No, the US is not on the Verge of a Multi-Party System

We will have a two party system for the foreseeable future.

us-politics-republicans-democrats-flagAlex Berezow has a piece at RCP which asks the title question U.S. on Verge of Multi-Party System?

The simple answer is no, it isn’t.  And I say this while also thinking that we would likely be well served by a multi-party system (but I will leave that assessment aside for now).  The answer is “no” because not only does Berezow make some simplistic errors about the US party system he utterly ignores the institutional parameters that help generate and maintain that system.

Berezow describes the current party system thusly:

The surging popularity of Ted Cruz and the persistent support for Bernie Sanders illustrate that both the Republican and Democratic parties are facing an existential crisis. Indeed, both parties may be headed for a divorce, ushering in a new era of multi-party politics.

The Republican Party consists of two major factions: businesspeople and social conservatives. Yet, other than a shared dislike of President Obama and lefties in general, there is very little to unite these two major groups.

On the one hand, the business faction is pro-free trade, opposed to regulation, eager to embrace globalization, disinterested in social issues, and religiously agnostic. They find common ground with both moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans because, as one might expect of business people, they are pragmatic and instinctively centrist.

Now it is true that our two major parties are coalitional in nature.  It is also true that with different institutional parameters we would almost certainly have more than two viable parties.  Still, several mistakes are made here.  First is the assumption that there is a neat, simplistic progression from right to left without taking into consideration that there is also a great deal of overlap between the groups mentioned.  To wit:  there are actually a number of social conservatives who are also business conservatives (to use the categories from the column)–these are not neatly self-contained groups.  Further, the notion that voters and politicians are simply motivated by opposition is incorrect–they actually have policy preferences as well as identities that motivate their behavior and actions.

Now yes, under the right conditions the various major impulses within each of the two parties might form the basis of their own party.  However, the notion that they are wildly disparate groups held together only by hatred of specific enemies is so wrong as to be cartoonish.

Beyond that, the fact that there is a challenger in the Democratic primary (or any primary, for that matter) and that that challenger represents a different faction of the overall party is not a shock nor a sign of impending party dissolution.  Such an occurrence is far closer to business as usual than it is to an “existential crisis.”   While not every primary contest necessarily unleashes the exact same constellation of factions, it is the opportunity for various factional representatives to assert themselves.  Jerry Brown represented a different faction of the Democratic Party than did Bill Clinton in 1992, likewise John Kerry and Howard Dean in 2004, or George H. W. Bush and Pat Buchanan also in 1992.  (It would take an additional post to fully flesh out this background, but it isn’t hard to go back and look at the modern primary system, i.e., since 1972, and find example after example of what I am talking about here).

And really, his overall assessment of the Democratic Party underscores a gross simplicity:

Democrats’ prospects are just as bleak. Like Republicans, what unites them more than anything is a shared hatred of their political opponents.

The Democrats constitute an uncomfortable coalition of aggrieved groups. The party’s support stems largely from those members of our society who hold grudges against other members of our society. Democratic leaders, from President Obama to Vice President Biden, have energized their base by stoking anger over racial and economic injustice, both real and imagined. Biden’s warning in 2012 that Republicans want to put black people back in chains is just one example of the party’s divisive and toxic rhetoric toward fellow Americans.

This unhappy union of the perpetually outraged cannot last.

Are some of the ideological and philosophical motivations of portions of the Democratic Party related to views of injustice and grievance? Certainly (but then so are some of the ideological and philosophical motivations of some Republicans–perhaps you have heard of abortion and gay marriage?).   However, to reduce the party to simply “an uncomfortable coalition of aggrieved groups” is more talk radio level commentary than it is serious political analysis.

The fact that the two main parties are fragmented in multiple ways should be no surprise, as we would expect large parties to have numerous internal fissures.  Rather, the question is whether the system encourages large or small parties. And there is no doubt that our system encourages large parties.  Let’s consider three institutional factors in the US system:  the method for electing the legislature, the nomination process, and the electoral college.  

