Should American politics stop upholding the two-party system?
- According to a May 2020 Gallup poll, 25% of Americans consider themselves Republicans, 31% Democrats, and 40% identify as Independents.
- Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren helped to establish the Democratic Party in 1828, making it the oldest existing political party in America.
- The Republican Party was founded by anti-slavery Whig factions in 1854.
- The third-largest political party in the United States is the Libertarian Party, which was founded in 1971.
There are at least two schools of thought supporting an end to the two-party system. They seemingly come from opposing viewpoints, but they arrive at the same conclusion. One view proposes that the two parties have become so hyper-partisan that the division is 'irreconcilable,' a situation which both George Washington and John Adams warned against. This view appears to hold true among the public at least, as there is evidence of growing polarization in everything, from social issues to economics. Polls show that more than 25% of Americans have ended a friendship or 'cut off' a member of their family over politics since 2016.
Another view against the two-party system asserts that the two parties have become 'essentially a one-party system,' and that the perceived differences are actually superficial. Proponents of this view often point to US foreign policy, as well as the fact that many politicians on both sides of the aisle take money from the same lobbyists and corporate interests. They also point out how policies from both sides have shifted to the right, and how 'lesser-evilism' has often led to 'co-option' of change movements.
Even if you don't strongly agree with either of these views, there are reasons to support an end to two-party politics. Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, the current system limits your choices. There is also evidence to suggest that countries with more than two parties have higher voter turnout, a significant point on its own, since citizen participation is vital for a functioning democracy.
When the U.S. was established, our founding fathers had hoped that this new country could avoid creating political parties altogether, but even before 1800, parties were emerging. The ongoing debate regarding the processes used to elect officials in the US is valuable, and it’s clear that some changes should be made, for example, concerning incumbents and term limits. However, it’s unreasonable and unwise to make abolishment of the two-party system one of those changes.
Throughout US history, there have been moments where third parties have emerged, only to be reabsorbed into the two larger main parties when they cannot gain viability. This can be explained, at least in part, by Duverger’s Law, which essentially says a single-ballot, simple majority system such as the US uses, will only support two parties.
Though seemingly in contradiction to the argument, another reason a multi-party system is not a viable option is the fact that Congress would never implement it. For third parties to be a real option, our voting laws would have to be amended. Changes would have to be made as to how potential candidates get onto a ballot and how election results are interpreted. Because this would potentially jeopardize some members’ seats, it’s highly unlikely Congress would ever vote to support it.
The two-party system is sleek, simple, and, with quality candidates, makes for a well-run government. In theory, it both increases the speed at which the government makes decisions, and it also pushes candidates toward the center of the political spectrum since it requires that they represent broader swathes of the population.