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>I suspect the national parties (or perhaps especially the GOP) will have to devolve into more than 2 brands for healthy regional competitiveness.

I think you're underestimating said bias toward two parties. Unless we switch to approval voting or the like, you'll never see a stable third party in this country. The simple math makes it so that given any three parties, the two most similar parties have the incentive to both back the same candidate, because the alternative of running opposing candidates invariably leads to those candidates splitting the vote and giving the election to the least similar party. And by the time they're both backing all the same candidates they might as well merge into one party.

The thing that can happen, and could achieve a significant improvement, is for a new party to come about that replaces one of the existing parties. That allows you to throw out the old leadership and start over with a clean slate.

The biggest difficulty is in building a stable coalition. If you want to eject the religious zealots and the climate change "skeptics" and the imbeciles who want to keep government out of Medicare then you need to replace them with something that supplies an equivalent number of votes and/or campaign funding.

Tech is a good start, but it might not be enough on its own. But the nice thing is that once you've decided who you're not going to invite into the tent, you know exactly whose ox to gore. I have to imagine a fiscally conservative-leaning party would have a lot easier time capturing the votes of centrist Democrats if they were pro-choice, pro-science, pro-education, pro-alternative energy, etc.




Amusingly, in most large "multi-party" parliamentary democracies, there are... two large, stable parties which actually govern (in the sense that no other party or coalition of other parties will ever be able to form a government) and occasionally a third which gets just large enough to play kingmaker before the system re-stabilizes.

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More amusingly, the standard complaint in this setup is the disproportionate power which the small parties wield - since it is often necessary for the larger parties to form coalitions with the smaller ones, and the smaller ones, catering to specific niches, are not accountable to larger electorate and thus are not afraid to offend it by openly extorting the larger parties. The second complaint is an inherent instability of such system - as soon as smaller ones are paid, or as soon as larger ones are unable to keep paying (paying doesn't have to be money, of course - can be policies, appointments, etc.) the coalition breaks down and the shopping season starts again.

I'm not sure which one is the better - having only two choices which are roughly equally bad or having multiple choices two of which are equally bad and then also must buy the votes of the choices which are even worse.

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> The second complaint is an inherent instability of such system - as soon as smaller ones are paid, or as soon as larger ones are unable to keep paying (paying doesn't have to be money, of course - can be policies, appointments, etc.) the coalition breaks down and the shopping season starts again.

To me this reads like an extremely cynical interpretation of what "working together" looks like. As someone who lives in a country with this style of government, I would hardly interpret it like that.

It's more like niches actually have a voice because they control some of the vote. I had never really seen that as a bad thing until you put it in those terms.

In reality, the leading parties can still govern, they'll just have a harder time pushing pet legislation through without the co-operation of the other parties. The other parties use that to their advantage so they and their constituents can be heard.

> offend [the electorate] by openly extorting the larger parties

How is this extortion exactly? In a system like this, the ruling party can still lead just fine, they just don't get unilateral control over everything if they don't get that much of the vote. I don't know how that can be spun as a bad thing.

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It all depends on political culture. If the voters for the small parties are community-minded enough to not let their representatives go too far - it may work. If not - it would be a mess. "Constituents to be heard" can mean very different things - from actual concerns of minority to pure and overt bribery. It sometimes comes to minor parties openly saying "if you don't give us one minister post, X percent of the budget and except our constituency from Y legislation that hurts their pockets - we won't vote with you". Of course, it happens in 2-party system too - see what happens with unions and other "vote contractors".

>> In a system like this, the ruling party can still lead just fine

The whole point that it can't without a stable majority. You need majority to pass budgets, appropriations, appoint officials, etc. And if your opponents can get a majority - even temporary - they can pass a law dissolving the government and declaring new elections at any time they think they'd have advantage. Imagine something bad happening on your watch and next week opposition declaring you are at fault and calling for new elections because they think now the vote will swing their way. If the citizens are willing to accept this kind of games - and in many countries they frequently are - it will work. It sounds cynical, but I have seen such things happen. It is exactly as disgusting as you think it is, but it is what it is.

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> Imagine something bad happening on your watch and next week opposition declaring you are at fault and calling for new elections because they think now the vote will swing their way.

As someone who has only lived under this system of government, I find it hilarious to see this phrased as a bad thing. Having scheduled elections with the insane run-up the US has is so, SO much more painful.

"Call an election" here means a quick, 30 day race. The US election feels like it starts the moment the previous one finishes. I would much rather have somewhat more frequent elections that are quick and painless than the scheduled, drawn out slaughter-fest that is American presidential elections.

> If the citizens are willing to accept this kind of games

I really don't see the "game" in a party stopping bad legislation from screwing things up by dissolving government. FFS it's not like it happens every time they have a little spat. Usually it is major things like the budget. I have no problem with a party being forced out because they can't collaborate on a budget.

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Another option is that the winning party (or parties if need be), can be able to rule without having a majority - negotiate temporary alliances for questions as they come up.

