The Transpartisan Matrix: Help Understanding Our Volatile Politics

Transpartisan Note #78

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

Our daily political ups and downs present both threats and opportunities.  We think the Four Quadrant Transpartisan Matrix, as a new tool of analysis, will help us find opportunities and manage threats.

The 2016 election displayed the gap between our politics and our people.  The gap both expresses and feeds instability and alienation.  The 2016 Presidential winner received the support of 26% of the eligible electorate.  Forty-four percent stayed away.  These numbers differ little from the previous election, won by the other side.

The Matrix, with its left/right horizontal axis and order/freedom vertical axis, helps explain this divide between politics and the electorate.  Here is how it looks:

See our Transpartisan Note #52, in which we describe the 2016 election in terms of the Matrix.

Between 1932, at the depth of The Depression, and 1994 there was little conflict in our politics.  Democrats dominated House elections winning every election since 1932 except 1946 (with President Truman serving out Franklin D Roosevelt’s 4th term) and 1952 (when President Eisenhower won his first term).

In 1994 Newt Gingrich and his ‘Contract with America’ picked up 54 house and 9 senate seats, ending Democratic dominance.  Since 1994 the Republicans won six congressional elections, and the Democrats two.  The GOP has maintained control since 2010.  It seems all that might be up for grabs in 2018.

The Matrix process suggests a possible transpartisan path.  It shows that people seek, individually and collectively, more than the lowest common denominator values embraced by the major parties.  We believe people, both left and right, seek both free expression (freedom) and a sense of the higher good (order).

Saying this another way, the four quadrants highlight larger personal and community experiences (beyond family and tribe) gained through free expression and choice.  In times of threat people choose order.  In times of opportunity people choose freedom.  Today the major parties fight over threats.  The people seek choice.

The Trump/Sanders/outsiders expressed a freedom impulse against party elites who fight over threats to order—climate change, guns, national debt, moral decay etc.  Vast numbers, seeing elites ignore real apparent opportunities, failed to vote. We offer the Transpartisan Matrix process to lure the stay-aways back.

We think the key to overcoming their alienation is to provide more openings for citizen participation in national, state and local elections as an expansion of the more active citizens’ roles beginning to take place in community organizations such as schools, housing projects, and community health centers.

“Work together”, the electorate seems to be saying, to get the best of American politics.  To achieve shared outcomes, citizens from all four Matrix quadrants— order, freedom, right, left—need access to active roles in public spaces.  The Transpartisan Matrix process offers one important way to understand and promote citizen action.

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