The Quest to End Two-Party Rule: Part 1
“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.” – John Adams
Unfortunately, John Adams’ dread was all too prescient. But even as we lament the culmination of Adams’ prophecy, we may take heart in the fact that the country may be in the midst of a significant realignment of its politics, as divisions within each of the major parties appear to be fracturing old allegiances.
Is it possible that our system of duopolistic political power-sharing may now be vulnerable to disruption? Could this, in fact, be a time for optimism?
Matthew Dowd in his book, A New Way: Embracing the Paradox as We Lead and Serve, points out that even though we live in an era characterized by significant disruptive innovation, our politics has remained resistant to the entrepreneurial forces that have shaped so much of modern life. The questions that arise of course are firstly, why, and secondarily, what can be done about it.
Those of us who are interested in bettering US politics will likely want to take advantage of this moment. But if we are to successfully deflate the two-party duopoly and inaugurate an era of more diverse and responsive politics, we should be actively engaging in a process of developing, thinking about, and planning a variety of insurgent approaches.
Disruptive strategies are always fraught with danger and often fail, as many commercial entrepreneurs will attest to. But the promise of entrepreneurship is that a multiplicity of innovative ideas is ultimately what brings about successful change.
It is unfortunate that the US system of single-member districts and plurality voting seems to naturally lead to a two-party duopoly (Duverger’s Law). Despite evidence that two-party rule is currently harming the country, many continue to extol the virtues of a two-party system, chiefly for its stability and its ability to ‘filter out’ extreme points of view.
This argument typically notes that compromise and moderation occur inside the two dominant political parties, ensuring that only centrist positions prevail and suggesting that it is easier to govern when there are only two parties. But this suggestion also leads to the obvious corollary that one-party rule might be even better – clearly not a good recipe for the health of a democratic republic.
Intraparty reconciliation of divergent competing views may have occurred more frequently before the advent of popular-vote primary elections (The United States of Dysfunction, Carl Jarvis). But as we saw all too clearly in the last Presidential election, internal party politics now plays a small role in the selection of duopoly party candidates. The moderating influence of party has given way to intense polarization. Our political factions now seem to be behaving more like tribes, much to our collective detriment.
In his book, Unstable Majorities: Polarization, Party Sorting & Political Stalemate, Morris Fiorina argues that our current state of polarization is not due to a less moderate electorate, but rather to polarization of the two major parties that make up the American duopoly. If true, this is good news, because the two major parties don’t seem to be paying attention. There is little evidence they are moderating their stances. If anything, they seem to be solidifying their positions on a war footing in a ‘crude death struggle for power’ (Dan Henninger, Wall Street Journal).
The problem, of course, is that as the two dominant parties continue to battle, it is unlikely that either will cheerfully make much room for significant non-duopoly voices to participate in the political arena. We can expect the political giants to continue to wield their levers of power to squelch and exclude the additional competition needed to invigorate our system.
We must resist, for it is hard to imagine that the current state of political tribalization can peacefully change without more pluralistic processes that embrace a greater variety of voter choice. And without greater voter choice, it’s not clear how we can hope to bring about the increased voter participation that is needed for an electorate fully engaged in the give-and-take of vibrant democratic politics envisioned by our founders.
Future articles will explore three aspects that we should be considering as we engage in our quest to end two-party rule: 1) an elaboration on the nature of the Opportunity that lies before us, 2) an identification of the Barriers to change that stand in our way, and 3) a preliminary list of possible Strategies that might be considered as we develop plans for successfully bringing about change.
Mark Miller Dripping Springs, TX
Editor’s Note: Sign up to join the League of Independent Voters of Texas right here!