First, the method by which a national legislature is elected is a major, if not the major, variable in terms of understanding the basic structure of the party system.  This is a far more complicated issue than I can lay out here (as this is already a long post), but fundamentally some systems allow for a means by which (and these means vary) the percentage of seats a party receives is roughly equal to the percentage of votes that the party receives (i.e., proportional representation).  Hence, a smaller party with 15% support, for example, can win roughly 15% of the seats in the legislature.  In short:  smaller parties have a serious shot at winning seats and therefore have a reason to exist in such a system (and less incentive to join large parties where they will have to compromise their preferences, at least as candidates).  There is a great deal of variation as to how this functions and exactly how proportional a given system is.  Some systems encourage medium sized parties, others a number of small parties.*

The US systems is one of single seat districts with plurality winners (i.e., we elect each member of Congress from one district each where the winner is the person with the most votes).  Being small in terms of vote-winning potential (such as the aforementioned 15%) means being a loser.  The best way to win a seat is to be a large party–so that vote totals can be maximized in competitive districts.**

Second, it is true that most other countries that have a similar electoral system for electing the legislature also have more than two parties.  This is true in varying degrees in the UK, Canada, and India.   There are various reasons why these three have single seat plurality systems and multiparty systems (again in degrees–the UK’s system is far less “mutli” than is India’s, for example).  A major difference(although not the only one) between these cases and the US is that we use primaries to nominate candidates.  This means that there is an open competition for who gets to use the party’s label come the election.  Hence, if I am a factional actor (e.g., the Tea Party or any of the vaguer factions noted by Berezow) then I am far better off competing in the primary to win the nomination than I am forming a third party and doing all the work that that entails.  In short:  to have a chance of winning office one must be on the ballot.  The route to the ballot in the US is to win the primary (and parties do not control who competes in the primary).

My favorite example of this is Ron Paul:  when Ron Paul wanted to actually try and win office he ran as a Republican, not a Libertarian.  Why?  Because in a Congressional race (see the rules noted above) the Republican has a chance to win and the Libertarian doesn’t.  Hence, run for the GOP nomination in the primary and then have a real chance in the general election.  For that matter when Paul ran for president in 1988 he ran as a Libertarian and was largely ignored.  When he ran again in 2008 he ran in the GOP primary and garnered a lot more attention.  

In the UK if a faction of a mainline party wants to run candidates it likely has to break away and start running as a new party because it has no other way of guaranteeing its candidates will make it to the ballot.   Hence when the UK Independence Party wanted to form to oppose the EU it did not have a mechanism to use to try and take over part of the Conservative Party, but rather had to forge its own electoral path (and they are more successful in European Parliament elections than in House of Commons elections because the EP is elected via proportional representation–again, rules matter).  The Tea Party faction of the GOP has zero incentive to go third party for two reasons.  First, as per the rules if they split off from the GOP they would split the vote on the right and help Democrats win seats (a contest of GOP v. Tea Party v. Democrat would likely yield a Democratic win).  Second, why go that route when it is easier to simply win the GOP nomination (especially since primaries are low turnout affairs that empower motivated minorities like the Tea Party)?

Third, the electoral college encourages two party competition.  The single most prominent electoral prize in our system is the presidency.  The president is elected via a system that rewards large parties because with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, the electoral votes of each state are awarded to the candidate with the most votes in that state.  Being second, let alone third or fourth, means getting nothing (and the dynamic in Maine and Nebraska is the same, just tiered:  plurality winners get the electoral votes statewide and at the district level–there is nothing proportional about the process in those states).  There is zero incentive for multi-party competition in this system.***  And, indeed, the nomination process provides the mechanism for multiple viewpoints to emerge from within each party and try and make its case (and hence why I said above that the Clinton-Sanders contest is business as usual and not evidence of an existential threat to the Democratic Party).

I could go on, but will summarize as follows:  

  1. Our parties are factional.  This is nothing new.
  2. While the parties do have factions, they are held together by far more than hatred for their enemies.
  3. The rules we use to translate votes into elected office incentivize large parties because nothing about our system rewards smaller parties. (And so we will continue to have large, factional parties).
  4. The nomination process specifically undercuts the formation of smaller parties because it provides a route for factional actors to forward their own political projects while still being able to capitalize on the parameters set by the rules of the game.

