A multiparty system is better for America than a two-party system

As it’s relevant to current discussion in this thread on the GOP’s future direction, I decided to create a zombie-clone of this old thread of mine. Arise!

I have often argued here for electoral-system reforms which would not discriminate against third or minor parties (you can read a complete list of all such currently active in the U.S., with brief descriptions and website links, here), including proportional representation, instant-runoff voting, and electoral fusion. These increase fairness from the individual voter’s point of view, as you get to vote for whatever political viewpoint you hold and vote effectively to secure public representation for that viewpoint – i.e., you’re not “wasting your vote” or “splitting the opposition.”

The more-democracy-and-fairness line of argument essentially comes down to the following: Suppose there were a few hundred people attending a New England direct-democracy town meeting. I and a few likeminded citizens stand up at the meeting and propose something – something relevant to municipal government – that is a very radical fringe idea by the standards of this community. Now, nobody says we have a right to get our way, even if we few are absolutely right on this particular point and everybody else in the whole town is wrong. But the rest of the meeting does have to listen, so long as we speak in turn and in order and in the time alloted by whatever rules of order the meeting uses. And who knows? Maybe if we present our case well enough, we might sway public opinion our way – or part of the way to our way – maybe not at this meeting, but maybe at the next one. In the final analysis, however, nothing is going to get done, no definite change is going to be made, until a majority is persuaded to vote for it. That’s the way deliberative democracy should work. Now, of course, the U.S. is not a New England village, it is a nation of close to 300 million people. We can’t all get together in a national meeting, or even a state or county meeting. So we elect representatives to meet and discuss public affairs in our stead. That’s called representative democracy. But the representatives are supposed to think, more or less, the same way the people think. One of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, I forget which one, remarked that the legislature should be “as exact a transcript as possible” of the general public. Another commentator has said that the legislature should be a “miniature portrait” of the electorate. But our winner-take-all single-member-district system produces a legislature that is not a miniature portrait, but a distorted image from a funhouse mirror, with some elements grotesquely exaggerated and others shrunk to invisibility. A change to PR can reduce that distortion.

In this thread, however, I would like to argue that, apart from “democracy and fairness,” a multi-party system is preferable to a two-party system as a goal in and of itself. For the following reasons (all stated at various points in my previous thread; I’m consolidating them here for convenience and ease of skimming):

1. A two-party system inflates the importance of the “center” while marginalizing all other viewpoints.

A lot of people assume that the American electorate is “centrist” or “center-seeking.” It only appears that way because we have only two important parties, and each one can take a wide swath of public opinion pretty much for granted. The Republican Party has actually done very little to implement the agenda of religious conservatives – but what are the chances they’ll vote Democrat? That leaves only the “swing voters” at the center to be fought over, and all campaign rhetoric is directed at them. This gives a false impression that the American people’s views form a kind of “bell curve” that bulges at the center. But that is not true.

The Pew Political Typology studies how Americans are actually grouped, politically; it has been updated several times since the first study in 1987. This is the most recent version, from 2005. Study it. This is not a picture of a center-seeking electorate.
2. A multiparty system is more intelligent than a two-party system.

A legislative assembly is supposed to be, among other things, a sort of collective brain for society (pace Ayn Rand). But a two-party system distorts its habits of thinking by reducing everything to two alternatives. In fact, there are almost always many more than two sides to every question. An individual who realizes this, and who always looks at a problem from all sides and considers all the possibilities before making a decision, is much wiser than a person who habitually reduces any question or problem to just two alternatives. And so it is in a parliament or congress. A legislature composed of several different blocs with very different ways of thinking is a much more intelligent “collective brain” than a two-party legislature, even if the average intelligence of its individual members is not one point higher.

