12 May 2010

The Two Party System: You Are Not Allowed To Take A Chance On Anyone Else

I admit I have been looking enviously at the fluidity of British politics lately. Imagine having an election, being able to vote for a party you actually support and believe in, and having it make a difference. Pretty heady stuff.

The entrenched parties we have is something that I think will hurt us in the long run. I have been working my way through a book on Texas history, and am amazed at the past vibrancy and flexibility of our nation. Americans pretty much moved into, and took over Texas, in about ten years. People moved about, politicians came and went, parties developed, collapsed, renamed themselves, society convulsed, reordered.

Now what have we got. A two party system whose basic premise is (to paraphrase Nick Clegg): "You are not allowed to take a chance on anyone else." That about sums it up.

Which brings me back to the Liberal Democrats of the U.K. Here is a party that is getting hammered by the same electoral "first-past-the-post" system here. And they have managed to shoe-horn themselves into a position to do something about it. Could a new party pull off the same move here?

Systemic differences aside, the basis problem comes down, like so many problems, to money. In America, money is everything. To get campaign money, you have to have power so you can offer something concrete in return for the donation. But you can't get power without money. A few charismatic people may be able to win from time to time, but we have painted ourselves into a corner.

The only opening would be for the politicians themselves to fall out, and to create cracks in the system from the inside. But the incentives to stay within the system are so powerful, it would be highly unlikely for this to occur.


Dale Sheldon-Hess said...

Mark my words: barring electoral reform, within 10 years one of two things will happen. Either the LibDems will fall back down to the useless third-party doldrums they held 10 years ago, or Labour will fall into that position and become the "third-party" (i.e., less than 20% vote share, and an even lower seat share).

This is a transitory state; energy built up, straining against the two-party system for years, and then it snapped... but it will settle back to a two-party equilibrium again (although which way isn't clear), and energy will again begin to build.

That energy building up is the energy of frustration, and those snaps can be deadly (see: the American Civil War). But a two-party system is inevitable under plurality voting; there is no possibility for there to be three major parties for an extended period of time.

And it's NOT just money! Money helps; money strengthens the spring. Just like ballot access does and press coverage. But all those things will come flooding in when the strain snaps; and 10 years later, the new third-parties will have the same complaints about you.

Septimus said...

Much food for thought in you comment. My quick response: parties are different.

The transition itself could create an opening if it went hand in hand with a reform of ballot access and campaign finance laws.

Also, some parties are different that others. For example, when Labor replaced the Liberals, they were a different type of party, resulting in a permanent alteration of politics.

Similarly, the Republicans, their policies, their concerns,and the basis of their party were different from that of the Whig Party that proceeded them.