So, no, we are not about to experience a multi-party system.  Whatever changes to the party system that are going to take place are going to take place within the existing structures (and we are seeing the parties evolve and change-especially the Republican Party).

I would also underscore that while presidential nomination fights have a way of exposing the fissures in the two major parties, it is a mistake to try and understand the parties through that lens alone.  Again:  the main factors that drive the party system are the rules that elect the legislature and those are substantially locked in and while continue to produce Republican v. Democrat.  The real story of the factionalization of the GOP is going to be the way the party behaves in Congress (especially the House).

To summarize all of this:  politicians run for office to win office.  Small parties in our system are losers.  This basic dynamic alone encourages large parties.  It is reinforced by the fact that challengers to the status quo can bypass party elites and capture control of party labels via primaries, so there is no incentive for insurgent parties to form.  So:  the system is one in which only large parties can win office and the rules make it possible for emerging factions to assert control over party labels.  Hence, until we see a significant reform to either the electoral rules or the the nomination rules, we are not going to have a multi-party system.****

—–

*If anyone is truly interested is the basics of electoral systems and their effects, I will go the self-promotion route and note that  A Different Democracy has some extensive explanations of various systems as well as data on party systems for 31 cases.  Other resources would include Arend Lijphart’s Electoral Systems and Party Systems: A Study of Twenty-Seven Democracies, 1945-1990, and Rein Taagepera’s Predicting Party Sizes: The Logic of Simple Electoral Systems.  See also work by Pippa Norris, Michael Gallagher, and many others.

**Another very serious issue in our system is the lack of competitive districts.  Far too many are heavily slanted for the Republicans or Democrats, which further solidifies the incentives to remain as large parties.

***If we elected the president via a two-round process, that would encourage multiple candidates.  Also note that if the presidential contest was ever thrown to the House (because no candidate won an absolute majority of electoral votes) then the decision would be made in an environment where being the third party candidate would be dire (since the Ds and Rs dominate the House).  Again:  no incentive for third party formation.

****It worth noting that New Zealand changed from single seat plurality to a mix member proportional system in the 1990s an they did go from a two party system to a multi-party one (also discussed in our book linked above).

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Best of OTB, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Pch101 says:

    The US issue is pretty simple — the grand prize of American politics is the presidency, and the electoral college chooses the president.

    Without a majority of electoral votes, the president is chosen by the House. A political party that lacks any chance to get a president elected isn’t worth much, so there is pressure within the system to form intraparty coalitions instead of the interparty coalitions that one finds in parliamentary systems. The party system of the early years (which occurred even though Madison opposed the idea of parties altogether) eventually failed for this reason.

    If the US system was like the UK, then the House speaker would run the country. Things would be quite different if the US didn’t elect its monarch as it does.

  2. Tillman says:

    Remember reading something on Twitter from one of the more creative people I follow. The normal word for them would be “weird,” but I like weird stuff. It was about how our system is designed as a good cop/bad cop routine to hoodwink people into carved-out solutions by an elite. Which is fine as far as a simplistic analogy goes, but then it went on to describe Sanders as being suppressed because his campaign was the “viable gateway drug” to a third party. That was when I realized this wasn’t a simple analogy but was oversimplified, and further masquerading under the heading of an insightful take. Echoes of a few weeks ago in these comments, really.

    It’s too easy an excuse for people who’d prefer a multi-party system to say “the elites” through a clever media shell game are the problem rather than confront how much institutional structure shapes what follows. Part of this, I think, is people just aren’t dissatisfied enough to care. If you’re basically satisfied with things as they are, you don’t see a need to explore further to develop your understanding. You hit the point where you get an explanation that lights up your biases and stop. The people who don’t vote in our system might be politically apathetic, but that’s a considerable luxury if they can get by year to year without feeling a need to act.

  3. @Pch101: Without a doubt if we had a parliamentary system instead of a presidential one that governance would be different. However, if that was the only change we made we will still have a two party system if we retained single seat districts and primaries.

  4. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The UK has what it is essence a two-and-a-half-to-three party system, even though it has electoral districts and first-past-the-post voting.

