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Davis, California

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Political Ambiguity


chau_opWhy minor parties do poorly in America.

Minor parties will always find it difficult to gain traction in America. Our two major parties, the Democratic and the Republican parties, appeal to all areas of society, leaving little room for people to feel totally disenchanted with either. As a result of our electoral system, only the party with the most votes in a district will win. Consequently, people will often vote for candidates they think can actually win, rather than wasting their vote on an unelectable minor party. The United States also has a greater sense of national unity that discourages regional tensions, preventing the rise of parties focused exclusively on local or regional issues. On top of that, the breadth of the two-party system encompasses ideology both moderate and extreme.

With the exception of the 1992 presidential election, we have not seen any significant challenge to the two-party system in this country. Our winner-takes-all electoral system makes it harder for minor parties to come to power. In many areas of this country, we see little opposition to the sometimes one-party dominance that exists in many districts.

Despite also utilizing winner-takes-all, minor parties in the UK enjoy comparatively greater electoral success. We have seen the rise of parties all over the spectrum. They typically focus on key issues such as environmental change or immigration — areas many minor parties believe seriously need to be addressed. As in any country with similar voting systems, minor parties will usually dominate the discussion on single issues, but struggle to create a multi-policy agenda with wider demographic appeal.

Unlike the U.S., the United Kingdom appears to have a two-party system with no true left or right wing. In recent UK electoral history, the Conservative and Labour parties have occupied the center ground in British politics. The Labour administrations between 1997 and 2010 brought on a new chapter in British politics that advocated for a more moderate approach, one based upon social justice, equal opportunity and free-market capitalism. Labour’s electoral success compelled the Conservatives to also become social democrats. With these moves to the center, more extreme parties, like the Green Party and the UK Independence Party, formed on the fringes.

The U.S. does not have this problem. With Republicans and Democrats holding the traditional center-left and center-right positions, the U.S. has the perfect two party balance. The Tea Party could never have run as its own party, because it find much of its strength among Republicans. Bernie Sanders, despite spending his political career as an Independent, had little choice but to run as a Democrat to ensure the greatest amount of electoral support. The two-party system can often be used by fringe candidates to improve their odds of winning.

In the UK, party leaders hold extreme power over their members through their ability to determine the candidates they want to run for office. The U.S. primary system allows candidates to run without the approval of their party’s leadership. For example, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are greatly despised by the Republican leadership, but they are still able to run. Putting aside special interests and media manipulation, the voters decide who they want representing their party. Candidates and politicians are generally free to deviate from party policy if they want.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the U.S. has been generally able to maintain a common national sense of unity that transcends common social divisions. This prevents widespread regional apathy against the two parties. If our national unity fractured, the U.S. would see regional divisions and the formation of alternative parties. But there is simply not enough disapproval of the Republicans or Democrats to actually encourage people to form a party that would exclusively defend the interests of a state like California or New Mexico.

You can reach JUSTIN CHAU at jtchau@ucdavis.edu


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