Joel Koltkin has a very good article in New Geography which begins:
Never mind the big-tent debate talk from both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney about how their respective politics will benefit all Americans. There’s a broader, ugly truth that as the last traces of purple fade from the electoral map, whoever wins will have little reason to take care of much of the country that rejected them.
In the article he points out how, in our ever more polarized political environment, presidential candidates and by extension political parties have less and less motivation to pay attention to areas of the nation that do not support them. In essence that as a nation we are so divided ideologically that it is becoming less and less profitable for candidates or their respective parties to care about areas of the nation which they know will never support them.
In other words, politically we live in a divided nation red versus blue and there really is no benefit for either side to be overly concerned politically with the needs or well being of the other side. Not only that but the geographical dividing lines are becoming ever more defined, the coasts versus the middle with the upper mid-west being the newest and perhaps last battle ground. Northeastern Republicans are disappearing as fast as Blue Dog Democrats and we are left with two ever more polarized camps with increasingly more distinct areas of influence. Consider this current map of congressional districts
As you can see. with the exception of some urban areas the nation is pretty well divided with the North East and West Coast mostly representing the Democrats with the South and the Central Plains being Republican dominated. The problem as Koltkin concludes could very well lead to the destruction of the nation.
For the federal union to work effectively, there has to be a sense that we are all, in different ways, linked to each other and share common interests that mean we’re willing to make compromises to live together. It’s time to bridge our partisan regional divides and avoid an ever more nasty, and divisive war between the states.
I would suggest that there really is a political solution to this at least a method by which politicians would be forced to pay greater attention to the respective opposition's "territory". Not necessarily that we can come together ideologically holding hands and singing Kum ba ya, but a pragmatic political solution which rewards politicians at least presidential candidates who are the leaders of their party, for paying attention to areas where under the current system they have no political interest in.
It is simply this, adopt the same model for the Electoral College as Maine and Nebraska currently employ. Where electoral votes are determined by congressional district with the winner of the states popular vote taking the extra two votes for that state. Why would this help our divisive politics? We must admit a primary reason for our divisiveness is more than just the ideological divide, it is a system that separates that ideological divide into organized camps.
Consider the current swing states and how much attention they receive not only during election but simply by being "swingers". No president of either party will ignore them or as happened to "opposition" states punish them. Obviously as smaller units of the American electorate become "swingers" then potentially the more attention must be paid to them by the political parties.
This is already true but only at the congressional level. As a congressional district becomes more competitive from a partisan stand point the more money and attention is paid to it by the respective congressional committees in order to "keep" it or "flip" it. All of these contestable congressional districts, if they were worth an electoral vote, would garner more attention from presidential candidates, be protected from being ignored and to some extent act as a protector of the state as a whole.
Charlie Cook developed a system that identifies congressional districts by their partisan tendency called the PVI, (Partisan Voter Index). Currently there are over 50 congressional districts that fall within a PVI of R+2 to D+2. All of these districts by their very nature are susceptible to going either way in an election. Even the +3 districts which would put the "swingers" well over 100 are very capable of going either way in any given election. Depending on the particular election the field of congressional districts open to either candidate could expand or contract but the important thing is that these districts are spread all over the nation and since we are no longer talking about winner take all states anywhere, the importance of these "swinger" districts is multiplied everywhere.
For example Illinois which is a "Blue" state (D+8) currently has 6 congressional districts that are rated R+2 to Even. Conversely even Texas which is definitely a "Red" state (R+10) has a D+3 and an Even congressional district. All of these districts, if their vote mattered , might be actively pursued by one or both candidates. What motivation do either candidate have to ever really campaign in these states now, less alone these districts under the current system? None. The Republican will receive all of Texas electoral votes and the Democrat will receive all of Illinois so why bother wasting resources on them or paying all that much attention to them after the election is over.
But that is precisely the ever growing problem, not only do the opposing parties fail to care about states they know they can not win at election time, more and more they care less about opposition states at all. This has to be changed, we need more "swingers" not less. We need the politicians to need the people for their power over as large a segment of the population as possible and we need this to be dispersed through out the nation so that the influence of the "swingers" is representative of the broadest segment of American society, culture and geography as is possible. We need the political class to have to work harder for their job, not just to be able to pigeonhole us into neat little categories easily managed for their electoral convenience. We need the political class to need us more than we need them.
People want to know why so many American's seem to be apathetic about voting. For most Americans their most important vote, for president, is just a throw away. For most Americans other than some of us that live in a "swing" state, their vote for President really is not going to make a difference in how their state is going to cast their electoral votes. It has now been predetermined by the new political demographics.
A Republican in California's 50th (R+14) district really is just wasting his vote for President in a D+7 state. But if California's 50th was selecting their elector, then they would really be casting a vote for their candidate. Obviously this works both ways all the Democrats in Alabama's 7th (D+20) are just as disenfranchised in an R+13 state.
But more important is that rather than a system to help promote unity the current system forces us into polarization, divisiveness, and an increasingly frustrated electorate. The most important thing that can be done to maintain a representative democracy is to insure that it is as representative of the people as possible. One man one vote is only a meaningful principle if that vote actually has a chance of meaning something. In America today voting for President is mostly an exercise in futility rather than in democracy.
If electors were chosen by congressional district then not only would more people become "important" to the politicians it would be far more equitable. Remember each congressional district is roughly the same size in population and since you have eliminated the state winner take all aspect of the process, each congressional district in each and every state is equally important to the election of the president. Currently large states have a disproportional influence on the process, we need a process which "redistributes" power back as close as possible to the people.
I do not know whether this would have any affect on the ideological civil war which grips the nation. I suspect it would because it would help force the various enclaves of partisanship out of their safe bubbles thus creating a need for greater debate on the issues which affect people directly. But regardless I can not see how bringing the politicians closer to the people and giving more of the electorate more power over the electoral process can hurt. In addition this certainly would make the parties more accountable to the people by forcing their leaders to interact with a larger and more diverse segment of the electorate which in turn would make them more representative of We The People.