For example: A Libertarian of my aquaintance once argued forcefully for solving transportation problems by deregulating the jitney business – allowing anybody who has a car to become an independent full-time or part-time cab driver, without any stringent licensing requirements (or at any rate, without any limitations on the number of licenses issued). He had very persuasive arguments, which I won’t go into here. The point is, it might be a good idea, and nobody but a Libertarian would ever have thought of it, and under our present system it is unlikely any Libertarian would be in a position to try to persuade our public councils of its wisdom. But if we had a multiparty system, that and all other kinds of ideas could be seriously proposed and discussed. Which leads into my next point:
3. A multiparty system widens the range of policy options that can be seriously placed on the public agenda for discussion.

A two-party system tends to freeze out certain points of view and render certain things off-limits to discussion on the grounds that they are “obviously” unthinkable, or politically impossible.

For instance, legalizing marijuana. A lot of Americans smoke marijuana regularly and occasionally get into trouble with the law for it. Marijuana offenders make up a large part of our state and federal prison populations. But how much discussion does this issue get where it counts?


CONGRESSCRITTER A: “I’d like to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. How do you think I should go about it?”

CONGRESSCRITTER B: “You’re joking, right?”

CONGRESSCRITTER A: “I’d like to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. How do you think I should go about it?”

CONGRESSCRITTER B: “Well, the Libertarians will back it for sure, you don’t even have to ask. Ditto with the Greens. The Constitution Party will be dead against it. So will the America First Party, and probably the Populist Party – it’s a moral issue to all of them. The Republicans – well, they’ll at least be open to the idea – in fact, the tobacco companies will jump at the chance to branch into a new product; but there’ll be a lot of negotiation on terms and details and age limits. The Social Democrats will be for it if the new marijuana industry is adequately regulated and taxed . . . No guarantees, but it’s got a shot if you push it hard enough . . .”

Or substitute your own favorite Issue that Dare Not Speak Its Name – single-payer health care, abolishing Medicare, abolishing the IRS, taxing away all private incomes above $100,000, abolishing NAFTA, expanding NAFTA, paring down the defense establishment, reviving the draft, getting government out of education entirely, death penalty for drug dealing, outlawing organized labor, outlawing non-organized labor, etc., etc. All open for discussion. And no one party in a position to call the shots by itself. The change would not necessarily move the political center of gravity left or right or up or down; it would, however, make public policy a vector sum of more different vectors.
4. In a multiparty system, each party could play a constructive role of its own.

In a multiparty system, there likely would not be any majority party in Congress or any state legislature, ever again. Every party would have to concentrate on what it could contribute as a permanent minority party. This might be a problem if we had a parliamentary system, where the parliament must “form a government,” and put together a coalition for the purpose if no majority is elected. But in the U.S., at the federal and state level, we use the separation-of-powers system – the president or govenor is elected separately from the legislature, and appoints his or her own cabinet secretaries. (Or else, in some states, some of the secretaries are elected on their own – that’s a detail.)

If we had a multiparty political system, I expect legislative “coalitions” would form, but they would be momentary and issue-specific.

E.g., suppose a scenario where the parties represented in Congress are the following:

  1. Republican Party – a remnant left after the religious-social conservatives, the libertarians, and the nativistist-isolationist-populists all split off and go their own way. This party would be more purely (and more obviously) the party of established business interests and of agressive foreign-policy neoconservatism. Mostly pro-choice on abortion.

  2. America First Party – Pat Buchanan’s new party. It already exists, but if we moved to PR it might find itself augmented by a mass exodus from the Republican Party. Nativist-isolationist-populist, with a solid base in working-class religious people, especially Roman Catholics like Buchanan himself. Socially conservative, pro-life, against immigration, but also hostile to big business, big government, economic globalization, NAFTA, WTO, and American military adventures abroad. Hostile to the Iraq War, hostile to American support of Israel.

