Graduation Year

2017

Date of Submission

4-2017

Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Government

Reader 1

Andrew Busch

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© 2017 Conor McCracken

Abstract

Voter frustration in the US is driven largely by partisanship and gridlock in Congress. This paper seeks to understand the root causes of gridlock and look at alternative methods for eliminating it. I find that while the media focuses on polarization as the root cause of gridlock, the checks and balances system plays an equally significant role, and that the interaction between the party system and the governmental structure of the US government creates incentives that cause gridlock to form. Recent reforms have failed to successfully address gridlock because they do not change the polarized party system or the barriers to policy-making in government.

After acknowledging the failure of recent reforms, I consider a new set of reforms: electoral system reform. The field of electoral systems provides many policy alternatives with profound tradeoffs, many of which make gridlock obsolete. Majoritarian systems create single-party majorities and reduce checks on majority power, allowing the majority party to implement their platform tempered through voter approval rather than checks on their power. Proportional systems retain checks and balances through the creation of governing coalitions, but the parties in power have stronger incentives to cooperate and compromise than under the current polarized US system. I propose a system for evaluating electoral systems and compare them in terms of accountability, legitimacy, effectiveness, representativeness, and complexity.

Finally, I propose two electoral reforms, informed by the study of electoral systems, that are both feasible and increase the ability for third parties to gain seats in the legislature. The first, proportional representation for House members, creates small to medium-sized proportional Congressional districts at the state level to reduce the threshold for party entry. The second, Alternative Vote (ranked-choice) for Senate, proposes switching to a preference ranking system for Senate elections further remove barriers to third parties. These reforms should undermine the polarized two-party system and create new incentives for cooperation in Congress.

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