Partisanship is, for better or worse, the rule of the day in the United States of America. Polarization is getting worse, not better, as the reaction from both the GOP and the Dems is to dig in their heels, fight the other side tooth and nail, and wait until the other side blinks.

The reason the USA has this problem is, at its heart, structural. The winner takes all system (or first past the post) means that there can be only one winner in any election, and this rarely produces more than two parties. Three parties can be temporarily sustainable, but rarely for more than one electoral cycle. The UK, as I’m sure Kevin will immediately bring up, is different because there were no formal term limits in the House of Commons until 2011. With the ability to react more quickly to changing circumstances, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see one of the three parties fade away. The UK is also an exception because the differences between the parties are fundamental, not issue-based, as they are in the US.

So, what could we do? Well, without an incredibly compelling candidate, a third party will not succeed in the US under the present system. I think, perhaps as an experiment, we ought to see what might happen if we went to proportional representation. I’d imagine we’d see a formal split in the GOP between Tea Party, Libertarian (assuming a difference between the two), and more traditional Conservatives. For the Democrats, I can foresee a center-left faction, perhaps a genuine socialist party, and something between the two, an Interventionist party if you will. So why is this a good thing?

Competition. The American system favors stability and, as of late, stagnation on both sides of the aisle. Each side chooses to double down on their current strategy, to the detriment of the country.

Anyway, that’s my thought on the matter, and I’d like to see how readers (i.e. Kevin) respond.



One thought on “Food for thought: Should the US go multi-party?

  1. I’m still a huge fan of first past the post for exactly the same reasons as in that blog post a few years back. Given the 12th Amendment, we aren’t going to see a serious third party for Presidential elections. We can and do see the occasional third party candidate in a House or Senate seat, but look at those people: Lisa Murkowski, Joe Lieberman, Bernie Sanders, and Angus King are the main people I can think of (and Lieberman isn’t even in the Senate anymore). Murkowski is a Republican who ran as an independent after she lost her primary. Lieberman is a Democrat who ran as an independent after he lost his primary. Sanders is a socialist who caucuses with the Democrats. King is the only actual Independent, and he’s currently caucasing with the Democrats; if Republicans were to take over the Senate, he’d probably caucus with them.

    The reason why is pretty simple: the majority party gets nice assignments, and there is an agreement with the minority party not to get too far out of line with assignments. True third party candidates who refuse to caucus with one of the two parties won’t get assignments until they formed a critical mass, something extremely unlikely to happen unless one of the two parties implodes; the incentives for multiple parties simply don’t exist in the US given law on the books.

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