How Disenchanted Democrats and Republicans Together Can Break the Two Party Duopoly
Sam Husseini says he has a way to get voters out of the lesser evil mindset while avoiding the ‘spoiler problem’
DHARNA NOOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Dharna Noor joining you here in Baltimore.
When asked which presidential candidate they’ll vote for most US voters say the democratic party’s Hillary Clinton or the Republican Party’s Donald Trump. Others are running most notably Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein on the Green Party ticket. But the strong majority of US voters won’t vote for them or even consider voting for them. Even if they prefer a third party candidate’s platform to Clinton’s or Trump’s. Our next guest argues that the very framing of opinion polls undermines third parties’ abilities to enter the presidential race or even the conversation. Osama or Sam Husseini is a journalist and a political activist. He’s the founder of VotePact.Org. Thanks for joining us today Sam.
SAM HUSSEINI: Good to be with you.
NOOR: So Sam like I said you’re taking issue with public opinion polls. The framing of them they ask who folks will vote for instead of who they want to become president. Why is that an issue?
HUSSEINI: I argue that they’re not opinion polls. They claim to be public opinion polls that are endlessly reported on as public opinion polls. But they’re not and if you look closely they don’t even purport to be. All of these polls including the ones that the Commission on Presidential Debate is using to determine who gets into the debates asks virtually the same question. They say, if the election were held today, a false hypothetical, which of the following would you vote for? That simply replicates the bind that the voter is in when they enter the voting booth.
Voting is a tactical decision. I argue that there are probably a lot of people perhaps millions of people who would want Jill Stein or a Gary Johnson or other folks could come to the fore if the system were different but will not say that they plan on voting for them because they are overwhelmed by the fear that drives people to vote for Hillary Clinton and to vote for Donald Trump. That’s the main argument for Trump and Clinton. Each is the best argument for the other. Polls have borne out that that is what’s driving them.
They both have incredibly high negatives. And so fear is what’s keeping them on the reservation so to speak for all of the voters. There’s a way around this is public opinion pollsters took what they presumed to be seriously, they would start asking different questions. They would say who do you want to be president? Which of the following do you prefer to be president? They could even do things like instant runoff or range voting. Rate the following candidates based on which ones you would want to be president. One, two, three, four. Or range voting. One to ten. No major pollster is doing that. So I argue that they’re not in fact public opinion polls.
NOOR: Okay but changing that framing with different language alone won’t lead to a different electoral outcome. But you’ve got a plan that you actually think could so tell us about that.
HUSSEINI: Well I do have a plan but I would argue with the premise of that question. If pollsters started asking who do you want to be president, then I think that even right now it would probably put Gary Johnson over the 15% threshold to get into the debates. That’s a real game changer. If they did that for Jill Stein and then Jill Stein started registering at 10% or more and then the media reported on the fact that she was over 10% then that would compel further interests in her.
On the issue of the presidential debate commission this is particularly ironic because the Commission on Presidential Debates has basically asked for this who do you want question to be asked by pollsters. When people suggested other criteria besides other criteria for people getting into the debates like if somebody, if the majority of the American public wanted somebody in the debates. The heads of the Commission on Presidential Debates, a creation of the democratic and republican party, said no no no that’s a silly question. The only relevant question is who do you want to be president. The heads of the Commission actually used those words who do you want or who do you prefer to be president?
So they have actually asked for this question to be asked. But the polls that they are relying on by major media outlets NBC, ABC, New York Times, CBS, and so on. None of them actually ask that question. So I think that if the polling was done effectively it could genuinely shake up the entire electoral map right now. But you’re asking about the other way that things could significantly change. And that is if voters change their stances and their strategies. There are a lot of people who plan on voting for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or other Third Party candidates and that’s great.
There are a lot of other people who are held back by fear. They say oh my god I’ve got to vote for Clinton. I disagree with her on Wall Street and wars and I think she’s horribly corrupt but you’ve got to stop Trump. And meanwhile on the other side there are millions and millions of people who say gosh this Trump is doing all these terrible or saying all these crazy terrible things. But I got to vote for him because I hate that damn Hillary Clinton.
What I’m suggesting at VotePact.org is that people team up. That is people who know and trust each other. They could be family members; they could be coworkers. They could be neighbors. They could be table tennis partner. Whatever. They team up and both vote for their parties of their choice. That way you’re freeing up votes in pairs. One from Clinton and one from Trump and getting them to Third Party candidates.
NOOR: So to be clear this is a democrats and republican. Where those who would traditionally vote for democrats or traditionally vote for republicans teaming up and both agreeing that they’ll vote for a third party candidate.
HUSSEINI: That’s right. By trusting each other, by relying on each other, the in effect find a solution to the poller problem. Because a lot of people say gosh I really wish I could vote for Jill Stein but I got to vote for Clinton. Well if you find your mirror image, your political mirror image, and they in effect take a vote away from Trump and you take a vote away from Clinton you both become free. You’re not helping the candidate that you most dislike. You gain your political freedom and overcome your fear of voting for a third party candidate.
NOOR: So I want to push back on this a little bit because it seems like VotePact is trying to game a system that’s already rigged. And so an example of this I guess is that after Nader’s Green Party run in 2000 and his relative success in public opinion polls even the Commission on Presidential Debates actually raised the bar for third party candidates’ participation in the debates to 15%. So couldn’t they just do something like that again? So couldn’t the public opinion threshold just be raised again and again even if an independent voter base was in large through a process like VotePact?