    Canada also has electoral districts and first-past-the-post voting. and it has four major parties.

    The difference between them and the US is that we have to grapple with choosing our king, in addition to electing our Commons. A prime minister is the head of government; our prime minister (House speaker) isn’t that important.

  5. @Pch101: Not to sound rude, but did you read the post?

    I mentioned both the UK and Canada (and noted a major difference with the US).

    Parliamentarism does not cause multipartism.

  6. From the post:

    Second, it is true that most other countries that have a similar electoral system for electing the legislature also have more than two parties. This is true in varying degrees in the UK, Canada, and India. There are various reasons why these three have single seat plurality systems and multiparty systems (again in degrees–the UK’s system is far less “mutli” than is India’s, for example). A major difference(although not the only one) between these cases and the US is that we use primaries to nominate candidates.

  7. Ron Beasley says:

    Here in Oregon the municipal and county elections are non-partisan. It seems to work pretty well and does include judges. We are also 100% vote by mail which does seem to increase voter turnout and saves money at the same time – no polling places. Vote by mail is a bit of a misnomer since there are multiple drop boxes where you can leave your ballot and not pay for postage.

  8. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    In a parliamentary system, what matters most is party affiliation because the party picks the PM.

    The US has primaries because of our focus on individual candidates. That is a luxury that we can afford because the party of our local House member does not determine who picks the president.

  9. @Pch101: Yes, I understand comparative democratic design pretty well. Well enough to know that you are oversimplifying and conflating variables in your assertions about the affects of parliamentarism on party systems.

    The US has primaries because of our focus on individual candidates. That is a luxury that we can afford because the party of our local House member does not determine who picks the president.

    The US primary system is a basically unique institutional feature that evolved in the late progressive era. It is the creation of primaries that contributed to the candidate-centric nature of the system, not the other way around.

    Regardless, the comparative evidence from Latin America, where there are presidential systems but multi-party systems undercuts your assertion.

  10. DrDaveT says:

    Democratic leaders, from President Obama to Vice President Biden, have energized their base by stoking anger over racial and economic injustice, both real and imagined.

    I would be fascinated to hear which racial and economic injustices, publicly mentioned by Obama or Biden, Berezow thinks are are merely imagined.

    Berezow: The Republican Party consists of two major factions: businesspeople and social conservatives.

    I nominate this for Misleading Oversimplification of the Year. I’m pretty sure that Warren Buffett and Pope Francis would both agree with me…

  11. @DrDaveT: Yes–there was a lot more that could have been said about that column.

  12. Gustopher says:

    @Ron Beasley: the People’s Republic of Seattle has an ever increasing number of “nonpartisan” offices, which as just a way for the Republicans to hide their party so they can be at all viable.

    I am not a fan. A party label gives a quick indication of many of the policies the candidate endorses. Otherwise,my have to ditto find out which candidates are the stealth Republicans — sometimes having to resort to looking at campaign donations, since there are a fair number of completely inexperienced candidates at the local level who have no other paper trail.

    Republicans should be registered, and kept in a database so we can track them. Like Trump wants to do with Muslems.

  13. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    As noted in my first post, the issue with the US is with the manner in which we choose the president.

    If the president was elected via a popular vote, then things could be different. But as noted, the US defers to the House if there is no majority of electoral votes, which makes it important to secure a majority, not just a plurality. Hence, the value of an intra-party coalition.

  14. Rob Richie says:

    Interesting analysis, and I agree with much of it. But note:

    * All of the rules you present as obstacles can be changed without amending the Constitution — that is, plurality voting rules, the role of primaries and current state ways of allocating electoral votes. So stay tuned; given dysfunction in Washington, such statutory changes are more credible.

    * The current Electoral College rules are less of a barrier to third parties and independents winning than one might suppose. Note FairVote’s analysis of Perot’s vote in 1992 that suggests he would have won an absolute majority in the electoral college with a low, non-plurality of the vote if it had been secured by cutting equally into the major party candidates to rise from 19% to 34%. See http://archive.fairvote.org/?page=2071

    Finally, I should add that lack of competition in districts is much less from gerrymandering than it is from a combination of winner-take-all, increasing partisan rigidity in voters and partisan imbalance in most areas. The only reliable way to ensure more competition will be something like the Ranked Choice Voting Act, to be introduced next year in Congress (RCVAct.com)

  15. @Pch101: Yes, as noted in the post, the way we elect the president is relevant (but it is not the most significant variable).

