Democracy beyond the two party system

In 1912, voters lined up the streets to participate in perhaps one of the most consequential U.S. elections in modern history, directly preceding the first world war. Whereas Woodrow Wilson and William Taft filled the Democratic and Republican ballots respectively, a strong third candidate—former President Theodore Roosevelt—rose to take 27.4 percent of the popular vote for the Progressive party. It was the last time a third party overtook the Democratic or Republican parties in the popular vote and electoral college.

This may seem like one of the stories you would memorize for a history test and forget immediately after, but it reflects an alarming trend. For 108 years, the Democratic and Republican parties have maintained a complete dominance over U.S. general elections. This problem now seems larger than ever, with many comparing their vote for the 2016 and 2020 general elections as “choosing the lesser evil.”

Despite the dozens of “minor” parties in existence, the United States is generally referred to as a two-party system, a political body that mostly comprises of only two political parties despite the existence of other parties.

Proponents of this status quo indicate that a two-party system allows for a greater amount of stability in the government. After all, as one or the other party is nearly guaranteed a majority in Congress, the United States does not have to worry about partisan strife from many divergent parties. As a result, political coalitions, a system where parties align themselves with each other after a party does not receive a majority in the legislature, are not necessary.

Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize the need for a balance between a collective identity and individual beliefs. In a nation that is becoming more polarized politically, enough so that Pew Research Center notes a strong correlation in personal beliefs to which candidate voters support, individualism can often be stifled by the overbearing “red” or “blue” wave.

Some of the primary benefits of a political party is that it allows for constituents to gain a voice in election and to easily communicate the person’s platform—that is to say, an individual’s opinion on certain significant issues. However, in a two party system, both of these advantages are compromised by a lack of choice.

Democracy shouldn’t be about choosing the lesser evil. In a nation with a wide variety of political beliefs, Americans are robbed of choice when this diversity is limited to what is essentially three options: red, blue or vote for neither. 

Conservative and liberal beliefs are now largely analogous to the Republican and Democratic parties with liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats sounding like terms from fantastic fiction. This undermines the concept of the political spectrum, where a wide array of beliefs are limited to just two sides of a line. It is convenient to be able to estimate an individual’s beliefs through knowing their political affiliation, but the hint “Republican” or “Democrat” gives an exact mold that the person may or may not completely believe in. This also occurs for our elected officials. We expect the Democrat or Republican nominee for President to follow up on the platform of the party, even when each politician (and individual by extension) has varying beliefs on different topics.

If individuals then choose that their beliefs do not completely align with those of the two major parties, they then have to make a sacrifice: key issues or voting power. 

If someone voted Gary Johnson (Libertarian) or Jill Stein (Green) for the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, it’s reasonable to say that these platforms appealed to their beliefs in place of the dominant two parties. However, despite amassing a total of nearly 6 million votes, neither candidate earned a single electoral vote. 

To me, that seems like 6 million votes wasted.

By Ethan Park, Copy and Coverage Editor-in-chief
Editorial cartoon by Remy Wong