May 29, 2012 1 Comment
This is in response to Rundle’s request and his comment that the two-party system is a problem.
As you all know, the United States runs on a two-party system (mostly anyways). Every once in a while there’s a slight deviation (Ross Perot, Theodore Roosevelt, etc…), but it doesn’t happen often and third parties are rarely successful.
In my Poli-Sci class first semester, we studied Duverger’s law, which provides what many believe to be the best explanation for the two-party system. Duverger’s law states that a plurality rule political system generally favors a two-party system. Plurality Rule is a system in which the person with the highest number of votes wins. The most common alternative to this is a two candidate run-off after the initial vote. Why does this result in a two-party system? Two reasons: 1) It’s easier for radical left-winger to win if it’s radical L v. R than if it’s radical L v. L v. R 2) radicals tend to merge into the main parties due to low chances of winning.
Let’s use the Presidential race as an example for simplicity. If Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were running in a district of 5,000 people for representative, Barack Obama would win almost automatically. This is because Ron Paul & Mitt Romney would undoubtedly split the vote of Republicans and Libertarians and there’s no top-two run-off. If there were a run-off, the right-wingers would have a better shot because they would be able to run either Paul or Romney with the backing of both candidates’ supporters. However, in America we don’t do that. Our system makes it much harder for 3rd parties to pick up steam. If we had run-offs, 3rd parties could theoretically focus on certain districts and try to push their way into run-offs.
Now, some people, including Rundle, believe that the two-party system is broken. I’m not sure what the biggest problem they see with it is. Some examples may be gridlock, polarization, and the word “establishment” come to mind for some reason. I don’t see things that way though. With the laws that we have, we can’t really leave the two-party system unless we leave the country. In addition, I find that it works quite well for a number of reasons.
This past semester, which I refer to as my liberal semester(Environmental Geol, Sociology, MacroEcon, Journalism1100), I read That Used to Be Us. Throughout the book the authors discuss why America is broken, and they bring up the two-party system as one of the problems. The authors discuss how the two parties are growing worse because, as the party strongholds shifted the most recent time, the parties’ ideologies became more polarized than ever. Anymore, you’ll rarely find urban areas voting Republican or rural areas voting Democrat. It’s also hard to find strong fiscal conservatives pushing for environmental regulations, etc.
This happened for a number of reasons, but the most important was the move of Southern Democrats to the Republican Party. This would include former presidential candidate, Rick Perry. The solution the authors present at the end of the book to reinvigorate America is to run a third party candidate. However, they by no means think or even want this candidate to win, but the fact that the candidate doesn’t win doesn’t mean he or she won’t alter America in a profound way.
This is has happened and changed America’s political landscape for the better a number of times. For example, Ross Perot ran in 1992. The guy had a few wacky ideas, but his big thing was balancing the federal budget. He made a lot of noise and at one point fell almost even with the other two candidates, George Bush Sr. & Bill Clinton, in the polls. Perot didn’t win, but he did cause political change. After Clinton won, he balanced the federal budget a number of years. (Of course, this was counting Social Security, which theoretically should be saved, but we’ll ignore misleading government math for the moment, but that’s not the point.) The point is, Perot’s candidacy changed the budget issue from a talking point into a huge issue.
Another example of a third party movement being successful is the Tea Party. The Tea Party figured out their best opportunity to make change was to run their candidates as Republicans, which most of them were anyway. The Republican party after the 2004 Presidential election got sloppy. Spending flew out of control and scandal after scandal broke from airport bathrooms to strange money deals. The Tea Party tried to take everyone back to basics with the simple idea of fiscal sanity. Their power was evident in the 2012 Republican Presidential Debates because Michelle Bachmann wouldn’t shut up about how much of a Tea Partier she was and everyone had to make promises about cutting spending, some of which were a bit outlandish. They also continue to win Republican Primaries from time to time. The most famous example is Christine O’Donnel who ran for Senate in Deleware, but lost after everyone heard she was a witch. (more here)
So even when you’re frustrated with the two candidates you have to chose from because neither wants to require every American to buy a longboard, remember, all you need is a charismatic third party candidate to affect change in the political system.