“Bernie or Bust!” “Never Trump!” “Never Hillary!” “Feel the Johnson!” “Jill not Hill!”
Maybe these siren calls of third party revolution have graced your Facebook or Twitter timelines. Maybe you’re thinking about casting your vote for a third party. I’m here to tell you that, for a multitude of reasons, this is not a good idea. For both practical motivations and those important to the nature of political discourse in our country, having two “big-tent” political parties is in our best interest.
If you are like 54.4 percent of Americans (including myself), you have a generally unfavorable view of Hillary Clinton. If you are like 58.6 percent of Americans (very, very much including myself) you have an unfavorable view of Donald Trump. Both of these numbers are historically high, and given the public’s dissatisfaction with the two candidates, the question arises: why can’t we have another choice?
First, logistically, the way that federal elections work, with single-member districts and first-past-the-post voting, there is an inevitable two party split. This is due to a phenomenon known as Duverger’s Law, meaning that, in a system where the loser gets nothing, the third option is consistently eliminated.
Additionally, if no presidential candidate gets a majority of the electoral votes, as might happen with a competitive third-party candidate, the election is decided by the House of Representatives – who will almost certainly pick the candidate of the party in power. As a result, making third parties electorally competitive (at least for the presidency) would require an amendment to the Constitution. Since that’s highly unlikely, third parties are stuck in a bind of non-competiveness and can only play a spoiler. Like it or not, if you want to affect meaningful change you need to vote red or blue.
More importantly, having two parties with a wide range of views is healthy for our republic. It’s common knowledge that political polarization today is already out of control. Democrats and Republicans can’t see eye to eye on almost anything, and the resulting gridlock in Congress has eroded confidence in government to dangerous levels.
Now imagine that the loudest, most ideologically extreme parts of each party were able to seriously compete for political power. The gridlock we see today would be absolutely laughable in comparison. Forcing the centrist and extreme elements of one ideological wing together causes them to moderate and present a somewhat united front. Our public discourse is already toxic enough; it would be far worse if the most zealous of each party were given a larger voice via their own political parties.
Now, this is not to say that everything is perfect with our two parties. As private organizations, they lack much of the accountability that they should have, and their incomprehensible and inconsistent primary rules make it difficult for anyone but the most politically-active to truly grasp the process and participate effectively. The rules for the Democratic Party result in the sort of establishment nepotism that never really made this year’s primary competitive. The nature of the Republican primary, especially with a divided field such as this year’s, leads to the most brash ideologues with the most devoted followings coming to the fore.
Instead, we should embrace our parties and take them to task as their workings determine the direction of this country. Each party’s primary should be open to both that party and Independents to encourage broader participation and ideological diversity. We should do away with the bizarre caucus system, one which ensures only those most involved and with substantial amounts of time to spare can participate in the political process.
Democrats must eliminate their ultra-privileged “super-delegates,” and Republicans must change their rules to encourage more robust competition. Finally, the rules of registration and delegate allocation should be uniform around the country as to make the primary system more understandable and accessible.
A two-party system is not some cruel regime which must necessarily stifle dialogue and elect distasteful candidates. It can be a system which presents the two ideological middles in which most of us reside and allow for meaningful discussion and compromise. Let us make our two parties worthy of the great democracy they aspire to represent.
Carl Costa is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.