This has been the case here in Sweden several times. A country doesn't become Italy just because they use parliamentarism.

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If you have to vote for a budget, you have to have a majority, and everybody knows that. And small parties know you'd have to pay them if you want the budget passed. Between those, you have also some agenda you probably want to advance, and this requires majority too. So unless the principle of the ruling party is to make as litte laws and humanly possible - and don't get me wrong, I'd love such party, but it is very rare - they'd have to form a majority, even if temporary. And the temporary one is more dangerous because you'd have to pay each time you need it.

Italy is in no way unique at this, of course, there are many more countries with same problems.

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A glance over the wiki pages for countries that use FPTP and PR suggests that PR at least correlates better with sanity.

My personal beef with FPTP is that it devolves so much power to the party base - since you can't start new parties around new ideas (and test whether the voters like the ideas), the best way to make things happen is to just get involved with local politics and influence people within the party. Since voters are so entrenched, your ideas have to be really terrible and large scale before they affect your party's chances. This means that instead of being influenced by the electorate, parties are more influenced by the personalities within them.

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The upstream comment by AnthonyMouse mentioned "approval voting or the like"; in that context, ubernostrum's comment about parliamentary democracy is a bit of a red herring.

In the parliamentary system, those third (or fourth, etc.) parties are actually elected and have power, right? While a non-parliamentary approval-voting system would allow people to vote for a third party and also help elect their preferred major-party candidate. That could sidestep the "forming a government" parliamentary negotiation process.

How that would actually look in practice, I'm not sure. Would it actually help those third parties if they get votes but don't get elected? Would third parties be able to "extort" major parties just by offering pre-election endorsements? How many of those third party candidates would actually end up in the legislature? I don't know if it's been tried at scale.

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It's not a binary choice. Of course, you always have local versions of republicans and democrats. Of course, it can lead to unstability (Italy, pre-1958 France) with an undue amount of power for smaller parties.

But the way it actually works is how proportional the vote is, eg, what minimum does a party need to get an MP seat. If you set the minimum too high, all the smaller parties are excluded, if it's too low, the lunatics run the asylum. You have to have the right balance, which will also depend on the political landscape in your country (eg, the more proportional Danish system seems to work OK given the nation's culture of political consensus).

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I understand the structural bias toward two parties, and yet: in the past the regional variety was larger, and "Democrat" and "Republican" were fuzzier categories.

Now, we have national cable news and 365-day-a-year recreational poli-tainment. We have outrage/indignation/us-vs-them magnifiers like Twitter and social news. More issues are discussed – and political affiliations chosen – nationally.

At the level of the casual observer/participant (and the 'marginal voter), I think that's led to unhelpful dimensionality reduction, into coarser and more childlike political categories. And that's especially dragged down the Republican national brand, because for several reasons (including less sympathy in the media) their most-embarrassing regional characters do more damage elsewhere than those of the Democrats.

So the devolution to more than 2 brands I mentioned wouldn't mean a real enduring 'third party' – I agree, the US system is rigged against that. Rather, it'd be getting away from the national 'Democrat' and 'Republican' names when they're unhelpful oversimplifications, perhaps via differently-named, and more doctrinally varied, regional affiliates... a little like the 20th-Century General Motors model of many brands.

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I think the thing that's going to fight you in that case is how expensive elections have become. Part of the reason we have more nationalized parties now is that they provide economies of scale in fundraising, and provide cross-regional campaign funds for races in poorer areas whose representatives nonetheless get the same number of votes in Congress once elected.

The upshot is that for a regional party to get elected, they have to build a seven to eight figure campaign war chest per seat, because the second it looks like they have a good chance of winning, the national parties will pull a Brinks truck full of nationally-sourced money into their own candidate's campaign headquarters.

And while it's certainly true that money alone doesn't guarantee results (see: Linda McMahon, etc.), if you're running a campaign on $500,000 and your opponent is spending $50,000,000, you're in serious trouble. And it's difficult for a regional party that can't even guarantee the ability to filibuster to raise that kind of cash.

What I think we're more likely to see is what we've been seeing: Not separate parties, but independents with their own personal wealth who are willing to spend it to get themselves elected, and who have enough to make it a fair fight when their money is undiluted by multiple races. The problem is that then the candidates are self-selected and there is no guarantee that they'll agree with each other much less any of the electorate.

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You're still thinking of the regionals as upstarts against the prior two parties. Think of them as specializations with loose affiliations with existing parties: not threats but allies. The 'Republican' brand is so marginalized in some places (including large parts of California) that pragmatic national fundraisers have already given up on it.

(I also think you're overestimating the economies of scale in party fundraising: look how much now happens outside the parties themselves -- independent expenditures -- and directly by specific candidates. It's only at the margins in winnable races that national party funds come in, and even that now has to be weighed against the negatives the national brand can bring. The new pools of money -- from both mass crowdsourcing and wealthy crusaders -- care more about winning than 20th-century party labels... and in the national legislatures independents/other-parties can and will caucus with other groups for the purpose of parliamentary procedures.)

