Communist election strategy, here and now

BY:Michael Arney| April 24, 2019

According to the Draft Program, the strategic goal at this moment in the struggle for socialism is to defeat the extreme right (p. 56). Interwoven to the defeat of the extreme right is participation in electoral politics (p. 44). In our country’s two-party system, how do we, as Communists, participate?

The two-party system is synonymous with the “winner takes all” system. Victory requires winning only the most votes, not the majority of votes. In nearly every case, the contested office is in a “single-member district,” meaning one individual is elected from each election district.

An extreme right wing (or simply a conservative) Republican candidate more easily defeats a Democrat when a progressive third party candidate also runs. This is because many voters favoring the third party would vote for the Democrat if there were only two choices. The drain of votes from the Democrat helps the Republican, who needs only a plurality of votes. (When the third party is to the right of the Republicans, the Democrats are helped, because many of those third party voters would vote for the Republican if there were only two choices.) I acknowledge that some third party voters stay home instead of voting for a major party.

Nearly every elected official in the country comes from a single-member district. Under proportional representation, a party that wins about 25% of the overall vote for a given legislative body would place its party candidates to fill around 25% of the seats. With single-member districts, individual party candidates have to win the most votes in individual districts. Thus, a 25% level of support can easily fizzle into zero representatives, unless the third party voters are super concentrated into one or a few election districts—rather unlikely.

As the Draft Program states, if state or local conditions allow us to work in third parties without helping to throw the outcome to the extreme right, we should do so. Otherwise, we should not, and we should convey our electoral strategy to others. Positive conditions include the rare examples of fusion voting (pp. 44, 46), ranked choice voting (p. 46), and run-off elections for the top two candidates when no one wins more a majority of the votes. However, in most cases, a vote for a third party is a vote for the candidate most opposed to that third party.

The Republican Party of Trump, on the national and state levels, with practically no exceptions, is openly and shamelessly a promoter of the extreme right. Many of the ultra-Left for years have lamented and emphasized the corporate or Wall Street section of the Democratic Party. Added to that chorus are many, mainly youthful voices of the movements to support Sen. Bernie Sanders for president and to elect state and federal progressives.

The reality is that the Democratic Party has been the overwhelmingly main choice by labor, African American and Latinos, nearly every reformist, democratic, and social movement, and by progressives and the Left in general (pp. 53, 57). The fact that the Democrats are also used by sections of the capitalist class cannot be used as a reason to refuse to participate, because there is simply no other choice at the moment. And after all, we are trying to stop the Right, not overthrow the system, at this point in time.

The two main parties are very open. It is a democratic right to “join” either party via voter registration. Therefore, it is a democratic right of progressives, the Left and Communists to utilize the Democratic Party if local conditions demand it. (Can I push the argument?: Communists have an obligation to do this.) Working in these mass elections will lead to many relationships, some cordial and others colder. Regardless, we will be where the political fight is taking place, not sulking on the sidelines, idealistically wishing for a different reality.

Until last November, the Republicans controlled all of Washington, D.C.: the Presidency, U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, and a majority of the Supreme Court. They lost their majority in the House in 2018, and in 2020 there are Republican U.S. Senators facing tough battles, many of them in states won by Sec. Hillary Clinton in 2016. The defeat of Trump, assuming he is still president when running in 2020, is by no means guaranteed. And the federal court system is teeming with Republican-appointed judges, since that party has held the presidency 60% of the time since 1980 and constantly refused to clear Obama-appointed choices.

State government influence is decisive on many fronts: voting rights, election districting (with some exceptions), criminal justice, the right to an abortion, state infrastructure spending, etc. In 22 states, Republicans hold the governorship and a majority in both the state senate and the state house (called a “trifecta”). The Democrats have only 14 trifectas. (Fourteen states are under divided control.) Before the 2018 elections, it was worse. The Democrats gained a net of six trifectas and the GOP lost a net of four. (Divided government dropped by two.)

Six of these Republican states with trifectas are among the ten most gerrymandered states (concerning only U.S. Congressional districts) in the country, all resulting from the “shellacking” election of 2010 and the results of the 2010 census, which triggered the usual election redistricting all over. None of the top ten gerrymandered states are from Democratic trifectas.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, after 2010, 25 states put new restrictions on voting. Of these 25, 17 are Republican trifectas, and another two were so when the restrictions were legislated. Only two Democratic trifectas are on that list: Illinois and Rhode Island, neither of whose restrictions are as harmful as the restrictions of the Republican-dominated states.

Communists should see as unacceptable any refusal to work for an imperfect Democratic candidate when there is a chance to defeat a much more conservative choice. We should also give pause to supporting progressive candidates who act obliviously towards solid nationally oppressed candidates. We should expect the complexity of insurgent challengers to mainstream Democrats in solid blue areas, because in the most conservative, deep-red districts, social democrats and other progressives won’t win at present.


Related Articles

For democracy. For equality. For socialism. For a sustainable future and a world that puts people before profits. Join the Communist Party USA today.

Join Now

We are a political party of the working class, for the working class, with no corporate sponsors or billionaire backers. Join the generations of workers whose generosity and solidarity sustains the fight for justice.

Donate Now

CPUSA Mailbag

If you have any questions related to CPUSA, you can ask our experts
  • QHow does the CPUSA feel about the current American foreign...
  • AThanks for a great question, Conlan.  CPUSA stands for peace and international solidarity, and has a long history of involvement...
Read More
Ask a question
See all Answer