    I am really not sure what the point of your argument is, as you are doubling down on a simplistic view of the effects of the presidency (and its mode of election)–and you aren’t even consistently focusing on the same aspect (you started with the simple fact of presidentialism, and have shifted several times).

  16. @Rob Richie:

    All of the rules you present as obstacles can be changed without amending the Constitution

    True, but I would not consider such reforms likely any time soon.

    The current Electoral College rules are less of a barrier to third parties and independents winning than one might suppose. Note FairVote’s analysis of Perot’s vote in 1992 that suggests he would have won an absolute majority in the electoral college with a low, non-plurality of the vote if it had been secured by cutting equally into the major party candidates to rise from 19% to 34%.

    Well, sure, if things had been different, Perot could have won (but I don’t find that useful). In other words, sure: an appropriately popular third party candidate can win. However, the question is (and the point I am making is): if a third party candidate is popular enough to wint he EV under unique circumstances, is not that candidate in a tactically better position to win the nomination of one of the two major parties?

    If we are going to play counterfactual: Perot would have a better chance of winning the presidency in 1992 had he pursued the Democratic Party nomination.

    I should add that lack of competition in districts is much less from gerrymandering than it is from a combination of winner-take-all, increasing partisan rigidity in voters and partisan imbalance in most areas.

    For what it is worth, I did not mention gerrymandering. But yes: it is not the main culprit.

  17. @Rob Richie: BTW: for what it is worth, I favor reform (I am jut highly pessimistic about it happening anytime soon!.

  18. Tony W says:

    While I don’t disagree with this premise, I think there might be a simpler explanation. America has spent years destabilizing and defunding education. We have a money-takes-all system where the loudest voice is the one with the most money. We worship celebrity and get-rich-quick schemes.

    In short, the population is deliberately and intentionally politically stupid, and thus highly susceptible to simplistic ideas like elections as dichotomies.

  19. @Tony W: Except that it isn’t as if the rest of the world is radically better educated (especially in developing states), and yet we find multi-party systems elsewhere.

    (And while I am sympathetic to the notion that US voters lack sufficient education, especially on politics, it really isn’t as if we are especially disadvantaged in this realm).

  20. I agree completely with the whole post.

    However, what has happened before in American politics (and what likely will happen again – if not this year, then on a long enough timeline…) is twofold:

    1) Parties change. It has often been said that a time travelling Ronald Reagan couldn’t win the GOP nomination in 2015. As Instapundit noted the other day, it’s equally true that the 1990s era Bill Clinton couldn’t win the Democratic nomination today. And that’s just over a few decades. Look back further and you’ll find this to be even more true (the “Solid South” used to be solidly Democratic, etc).

    2) Parties have split in the past. As you excellently explain, Steven, this has never – and almost can’t, in the American system – lead, in the long term, to three or more viable parties. But major parties have died before in American politics and been replaced with newer parties. I’m not arguing that this is about to happen right now – although I think it’s likelier now than it ever has been in my lifetime. The current parties are heavily entrenched and have a lot of money and power built up. It would take quite a bit to knock them down.

    But eventually it will happen. Nothing is forever.

  21. @Russell Newquist: Allowing that nothing is forever, I think that #2 is precluded by your #1 (at least as long as the nomination process allows new actors to capture control of major party labels).

  22. @Russell Newquist:

    As Instapundit noted the other day, it’s equally true that the 1990s era Bill Clinton couldn’t win the Democratic nomination today.

    BTW: I don’t think this is true (and seems undercut by the fact that HRC is likely to be nominated–although certainly, they are not the same person).

    I think that the GOP has traveled a farther distance in the last couple of decades than has the Democratic.

  23. @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think that #2 is precluded by your #1

    It certainly has been so far.

