Yes, It’s a Two-Party System, But That Shouldn’t Stop Us

Bad Arguments Vol. 50


When we talk about American politics, in a general sense at least, we are faced with the mammoth support that the two “primary” parties, the Democrats and Republicans, hold. If we dislike these two parties or their policies, and wish for an alternative, there are plenty of options available. However, the problem we face with that is the continuous reassurance that “it’s a two-party system”, so we’d just be throwing our vote away. There’s several key issues with this line of thinking that we need to correct.

The first thing we need to address here is why two-party voting structures form in the first place. The phenomenon was originally discovered by a French sociologist named Maurice Duverger. Duverger observed, and wrote in several papers, that in plurality-rule voting systems (where you’re only allowed one vote, and the winner is based on highest count rather than a true majority) in single-member districts (where there is only one seat to win) elections will tend to come down to two major parties for that contest. This can play out in different ways with different governmental systems, but for our purposes this description works.

There is an issue with this, mind you. The problem is this idea we have formed that all of America is bound to this. While, yes, we can observe the tendency for a single contest to boil down to two chief contestants, it doesn’t mean that they have to be the two that are most common across the nation. As you may recall, Gary Johnson was, for a time, polling in second place for his Senate run in the 2018 midterm over the Republican candidate. Even though people tend to dichotomize between two options, this served as but one of many examples to show that those options need not be the “R’s and D’s” we are use to.

Looking away from America for a moment, we can see new or historically third parties climbing to ranks of importance. In my province of Ontario, for example, a party known as the NDP became the official opposition, or secondary party, in our provincial parliament with the Liberal Party practically having been wiped out. This was after the Liberals (which is our equivalent of the Democrats) had held a majority government. If we look to Europe we can see tons of examples of this in play, but none quite as powerful as the surge victories experienced by the Brexit party. They began winning seats in a national election less that six weeks after their formation.

It should be noted in all fairness that a parliamentary system does seem to allow for more variance in parties, though the two-party majority does still tend to be in play. As the above examples show, however, this can be overcome if a party has the ability to grab the attention of the people.

Even if we look to American history, we can see that the Republican party wasn’t formed until 1854, and acted as a third party for a few short years before electing their first president, Abraham Lincoln. How did they get in though? Well, they were founded on a single issue, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and pushed on it and associated ideologies to gain support from those that wanted that act revoked.

Ultimately, there is a duopoly in play, that much cannot be denied. It also paints a rough picture for the future the Libertarian Party (or other liberty-based parties) will face, but it does give us insight into how to gain traction. More importantly, in my opinion at least, it gives us hope in the face of the two-party system knowing that it is not set in stone.

Read more from Killian at Think Liberty here.


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