The Need for a Third Party
September 16, 2020
As we move closer to November and further into this tumultuous election season, a sad reality of the American Political system becomes clear again. Unlike most other Western democracies in the world, America is dominated by two political parties that have been in power, almost completely unchallenged, for over 160 years. Even though the Republicans and Democrats have both increasingly started marketing themselves as populist parties for the good of the people, both parties work against the good of the American people so that their diarchy can continue, and they can carry on lining their pockets.
But to understand the dangers of a two-party system, it is important to understand how we got here. Since the founding of the Republican Party in 1854, there has been no new long-standing political party in America. Until the late 1890s, the two parties enjoyed a period without any opposition and with major political machines, like the infamous Tammany Hall Ring, helping them to keep their power. However, in the late 1890s, a new political movement was rising: the dawn of the Populist Party. This was a short-lived experiment, and no Populist ever won any national election. The Populist Party, however, did have many ideas, like the direct election of US Senators and party primaries. Although these ideas were supposed to help give the people more control over the political process, it wasn’t long until even these measures were co-opted by the parties to keep themselves in power. As time went on, third parties began to die out as it became impractical in the system to run them. Campaign finance laws were passed that made it harder to finance third party candidates. The Presidential Debates were taken over by the RNC and DNC in the 1970s for the express reason of keeping third party candidates out. It has been over 50 years since a third-party candidate won any electoral votes. Even the most popular third-party candidate in the past century, Ross Perot, did not win any electoral votes when he won 19% of the popular vote in 1992. It has become clear to all that the American political system, as it has been built, has no room for a third-party by design. But why is this a bad thing?
There are three main dangers with a two-party system. First, it creates an Us vs. Them mentality. Second, it disenfranchises voters who do not hold party-line positions. Third, it allows people to vote off of one issue or off of party-line, without knowing anything about a candidate. Let me explain these points in greater detail:
1. How many times have we heard Donald Trump and Fox News make blanket statements demonizing all Democrats or blaming all of America’s problems on them? How many times have we heard Democrats and CNN say the same things about Republicans? This is not how the political system should work. It should be a system of collaboration for the good of America, but instead, each side is polarized and, on many important issues, refuses to work together. Many of the most important pieces of legislature in the past ten years have been passed by straight party line votes. Speakers of the House can refuse to bring to vote bills that would pass because a majority of their party would not vote for them, even if a majority of the House would. House Committees have stopped being given out based on seniority, but instead on willingness to stick to the party-line. The number of bills originating in these Committees has shrunk as each party prefers their own party think-tanks instead of Committees with both parties. This is not how our political system should be. It should be a system of conversation and compromise, not party-line votes. A multi-party system would help to fix this divide. With more than two political parties, you cannot disagree with another party on every issue. There would have to be compromise and collaboration, and not just demonization. No longer could a candidate run on only negative ads meant to scare people away from voting for his or her rival. Each candidate would have to run on his or her strengths in order to get elected. Members of different parties would have to collaborate in order to get bills passed if no party has the majority, and this collaboration and civility would change the way American Politics work for the better.
2. Imagine that you are a strict Constitutionalist or a Bernie Sanders supporter voting in this election. With the two main-party candidates, you would have to make a huge compromise and vote for a main-party candidate, or you would have to vote for a third-party that has no way of winning in our current system. There is no good option for your vote to matter for something you believe in. While this is an inherent problem with a Representative Democracy, as no one person can have the exact same views as you, it is exacerbated by there only being two real options to vote for. With a multi-party system, you would be able to vote for someone who more closely aligns with your views, and you would not have to make a huge compromise when voting.
3. In the American political system right now, there are many people who vote based on one issue, whether this be voting for Trump because he’s “pro-life” or voting for Biden because of his immigration policy. Voting off of one issue is incredibly easy because of how diametrically opposed the two parties are on many issues. With multiple political parties, this would not be possible because there would be multiple candidates with the same views on issues, requiring voters to educate themselves more and understand deeper issues, not just the ones that pop out the most. Multiple political parties would also help stop people from just voting down party line and not understanding each candidate’s views.
As bad as the situation may seem, there are many ways that it can be fixed. In the next issue, we will explore five ways that we could help make third parties viable in America.