Former President Donald Trump has sometimes claimed that he will create a third political party called the Patriot Party. In fact, most Americans – 62% in a recent poll – say they’d be happy if they could vote for a third.
In almost every other democracy, these Americans would get their wish. In the Netherlands, for example, even a small “third” The party called Party for the Animals – made up of animal rights activists, not dogs and cats – won 3.2% of the legislative vote in 2017 and won five seats, out of 150, in the National Legislative Assembly .
Yet in the United States, House candidates from the Libertarian Party, the largest of America’s minor parties, failed to win any House seats in 2020, although Libertarians won over a million. voice in the House. Neither the Working Families Party, with 390,000 votes, nor the Legalize Marijuana Now Party, whose US Senate candidate from Minnesota won 185,000 votes.
Why don’t American voters have more than two viable parties to choose from in elections when nearly every other democratic nation in the world has them?
As I discovered while researching political parties, the American electoral system is the primary reason the United States is the only major democracy with only two parties capable of electing officials. Votes are counted in most US elections using plurality rules, or “the winner takes it all.” Whoever obtains the most votes wins the single seat for the election.
Other democracies choose to count some or all of their votes differently. Instead of, say, California being divided into 53 United States House Districts, with each district electing a representative, the entire state could become a multi-member district, and all voters in California would be asked to choose those. 53 members of the United States House using proportional representation. .
Each party would present a list of its candidates for the 53 seats and you, as the voter, would select one of the party lists.
If your party got 40% of the vote in the state, then it would elect 40% of the representatives – the top 21 candidates on the party’s list. This is the system used in 21 of the 28 Western European countries, including Germany and Spain.
In such a system – based on the minimum percentage, or threshold, that a party must win a seat – it would make sense for even a small party to field candidates for the United States House, thinking that if they didn’t get 5% of the vote, they could win 5% of the state seats in the United States.
So if the Legalize Marijuana Now party won 5% of the vote in California, two or three of the party’s candidates would become members of the House of Representatives, ready to advocate in Congress for the legalization of marijuana. In fact, until the 1950s, several US states had multi-member ridings.
In the current electoral system, however, if the Legalize Marijuana Now party gets 5% of the state’s vote, it wins nothing. He spent a lot of money and effort with no office holders to prove it.
This drawback for small parties is also built into the Electoral College, where a candidate needs a majority of electoral votes to win the presidency – and no candidate from a large party has ever done so.
The holidays make the show
There is another factor hindering the success of third parties: State legislatures set the rules for how candidates and parties go to the polls, and state legislatures are made up almost exclusively of Republicans and Democrats. . They have no desire to increase their competition.
Thus, a candidate from a minor party usually needs many more signatures on a petition to appear on the ballot than candidates from a major party, and often also pays a filing fee than candidates from a major party. major party do not necessarily have to pay. Moreover, although many Americans say they are “Independent” pollsters find that most of these “Independent” actually leans towards Democrats or Republicans, and their voting choices are almost as intensely partisan as those who claim party affiliation.
Party identification is the most important determinant of people’s voting choices; in 2020, 94% of Republicans voted for Donald Trump, and the same percentage of Democrats voted for Joe Biden.
The small number of true independents in American politics are much less likely to be interested in politics and to vote. So it would not be easy for a third party to get the Americans to put aside their current partisan allegiance.
Hard to get there from here
The idea of ââa “center” part has great appeal – in theory. In practice, few agree on what “centrist” ways. Many people, when asked this question, consider a “center” part that reflects all of their own points of view and none of the points of view with which they disagree.
This is where a Trump Party has an advantage. Potential Trump Party supporters agree on what they stand for: Donald Trump.
Still, there is an easier path for Trump supporters than to fight the US electoral system, hostile ballot access rules, and established party identification. It’s to take control of the Republican Party. In fact, they are very close to doing it now.
Trump retains a powerful grip on party politics. His advisor, Jason Miller, said: âTrump is indeed the Republican Party. “
This Trump Party is very different from Ronald Reagan’s GOP. It’s not surprising ; major American parties have always been permeable and vulnerable to factional takeover.
Americans have good reason for wanting more big parties. It is difficult for two parties to grasp the diversity of points of view in a country of more than 300 million people.
But American policy would be very different if the country had a viable multi-party system, in which voters could choose from, say, a socialist party, a white supremacist party, and maybe even a party for the animals.
To get there, Congress and state legislatures would need to make fundamental changes to U.S. elections, converting single-member ridings with win-all rules to multi-member ridings with proportional representation.
Marjorie Hershey is Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Indiana University.