  3. Constitution Party – the party of the Religious Right. Already exists, might get bigger. Rooted in Southern Evangelical Protestantism. Agenda would be as it is now – ban abortion, revive school prayer, support vouchers and home schooling, etc. Also would be supportive, for religious reasons, of American support of Israel and military intervention in the Middle East – which would be its main point of difference with America First. Mainly a middle-class and working-class party, which on most economic issues would align with America First, Labor, the Greens and the Progressives – and against the elite-dominated Democrats and Republicans.

  4. Libertarian Party – again, already exists, would get bigger. Different from the Republican Party in being pro-market, not pro-business – would deregulate businesses, but also would refuse to bail out foundering corporations or award sweetheart porkbarrel contracts. Also hostile to the national-security state, the military-industrial complex, and foreign military adventuring. Pro-choice, pro-legalizing drugs, anti-welfare-state, anti-big government.

  5. Democratic Party – again, a remnant, after several groupings now under the Dem “big tent” go their own way. This party would represent “neoliberalism,” economic globalization, the politics of Clinton and the Democratic Leadership Council. Socially liberal but inclined to ally with the Republicans on business-related issues.

  6. Labor Party – a party rooted in working-class people who are more liberal than the America Firsters, but still pretty socially conservative. Centered on the labor unions and devoted to fighting for working-class interests. Would be pro-choice on abortion but with reservations. Might form around what is now a very small Labor Party,, founded in 1996, which has never yet run candidates for office.

  7. Green Party – environmentalist, tinged with a concern for “social justice” that differs from most models of socialism in being highly decentralist.

  8. Progressive Party – a party for all the real “leftists” in American politics, other than the Greens – communists, socialists, social democrats, radical feminists. Similar to the Labor Party, but different in being more socially liberal.

  9. Independence Party – again, already exists – when the Reform Party split in 2000, its main factions formed America First and Independence. This is the party of John Anderson – and Jesse Ventura, in Minnesota. As with some others, might get bigger if we adopted IRV and PR. It would be “Progressive” in the older, early-20th-century sense of the term – devoted to good government, honest, transparent, vigorous and effective government, but also fiscal responsibility with no deficit spending. Devoted to a technocratic, professional vision of government that purports to transcend ideology, class interests and partisanship – an old Progressive slogan was, “There is no Democratic or Republican way to pave a street.” Would agree with the Libertarians on most social issues.

Now, if we had all these parties in Congress, they might align in different ways on different issues.

E.g., if you introduce legislation to drastically pare down America’s defense spending, the Progressives, the Greens, the Libertarians, and the America First Party all would support it. The Republicans and the Constitution Party would be against it. The Democrats, the Independence Party and the Labor Party might be split.

If you introduced a bill to recognize gay marriage, the Greens, Progressives, Independence Party and Libertarians would be for it. The Constitution Party and the America Firsters would be against it. The Democrats, Republicans, and Labor Party might be split and might push for a compromise solution like “civil unions.”

If you proposed legalizing marijuana, the Republicans might be open to the idea (as presenting new opportunities for the tobacco industry to branch into a new product). The Progressives would require only that the new marijuana industry be properly regulated and taxed. Libertarians, Greens and Independence would support it. The America First and Constitution parties would be against it. Labor might be split.

If you introduced some strict new environmental-protection legislation, the Greens and Progressives would be for it, the Libertarians and the Republicans would be against it, and everybody else would want to carefully study each element of the proposal before making up their minds. E.g., Labor would be environmentalist in principle but they wouldn’t want to do anything that might eliminate jobs.

And so on.

In each case, nothing actually gets done unless a given proposal can muster support from enough different groupings to make up a voting majority.

And if there’s “logrolling” – e.g., the Libertarians agreeing to support Republican proposal X only if the Republicans support decriminalizing pot – what’s wrong with that? We’ve got logrolling now. This change just adds more logs.

