Each year, the President of the United States gives the State of the Union. The fact is, our country is facing a corruption crisis. Here's the real State of The Union.
By Ellen Moorhouse
February 5, 2019
Instead of focusing on partisan preening, we’re diving deep into the current state of our broken political system—and what's being done to fix it.
The Two-Party System is Failing
As of the most recent 2019 Gallup polling, 25% of the country identifies as Republican, 34% as Democrat, and 39% Independent.
And even though the largest segment of US voters are political independents, only two members of Congress are not affiliated with the two major parties.
Our Elections are Uncompetitive
If you feel like the system is rigged, you aren't wrong. Our elections are increasingly uncompetitive:
- Of 435 Congressional seats, only 16% were considered “highly competitive” in the 2018 election.
- During the last 20 years, the number of competitive House districts has declined by more than 50 percent.
- In the 2016 election, just 17% of districts were competitive.
- The incumbency rate in state-house legislative campaigns is nearly 95 percent.
Gerrymandering allows politicians to pick their voters, and not the other way around—rigging elections by reducing competition.
Gerrymandering and our “winner-take-all” voting system deprives voters of real choices and accurate representation. A lack of competition and new ideas reinforces voters’ apathy and cynicism about politics.
The Average American Has a Near-Zero Impact on Public Policy
To win a Senate seat in 2014, candidates had to raise $14,351 every single day. In 2018, sitting politicians raised over $45,000 every day for six years to win the most expensive Senate races.
To get elected, politicians have to spend their time fundraising from the wealthiest and most well-connected - instead of listening to their voters. So it's no wonder that the average American has a statistically near zero impact on public policy, according to a Princeton University study.
2018 Was the Most Expensive Midterm on Record
After several straight years of modest spending, 2018 was a banner year for lobbying firms.
Lobbying spending reached $3.4 billion in 2018, which is more than at any other time since 2010. The top spender? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, spending nearly $95 million. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been the top spender every year since 2000.
Congress Isn't Acting on What Voters Care About
All this spending and influence ensures that only the interests of a special few are served.
After years of stagnant gridlock, the US is falling behind in education, health, retirement, infrastructure, incarceration rates—while our national debt skyrockets. Americans want solutions, but Congress isn't acting.
- 6 in 10 Americans worry about higher health care premiums. Congress has not acted to reduce costs. The U.S. spends more on healthcare than any other country—and that cost doesn't translate into better health outcomes.
- 77% of Americans want to reduce the influence of money in politics. Congress has done little to address the issue. America wastes up to trillions of dollars on fraud and abuse in the government every year.
- Making Social Security systems financially sound is one of the only issues where comparable majorities of Republicans (68%) and Democrats (65%) say this should be a top priority for the country—but public pensions are underfunded by $4.4 trillion. That's equivalent to the economy of Germany.
Americans Don't Have Confidence in Congress
We're facing so many pressing issues, but there is little public confidence that politicians can achieve viable solutions.
In 2018, Congress had an approval rating of just 18%.
And in a divided Washington, the public has low expectations for partisan cooperation in the coming year: 71% think Republicans and Democrats in Washington will bicker and oppose one another more than usual this year; just 21% expect them to work together more than usual.
Americans Are Fed Up With Corruption
Voters aren't being fooled by our corrupt system—a larger group than ever is aware of what's wrong and we're prioritizing fixing it.
A 2018 report from Pew Research Center found 76% of Americans say the government is run by “a few big interests looking out for themselves.”
Corruption in government is the nation's top fear (74% said they were ‘afraid’ or ‘very afraid’ of it).
And corruption is now showing up in polling as a top priority: 77% of respondents to a WSJ/NBC poll from Sept. 2018 said "reducing the influence of special interests and corruption in Washington" is a very important issue, or the top issue the nation faces (second only to the economy).
There Are Solutions
The American Anti-Corruption Act sets a standard for city, state and federal laws that break big money's grip on politics. It will:
- Stop political bribery by making it illegal for lobbyists to lobby a politician and donate to their campaign. You can lobby, or you can donate, but you can't do both;
- End secret money so Americans know who is buying political power;
- Fix our broken elections so the people, not the political establishment, are the ones in control.
The Anti-Corruption Movement is Getting Organized
The anti-corruption movement is growing, rallying leaders and volunteers across the political spectrum in cities and states across the country. And it's not just growing larger - it's growing smarter.
This March, advocacy leaders, grassroots activists, celebrities, academics, philanthropists, and journalists will convene in Nashville at the largest anti-corruption gathering of the year at Unrig Summit to discuss practical solutions and jump start campaigns.
Most Importantly: Anti-Corruption Solutions Are Winning
The growing movement to fix our political system isn't just organizing. We're winning - and we're winning more than at any other time in American history.
In 2016, Americans passed 13 anti-corruption initiatives to make government more accountable to the people and strip power away from big money special interests states like Oregon, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Rhode Island and California.
In 2018, our movement passed 23 transformative anti-corruption laws—from anti-gerrymandering and ranked choice voting to sweeping ethics and transparency. That's more than in any other year in our nation’s history.
These wins include:
- Successfully defending Ranked Choice Voting in Memphis (called “Instant Runoff Voting” there) and Maine;
- Landmark gerrymandering reforms in Ohio, Colorado, Michigan, and Missouri, and Utah;
- Automatic Voter Registration in Nevada and Michigan, Washington State, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey;
- Money in politics reforms in New York City, Denver, Phoenix, and Baltimore, and Tempe, AZ;
- The North Dakota Anti-Corruption Amendment, which sets up tough new ethics laws and dark money disclosure;
- Sweeping Anti-Corruption Reforms in Alaska and Missouri.