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Let's see, so the party whose biggest contributor is the teachers' unions, who have presided over four decades of trapping poor minorities in failed urban schools where it's virtually impossible to fire a teacher no matter how incompetent they are is pro-education, and the party that supports school choice programs, which in the past ten or twenty years has allowed hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged children to escape from some of the worst schools in the country and actually learn something is anti-education? Good to know.

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Finland has much stronger teachers' union and pro-union laws than the United States, and pretty much no private schools, and at the same time has been getting stable, good results(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programme_for_International_Stu...) in international comparison studies.

You will never find a singular change that can turn around your education system and getting rid of the teachers' unions surely is not the magic pill.

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Finland is a wild outlier. The gap between Finland and the rest of the European (+ Euro heritage nations, e.g. Canada, Australia) nations is huge. By comparison, the Euro-like nations below Finland all cluster together.

For unknown reasons, Finland is special. Bringing up Finland is a bit disingenuous.

You could bring up more typical Euro nations, but unfortunately several of them get pretty decent outcomes with privatized school systems (e.g., Sweden).

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That's kind of his point, I think. He's saying private or public isn't the point, whatever you do is going to be more than just one buzzword-thing like "take down unions" or "voucher system".

There isn't just one thing wrong with the US education system, there are countless things. Many of which aren't unique to a public or private environment, just plain old terrible schooling.

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Which is why the charter school "revolutionaries" are absolutely unconvincing to anyone who looks for reform.

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Charter school vouchers are an inflated ideal; what percentage of charter schools provide higher quality (and, in states where the science pedigree of the curriculum is in question, a more truthful) education?

Don't spout rhetoric; provide sources. If my recollections are accurate, more charter schools fail at this than succeed.

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Allowing parents to choose the schools their children attend is inherently superior to forcing them to attend government-run schools. Proof of better outcomes is unnecessary. Sure, some charter/private schools are worse than government-run schools. Parents can easily avoid those.

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Proof of better outcomes is unnecessary.

That sounds anti-science if ever I heard it.

Claiming inherent superiority while denigrating evidence and empirical approaches is cut from the same cloth as religion, and certainly won't convince those of us with higher standards.

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This is a great attitude to make yourself feel better, but it's not terribly productive if you can't produce some science yourself, or if you are, you know, any way inclined towards respecting humans' individual choices. Economists and sociologists, who are much better at science than educators, try to avoid making the mistake of knocking peoples' choices unless they're obviously irrational, because forcing peoples behavior to be a certain way in the name of "science" is an easy way to be disastrously wrong.

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Letting parents choose schools is not any more respective the choice of the individuals most directly affected than having government decide on the school.

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Are you saying children should choose their schools?

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The entire school curriculum will now be reduced to just two separate domain alternatives: Lady Gaga or UFC. I think we're onto something here!

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It depends on what you think "better" means. If you use "better" to mean "fits what I think ought to happen", then it makes sense to test market outcomes against nonmarket outcomes and decide which is better. If you use "better" to mean "what most people prefer", then the market is, in most cases, the best way we have to determine that, and talking about proof of better outcomes is analogous to asking for empirical proof that empiricism is a better way to find truth.

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> Proof of better outcomes is unnecessary

What I think natrius means, is that the burden of proof is on the anti-choice option. Surely the default should be giving parents a choice on which schools their children attend. In other words, we shouldn't need evidence to show giving parents a choice gives better outcomes because the evidence should be provided that taking away parents choice is better. If there is any doubt then give parents a choice.

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> Proof of better outcomes is unnecessary.

That could be the most ridiculous comment I have ever read on HN.

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Except where government run schools are the only option for schools, like somewhere with a fantastic education system.

Like, say, Finland.

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If you're asking for short-term narrowly-defined measurable outcomes, you're asking the wrong question. Everyone knows this when talking about No Child Left Behind, but it goes out the window when we talk about charter schools.

But choice should be the default, and in many places parents overwhelmingly prefer charter schools. Forgive me for thinking maybe they should have that choice.

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>Let's see, so the party whose biggest contributor is the teachers' unions, who have presided over four decades of trapping poor minorities in failed urban schools where it's virtually impossible to fire a teacher no matter how incompetent they are is pro-education, and the party that supports school choice programs, which in the past ten or twenty years has allowed hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged children to escape from some of the worst schools in the country and actually learn something is anti-education? Good to know.

You're kind of just proving my point. I never said the Democrats were unambiguously better for education than the Republicans. There is a uniquely Democrat disease wherein a disproportionally large share of the funds are required to go to "special needs" students where "special needs" includes learning disabilities but doesn't include gifted students. At the same time, I don't care what you think about school choice, the party that wants to stop teaching evolution in biology is inherently anti-education.

But suppose the Republicans got on the right side for both issues: Keep pushing for selection-based outcomes and school choice, and then teach the students how that process actually works in science class. If nothing else it would reduce the amount of cognitive dissonance necessary to become a Republican.

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