Let the lobbyist take note that offering payment after the fact for favorable treatment is now the order of the day.
    Fourth, Trump, which places the final authority of what constitutes “official” duties of the executive in the hands of the SCOTUS itself, putting the power to rule into the majority hands of a corrupt and compromised judiciary.

    For the foreseeable future, the United States and its citizens will be subject to profound change regardless of the next Presidential election’s outcome.

  20. I continue to hate any terms suggesting “polarization”, like the Democrats moved “left” while the Republicans moved “right”. That is a lie. The GOP went “right” and then even more, while the Democrats, under Clinton, moved “right” and only partially corrected with Obama. Biden may have brought the party back to the days of FDR-LBJ, but not further “left”.

    That being said, the fusion voting idea seems promising to me. I had forgotten about the old double nominations in New York. Thank you for bringing up that idea.

  21. So how do we get a fusing party started and promoted? Seems like we need a prominent politician to promote it. What hasn’t CNN or one of the neutral news outlets promoted the idea. How about calling it the “Centrex Party”? We need to get this idea implemented!’

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