It also adds more information, more content. For instance: The Libertarians might never get their way all the way on anything. But there will be a few of them on every Congressional committee, state-legislative committee, county commission, etc. They would always be there to put forth arguments as to why this or that regulation should be eliminated or simplified, this tax should be cut, this course of government action should be avoided. And sometimes, they will be persuasive. The Greens will always be there to point out how this proposed policy affects the environment, the Progressives and Labor to call attention to how it affects the working class and the poor, Constitution to criticize in terms of America’s moral traditions.

While all this is going on, we still have only one president in the White House – a president who probably won on a “fusion” ticket, being the acceptable choice of several different parties who have agreed more or less to work together, at least for this election cycle. Sometimes the president would be a joint choice of the Democrats and Republicans, and would solidly favor globalization and business interests. Sometimes he might be a Labor-America First nominee and always support the interests of the working class. Sometimes he might be an America First-Constitution choice and fight for social conservatism. Or a Green-Progressive-Labor president who would be socially liberal and fight for the working class and environmental protection. But, at any rate, only one president at a time, steering the ship of state in one direction – which direction would be a vector sum, just like now, but involving more vectors than are in play now.

Reasons continued in next post (system’s length limit requires breaking it up).

5. A multiparty system is more stable than a two-party system.

That might sound counterintuitive – won’t PR lead to the two big parties breaking up, new ones forming, shifting alliances, massive political instability and unpredictability?

Yes, in the short term. But consider: Each political grouping has a limited “target market,” a limited number of voters who sympathize with it and might be persuaded to support it. After a few years under PR, each party will have achieved total “market saturation,” recruited pretty much all of its potential support base. And after that point, there will be no more “electoral revolutions” --change will be slow and incremental. Elections will be a matter of a given party gaining or losing just a few percentage points of support. In each party, there will be a solid core of committed supporters, and a fringe of not-so-commited supporters who might go one way or another – e.g., if there is a large Libertarian Party, distinct from a purely business-oriented Republican Party, then there will be a few “swing voters” between them who might, in any given election, go Libertarian or Republican – but never, ever, Green or Socialist. Likewise there might be a set of “swing voters” disputed between the America First Party and the Constitution Party. How those swing voters go will determine shifts in political power – but since they are distributed all over the map in small disparate groups, and none has voting strength out of proportion to its numbers, sudden coordinated shifts in support are very unlikely. No more electoral revolutions, only gradual incremental changes – possibly even on a generational time-scale, no faster.

By contrast, in our present system the only “swing voters” are those hovering about the country’s ideological center-of-gravity. And they do have influence far out of proportion to their numbers, for reasons explained in the OP – which leads to instability. In 1994 we had an electoral “revolution,” putting Republicans in control of both houses of Congress --even though the aggregate national Republican vote exceeded the Democratic vote by less than one-half of one percent (and depending on how the votes were geographically distributed, that exact same vote total might as easily have yielded the opposite result). That makes the balance of power unstable and unpredictable.
6. From the voter’s point of view, a multiparty system is more coherent than a two-party system.

By “coherent,” I mean that it is clear what each party label means and what you’re supporting when you vote for that party. That’s not what we’ve got now. Each of our parties is a “big tent” of several very different factions. Voters often rely on a party label to guide them if they don’t have time to learn details about the actual candidates.

But when you vote the straight Republican ticket, how do you know what you’re really endorsing? A given Republican candidate might be a big-business conservative, a religious conservative, a foreign-policy neocon, or a moderate. A political party that includes George Bush, John McCain, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee just does not make any sense.

A given Democrat might be a pro-business DLC Democrat, or an environmentalist, or a social conservative, or a black activist, or a labor unionite, or even a socialist. A political party that includes Joe Lieberman, Hillary Clinton, Richard Gephardt, Al Sharpton and Dennis Kucinich just does not make any sense.

Even worse, both big parties lack internal discipline – there is no way to define membership. Candidates and officeholders are essentially independent entrepeneurs, who are expected to manage and finance their own campaigns with no help from the party organization – and whose party labels might be a matter of momentary convenience. If you’re registered to vote Republican you can call yourself a Republican, and even that probably is not strictly necessary. I’m sure the RNC would love to expel David Duke from the party, and the DNC would like to be able to say Lyndon LaRouche is no Democrat – but they can’t. Unlike the more tightly organized parties of Europe, the Republicrats have no membership cards, membership dues, or expulsion mechanisms.

