The 2016 American Election has been one of the best chances for American third-party politics in a very long time. Two widely unpopular candidates running against each other from the lists of the two major parties. It was taboo to say that one supports Trump, and it was nearly as taboo to say that one supports Clinton, but nobody, unless they were slightly more politically aware, frowned at you if you supported Johnson or Stein. The Libertarians and the Greens mobilised all their resources to offer a real alternative, and… They got 3.28% of the vote. It was a complete fiasco.
Many of my colleagues were calling out the death of democracy, as though it hasn’t been already long-dead. In all honesty, though, I do not see why do people voting for two, rather than three or more parties, is necessarily anti-democratic. It’s their will, right? If they choose to limit their choice to two parties, they are exercising their democratic right, they are ruling the country’s politics, they are fulfilling democracy to its very definition – demos kratia, the people rule.
Indeed, I would argue, there is nothing wrong with the system we are familiar with in the UK or the US, and it is in many ways superior to the multi-party gulasz that one has in the Netherlands or Austria.
Firstly, it gets stuff done.
I presume all of us remember the Tory-Lib Dem coalition in the UK. It was hard for anybody to get anything through, and the two parties cooperated on economic policy and to a degree progressive social policy, but not much else. Messy coalitions of two or more parties can find very little common ground and struggle not only to pass acts through their respective houses but even to coöperate in the government. It not only results in no new things getting done but in chaos and inefficiency in governing the existent. With only two major parties, coalitions are very rare (like in the UK) or non-existent (like in the US).
A two-party system where one party lands a government is a good balance between the ruthless yet inconsiderate efficiency of an absolute monarch and the incapability of a multi-party government.
Libertarians and Representation
Secondly, it offers a better platform to third-partists than third-parties.
If a fairly niche political movement, like minarchism, wants to get a platform, it would be incredibly difficult for it to start-up its own party. The American Libertarians were struggling to break 3% in the polls, even with the very moderate Gary Johnson in the lead. Meanwhile, Austin Petersen, a fellow of Gary who ran in the Libertarian primaries, has recently left the Party to run as a Republican senator in the next election. I think you can guess when does he have a better chance at winning at least some level of power. Indeed, an even better example is Ron Paul, a dedicated libertarian who in 2008 garnered plenty of support behind him when running in Republican primaries. He was only capable of getting the notoriety, resources, energy, and people he needed because he used as his platform the very big and powerful Republican Party.
Indeed, an even better example is Ron Paul, a dedicated libertarian who in 2008 garnered plenty of support behind him when running in Republican primaries. He was only capable of getting the notoriety, resources, energy, and people he needed because he used as his platform the very big and powerful Republican Party.
In two-party systems, party leadership elections are a big thing. 17 people ran in Republican primaries in the run up to 2016, and 6 in the Democrat primaries. People got involved, donated, campaigned for them. They were an early general election – everybody participated. Had it been an internal party contest like it is in multi-party democracies, had only the very politically involved been aware of them, Trump would not be the Republican nominee. As a proof of the sort of energy the primaries generated one just has to look at the excitement surrounding the figure of Bernie Sanders. Every single person in the primaries had a real chance at becoming President, no matter their political views. The choice offered was not between two – it was between 23, which is much more than most multi-party systems offer to the average voter.
As a proof of the sort of energy the primaries generated one just has to look at the excitement surrounding the figure of Bernie Sanders. Every single person in the primaries had a real chance at becoming President, no matter their political views. The choice offered was not between two – it was between 23, which is much more than most multi-party systems offer to the average voter.
Of course, that is not necessarily always the case. In the UK the recent Conservative leadership contest was largely solved within the upper structures of the party itself, but it is still possible in British politics to have a party leadership contest ‘of the people’ – the choice of Jeremy Corbyn was certainly not one favoured by the Labour Party establishment.
Finally, it is easier to move around in two-party politics. It’s as clear as black and white, red and blue. There is no need to worry about yellow, green, purple, or orange. The people know what they are voting for, and they know what they can choose from.
I have friends living in multi-party systems that choose not to get involved in politics precisely because it is too complicated; too many parties, too many policies. People don’t support parties because they don’t know what they stand for, they do not know who represents them. If we want to do democracy properly, we need to make sure we have educated, represented voters, and the fact is that people’s views tend not to be sophisticated; the average John is not a paleolibertarian reactionary, but much more likely to be simply left or right. With two powerful parties pulling their resources into advertising themselves, Joe is sure to know whom he agrees with more.
Maybe it’s not all so bad after all.