America needs more political parties
August 15th, 2011
12:56 PM ET

America needs more political parties

Editor's Note: Stephan Richter is the editor-in-chief of The Globalist.

By Stephan Richter, The Globalist

The traditional argument for the two-party system in the United States was, simply, that it worked.

More theoretically, it was argued that streamlining the formation of political will in such a straightforward, binary fashion made a country more effective and more direct in resolving the inevitable political conflicts. “Don't give them too much choice! It might confuse the voters,” went the mantra.

And indeed, for a long time, rather than dallying around, European-style, among myriads of political parties constantly at each others' throats and incapable, or unwilling, to cooperate with each other, the U.S. system did display elegance and decisiveness. More or less, it was either the Democrats or the Republicans who had the upper hand. No mucking around in the U.S. of A. It all boils down to a matter of political leadership.

Alas, by now it is becoming excruciatingly clear that the "big tent" approach — under which the two big parties exercise a filtering, and/or disciplining, function with respect to the articulation of diverse political interests — has run into a brick wall.

The U.S. two-party system doesn't just seem to fray at the edges, but at the very center.

Republicans and Democrats, whatever else they are, have turned themselves into increasingly dissonant, disparate holding companies that are not just extremely creaky, but also outdated, or at least too limiting in their scope.

Read: After the S&P downgrade, it's anybody's world.

What's amiss may become clearer if one looks at what's happened in Europe. There, the usual cacophony of political voices has largely been weeded out, thanks to minimum voting percentages (often 5%) that needed to be met before a party could actually be represented in parliament.

Moreover, while most countries there typically had a left- and a right-of-center party that tended to dominate the political process, now there often are a few, much smaller parties strewn in the center that ensure a constant drive to the middle ground.

Thus, instead of having two big parties, each with at least 45% of the vote, ferociously fighting each other in a truly titanic struggle, as seems the U.S. preference, the voting patterns in Europe are much better distributed.

Read: America's fourth branch of government?

Moreover, it is possible to reform oneself even without profound constitutional changes (witness the emergence of the Liberal Democrats as a co-governing party in the UK).

Politics, owing to the nature of the beast, may be vitriolic the world over — and it is certainly never easy, especially in the current, economically troubled times. But the current state of politics in the United States is particularly unforgiving.

With regard to the U.S. situation, one cannot really argue that this is a reflection of harder economic times, since that phenomenon is gripping the entire developed world. But is it a reflection then of an internal loss of dynamism, which could mean that the political fraying and outright deterioration is only a temporary phenomenon?

Read: Britain's tabloid cancer.

Perhaps. But the evidence is becoming overwhelming that too narrow a political choice, via a two-party system, makes people ever more frustrated. And acerbic.

No doubt, questioning the future validity, relevance or applicability of the two-party system in the United States is as old as the question about why there is no more social democracy in the United States.

Any attempts to say an opening up to a third party is imminent have almost always been laughed away in the past. That time of easy dismissal may be over, however. Given the vitriol that has taken hold of the U.S. political process, it may be indeed high time to think about broadening the spectrum.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Stephan Richter. For more, visit The Globalist.

Post by:
Topics: Politics • Uncategorized • United States

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    What are the depicted thick-skinned elephants and stubborn donkeys for? To symbolise the intransigence of the American political parties?
    Apart from the two mainstream parties, America has a third one – the Tea Party. What about the fourth one, the Independent? Maybe one should get Ralph Nader back to the circus again.

    August 15, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Reply
    • Paul Cohen

      I am of the opinion that the problem is not particularly with the Republicans or the Democrats but with an electoral system that enforces the two-party structure. Other electoral systems are possible that would break this log jam, but change is always resisted.

      September 18, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Reply
  2. tom cleary

    this article makes a point, except that the author seems to not realize that the make up of the american political system, which is a single member plurality system, makes it almost impossible for any real third parties to arise. The only real way for another party to arise would be one which would replaces a current one, such as how the republicans did in 1860. Any other third parties are negligible and really only serve to take a few votes away from whichever main party they are close to. In order for more parties to become part of the system the US would need to fundamentally change their system, which I do not see ever happening.

    August 15, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Reply
  3. Onesmallvoice

    America does need a third political party consisting of both Moderates and Liberals since both the Democrats and the Republicans are under the control of the MIC(military-industrial-complex) in Washington,D.C. Unfortunately, like tom cleary already said above, the M(IC has made it virtually impossible for a third party to rise!

    August 15, 2011 at 10:27 pm | Reply
  4. toyotabedzrock

    This is misguided.

    Americans don't even know what the current parties stand for.

    You also have a large group of people who studies have shown are inflexible and they will never switch.

    The magical 3rd party fairy will come and fix DC, get off your but and inform your neighbors, try that for once.

    August 15, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Reply
  5. uncle leo

    There is one alternative movement forming. Go to

    August 16, 2011 at 11:03 am | Reply
  6. NonZionist

    The U.S. actually has ONE party with two wings - the Perpetual War Party. It represents war profiteers, banksters, transnational corporations and foreign lobbyists. We the American people are out of the loop. No matter who we vote for, we end up with more war, more debt, more tyranny, and more subservience to corporate and foreign lobbies. The election circus ensures that criminals and incompetents rise to the top while honest people are weeded out.

    We Americans have ceased to operate as citizens. Instead, we have become mere cheerleaders, cheering for one wing or the other. That is the purpose of the two wings: To keep us on the bottom divided, confused and entertained. It makes for great theater.

    August 17, 2011 at 4:19 am | Reply
  7. NonZionist

    We would get better results with aleatory democracy - selecting representatives randomly from a pool of qualified volunteers.

    Seriously, we should supplement to the current election circus with random selection plus recall. Pure chance results in proportional representation over time, with each definable group fairly represented. It eliminates the election campaign and all of the corruption and financial dependency and demagogy and cynicism that comes with the campaign. And it results in a genuine democracy, where the government is truly a representative sample of the larger population.

    Juror selection offers a successful precedent for this aleatory approach: Selecting jurors randomly is far superior to electing jurors, for obvious reasons.

    But there is a far more interesting precedent: the Bill of Rights.

    Our founders understood that power corrupts. By "power", we mean human political control. What is the alternative to control? - pure CHANCE.

    Instead of using the word "chance", our founders used the word "god". But "god" and "chance" amount to the same thing: The system is put beyond the reach of corrupt human beings.

    When our founders enacted the Bill of Rights, they took power away from the politicians. E.g., politicians are not allowed to control what religion we belong to. So where does the power go? It goes to the citizen.

    Did our founders trust the citizen to use his or her power wisely? Probably not. But when we take all citizens together, the aberrations cancel out, and the outcome is determined by statistics, i.e., by chance. The effect of the Bill of Rights is to introduce the element of chance into governance - the "invisible hand" of statistics.

    August 17, 2011 at 4:34 am | Reply
  8. Texas Ranger

    The two party system doesn't work because of gridlock. A tweaking of the rules would end gridlock. Go back to majority rules (51% to pass legislation) and eliminate the filibuster. Problem solved.

    August 17, 2011 at 9:16 am | Reply
  9. 69ster

    The Black Panther Party.

    August 17, 2011 at 10:56 am | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.