  24. @Steven L. Taylor:

    I don’t think this is true

    Then i think you’re not paying enough attention to the differences between the campaign she’s running today and the campaign her husband ran in the 90s. Read again what I wrote:

    1990s era Bill Clinton couldn’t win the Democratic nomination

    I’m not saying that today’s Bill Clinton couldn’t do it. Or that Bill Clinton in 1992 wouldn’t have been smart enough to do it. But the policies he ran on in 92 and 96 wouldn’t win the nomination today, hands down. Remember, it was Clinton who introduced “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and called it a victory, and Hillary is heavily distancing herself from several other of his policies.

    The party has changed. And I completely disagree that it’s changed less than the Republican party. It just seems that way to those who find the changes in the Democratic party less problematic than those of the Republican party.

  25. @Russell Newquist: Example of Democratic party change: here in the Tennessee Valley, we’d have happily continued to send Blue Dog Democrats to Congress for a very long time. Float a candidate like that in today’s Democratic primaries and tell me how they do. I bet you a dollar they’d still win the general election, but you couldn’t get one nominated if your life depended on it.

  26. @Russell Newquist: I know these are data on Congress, but they do indicate substantially more change for the Rs than the Ds: http://voteview.com/political_polarization_2014.htm

    Remember, it was Clinton who introduced “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and called it a victory, and Hillary is heavily distancing herself from several other of his policies.

    Yes, gay rights have advanced substantially since the 90s.

    I suppose that in any 20ish year comparison one can find shifts and in that sense no candidate from time X to time Y could overcome those changes.

  27. @Russell Newquist: Indeed. And again, certainly given enough time one would expect something new to occur.

    But I think it is worth underscoring the role of the primary, which I think if wholly under-appreciated. It truly is a process the short circuits any reason for a faction of the Ds or Rs to break off on their own (which is one of the factors that it would take to have a party replacement take place).

  28. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    you started with the simple fact of presidentialism

    I will copy and paste my first post with emphasis:

    Without a majority of electoral votes, the president is chosen by the House. A political party that lacks any chance to get a president elected isn’t worth much, so there is pressure within the system to form intraparty coalitions instead of the interparty coalitions that one finds in parliamentary systems. The party system of the early years (which occurred even though Madison opposed the idea of parties altogether) eventually failed for this reason.”

    I am obviously talking about the electoral college and the role that the House plays in choosing the president. Anyone who knows about early US elections is aware that presidential elections were not straightforward.

    And if you are familiar with parliamentary systems, then you know that voters are primarily motivated by party. You choose your local MP in order to get the PM that you want, so the vote for the MP is essentially a proxy vote for the head of government.

  29. @Pch101:

    And if you are familiar with parliamentary systems, then you know that voters are primarily motivated by party. You choose your local MP in order to get the PM that you want, so the vote for the MP is essentially a proxy vote for the head of government.

    Well, yes and no. Party is more important in parliamentary systems, yes. However, the exacty way in which voters interface with parties and candidates is more complicated than you are suggesting. It matters if we are talking a single seat plurality system, a closed or open list PR system, an STV system, an AV system, etc. Some electoral systems, even for parliament, cultivate personal votes, others don’t.

    Anyone who knows about early US elections is aware that presidential elections were not straightforward.

    But we are speaking here of modern (indeed, 1972-onward) elections because of the primary system that has been in place since then.

    I am obviously talking about the electoral college and the role that the House plays in choosing the president.

    That role is currently essentially theoretical at this point. The last time the House settled a presidential election was 1825. The more important effect of the EC is the way the vote is allocated by state (as noted above).

    I am happy to try and explain whatever you like, but it might be easier to just go here.

  30. gVOR08 says:

    It is, of course, not impossible to form a third party. Hundreds have been, with a lack of success that should be obvious. It’s possible that either the Tea Party or Establishment (“Eastern” Establishment wing as opposed to the Koch Bros Establishment wing which supports the TP). will split and form a third party. Either the new third party or whichever factions remain the “Republican” party will then wither and die. A possible scenario is that Clinton, or Sanders, or someone in 2020 finds a way to bring the “Reagan Democrats” back into the Dem Party where they belong. The nightmare scenario is that the Rs won’t split, that the “Eastern” Establishment will jump or be driven to the Democratic Party. The D’s would then become a more conservative, even more pro-business party. This would leave the country with only a conservative party and a whack job conservative party.

