Why are America's elections SO darn dramatic? Part 1

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

An examination of America's two-party system, its primaries, and the potential for ranked-choice voting.

written by Eric Prince

The stage lights up. Music blares. The crowd goes wild.

“This is it!” the host says into the microphone, “The moment you've all been waiting for."

The host points toward one of corner of the stage.

“In this corner, standing at an even 6 feet and clocking in at 180 pounds of pure moderate ambition, appealing to both conservatives and liberals alike – Joe “JUST KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT AND YOU MIGHT WIN” Biden!”

Joe Biden steps forward wearing only a face-mask and workout spandex. He remains silent. His campaign manager has told him not to speak.

"My proposed healthcare policy will get you shredded in five weeks or less."

“Aaaaaaaaaaand in this corner of the room," the host turns around and points to the opposite corner, "The Godfather, the White Scarface, our current champion: Donald J. Trump!!!!!!!”

Donald Trump lumbers out on stage wearing his signature grimace, holding up both of his pointer fingers to the ceiling. A small portion of the audience erupts into cheers. Everyone else is silent.

The host waits for the audience to die down before speaking again, “This is the battle of a lifetime, folks. Trump vs. Biden. The future of our country is at stake. The future... of mankind.”

The crowd erupts into commotion again.

"Are you ready!?" the host says.

"Yes, we are!" the crowd says back.

The bell dings. The first presidential debate has begun.

Replay your favorite parts from this year's debate for only $59.99!


Okay, I admit, the above example was a little dramatic…but it got the point across, right?

Elections in the United States just feel SO dramatic. Like a pay-per-view, prime-time, mano a mano boxing match.

And it certainly doesn’t help that the media is using images like the one below:

Or that Trump uses this music at his campaign rallies...I'm not kidding. Here's an actual video I took at his campaign rally back in 2016:

It also doesn't help that Trump knows how to get views. He's the king of drama and entertainment (and he's been doing it since the 1970s!).

Here's another video of him fighting Vince McMahon, the chairman and CEO of WWE.

Long story short, our election cycle has become a dramatic, ideological battle of personalities and one-liners. And it's only gotten worse in recent years.

Unfortunately, people love drama, personality, and one-liners. (This also explains why Two and a Half Men was on the air for 12 years...)

But our election cycle wasn't always like this. There was a time when our election cycles were relatively tame.

Sure, people have always loved their drama...

But up until recently, certain mechanisms prevented our elections from becoming too absurd.

I mean, just look at other countries. Sure, some of their elections are dramatic. But they aren’t NEARLY as drama-filled as the ones we have in America.

So, why does the American election cycle feel SO MUCH like a circus?

Well, there are many, many, many reasons it feels this way. But over the course of these next few weeks, I want to explore three reasons that I believe have contributed a disproportionate amount to today's elections:

1) The Primaries and our stupid Two-Party System.

2) The Privatization of EVERYTHING election-related.

3) The Geography of the US (and someone named Jerry Mander?)

We’re going to be looking at each of these three issues in depth to try to identify ways in which we can solve them (no matter how unlikely the solution is).

Today we'll be examining the issue of our primaries and our two-party system.

In two weeks we'll be looking at the privatization of everything and the geographic manipulation of the United States.

But first, a few disclaimers:

Disclaimer One: Our election issue is a very, very complicated one. It cannot be broken down into the three simple reasons you see above without missing A LOT of information along the way. Please understand that there is a lot more at work here than I am able to cover in an easy, ten-minute read.

Disclaimer Two: Additionally, these three reasons (plus others) create a ton of positive feedback loops that worsen over time. The three reasons I list above helped create a system that continues to profit off of drama and division. And as long as certain people are profiting off of this system, these positive feedback loops will continue to operate for the foreseeable future.

So, without further ado, let's examine these three issues!

The Primaries and Our Stupid Two-Party System

Everyone knows the two-party system in America is screwed up.

"Let's go with 'No Brainers' for $600, Alex."

The two-party system in America forces you to choose between two people you REALLY don’t give a shit about. And at its worst, it forces you to choose between the lesser-of-two-evils.

(Hint: Biden is the lesser of the two evils)

But it’s not really JUST the two-party system that's killing us. It’s the two-party system AND the primaries COMBINED that's killing us.

Let’s take a look.

This is the entire political spectrum.

And these are the primary spectrums for the Democrats and Republicans.

Up until the general election, these primary spectrums do not cross (for the most part).

There are a couple of reasons for this:

First, people who vote in the primaries tend to be registered to the specific party for which they're voting. Some states will even register you as a specific party if you DO vote in the primaries.

Second, the primaries have a historically low voter turn-out. And the people who DO show up to vote tend to be those who are either involved in politics or those who have strong feelings about a certain candidate. This means that these voters have A LOT of power in deciding our president.

The Ice-Cream Truck Example

Essentially, our primary spectrums encompass an entirely separate voter base and an entirely different belief system up until the summer before the General Election (just a few months before the election).

So, both parties are incentivized to appeal to the TYPICAL primary voter and IGNORE everyone else.

I didn’t just make this up, either. This is actually a popular example in game theory called Hotelling's Game. You may have heard it referred to as the ice-cream stand (or truck) example.

Let's take a look.

There are two beaches situated across from each other.

Two ice-cream trucks set up shop on either beach.

Over time, these two ice-cream trucks will move closer and closer together in order to gain the most people from their respective beaches.

After a certain amount of time, these ice cream trucks will find themselves side-by-side (usually in the middle of the spectrum).