View Full Version : Is there any justification for a two-party system?
07-31-2000, 03:22 AM
Canada is rapidly devolving into a two-party system like the United States.
As the Conservatives (who by now are actually more left-wing than a lot of the Liberals), the Bloc Québécois and the NDP fade into marginality, all of the national discourse at a federal level seems to be polarized between the Alliance and the Liberals. This allows them to project themselves onto opposite ends of a political spectrum, as though the Liberals cared about, say, health care in any meaningful way more than the Alliance, or as though the Alliance were any less a mask for corporate interest than the Liberals. With the Alliance and the Liberals the only real voices in a federal discourse, they can pretend that they really do fill up an entire left and right wing.
This is a slightly less extreme example than in the United States, about which Ogden Nash once wrote,
Some politicians are Republican and some are Democratic,
And their feud is dramatic,
But except for the name,
They are identically the same.
A different kind of such polarization can be seen in Quebec, where the populace has been bilked into thinking that sovereignty is the only affair of interest in the entire provence, when in fact opinion polls have shown that between 70% and 80% of voters simply do not give a flying fuck. (The results of the polls are not phrased in exactly that way.) Voters are compelled to treat provincial elections as though they were sovereignty referenda, which effectively disguises the fact that the Liberals and the Parti Québécois essentially have the same right-wing record (if not position) on just about everything else right down the line.
Is there any conceivable saving grace of a two-party system? Is there any reason at all to say, "I'm so glad that we have two political parties and not three or four"?
07-31-2000, 05:16 AM
I'll describe it with a subject I know well, Matt... wrestling!
(Bear with me, I actually have a point to make... sort of)
Before all the Pay-Per-View events the WWF puts on, I'd always make a list of predictions of who would win each match (I know it's determined beforehand... it's still fun). Anyway, I've found that while it's often a simple matter to predict the winner of a one-on-one match, it's nearly impossible if there are three or four contenders.
Now, to tie in with the OP... politics seems to have a strong need for an opponent- someone to rail against, if you will. Without an opponent, your side would kind of stagnate (no point in trying to win if you can't lose, right?) This explains the existence of parties in the first place.
However, add a third party to the mix, and suddenly you've got a lot of confusion... who do I hate more? Is the enemy of my enemy my friend? Would I get more points on the polls if I bash his plan, or his plan? After a point, more than two parties become "cost-prohibitive", as it were.
Anyway, I just made this all up as I went along (makes sense at the moment, but I betcha somebody'd find flaws with it... go nuts, everyone!) Personally, I think the best form of government would be a tyrannical dictatorship with me at the head.
Vote Diddly in '00, everyone!
07-31-2000, 06:10 AM
Personally, I find it hard to see the attractions of a two-party system.
Having a number of parties to choose from makes it easier to find one more or less in accordance with your personal beliefs. Smaller parties also make it easier for any individual to get whatever cause is dear to him/her on the national agenda, which I suppose is a Good Thing, democracy-wise.
Of course, sometimes, a lot of votes are wasted on fringe parties with little or no influence, OTOH, sometimes the voting blocks give smaller parties way too much influence. ("We won't vote for the national budget unless you concede to this special interest"). The classical Danish Example is the one where a representative from the Faroe Islands was the determining factor in getting the national budget approved.
It really depends on what politicians are elected and why. But having more than two entrance doors into the parliament seems right to me, I must admit.
I don't like the guys on the fringes - be they die-hard socialists (ooops, sorry, I mean "red/green" parties) or right-wing nationalists. I would hate to see them come to real power, but they are sometimes able to influence decisions in a positive manner. If nothing else, they are (some of them) idealistic enough to cry "foul" when something inappropriate happens.
But of course, I grew up with a bunch of parties to choose from, and it seems completely natural to me.
My 0.02 Euro
07-31-2000, 10:01 AM
The textbook answer as to why multi-party democracies don't work is that the political system is fragmented, relying on shaky coalitions, underhand agreements and inevitably undermining any notion of stable government.