If we have a larger number of smaller parties, each party will also be more ideologically homogeneous and consistent, and the party labels will really mean something unambiguous. It is also likely that these parties would be better organized, better disciplined, and more directly involved in their candidates’ campaigns. All in all, much more coherent.
7. A multiparty system is more entertaining than a two-party system.

This should be obvious – wouldn’t people pay more attention to politics if more different points of view were in play? Even, if there were a few more charismatic extremists in it? I’m sure most of you would shudder at the thought of David Duke or Louis Farrakhan getting seats in Congress – but if they did, wouldn’t that be a fascinating spectacle? Imagine Duke and Farrakhan standing up on the House floor to debate each other head-to-head! Wouldn’t people watch it like they watch a car wreck or a dogfight or a Faces of Death video?

The entertainment value of politics is not trivial. It gets people interested, and a healthy democracy needs that. It also adds more richness and color to our national culture and history. Man, look at how much mileage American comedians and columnists and commentators and pundits have gotten out of one lousy Oval Office blowjob!

On a more serious note . . . remember “Point-Counterpoint,” the segment of 60 Minutes back in the '70s, when Shana Alexander and Jack Kilpatrick would comment on some issue, from a liberal and conservative POV respectively? Imagine how that would have gone if we had a multi-party system and the segment, to be comprehensive, had had eight or nine commentators instead of just two. It would have had to be a much longer segment, maybe as long as one of the news-coverage segments – but so much, much more interesting to watch! So much more intellectually stimulating! Might even be material for a whole separate show! You don’t get anything like that, on for instance, Crossfire – when’s the last time you saw a Green or a Communist get on a show like that?

Heck, people might actually start watching C-Span!
8. A multiparty system can provide a healthy safety valve for nastiness and ugliness.

I asserted above that each party in a multiparty system could play a constructive role. I must admit I have reservations on that point. For instance, in my view the members of a religious conservative party like the Constitution Party are fundamentally wrong about practically everything that matters to them and have nothing whatsoever of value to contribute to the political process. But I see no other reason to exclude them: The CP’s supporters, and those with similar views who are working within the Republican Party at present, are people, they are American citizens, and they have as much right as anybody else to have their views and values represented in the legislatures.

Then there are . . . others. Hate groups. The Southern Party, the Southern Independence Party, the Knights Party (political arm of the Klan), the American Nazi Party. The right-wing militia groups that produced Timothy McVeigh. The “common-law courts” movement of idiots who think they can individually secede from American society. The “Christian Identity” churches who believe nonwhites are soulless animals and Jews are literally descendants of Satan. Also, black nationalist groups – whose views often look just like white racism stood on its head. Do we want to run the risk that if we changed our electoral systems, these people would pool their votes and actually get a couple of members elected to Congress, or to some state legislatures? In Britain, where PR is an actual issue right now, some people oppose it because they don’t want to risk the racist National Party winning any seats in Parliament.

Now, it is possible to construct a PR system in such a way that very small parties can’t get into government at all. In Germany, a party needs at least 5% voter support to get into parliament; this bar has frozen out neo-Nazi organizations while sometimes letting in the Greens, sometimes keeping them out.

But suppose it happens anyway?

My answer is, it wouldn’t necessarily be all that bad, and it might serve a useful function. The idea of my tax dollars going to pay for the salary and staff of Congressman David Duke does make my gorge rise. But he’s only one vote. I don’t believe pure-d racial hatred has broad enough support in America any more to support a very large political party. There’s still a lot of racism, yes – but it’s one thing to unthinkingly accept ethnic stereotypes or to feel a certain esthetic or social distate for certain ethnic groups; it’s quite another thing to base your entire world-view and politics on ideas of racial identity, and I believe the latter way of thinking is extremely rare in today’s America.

