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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Two Sizes Fit All: America’s Two-Party-System Stranglehold

A Rasmussen Reports poll conducted in early August 2011 found that “just 17% of likely U.S. voters think that the federal government . . . has the consent of the governed,” while 69% “believe that the government does not have that consent.” Yet an overwhelming number of Congressional incumbents is reelected. Is it that many Americans stay away from the polls on election day, or does the two-party system essentially force a choice? Voting for a third-party candidate risks the defeat of the candidate of the major party closest to one’s views. Such a vote is typically referred to as a protest or throw-away vote. Is it worth driving to the polls to do that?

A poll of 1,000 Americans conducted by Douglas E. Schoen LLC in April 2011 found that a solid majority of Americans were looking for alternatives to the two-party system. A majority of the respondents (57%) said there is a need for a third party. Nearly one-third of the respondents said that having a third party is very important. In the next month, 52% of respondents in a Gallup poll said there is a need for a third party. For the first time in Gallup’s history, a majority of Republicans said so. These readings point to more than simply a desire to vote against the closest major party without merely being a protest or throw-away vote.

Even as Republican and Democratic candidates were at the time in tune with their respective bases, these two segments of the population were becoming two legs of a three-leg stool, rather than remaining as the two defining pillars holding up the American republics. In fact, with the number of independents growing, the two bases combined no longer made up a majority of the citizens able to vote.
 
To be sure, the electoral systems of the American states and the federation itself have been rigged against  aspiring third parties. For example, a Green Party presence in the U.S. House of Representatives would require one of that party’s candidates to snag the highest percentage of the vote in one of the 435 legislative districts. Were fifteen percent of Floridians vote for Green Party candidates in every House district, Florida's delegation would still not include any Green Party presence. In terms of the Electoral College, many of the states have a winner-take-all system in selecting electors. Furthermore, a third-party candidate doing well in electoral votes could keep none of the candidates from getting a majority, in which case the U.S. House of Representatives would elect the U.S. President (each state delegation getting one vote). A third party would have to be dominant in that chamber, or at least in a few of the state delegations, to have any impact. The proverbial deck, ladies and gentlemen, is stacked against any third party, so merely getting one started is not apt to eventuate in much of anything, practically speaking. For fundamental reform, one must think (and act) structurally, and Americans are not very good at that, being more issue- and candidate-oriented.

The real elephant in the room is the fact that the two animals are the only ones allowed in the room. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

If the American political order has indeed been deteriorating and disintegrating, its artificial and self-perpetuating parchment walls might be too rigid to allow the vacuum to be filled by anything less than whatever would naturally fill the power-void in a complete collapse. The two major political parties, jealously guarding their joint structural advantages, have doubtlessly been all too vigilant in buttressing the very walls that keep real reform—real change—from happening at the expense of the vested interests. As a result, the electorate may be convinced that it is not possible to venture outside of the political realities of the two major parties that stultify movement. If a majority of Americans want a third party, they would have to apply popular political pressure to the two major parties themselves to level the playing field. A huge mass of dispersed political energy would be necessary, however, given the tyranny of the status quo. Indeed, such a feat might require going against the natural laws of power in human affairs. If so, the already-hardened arteries will eventually result to the death of the "perpetual union." Sadly, the determinism is utterly contrived rather than set by the fates.


Source:

Patrick H. Caddell and Douglas E. Schoen, “Expect a Third-Party Candidate in 2012,” Wall Street Journal, August 25, 2011.