There’s a rift, at this moment, in the Democratic party. The hope of nearly everyone wanting to defeat Donald Trump in November is that it’s a temporary rift.
But it never needed to happen at all.
Today pundits are speculating where legions of fired-up Bernie Sanders supporters will go now that Hillary Clinton has clinched the nomination. They should recognize that this has been, from the outset, more of a three- or four-party race – crammed into a system that, despite the 2016 electorate’s political diversity, only acknowledges two parties.
It’s past time for that system to evolve. Bernie Sanders is a progressive independent – and under a more sensible electoral system, ranked-choice voting, he would likely have run as such. Not as a Democrat.
It’s telling that in nearly every state that’s held a primary or caucus so far, exit polls show Clinton with a substantial lead among voters who self-identify as Democrats. Most of Sanders’ strength throughout the nominating contest has come from new, young or independent voters, many of whom feel disenfranchised by the current system and frustrated by a lack of real political choice. Democratic party loyalty is not necessarily a value they – or Sanders – cherish.
Sanders felt compelled to run as a Democrat because that’s what he realistically needed to do to have a viable shot at the presidency. The way things stand today, debate slots and media coverage are reserved for Democrats and Republicans. Try running as an independent, or a Green, or a Libertarian under our present system — and prepare to be vilified as a “spoiler.” At best, your candidacy will be inconsequential; at worst, you’ll be blamed for major unintended consequences (see Ralph Nader in the 2000 election or Ross Perot in the 1992 election).
A recent Gallup poll showed that as many as 43 percent of Americans decline to affiliate with either of the two “major parties.” Who’s representing their interests?
Whether or not you agree with his positions, Sanders did an admirable job – in a time of unprecedented voter cynicism and alienation – of galvanizing idealistic young voters whose energy has brought new life to our ailing democracy. If they disengage now, that’s a huge loss – for the election in November, and for our democracy in the longer haul.
And needless to say, our democracy is in danger if Anyone-But-Trump voters stay home on Election Day. Voters on both sides are feeling turned off by major party candidates who don’t represent their values.
It’s too late for a do-over on this presidential race. But we can build a more inclusive political system, one that embraces principled voters across the ideological spectrum. Ranked-choice voting – which allows all candidates to run without fear of spoiler dynamics and produces winners with broad consensus support – is the place to start.
Jeanne Massey is the executive director of FairVote Minnesota.
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