Making Democracy Work

LWV and the Challenge of Being Nonpartisan

A League Leader's Perspective

Barbara Zia, a longstanding League leader nationally and locally, led a discussion on this challenge January 24 at 5:30 at the Charleston County Main Library, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401.

In case you missed it, here are the slides presented at the meeting which discuss the sharp increase in polarization in United States politics and how it affects the League of Women Voters. Questions guided a discussion after her talk.

Zia noted that since 1920, the League has remained a nonpartisan space for voters from across the political spectrum to engage civilly about important policy issues.

She described the meanings of "Nonpartisan." She summarized the research on the League's image today and how to bridge the democracy issue chasm in a period of sharp partisan division and gridlock while remaining a nonpartisan organization as well as citizens who are actively involved in making a more perfect democracy.

Zia said that the League Is Nonpartisan because this original 1920 choice, to neither support nor oppose any political party or candidate for public office, continues today to ensure that the League's voice is heard above the tumult of party politics.

Zia stressed that the nonpartisan policy adds strength to the League's positions on issues and makes possible wide acceptance of League voter service and citizen education work. It provides a strong foundation for the work done in support of issues. Action on legislation and ballot proposals is more effective when the public and the legislators believe that the League's conclusions are based on merit rather than partisan politics.

But today, she said, there is confusion about the meaning of "nonpartisan" and "political." Indeed, these terms-and politics in general-are now toxic for many American voters.

Zia referenced It's Even Worse That It Looks Was, in which Mann and Ornstein analyze and offer suggestions to heal America's broken and dysfunctional political system.

Book_hyperpartisanshipPolitical parties today are more internally unified and ideologically distinctive than they have been in over a century. This pattern is most evident in the Congress, state legislatures, and other bastions of elite politics, where the ideological divide is wide and where deep and abiding partisan conflict is the norm. But it also reaches the activist stratum of the parties and into the arena of mass politics, as voters increasingly sort themselves by ideology into either the Democratic or Republican Party and view politicians, public issues, and even facts and objective conditions through distinctly partisan lenses. (p. 44)

A few background readings to get you thinking:

Thomas E. Mann & Norman J. Ornstein (2016 Paperback Edition), It's Even Worse Than It Looks Was, Basic Book

Pew Research Center (2014), Political Polarization in the American Public

Pew Research Center (August 3, 2016), Few Clinton or Trump Supporters Have Close Friends in the Other Camp

Pew Research Center (September 13, 2016), The Parties on the Eve of the 2016 Election: Two Coalitions, Moving Further Apart

Andy Brack, Statehouse Report (June 6, 2016), Start Now to Fix Gerrymandering's Ills

Thomas E. Mann (2014) Asymmetrical Polarization Undermined, Thoughts on the New Pew Research Center's Report on Political Polarization

Trent Lott and Thomas Daschle (2016), Crisis Point: Why We Must - and How We Can - Overcome Our Broken Politics in Washington and Across America, Bloomsbury Press