A Third Party? Why not a Fifth!

May 20th, 2010 by rubenr

I’ve long been a defender of our two-party system. It’s not perfect, but nothing ever is. Those who usually argue for a third party (whether it be the Green, Libertarian, Constitution, or Independent party) usually point out that neither Republicans nor Democrats fit their ideal mold of the policies they support. Maybe they’re with Dems on issues like abortion and gay marriage, but like Republican positions on foreign policy. Or maybe they’re die-hard neo-libertarians and find neither party appealing (though the Tea Party movement may be currently transforming the Republican party in this regard). To this I usually point out that there’s a spectrum of beliefs within both parties, and that usually leads to concessions and compromises within each party and across the aisle, such that legislation ends up having been influenced by all, including those sympathetic to a third-party position. Whereas, wasting resources on a third party campaign means that you may not end up influencing the Democrat or Republican eventually elected to office.

But recently, that sort of compromise and influence hasn’t been the case. Republicans had a great opportunity to influence the Health Care Reform bill in a positive manner, but they chose not to (I don’t consider asking the majority party to throw out their bill and use yours instead a valid attempt at compromise). The bill of course did have to be palatable to more conservative Dems, so significant concessions (like the removal of the public option) were made. Presumably, Republicans found it more beneficial to avoid participation in the bill so that they could rail against it in the election season as a Government takeover of healthcare, even though the bill regulates the insurance market.

Immigration is actually another area where compromise should actually be pretty easy. No one WANTS a flood of illegal immigrants, and only a few want to rip apart productive families made up of a mix of illegal and legal immigrants. A bill that brings together strong border protection with a rational mix of legalization and stronger enforcement should be easy to pass… but even President Bush couldn’t get it done and he had a decent chunk of bipartisan support.

With individualism resurgent throughout the country, the appeal of a third party might be gaining traction. Especially with candidates like Charlie Crist running as an Independent in Florida. But the history of third-party candidacies have usually ended like this: Third Party Candidate runs, siphons votes from similarly-situated Mainstream Candidate, and then other Mainstream Candidate whose views are even farther away from the Third Party Candidate wins. (Think Al Gore and Ralph Nader, or George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot). So really, those who advocate for Third Parties should consider bolstering support for opposing Fourth or Fifth parties. A Third Party on it’s own can’t survive, but a field with 5 different parties would be less affected by siphoning, and people might even be more energized about coming out and supporting candidates they find more in-sync with their beliefs.

That said, I still appreciate the efficiency of having two major political parties rather than a disjointed patchwork of varying parties (parliamentary systems in Europe have a multitude of parties, and they can get quite messy). Multiple parties might mean that it would be easier to get compromises in Congress, but my hope is that sanity returns to congress some time in the near future.

3 Responses to “A Third Party? Why not a Fifth!”

  1. Forrester says:

    Would your opinion of this change if there was instant runoff elections?

  2. rubenr says:

    Heh, I’d actually started another paragraph to this post about instant run-offs but then decided it was long enough so stopped. I like instant runoffs, we used them for local elections in Cambridge, MA and it worked pretty well. It definitely removes a lot of the “risk” associated with supporting a non-mainstream candidate, but even then I think a third party candidates chances in instant runoffs are made better by a fourth or fifth. Not to mention I do have concerns about the integrity of instant runoff counts if they’re done on a large scale. Even in Cambridge, where it’d been around for a while, the counting procedures were time consuming and costly, and so many voters didn’t really get how it worked.

  3. d.eris says:

    The two-party state is structurally incapable of representing the spectrum of interests that comprises the US electorate. The Democratic and Republican parties in fact represent the same set of interests, namely, those of the ruling political class and the corporations that own them, and these interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of the people of the United States. The American people recognize that Democrats and Republicans do not represent their interest, and it is no surprise that the wide majority of Americans often choose not to vote rather than vote for one of the stooges of the ruling parties. Here are ten more arguments against the Democratic-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government.

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