A growing number of Americans are unhappy with their current political choices. According to a Pew Research Center survey, four in ten say they want more parties than just the Democrats and Republicans. Among younger voters, over half say there are usually no candidates that represent their views well.

This is hardly surprising in an increasingly polarized political atmosphere. As the Republicans shift ever further to the right the distrust, indeed outright hostility, between supporters of the two parties becomes increasingly toxic. In the last 30 years the percentage of supporters of each party who have negative views of the other party has tripled from 20 percent to well over 50 percent. Over half of Americans say the Democratic Party is too extreme in its positions and an even larger share say the same about the Republican Party.

The U.S. system was simply not designed for two polarized parties. Indeed, when the founding fathers wrote the constitution there were no political parties.

Our parliamentary system accommodates polarization much better. In our legislatures we have the governing party and her majesty’s loyal opposition whose job it is to … well, oppose. Legislation passes on to two other authorities, the Senate and the Crown’s representative, but these steps are formalities. If it is passed in the legislature it is effectively done.

But under the U.S. system, legislation must pass muster with three authorities and they must all approve. To pass Congress, it must be approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate (and approval by the latter often requires 60 percent). Then it must be signed off on by the president who has, and often uses, veto power.

There are only two ways to ensure that bills ultimately become law. Either one party dominates all three institutions or the parties must work together. The former—winning the elections for all three—is a massive challenge. Even today, when the Democrats have majorities in all three (including the vice-president’s Senate vote) getting anything done is difficult. A couple of conservatives among the Democrat senators (cue Joe Manchin), combined with the need for 60 percent support to avoid filibuster, and passing anything can still be formidable.

Prior to the recent polarization the two parties often collaborated. Indeed, some of the most important and lasting acts of Congress resulted from lawmakers who could work with members of both parties. There was usually a significant number of liberals in the Republican Party and a significant number of conservatives among the Democrats, but polarization is ending that. Today if one party doesn’t control all three authorities the result is often gridlock.

Would more parties help? Quite possibly. If it became necessary to negotiate among parties, Congress might be able to return to the pre-polarization days. It might at least mitigate the polarization.

It certainly isn’t hard to imagine natural divisions. The Democratic representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has said in a “normal” system she wouldn’t even be in the Democratic Party. She is in fact a social democrat, as is Bernie Sanders and other Democrats. Social democratic parties are an integral part of the political scene in other western democracies.

On the other side, one wonders how long any remaining moderate members of the Republican Party can continue to sit comfortably with the Trumpers. Or, perhaps more to the point, how long the Trumpers can continue to sit comfortably with the moderates.

So the idea has possibilities. Unfortunately the two major parties are so deeply entrenched in state and country, and the system is so dependent on big money, getting another party or two off the ground would be a monumental challenge.

But the system desperately needs something. It is literally coming apart. Americans are famous for their ingenuity. They have rarely needed it more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Discover more from Views from the Beltline

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading