General Education

Can a Three Party System Work in America?

Can a Three Party System Work in America?
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Mary Buschmann March 7, 2019

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced his intention to run as a third-party candidate in the 2020 presidential elections, but it is highly unlikely that he will succeed. The American gove

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Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced his intention to run as a third-party candidate in the 2020 presidential elections, but it is highly unlikely that he will succeed. The American government is, and has always been, a two-party system. The very idea of introducing a new official party is bound to fail.

Photo: Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

While Europe and even Australia have successful multi-party systems, such a system would not be possible in the United States of America due to its massive population and Constitutional form of government.

Italy and the United Kingdom, two prominent users of multi-party systems, only have around sixty million citizens each; the United States has around three hundred and thirty million denizens in total. When new parties arise in Italy or the UK, they don’t tend to destabilize the nation’s overall government as it was designed with a multi-party system in mind.

New parties arise due to special interests that only affect a portion of citizens. Compared to America’s vast populace, the UK only has a handful of residents. If a British town decides to start a political party focused on, say, special rights for beekeepers, it does not throw a wrench into the UK’s political system because there are already so many parties and, again, the governmental system is designed to handle all of them. Plus, the population size effectively limits the number of parties that will arise.

The US has so many residents with so many varied interests that there is the potential to create millions of feuding parties. Congress might be able to handle this increased party system since there are so many seats. The presidency, however, would be ruined. The United States has a rule that states a presidential candidate must have more than one half of the Electoral College’s votes to win. A multi-party system would prevent this from happening – or from even being possible.

For example, regard the 2000 presidential election in which Ralph Nader ran as a third-party candidate. He formed his own political party called the Green Party, which many other countries have their own form of. Nader’s political leanings were very close to those of Democratic candidate Al Gore. Their similarities caused the Democratic party to split, with half voting for Gore and half voting for Nader. Neither candidate received enough electoral votes to become president, and the united Republican party won by default.

Now imagine if there were more than three parties involved – if the Republican votes had been split or the Democratic votes were split even more. Imagine the chaos if thousands of random parties sprang up – one that aimed to regulate air traffic over the Hamptons, one that aimed to kill all the coyotes in Wyoming, another set on irrigating the Mojave Desert, and so on.  What would these parties have in common? Nothing. That’s because the people who create them face their own unique issues based on geographical location, environment, and socio-economic status. America’s two parties act as “umbrellas” that unite people with opposite interests over a few shared opinions on universal things like abortion and taxes. Smaller groups exist within a party, but when the time comes to vote, all factions support the same candidate.

Case in point, Ross Perot created the Reform Party in 1995 because he believed that the two dominant parties were ineffective. He joined the 1996 presidential election as a third-party candidate. He was met with hostility, as many people believed the addition of a third political party was unnecessary and ill-advised for the reasons detailed above.

Even if there was popular support for creating additional parties, it would be nearly impossible for them to gain momentum. The Democratic Party was created by Thomas Jefferson in the 1790s and the Republican Party arose just before the Civil War. These have been the primary parties for a hundred and sixty years.

Other parties have come and gone, their candidates never rising higher than the House of Representatives. America has always had a two-party system. It even had a single-party system for a brief time in the Nineteenth Century. There is no historical basis for a multi-party system in the US and Schultz’s desire to challenge this fact is likewise infeasible no matter how much coffee he tries to throw at the problem.


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