By Mark McKinnon and Kent Thiry
If you follow the news, browse social media, or look at any number of the unwanted emails and text messages routinely sent out by politicians and activists, you’d think that America is irreconcilably divided.
But in our personal lives and professional experiences in both business and politics, we can tell you Americans are not nearly as polarized as many would have us believe.
Last month, we joined experts and activists from all parts of the political spectrum at American Democracy Summit in Los Angeles. Organized by RepresentUs, this cross-partisan gathering focused on actionable solutions to our nation’s political crisis. It’s a perfect example of what we’d like to call the “Not-So-Divided States of America.”
Consider: A 2020 report from the University of Maryland based on in-depth surveys of more than 80,000 Americans shows that majorities from both parties agree on nearly 150 key policy positions across more than a dozen top policy areas, including: immigration, poverty and jobs, social security, budget and taxes, health care, trade, energy and the environment.
A respect for and love of democracy is another that we would add to that list.
Certainly, there are issues on which Americans are deeply divided. For example, there are obvious divides on issues such as abortion, gun control, and same-sex marriage. However, even on these issues, there is a significant minority of Americans who hold views that are outside of the mainstream of their party.
If voters aren’t as divided as we seem, then why are the politicians we elect incapable of reaching across the aisle to address the issues that matter to us?
While there are many causes and trends driving this reality, the most powerful and actionable are the rules of the election game itself. Over time, they have been warped to allow the political extremes to capture disproportionate power, at the expense of the majority of Americans.
In order to win elections, politicians need to appeal to the bases of their parties. This often means taking extreme positions that alienate the other side from the outset. And party insiders work to preserve their hold on power via closed primaries, gerrymandering, access to donors, and making participation (be it through citizen-initiated ballot initiatives or running for office) more difficult.
Despite these challenges, there are a number of common-sense electoral reforms that can make government more responsive to the concerns of the American people. Some of these reforms—such as ranked choice voting systems that encourage politicians to appeal to a majority of voters instead of just their party’s base—have already been implemented in many cities and two states.
Those of us who advocate for these changes hold a wide variety of political views, yet we’re united in a growing pro-democracy movement that puts country over party. This movement was on full display at the American Democracy Summit, where a diverse mix of politicians, academics, activists, entertainers came together to face these challenges head on.
At American Democracy Summit, we explored the complicated reasons why our democracy is broken, but more importantly, strategized about implementing the simple reforms that can fix it.
It won’t be easy to bridge the political divide in America, but it is possible — particularly when you realize that the divide may not be as wide as it appears at first glance. The system just needs a few tweaks.
The pro-democracy movement is a big tent, so come on in. There’s plenty of room.
Mark McKinnon is a co-host of Showtime’s “The Circus,” a former advisor to Republican presidential campaigns and founder of NoLabels, promoting bipartisanship and pragmatic solutions.
Kent Thiry is the former CEO and executive chairman of DaVita, a backer and leader of successful democracy reforms ballot initiatives across the United States and serves as co-chair of Unite America.