Furthermore, the chances of such a party producing an American Hitler are nil – for several reasons, one of which is that fascism is all about an all-powerful, centralized, national state; but, for historical reasons, the sectors of American society that are the most racist are also the most decentralist and the most hostile to strong national government. Also, if white supremacists can get into Congress, black separatists might also get in – David Duke and Louis Farrakhan will balance each other out, and watching them debate each other will be some real hoo-boy fun! :smiley: (See point no. 7.)

Most importantly, David Duke in Congress might provide something genuinely useful: A safety valve for the political expression of certain feelings that, unfortunately, do live in many Americans who feel muzzled and voiceless in our current political environment. We have reached a point where nobody who hopes to have a political career will dare to express racist views openly – remember what happened to Trent Lott when he obliquely praised the views of Strom Thurmond? My thinking is, if Timothy McVeigh had been able to look to Congress and see David Duke, or somebody like him, spouting his message of racial hatred and fear at public expense, then maybe, just maybe, he might not have felt so frustrated that he had to make a political statement through mass murder.

I think it’s healthier in general to create an environment where people who hold racist or otherwide extreme views can air them openly rather than festering in silence. Sometimes the best way to treat an abscess is to lance it and let the pus out and expose the infected flesh to light and air.

Which leads right into
9. A multiparty system produces more coherent and meaningful messages than a two-party system.

Campaign rhetoric nowadays tends to be, well, vague. Sometimes you can hear a politician give a speech beginning to end without learning anything about his or her politics. Political ads are as imagistic and meaningless as the consultants can make them. I think one reason for all this is that, in a two-party system, a politician can succeed only by winning support of a voting majority. If you want to get elected to Congress, you don’t dare say anything which might alienate 50%+1 of the voters in your district, even if it’s something you think urgently needs to be said. You make your messages innocuous and ambiguous enough to have appeal to as broad a swath of the electorate as possible, and always make the swing voters in the middle your principal target zone.

In a multiparty system-- based, let us say, on the multi-member-district form of PR, which each district electing a ten-member delegation – you don’t need a majority’s support to win – only a substantial minority. This frees you up to say what you really think. If you’re a Green in your sentiments you can campaign as a Green and talk the Green line. Same if you’re a Libertarian, etc. It doesn’t matter who else you make made, just as long as you can win the votes of the necessary 10% of the voters.

As a voter, wouldn’t you rather listen to campaign ads and speeches that really say something? Even if a lot of them make your blood boil?

I dunno, I like the moderation of the two party system. YMMV.

The US system uses “first past the post,” “winner take all” elections. This stacks the decks against a national third party. We have The Party That Won and The Party That Lost and no in-between.

It is not like you can come in second place for the White House and become Secretary of State. If your party loses, you are simply out of luck.

Theone way you could make a third party work would be on a regional basis. If the Dixiecrats had been able to hold onto (say) a half-dozen state houses and governorships plus most of the Congress seat from the Southern states, they might have been able to maintain a bench deep enough to put up a reasonable national ticket in federal elections. Without those state positions to fall back on, the Outs become civilians until the next election.

Yes, that’s my point. And we can change that.

Only at the executive level, the executive being unitary at the federal, state and local levels. But, (1) we can have a multiparty system WRT multimember policymaking bodies – legislatures, county commissions, school boards; and (2) that will have an indirect effect on the executive.

N.B.: A multiparty system is not the same thing as a parliamentary system (I often see them confused). A parliamentary system is one where the executive is (in effect, more or less) chosen by the legislature, as in Britain; a presidential or separation-of-powers system is one where the executive is independently elected by the public, therefore has an independent electoral mandate. There are arguments in favor of both. Combining a parliamentary system with PR can lead to political gridlock due to the necessity of piecing together, out of several minority parties in parliament, a coalition sufficient to support “forming a government.” But most of the world’s democracies have both PR and parliamentary systems and manage to make it work well enough most of the time. (Just don’t ask me about Italy. :rolleyes:) This problem is not present if we move to PR without discarding our separation-of-powers system.

