Reader’s Forum — Denny Flaherty

A Review of The Politics Industry

Denny Flaherty

Two thumbs up! The Politics Industry is an enlightening read from Katherine M. Gehl and Michael E. Porter. It follows their 2017 paper, “Why Competition in the Politics Industry is Failing America” and examines the political, election, and legislative processes contributing to our rampant partisanship. According to the authors, these processes must be transformed to save our democracy.

Their recommendations include open non-partisan primary elections that identify the Top Five candidates. Open primaries that are designed to produce up to five candidates for the general election will increase opportunities for independent and/or “other party” candidates to get on the ballot.

These Top Five primaries then feed Final Five ranked-choice general elections. With up to five candidates, it’s unlikely one candidate will capture 50 percent of first-choice votes. In that case, vote tabulation is expanded to include first and second-choice votes. If the 50 percent requirement is still not satisfied, the tabulation is expanded again. The first candidate to garner 50 percent of votes cast is the victor.

Ranked-choice general elections eliminate plurality winners. When more than two candidates were on the ballot, the winner typically wins a plurality of votes, but less than 50 percent. Thus, the winner represents less than a majority of the electorate. To win a Final Five general election, candidates have to appeal to a broader cross-section of voters, such as independents. Often, this will necessitate taking more moderate positions on issues.

Some key questions remain. Why would our partisan duopoly accept these changes? How can Republicans and Democrats be persuaded to yield their power? The need for better government is unlikely to compel changes on its own. So, if legislation is not passed to enable these changes, other options such as legislative referenda or voter initiatives may be considered, if they are available.

According to Gehl and Porter, once 10 percent of states have implemented Top Five primaries and Final Five general elections, the victors will present a critical mass for change in both chambers. The authors also believe Final Five victors will be more moderate in their views, more open to compromise, thereby enabling more legislation to pass.

However, the authors caution that even in states with existing versions of Top Five primaries and Final Five general elections, partisan forces and special interests continue their efforts to return to partisan elections.

Still, The Politics Industry is a thought-provoking book, well worth your time.

After 30 years of active military service and 14 years in state government, Denny is retired and living in Arizona with his wife of 59 years. He served on Independent Voting’s Eyes on 2020 Cabinet and continues to advocate for structural changes in Arizona’s election processes.


Politics for the People Zoom Call
With Author Katherine Gehl
Sunday, October 4th
7pm EST
Zoom info coming soon!


Founder of the Politics for the People free educational series and book club for independent voters. Chair of the New York County Independence Party.

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