05 August 2009

Guest Post: Failures of the Two Party System -- Non-voters, Independents, One Party States, and Third Parties

Apologists of the two-party state and the duopoly system of government rely on a stock set of arguments to dissuade others from engaging in any form of activity that would undermine the Democratic and Republican Parties' dominance in the realm of representational politics. Independent and third party activism, they assert, is an exercise in futility; a successful third party or independent movement would take too long to build, and would anyway be doomed to failure, or end up a spoiler. This is impatience, defeatism and fatalism in the guise of pragmatism.
In virtually any given election, there are more people who choose not to vote rather than vote for Republicans or Democrats. Self-described independents are one of the largest political demographics in the United States. Yet Republicans and Democrats control 98% of elected offices. In this context, the more people there are who have declared their independence from the duopoly charade, the more difficult it becomes to maintain the fiction that the people's representatives are representative of the people. Polling organizations have been forced to become inventive in this regard. In its State of the States report on political party affiliation, the Gallup organization notes:

Because the proportion of independents in each state varies considerably (from a low of 25% in Pennsylvania to a high of 50% in Rhode Island and New Hampshire), it is easiest to compare relative party strength using "leaned" party identification. Thus, the Democratic total represents the percentage of state residents who identify as Democratic, or who identify as independent but when asked a follow-up question say they lean to the Democratic Party. Likewise, the Republican total is the percentage of Republican identifiers and Republican-leaning independents in a state.

This is but one example of the political sleight of hand characteristic of the reigning two-party ideology. Needless to say, when respondents to such polls state that they affiliate with the Republican or Democratic Parties they are not then asked whether they "lean" independent or toward a third party. In identifying Massachusetts and Utah, respectively, as the "most Democratic" and the "most Republican" states, the report's findings conform to the party composition of the states' governments. The Massachusetts House has 144 Democrats and 15 Republicans; it's Senate has 35 Democrats and 5 Republicans. In Utah, the situation is reversed: the House has 53 Republicans and 22 Democrats, while the Senate has 21 Republicans and 8 Democrats. Yet, in terms of voter registration, MA and UT are in actuality among he most independent states in the Union. Over 50% of registered voters in Utah are registered "independent or other," according to Ballot Access News. Over 50% of registered voters in Massachusetts are either not enrolled in any party or registered with a third party, according to the Commonwealth's Elections Division.
The lack of competitive elections in the United States makes a mockery of democratic republicanism. Though it may appear counter-intuitive, one-party states such as these may be among the most predisposed to third party and independent political activism. Is it a coincidence that independents are already gearing up for the 2010 gubernatorial contests in states with lopsided majorities in favor of one party or the other, as for instance, in Maine, Rhode Island, Massachusetts (potential) New Jersey ('09), Illinois, and Idaho?
The inability of the Republican Party to mount an effective opposition in strong Democratic states and the incapability of the Democratic Party to mount an effective opposition in heavily Republican states is a failure of the national two-party system. The reasons for this are not difficult to discern. In many conservative or liberal locales the political center is not to be found the ideological space between the two parties, as bipartisans allege, but rather within the ideological space controlled by the majority party, thus revealing the fault lines running through the ruling coalition. A Republican is not the ideal alternative to a Democrat for the typical Massachusetts voter, but maybe a Green is. For the average Texan, it may well be the case that a choice between a Republican and a Democrat is no choice at all, but perhaps a Libertarian candidate could make things interesting. What is certain, however, is that if we keep electing the same Democrats and Republicans year after year, we will continue to be stuck with the same Republicans and Democrats year after year.
Thanks to Septimus for inviting me to post here at The Whig.

1 comment:

Anthony said...

Couldn't agree more. The duopoly MUST end if our republic is to survive its current and future challenges.

And there is a way out; it's a growing, non-partisan movement to clean the slate and start over, with the US House of Representatives as the primary target. It’s called Get Out of Our House! (GOOOH, pronounced, “go”). Visit the website (www.goooh.com) to learn more; the website does a much better job explaining the idea than I could.