Unpublished preface from MPONP

Here is the original draft preface from More Parties or No Parties. It was written in the days up to September 10, 2020.

Most of it is the same as what ended up in print. The big difference is the first paragraph. It describes the intellectual state of play that existed at the time. Ideas matter.

I don’t remember why I changed the paragraph. Several smart people liked it. Thinking back, the one below was more clearly addressed at (some) political scientists, whereas the one I published said the book was “for the next generation of reformers.”

The book is still also for political scientists. That’s because political scientists can turn into reformers. As I noted in a talk this fall, “we may get reform regardless of whether we want it.”

Three big groups define a fight over the future of American elections. One aspires to a multiparty system, along the lines of what exists in Western Europe and elsewhere. Another wants our politics to be less polarized. A third rejects the other two, suspicious of most grassroots efforts to change how Americans pick winners.

This book is about the last such fight, which occupied much of the first half of the 20th century. Then as now, the fight took place against the backdrop of a two-party system. The players were very similar: fans of multiparty government, those who sought to “get the parties out of politics,” and those who wished the other two would simply go away. They drew their battle lines in numerous cities. No group got what it wanted in the end — not multiparty government, nor party-free consensus politics, nor a set of institutions that people simply leave alone.

The current push for “ranked-choice voting” is starting to resemble the last one. I hope this book helps people learn from last century’s mistakes. In putting it together, I have tried to look at the issue from two overarching perspectives: that of the reformers, and that of those who had to govern. These people often were the same.

The language will be technical at times, but not more than is needed to grasp the key issues at play. Changing how we choose is serious business. Overall, if we must have reform, we should build it to accommodate parties.

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