One of the enduring complaints people have with American political system is the two party system. We have two warring political parties which position themselves in the center of American politics and take opposites sides of every controversial issue at stake and them some. They create an artificial dichotomy where American voters are consistently forced to choose side on issues which they would otherwise not care about in order to choose the “lesser” of two evils. The two parties have a polarizing effect on American politics where people are lumped into “right” and “left” categories and have their views increasingly flanderized. The two party system is clearly a problem, but how can it be dealt with? Here are a few suggestions.
One of the chief causes of the two party system is the current setup of the electoral system. Like most of the rest of the world, the United States uses a First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system. In a FPTP system, voting citizens each have one vote which they cast for a candidate, and the first candidate to win a majority of the votes, wins the election. This sounds simple and fair but it has problems, the chief of which, is that it enforces the two party system.
Look at it like this: When people vote, they actually have two goals in mind. One is to place a candidate they like in power. The other, is to prevent a candidate that they don’t like, from gaining power. Very often, the latter of the two goals is the more important. What this means is, that given a list of candidates for office which a voter finds acceptable, he will often choose the one most likely to win, in hopes of preventing candidates which he finds unacceptable from winning. Another issue is that voters can only vote for front-runners if they at all hope for their vote to sway the election, requiring them to pick among the least unacceptable of a small number of candidates. This leads inexorably to a two party system with voters picking which candidate they find least detestable. Voters rally behind one of two candidates all in the hopes of defeating the other one. This is called Tactical Voting
This video give a very good overview of what generally happens:
The chief problem here, is that one-person-one-vote is not a very good way of representing a voters actual preferences. With on vote, a voter can represent his first choice, but what about his second? Can he vote against his last? What if he wants one candidate in one circumstance, but an other in an entirely other circumstance? This is actually a complicate question, but there are actually ways to improve this, upon the FPTP system.
One possibility is to allow a negative vote. With a negative vote, a voter would be allowed to, instead voting against one specific candidate, to vote against a candidate. Rather than that vote being added to the vote tally of the voter’s preferred choice, it would be subtracted from the tally of the voter’s least preferred choice. In this way, a voter wouldn’t need to support a candidate, to oppose a candidate which he didn’t like.
Another alternative, is a preferential voting system. Preferential, or ranked, voting systems allow voters to actually list their candidate choices in order of preference an then a winner is chosen based on the preferences of all of the voters. The most common form of this is the Instant Runoff Vote (IRV) In which all voters first choices are tallied, and if a majority candidate (a candidate with >%50 of the vote) is found, then that candidate wins, else the least popular candidate is eliminated and his votes are given to his voters second choices. This process is repeated until a single candidate achieves majority and the winner is picked. This system allows voters to freely and candidly vote for unpopular candidates without feeling like they are giving a vote to a popular enemy, reducing the dangers of tactical voting.
There are actually a number of different voting systems and Wikipedia gives a tolerable overview of many of them: Voting Systems. Of course changing the voting system for the United States would require a constitutional amendment, and the current political establishment, that is the two major political parties, have a vested interest in keeping the current system in place, so the introduction of a new voting system anytime soon is unlikely. However, given the real unpopularity of the current system, it seems like looking at a few alternatives would be a nice idea.