Personally, I'm not convinced that a two-party system is necessarily any better. In the UK, the two-party system was traditionally destructive rather than constructive; each party in government would attempt to destroy the predecessor's work, for ideological reasons (for example, nuclear arms vs disarmament; privatisation vs nationalisation). This kind of two-party politics does not allow for stable, continuous development.
On the other hand, since the 1980s and the advent of media opinion coming to dominate British politics, neither party is really that distinctive any more; both are desperate to grab media approval, usually through aiming at the "middle class" vote. The result is fast becoming a two-party system with nothing to choose - not because the parties agree and are working together, but because they're both too scared to lose ground against the other, and end up vying for the same votes.
07-31-2000, 11:03 AM
SPOOFE is right; it's a question of polarization. We've been conditioned (here in the United States) to think of politics as a zero-sum game: when one side wins, the other side loses, and there are only two sides to any given issue. Hell, we still use the archaic "first past the post," winner-take-all voting method, in which a candidate with 36 percent will beat two other candidates with 32 percent each, even though 64 percent of the voters chose someone other than the eventual winner. The absurdity of such a system would be brought to light quickly in a multi-party system, especially given such existing alternatives as proportional representation, runoffs, and preference voting.
The other utility of a two-party system--its simplicity--is also one of its greatest flaws. You've got two parties who together purport to encompass the entire spectrum of rational political ideology; knowing the party affiliation of a candidate, therefore, tells you much less about their stances on issues here in the U.S. than it would in, say, Belgium or Germany.
What's most interesting is how the two-party system has been institutionally entrenched into our politics. Here's the abstract of an article in the 1997 Supreme Court Review, entitled "Entrenching the duopoly: why the Supreme Court should not allow the states to protect the Democrats and Republicans from political competition."
The US Supreme Court wrongly supported the duopoloy of the two-party political system in its 1997 Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party decision. The decision banned a candidate's right to associate with more than one party. The
Supreme Court failed to justify two-party system's necessity or the Court's right to uphold the necessity. Arguments that a two-party system promotes stability and enhances voting cannot be proven. The decision violated the candidate's First Amendment rights.
In other words, given the backing of the Supreme Court, the two-party system isn't going anywhere for quite a while. Which is a shame, I think, 'cause I've got some great ideas for alternative political structures. :)
07-31-2000, 03:16 PM
Essentially, any time that we talk about hearing "both" sides of an issue, we've limited ourselves severely (and potentially disastrously). The two-party system, if systemically and institutionally entrenched, is virtually guaranteed to lead to this either/or kind of thinking. No matter what the parties are, they will provide less chance for full exploration of issues and options than would three or more parties.
07-31-2000, 04:38 PM
There was an editorial yesterday in the Boston Globe, in which, in the course of discussing Ralph Nader's Green party candidacy, the writer spoke of the electoral college "winner takes all system" as helping political stability. Actually, this system was one of the causes of the Civil War. There were sates in the South where Lincoln did not get a single vote, for example, but as he got 53% (IIRC) of New York, he automatically got ALL the electors from New York, and hence won the election. So, obviously, when the writer said the winner takes all system (which was implemented state by state less than a decade prior to Lincoln's election) props up "stability" mainly for the two major party candidates. Otherwise, the writer was merely propagating a popular myth.
08-01-2000, 06:52 AM
Clearly the two-party, winner-takes-all system is undemocratic. If I am in a large minority in my opinions, let's say even 25%, in the U.S. I have no chance of being represented in congress/parliament. My ideas and those of a quarter of the populace are not taken into account in the decision-making process. Add to this the manipulation made possible by the big-money political machinery and all hope is lost.
The "stability" used to justify the system may just be another name for the undemocratic control laid on it by the big parties.
08-01-2000, 07:44 AM
If one were to engage in a bit of troll-like behavior, one might argue that a one-party system is the ultimate in stability.
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