    I read A Different Democracy a couple months ago. Recommend it. Points out ways we are more unique than I had realized. (Electing judges, for instance. Nobody elects judges.) We were, after all, pretty much the prototype democracy. As one who has designed and developed a fair amount of product, you can always improve on the prototype. The Founders expected the Constitution to evolve and be improved. I don’t think we’ve been very good at that.

  31. @gVOR08: Yes, but the issue is not whether forming a party is possible (as you note, it is). The issue is whether the rules of the game incentivize such behavior.

    I am glad you enjoyed the book.

  32. Pch101 says:

    But we are speaking here of modern (indeed, 1972-onward) elections because of the primary system that has been in place since then

    The point is that the US system inherently favors a two-party system because of the electoral college, the importance of the presidency and the House’s role in determining the president. This country’s flirtations with multiple parties and multiple candidates within parties did not work out well for the minor parties, and the leadership has learned its lessons.

    That role (the House’s choosing of the president) is currently essentially theoretical at this point.

    It isn’t theoretical — that role encourages us to have a two-party system. We don’t need the House to break ties because of the intra-party coalitions that have been formed accordingly.

  33. @Pch101:

    We don’t need the House to break ties because of the intra-party coalitions that have been formed accordingly.

    We don’t need the House to break ties (well not ties, but rather 3-way or more races) because there haven’t been any since 1825. This is because the very fact of needing an absolute majority of the EVs plus the unit rule at the state level incentivizes two parties. Look at Perot: nearly 20% of the vote and no EVs.

    Really, the EC never worked as intended, and given that there was ever only really one case, that of 1825, where there was a non-majority EV winner (1801 really doesn’t count) then it is rather difficult to argue that the House part of the mechanism is the driving force for party behavior.

    You are simply incorrect in your assessment of causality.

    Yes, the EC is a reason for the two party system–in that we agree. However, you are looking at the wrong part of it for the reason. Further, you are discounting the role played by legislative elections in determining the shape of the party system.

    Regardless, I can see you are not persuadable, which is your right. These are topics I have been studying and writing about for a couple of decades, so not only do I take them seriously, I am more than willing to discuss them ad infinitum, but perhaps this is a good place to stop.

  34. Pch101 says:

    We don’t need the House to break ties (well not ties, but rather 3-way or more races) because there haven’t been any since 1825.

    As I keep noting, we skew toward a two-party system in order to avoid the presidential selection dramas that we would have if we had a strong multiple-party system. The role of the House creates a strong disincentive to allow it to get that far.

    The US system discourages spoilers because it keeps them out of power. Split the liberal presidential vote and you end up with a conservative president, and vice versa. We don’t have inter-party coalitions here; we have to form them within parties in order to make them effective.

    Take 2000: If the US had a government that was more similar to Westminster, then you could have had an election result in which Gore’s Democrats formed a coalition with Nader’s group, then formed a cabinet that included members of both. But that didn’t happen, of course — the third party simply helped the party that was the most dissimilar to it.

  35. As I keep noting, we skew toward a two-party system in order to avoid the presidential selection dramas that we would have if we had a strong multiple-party system. The role of the House creates a strong disincentive to allow it to get that far.

    Except that that is not how things actually progressed. I understand the logic you are following, but it does not conform to what actually happened.

    Further, in terms of the role of the House, the Framers assumed that the House would regularly choose the president, and they thought this was a good thing. This further mitigates against your argument that avoiding the House choosing the president was an early motivator for two parties.

    Indeed, the notion that having the House choose the president is a bad thing comes about later,

  36. @Pch101:

    Take 2000: If the US had a government that was more similar to Westminster, then you could have had an election result in which Gore’s Democrats formed a coalition with Nader’s group, then formed a cabinet that included members of both. But that didn’t happen, of course — the third party simply helped the party that was the most dissimilar to it.

