I have struggled for years to concisely explain why a two-party system is an inevitability in the United States. The primary reason for this is our voting system, which is known as “First Past the Post” or “Winner Take All.” With a few exceptions in a few states, virtually all of America does it this way, which is the simple rule that you don’t have to get a majority of votes to win, you just need more votes than anyone else.
C.G.P. Grey’s wonderful video explains in a few minutes better than I ever could why this winds up giving you a default status of two major parties that rarely changes. Watch it!
All of this, by the way, is why I scoff at most third party efforts and why I think Americans Elect is probably silly at best.
I agree with Grey that an alternate voting method is desirable, but there is a problem: Gorilla and Leopard will fight against changing it. To get it done in the United States it would have to start by reforming things on a city by city, county by county, state by state level. This would take many years. That’s no reason not to try, but we should realize it would take a while. The easiest change to start with would seem to me to be the Alternative Vote, which Grey explains masterfully here, because it threatens the two big parties least in the short run and is also pretty easy to implement at a local level. The Australians have been using this system for quite some time, so we know it works.
All of that said, I will defend the two party system to this extent: it forces us as voters to compromise. Unless you are one of that minority of folks who is truly a party-line Republican or Democrat, you know walking into the election booth that you’re voting for someone you don’t entirely like, or at least, you are voting against whomever you most vehemently disagree with. This may seem unappealing, and it probably causes a lot of people to not bother voting at all, but it does give us a system wherein most people are not completely happy, which is why civil war and revolution are pretty rare. And if you look at life under our current system in comparison to dictatorships and absolute monarchies, you really shouldn’t be completely unhappy because you have it a lot better than they do most of the time even if the candidates you really want never win.
Still, there’s good reason to work for improvement, and Grey explains that masterfully. Check out all his videos on the subject.
(This item cross-posted to Dean’s World.)
Dean Esmay is the author of Methuselah’s Daughter. He has contributed to Dean’s World, Huffington Post, A Voice for Men, Pajamas Media. Neither left nor right wing, neither libertarian nor socialist.