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Gehl and Porter: The American Political System Needs Competition

May 30, 2019

Crain’s Content Studio

What America could use as a fix for its political woes is a little competition.

That was the theory put forth by two national political thought leaders on Wednesday, May 29 at the 2019 Mackinac Policy Conference. Katherine Gehl, former CEO of Gehl Foods, and Michael Porter, the Bishop William Lawrence University Professor at Harvard Business School, partnered to present their theory — Why Competition in the Political Industry Is Failing America — in a session sponsored by the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation.

There are more Americans identifying as independents than ever; the number of Americans wanting a third party is at an all-time high. Yet elected moderates are on the decline and Congressional gridlock increases. That’s because the Democrat-Republican dominance in U.S. politics is a textbook duopoly, Gehl and Porter argued.

“Politics has become a major industry that functions like other industries,” Gehl said. “The problem is not Democrats or Republicans or even the existence of parties. The problem is not individual politicians, most of whom bring to their jobs great talent and a true desire to serve the public interest. The problem is the nature of competition, and we’re all trapped in it.”

As a result, Porter said, the parties have become incentivized to not solve problems, government institutions have been infiltrated by partisanship and there are no checks to increase competitiveness because the barriers to entry outside the two-party system are too high.

They have proposed two electoral reforms and asked the attendees to join them in supporting their introduction in every state. One proposal would place all parties on the same ballot in a “Top Four” primary election. Voters would choose their top choice, then the four highest vote recipients would move on to the general election.

The second proposal would employ ranked choice voting on the general election ballot. Voters would order their votes by preference. In the first round, if no candidate has an outright majority of first-choice votes, the last place candidate is eliminated. Then the voters who picked the eliminated candidate have their second-choice votes distributed to the remaining candidates, and so forth, until one candidate reaches a majority.

Key Takeaways:

  • Gehl and Porter argue Democrats and Republicans are best viewed as a duopoly in the political industry. Despite competing intensely, they also have an incentive to ensure other parties can’t establish themselves.
  • They argued the candidates’ core customers are primary voters and special interests, rather than the average American.
  • Porter ascribed the U.S.’s decline in a number of important measures of social and economic development to failures in the political system.
  • Ideology has supplanted solutions as the main source of competition between the parties. Solving core problems takes them off the table so they can no longer be used to invigorate the party base, which parties are uninterested in doing.

This article was written by Crain’s Content Studio for the 2019 Mackinac Policy Conference.