    Except that Nader didn’t have a party in Congress. Nader mattered in terms of EV distribution at the state level (which is the point I have been making about the EV all along).

    Also: the reason that Nader had no party in Congress is because of single seat plurality elections for the legislature (the other point I have been making). And indeed, you have the basics of that here:

    The US system discourages spoilers because it keeps them out of power. Split the liberal presidential vote and you end up with a conservative president, and vice versa. We don’t have inter-party coalitions here; we have to form them within parties in order to make them effective.

    You have the basic idea, you just have the causality wrong and are focused on the wrong aspects of the system.

  37. B. Minich says:

    His point about the Democrats is particularly wrong. You can at least see the major fissure in the GOP that might develop into two parties (which, to be fair, either one will die, or they will become like the National/Liberal coalition in Australia where the two new parties are pretty much the same party anyway). His justification for the Dems is that there is a guy who is popular, but way less popular than the presumptive nominee.

    Huh.

    That’s . . . normal. And what supporters of Bernie Sanders will splinter off in the end? Just don’t see it.

  38. Pch101 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Except that Nader didn’t have a party in Congress. Nader mattered in terms of EV distribution at the state level (which is the point I have been making about the EV all along).

    Yes, because the Democrats had already formed the intra-party coalition that I keep talking about. They seek to maintain it because coalitions formed before the election make all the difference in American politics, while there is no opportunity to form them following the election.

    The US has never had a viable environment for multiple parties. The third parties that we have had all have been short lived and never accomplished much. Guys like Nader don’t form coalitions in the US system, they break them apart.

    Since the failure of the Federalists, the US has essentially had two major parties, with the Democratic-Republicans becoming Democrats and the Whigs somewhat transformed into Republicans. There are good reason for this, I have explained what they are and there is nothing recent about them.

  39. @Pch101:

    The US has never had a viable environment for multiple parties.

    Indeed.

    BTW: did you read my post?

    it is true that our two major parties are coalitional in nature.

  40. the US has essentially had two major parties, with the Democratic-Republicans becoming Democrats and the Whigs somewhat transformed into Republicans. There are good reason for this, I have explained what they are and there is nothing recent about them.

    The whole post is about the fact that we have a two party system and will continue to do so. We do not disagree about this.

  41. John D'Geek says:

    @Pch101:

    The difference between them and the US is that we have to grapple with choosing our king, in addition to electing our Commons.

    Uhhhh .,… what?

    The king is not “chosen”, at least not in the UK or the Commonwealth (there are those systems that do, however). Prince Charles will be the next King, provided he does not predecease or abdicate in favor of his son. No voter interaction required in the least.

  42. John D'Geek says:

    @DrDaveT:

    I would be fascinated to hear which racial and economic injustices, publicly mentioned by Obama or Biden, Berezow thinks are are merely imagined.

    I went looking for one for you. Sadly, said quotes were all replaced by the usual talking heads in my Google Search (and my Google-Fu is insufficient to the task). There are plenty of examples of this; to be fair, there are also plenty of examples on the other side. You can practically mad-lib it.

    “Since ” (name of party or person) ” opposes ” (political issue) “, that means that they hate everyone who is ” (constituency identifier) “!”.

    Just remember “in modern politics, there is no such thing as an honest disagreement” and you’ll be fine.

  43. @John D’Geek: I think he is criticizing that nature of the American executive by the usage of “king” here, but that he is not literally referring to royalty.

    He is also making an comparison between a directly elected chief executive and one chosen by parliament.

  44. Pch101 says:

    @John D’Geek:

    The king is not “chosen”, at least not in the UK

    I think that we all know that. But the US obviously borrowed the idea of a bicameral legislation with an executive who isn’t from either of those chambers from the Brits.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think he is criticizing that nature of the American executive by the usage of “king” here

    No, I was comparing it to Westminster by noting that our head of government is not an MP in our version of the Commons — unlike the UK, we combine our head of government and head of state. You were the one that began this by making the comparisons to the UK.

  45. @Pch101: My mistake–I misunderstood why you chose to use the term “king.”

    I will note that the reason I raised the UK was solely about legislative electoral systems, not selection of executive.