HUSSEINI: They certainly could attempt to further rig the system. And what you want to do is to give voice to public opinion and critical thought and then if they choose to be even more corrupt than they already are then that hopefully exposes it to more and more people. So you can’t decide from the get go that its hopelessly corrupt. I’m going to go eat salad instead. And VotePact. Certainly if VotePact were to take off it would get folks into the presidential debates. But I don’t think VotePact unlike the public opinion poll reform strategy doesn’t necessarily depend on getting folks into the debates. It certainly helps but it’s not necessary. If an idea like VotePact, if people were to pair up on social media for example. I could see it taking off in a massive way.
As it is right now unfortunately what’s happening is that people are using social media to narrow their scope of friends and acquaintances. Oh gosh this guy is saying that he might vote for Trump. I’m going to unfriend this guy. Instead of saying hold on let me try to engage this person. Let me say look, I understand your frustrations with Clinton. You’re right she is corrupt. But do you really want to vote for a guy like Trump? Look here. I’ve got a solution here. Why don’t we both vote for the third parties of our choice instead of canceling out each other. The idea is one of dwarves and elves in Lord of the Rings teaming up and working against Mordor. Instead of bashing each other over the head endlessly.
The system wants you to do that. Fox and MSNBC want liberals and conservatives to be bashing each other into the heads endlessly. One becoming apologist for Trump and the other becoming an apologist for Clinton. And I’m saying that there’s a way around that. There’s a way for people who might vote for Trump that are repelled by xenophobia and a whole assortment of misogyny and a whole assortment of other obvious problems which Trump and people who want to stop Trump but see through Clinton’s corruptions and perpetual war and corporate ties and so on and so forth. Now this requires work. This requires real work between two real people. I’m not mitigating that. But it is a real path.
NOOR: But some in electoral cycles have actually seen the potential for real change without breaking the duopoly. For instance, Bernie Sanders is set to launch his Our Revolution on the same day that we’re doing this interview. Sort of taking what he says is his political revolution back to the people who were engaged with it. So I’m wondering is it more in the benefit of ordinary people to support progressive democrats or party insurgencies like the Sanders campaign and then follow VotePact and vote for third parties?
HUSSEINI: Right or you can do both. I was a registered Green and I changed my registration to democrat so that in the Maryland primary where I live I could vote for Bernie Sanders. And I went ahead and did that. Now Bernie Sanders has dropped out of the race. The DNC clearly rigged the system against him. It was even clear before the WikiLeaks disclosures. But now it’s imminently clear.
You know if everybody “holds their nose” and breath in the stench of death that Clinton policies mean and vote for her or urge other people to do so in so called swing states for example. Then she’s going to be president. It’s be during an establishment democratic congress and all likelihood at best. Or a likely republican congress. We’ve been down this path before with Bernie Sanders. He was probably the strongest attempt at reform within the Democratic Party. But we had Howard Dean and the creation of Dean for America more than 10 years ago. You know that didn’t really change the dynamics. Sanders talks about a revolution.
I was certainly for a lot of what he said. I had problems with him in terms of foreign policy. But in terms of economic policy he was making genuine progress. He was moving at times. But what exactly is his leverage? Especially if people circle the wagons now and say we’ve got to get Clinton in there.
NOOR: Right but could you use VotePact to support insurgent candidates and democratic or republican parties like Sanders then?
HUSSEINI: It’s certainly some of the same mindset. I think it needs to be the other way around. I think that after you have a so called insurgency in either the democratic or Republican parties that once that loses as it did in the case of Sanders. He didn’t get the nomination, that some of that energy needs to go into the VotePact for the general election. And I should hope and expect that would happen.
I think that some people who voted for Sanders are automatically going to vote for Jill Stein and that’s great. But some aren’t. They’re going to say I’ve got to stop Clinton. I got to stop Trump. I got to vote for Clinton. And I’m saying you don’t have to do that.
NOOR: But you wouldn’t form a VotePact around insurgent candidates or antiestablishment candidates that are running within the two party duopoly.
HUSSEINI: I don’t know how that would work. This is a voting strategy for the general election. When you vote in the primaries – there the system tells you oh gosh you can’t vote for Sanders because he’s going to get clobbered in the general election. That was a huge argument by much of the establishment in the end I think that it swayed a lot of the people even though the polls didn’t bear that out.
So in a sense, the way that the major media report on the election sort of compel people to vote for the establishment candidate in the primary and then to vote for their lessor evil in the general, effectively totally reducing meaningful choice. In this case the establishment candidate emerged and the presumably maybe sort of maybe sometimes anti-establishment candidate on the republican side emerged which some certainly if they’re republican establishment didn’t want although he got tons of probably billions of dollars of free media from the major media as did Clinton of course.
So there are other hurdles obviously. The media terrain and money and so on and so forth. But Sanders having done what he did, the question becomes now what? Do you just fall into line with Clinton? Or do you – if you want a revolution, I mean Sanders I think it’s a little bit of hyperbole to say revolution. I think VotePact would be a real revolution. It would be a political revolution. It would be a revolution of the heart. It’s saying I’m going to cooperate with somebody that I disagree with in order to pursue our mutual interests in breaking open this system.
And who knows where it can lead. I mean if VotePact were to take off and you had Jill Stein and Gary Johnson on the debate stage, maybe some of those Trump supporters would end up voting for Jill Stein. You know she’s against the TPP. She’s challenging corporate power. She’s talking about creating a massive jobs program that should appeal to poor whites as well as a whole litany of issues that should appeal to the African American community and lots of other communities.
So that could be a real game changer. But it’s a challenge to people who are buying into the lesser evil argument. You don’t need to do that. That’s a choice. That’s a concession. That’s a complicity on your part to the establishment and you can stop it.
NOOR: Sam Husseini the founder of VotePact. We hope that you’ll continue to keep us updated on the progress of VotePact and how it goes into November.
HUSSEINI: Thank you.
NOOR: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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