Scrap The Two Party System? Not So Fast

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Entrenched political power and state electoral rules prevent viable third parties

Perhaps in a perfect world when we go into the booth or fill out our election ballots at home, we would have candidates from more than just the two main political parties to choose from. Of course we do see candidates from the Green Party, Progressive Party, Conservative Party, and so on. But in most cases the candidates from those parties have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. Why are we stuck in such a system? Why is it that Republicans and Democrats have pretty much ruled the roost in our country for the last 150 years or so? The answer lies in the way our system of government is set up and the power, money, and lobbying structure that has engulfed Washington D.C for decades. And it’s only gotten worse.

Not since 1912 has a third-party candidate actually placed second in a national presidential election. Teddy Roosevelt ran on the Progressive Party ticket but ended up splitting the vote with William Howard Taft, the Republican Party candidate. Roosevelt and Taft both received more votes combined than did Woodrow Wilson but Wilson ended up winning with 42% of the vote. In 1992, Ross Perot ran as an independent and got 19% of the vote, but didn’t receive one single electoral vote. Perot’s experience highlights why it’s so difficult for a third party to win. Seats in Congress and the presidency are predicated on a winner take all method. A majority of votes is what’s needed for a seat in Congress and in the majority of states, the electoral votes are awarded to the presidential candidate who gets the most votes in that particular state. Again, in both situations third party candidates are at a pronounced disadvantage, not even mentioning the fact that both major parties make it increasingly difficult for third parties to even get on a ballot in a particular state. Since each state is allowed to establish the criteria of what it takes to get on the ballot, a candidate other than democrat or a republican faces hurdles such as signature requirements and other methods which can become onerous and expensive. In other words, the system is rigged the way the two parties want it.

So the system is rigged in favor of both major parties which is enough of a hindrance in and of itself. The fact is however, when you have the rigged system and the power structure, third parties hardly have a chance to succeed. Both parties have the think tanks. They have the RNC and the DNC. They have the money. They have the immense infrastructure and backing of lobbyists. To be sure, there’s a valid argument that having viable and strong third parties would and could enhance our democracy. It could enhance the debate as well as even reducing the influence of corporate lobbyists. But the fact is, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. Like it or not, we have a two-party system and when we head to the polls we need to accept this for what it is. Both parties are flawed in many ways but both have a governing philosophy and platform from which to make a choice. It’s better to accept the system for what it is rather than sitting out an election or writing in someone whose not even running. Everyone’s vote matters and we cannot let politicians or pundits tell us otherwise.

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