Editorial: Why The Two-Party System Should Be Preserved

Mazin Chater, Staff Writer

*The views and opinions expressed in the following piece are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of The Nest or Albany High School.*

The two-party system in the United States has been an inevitable consequence of our political structure and thus a historically common aspect in our elections. Political parties have changed throughout time with respect to policy platform and name, but despite this, the existence of the two predominant parties themselves has remained a consistent element of the American political system.

Separately, the upsides to a two-party system can be examined in a practical sense when viewing the current political climate. Although not every interest is proportionately represented, parties gradually adopt policies based on a plurality of factors, giving groups that would otherwise form as oppositional parties an opportunity to fuse their policy prescriptions into the binary structure.

To systematically prove that the two-party system is critical, an initial argument must be made that demonstrates how it is irreplaceable without a radical, defined change of the American political system. The inevitability of parties, aside from the main two across time, seems to be universally accepted as a constant wherever democracies are implemented. James Madison assumed the formation of parties and developed methods for dispensing with their inherent flaws in Federalist 10. In his eyes, the multiple competing interests in a large republic would be the best safeguard against an unjust majority ruling.

Madison expanded his view on parties and the issues represented within them in saying, “…the fewer the distinct parties and interests, the more frequently will a majority be found of the same party; and the smaller the number of individuals composing a majority, and the smaller the compass within they are placed, the more easily will they concert and execute their plans of oppression.” As a result of these concerns, the constructed system essentially restrained minority rule upon the majority. The winner-takes-all election system forces voters not only to elect those who fit most identically with their views, but also to make a rational choice on who has the greatest ability to win. This rules out all of the relatively trivial competition from third parties and effectively breeds the debate from those in favor of alternative approaches, especially from third parties themselves, considering their conflict in the face of such an event.

Libertarian Gary Johnson argued against the utility of a two-party system when attempting to win the presidential election against Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. Johnson’s chief concerns revolved around two notions: one being the dysfunction in Washington, and the other on an ignored policy platform. The former is quickly debunked in Johnson’s own words: “In the federalist papers, James Madison warned about the dangers of factionalism. His proposed solution was to divide power within the government. That can be frustrating to some because it makes the federal government inefficient by design. It keeps one person, or one party, from accumulating too much power.” An undesirable alternative, as assumed by Johnson, would be to grant one single party control, and risk the near certain end result of extremist tyrannical rule.

On the contrary, gridlock between the two parties prevents much of the pure partisan legislation to pass while simultaneously ensuring that the policy that is passed is theoretically better quality. On his latter point, Johnson frequently discusses “…a common-sense approach that combines fiscal discipline with social inclusion.” Both of these positions could be adopted by either political party, similar to the manner in which interest groups influence parties by pressuring change. Instead, the creation of third parties – which in some instances cede legitimacy by falling under a single interest – form to take on the same roles as interest groups. If third parties hypothetically ever did reach a point where they could indeed compete with the then-binary options, the effect would resemble what Madison wrote precisely against. Parties would become smaller and any one of their views would not adequately represent the majority, creating an opportunity for the minority to unjustly serve their own interests and oppress the majority.

To recognize the two party system as a default doesn’t necessarily mean that as an environmentalist in the Green Party or as a libertarian in the Libertarian Party you must give up aiming for your policies – in fact, it encourages otherwise. The political spectrum by definition has a wide range of beliefs, and the two main parties generally hold diverse opinions under an umbrella principle. The goal should be to incorporate a stance under the umbrella principles that form a party, not to create an umbrella principle out of a stance, which would artificially render a party.

Although there are convincing arguments against the basis for the preservation and utility of a two-party system, ultimately historical precedent generated as a consequence of the original political structure should and will maintain it. Negative aspects of the current American political system such as hyper-partisanship can be minimized, but don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater – the underlying structure of a two-party system is a critical element that should be preserved.