What about the alternative of no parties? I like that it would force people to learn something about the candidate.

How would presidential elections work in your system? I’ve always been afraid of having a president who won ~15% of the vote. When you talk about parties pooling their candidates, how would that happen? Would it be something codified (if so, how), or are you thinking it would happen organically? Would a nationwide, open primary be a good idea, to choose 2 candidates for the general election?

Say we all decide we like your system. How do we go about implementing it?

Perhaps a big part of the problem might be that America has too few Senators? Each senatorial vote is extremely precious and that then rolls over to the other House. If each House had 500 members then each individual seat would be less important.

And you have consistently either ignored or failed to understand the criticisms of instant runoff voting. It is a fatally flawed system (pdf) and should never be considered, especially when range voting is so clearly superior. Note something important mentioned in both documents: IRV does not favor a multiparty system.

I agree with the end result (a multi-party system), but I would implement it differently.

I think increasing the size of the House of Representatives, to something like 800 or 1000 seats, would be very helpful. Smaller districts means more responsive representatives. I don’t think the Senate’s size needs to be adjusted; they’re supposed to represent broad constituencies. To change the size of the House only requires an Act of Congress, not a Constitutional amendment, so it can be implemented “easily”.

I do not like proportional representation. It gives too much power to the political parties. I want my representative to depend only on the will of the voters, not also the will of the party bosses who make the party list, to stay in office.

I also do not like instant runoff voting. See the Wikipedia entry for descriptions of the problems. I prefer approval voting, which is simply voting for every candidate you approve of. The candidate with most votes wins. It’s simple and it gives smaller parties a chance.

Here, BTW, is a 10-minute video clip from the 1980s of John Cleese (yes, that one) making a case for proportional representation in the UK. This is a “party political broadcast” – not for the Silly Party, but for the SDP-Liberal Alliance (now the Liberal Democrats), Britain’s biggest third party.

Tony Blair was elected in 1997 on, among other things, a promise to have a national referendum on changing over to PR. It was never kept.

And here is a very insightful pro-PR article by Michael Lind, in The Atlantic Monthly, August 1992.

I agree wholeheartedly that we should have a multiparty system and am also glad that I’m not the only one who would have a problem moving to an instant runoff.

I think that making other party’s viable would be great for someone like me who’s unhappy with their current party, but yet doesn’t agree enough with the opposition to join them. Most of the time having more options is better, and I think that this would be true of political parties as well.

Edit - Corrected a spelling error.

Moderation? I hadn’t noticed any.

The real challenge is to get ordinary citizens interested in a set of reforms and goals that . . . take so long to explain. You can’t fit this stuff on a bumper-sticker.

A convoy.

“A Multi-Party System of Governance is Superior to Our Current System…(see next car)…”

I have only three objections I wish to mention, but both essentially devastate your argument, which in any case is old, inaccurate, and self-aggandizing.

Political parties in America have incrasing less to do with politics, because people do not vote for parties in America. They vote for individuals, and thaqt’
s a huge difference from virtually every other (possibly no virtually about it) Democracy in the world. Oh sure, now and then some popular candidate shifts elections in Europe, but that’s not the norm. And passing legislation, even in the House, is about shifting opinion of a few leaders, not getting “the Party”
behind the vote.

Second, history distinctly belies your nonsensical claim that multiparty systems are are somehow more stable. I won’t bother going over the history of them all.

Everything else you mention ultimately comes down to a question of values, where you assume yours are self-evidently good, and therefore ignore the value of alternatives.

