Let’s Kill the Two Party System
The two-party system has become a danger to the nation. Democrats and Republicans are in a death match and the American people are caught in the middle.
The nation faces all sorts of serious problems, from growing inequality to spreading international terrorism, but the bitter fight between Democrats and Republicans has largely ground government to a halt. Partisans on both sides are so angry they can barely speak with the other, much less work together. The most extreme are convinced that members of the other party are treasonous and purposefully harming the nation. This isn’t just a perception. A recent Pew Research survey found that 36% of Republicans thought that liberal policies are “a threat to the nation’s well-being.” 27% of Democrats feel the same way about conservatives. They don’t just think they have better ideas or their opponents are misguided and honestly believe that the other side is more interested in partisan gain than the well-being of the nation. Many of the more extreme partisans simply refuse to work with the other side. The result is that the two parties have the nation’s capital, and many state capitals, in a death grip.
This level of hostility is a direct cause of gridlock. The same Pew Study found that over the last thirty years the nation has grown more partisan and Congress has become less effective. Each side is more extreme, and each bases their political agenda on demonizing the other side. Each side engages in political machinations, which include partisan gerrymandering and manipulating the rules of Congress to get their way, stymie their opponents, or deny them office completely.
But that’s only part of the problem. The more destructive problem is the way this skews the discussion of the issues facing the nation. The media — meaning news sources from Fox News to the New York Times and everything in between — seem largely incapable of dealing with any issue outside of the liberal versus conservative paradigm. Whether it’s dealing with ISIS, the debt ceiling, or climate change, the media frames every issue as a simple debate between the Democratic and the Republican positions. This creates the ludicrous idea that every public policy problem has two, and only two, approaches. That’s nonsense. Certainly some problems have only two resolutions, some have only one, but most have a range of possible solutions. But the “national” debate presents every issue as a simplistic duality, which trivializes everything. This duality is making our political debate stupid. We can’t solve problems unless we can discuss them rationally, and we aren’t having a rational discussion about anything.
And the public is sick of it. 80% disapprove of Congress. That’s actually an improvement, last November 86% disapproved. Last year 71% disapproved of the way Republicans in Congress were doing their job, and 65% disapproved of the Democrats. And the public wants something new. In a Gallup poll from last year 60% of the respondents said they wanted new political parties. This disgust for the status quo is why voters in both parties are flocking to “outsider” candidates like Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump.
But what if the problem isn’t the politicians, or the parties? What if the problem is the system? What if the problem is a system that makes every election a battle between a single Democrat and a single Republican? Maybe the solution isn’t new people, or new parties. Maybe the solution is changing the way we elect people.
We used to have viable “Third Parties” in this country. A few, like the Whigs and the Republicans, eventually became the dominant party. Others, like the Abolitionists and the Progressives, brought important new ideas into the national debate, and helped change the course of history.
Was there something different then that allowed these third parties to exist? Yes, multi-seat Congressional Districts. A multi-seat district could have two or more elected representatives. This system allowed a candidate to be elected with as little as 10% of the vote. This allowed candidates from minor parties to win office, which allowed these parties to gain political traction and eventually participate in a meaningful way on the national stage. Our current single seat districts, with “winner-take-all” elections, favors parties that can assemble coalitions of over fifty percent of the voters. This favors the two major parties.
Congress eliminated multi-seat districts in 1967, with the passage of the Uniform Congressional Districts Act. It is time to repeal this law. It is time to give the American people a meaningful choice in politics. We have choices in everything we do, but only a false and divisive choice in politics. I believe that we need to kill the two party system, but I’m not suggesting we get rid of the Democrats or Republicans. I’m suggesting we change the system to bring in new voices and new ideas. For this we need new political parties.
This will give voters more choices at the polls. It will also bring new ideas into the political debate, which will mean that public policy issues may be debated as if there are a range of possible solutions. This will get us away from the silly idea that every issue is a death match between left and right. And maybe, just maybe, the debate won’t be so stupid and we can seriously address the issues facing the nation.