Politics

The two party system lie you’ve been told all your life

I like Randy; I love his comic, Something*Positive, and I enjoy his often-times crazy rants about the history of Duckburg. When he tweeted the above tweet this morning, I replied with a tweet of my own.

 

All my life, I’ve heard about the two party system. In my political science classes, they talk about the virtues of the two party system. And there are a lot of benefits to a two party system. We’re not as likely to get violent swings where more than half the country wanted a different candidate in office. In a “winner takes all” voting system, third parties are able to get into power; they just have to beat the other two parties. So you might have 66% of the population wanting someone else in power, but 34% was enough to win in that situation. That’s an extreme example, but I’m sure it has happened before.

The thing is, though, that we don’t have a two party system. We have two major parties that have donors, but it’s not like any other party couldn’t build up a platform where they could challenge/replace one of the parties. George Washington, for example, didn’t belong to a political party. His successor, John Adams, was a Federalist. Then, the amazing happened: he was succeeded by Thomas Jefferson, a Democratic Republican. That was a very important test for the country. Overnight, the main party in our country was ousted from power, not by weapons and violence, but with civility and aplomb.

The Democratic Republican party was dissolved in 1825, replaced primarily with the Democratic party in 1828 when Andrew Jackson decided to become the President. So, we had two major parties at this point, but only one of which was really in power. Then came the Whigs. William Henry Harrison took office in 1841 as a Whig, Then in 1854, Abraham Lincoln entered the stage as a Republican. And that was pretty much the end of the Whig Party.

All of that is to say, that while we generally have two parties in office at any given time, (with the occasional independent thrown in for flavor), it would seem that our government was set up to be a two party government. But that’s just a byproduct of the way our election system works. In order to win the Presidency, a candidate has to get 270 electoral votes. If no candidate gets 270 votes, congress gets to pick the next President and Vice President of the United States. They also get to ignore the will of the people in this regard.

In 2000, Ralph Nader entered the race as the Green Candidate. He was on the ballot in 43 states, and the crucial one was in Florida. There’s a term called “Spoiler Effect” that is often used to describe Nader, although it is heavily debated as to whether or not the people who voted for him would have actually voted for Bush or Gore – they might have refused to show up at all. However, one thing is certain: The difference between Bush and Gore in Florida came down to 537 votes. There were 138,067 votes cast for other candidates.

When there’s a 2.7 million difference in vote totals, it can seem pointless to vote for a 3rd party candidate. Especially when the difference between a Bush and Gore presidency was 537 votes. We’re conditioned to ignore 3rd party candidates by our voting system; everyone wants their vote to count, but we disenfranchise a huge swath of eligible voters with our adversarial, first past the post system. We want the best chance for change to happen, so we go with the “safer” candidate. Not that there aren’t viable candidates in other parties, and not that we shouldn’t be able to vote for them, either. That’s the point. We can vote for them if we want, (in a true two-party system, you wouldn’t have the option.)

We’ve been lied to about the two party system our whole lives. Our system isn’t set up for “two parties”; it’s set up for “Two people”; a third, viable candidate would make voting pointless. Congress would choose the winner. So we really only focus on two parties to keep the voting system from failing us. It’s not time to get better parties or new candidates from outside establishments; it’s time to start looking at a different voting system that allows for better decision making.

It’s 2016. We’re able to move to a better system now.

spacer

Leave a reply