That was how things were originally intended. The problem is that people naturally fall into like minded groupings, and that these groupings coalesce into parties. I don’t think there is any way to prevent this in our system.
As for the OP, this isn’t the first time he’s brought up this subject. As I’ve said in earlier threads on this subject, I don’t think it would work very well in our system. You would end up making the government even more weak and ineffectual, more fragmented with even more contentious infighting and bickering. Nothing would ever get done because you’d need to form rough coalitions of parties that would end up being weak shadows of our current two party system. Green’s would align with other lefty groups and would merge with remnant Dems and we’d still have something like the Democrat party…but more contentious with more infighting and even less effective than what we have. Same goes for the Republican party…a lot of the current factions would probably still end up as a coalition because of politics. Or a lot of these splinter groups would form other larger groups and gum up the works that way…we’d have something like what the English have, but while it works for the English fairly well (they are used to it, and also they are a bit less fragmented than we are) it would be a nightmare here. IMHO of course.

While I would love to see a viable third party emerge in our system, I’d like to see it emerge to eventually replace one (or both) of the current parties…just like the Federalists and Whigs were replaced in the past. I think our system is best suited to 2 big tent parties…my quibble is how those parties should be formed and what their platforms should be.


This. The last time the “political typology” link was posted, I didn’t agree to any of them enough to join any one of the ten parties if there were theoretically one party for each of the ten typologies. So if I don’t hew to them enough to even closely associate with them, chances of their backing a candidate I’d largely agree with would be very slim. Almost as slim as today’s chance with no formal party discipline in allocating representation (but rather doing it through cash and political repercussions only.)

On the other hand, we are in need of some sort of non-first-past-the-post voting. This would by itself, I believe, introduce the ability to introduce new ideas and have people’s fringe politicial viewpoints registered without forcing them into one of 10-20 big buckets. (Of course it might overestimate the political influence of marginal parties as some people might vote for them, although low on their lists, as a political statement or joke.)

I guess my reaction is largely in line with that of xtisme. To the extent that the job of the legislature is to vote on legislation, any issue will ultimately boil down to two coalitions of yes and no. The information gathering and logrolling that the OP describes aren’t going to look that different between parties than intraparty. I imagine that the system the OP is contemplating would thus look a lot like the current Congress, just with more speeches about pot. :stuck_out_tongue:

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Obviously, plenty of countries use PR systems just fine. I just don’t see it as a compelling argument for change.

The OP has obviously out a lot of thought into this, and I apprciate the acknowledgment that a change of electoral system would not affect the electorate’s underlying preferences. A lot of times when reading advocacy of PR, it’s hard to avoid the impresssion that the author sees it as a means of shifting the electorate toward his or her own policy preferences (“this will make the US more like a European social system” or “this will push the US back to its tradition of individual liberty”).

I almost regret my first post… but I couldn’t help it, the OP was just so long! (And interesting, too.)

Relating to xtisme’s point, what non-parliamentary republics have multi-party systems, and how does the strength of the executive branches compare to here in the US?

My concern is that, whatever the benefits of having more viewpoints aired, ultimately making Congress an institution within which different coalitions must be formed to pass any significant legislation, then Congress will become even weaker than it is presently in countering the power of the executive branch. I, for one, think that Congress is too weak now, and would be extremely opposed to electoral reform which further strengthens the executive.

Let’s look at the votes over the last few years WRT funding the Iraq war. In essence, there were three parties operating in Congress: the Democratic Party (with an emphasis on a responsible withdrawal from Iraq), the Republican Party (we must stay until victory), and the faction of the Democratic Party known as the Out of Iraq Caucus. None of these “parties” had a majority, and thereby strengthened Bush’s hand in negotiating with Congress to get war funding bills passed with no strings attached.

In this case, the divisions within Congress forced a turning away from the general center-seeking behavior of our government, in general, by providing the President an opportunity to divide and conquer his opposition. Does anyone think that worked well?

Indeed. BrainGlutton, could you please respond to these criticisms of IRV?