Should the US formally adopt a two-party system?

Many folks (myself included) would argue that one of the major problems in American politics is that third parties are basically nonentities.

The obvious solution would be for a third party to actually achieve some sort of major success. So far…not much luck there, and the status quo seems to suggest that that may, effectively, be impossible.

So, here’s a thought: what if we formally adopted a two party sytem? The system I would propose would look something like this:

  1. All elections (above municipal level, perhaps?) would only allow two candidates (one per party) on the ballot and write-ins.

  2. Existing third-parties would be converted to voting interest groups that don’t run candidates explicitly, but use their resources to promote candidates and influence the two parties (similar to how the Tea Party is working out).

  3. Because there’s no third parties to worry about, coverage of elections can fairly focus only on the two majors; third parties are no longer “disenfranchised” or “unfairly ignored” because they don’t exist.
    Obviously, this is very, very unlikely to happen, but I’m curious if it would be better or worse. I can see arguments from both directions; I’m curious what kinds of impact this could have.

Well, the last time there was a really successful third party in the US, it was the Republicans, and electing them got rid of slavery. I’m not sure that that sort of thing could ever happen again, but I’d say we ought to leave the possibility open.

In order for that 2 work the US constitution would need to be amended to formally enshrine the Democtatic & Republican parties in law as the only legal parties. It’s not going to happen and it’s a profoundly stupid idea to begin with. If you want 3rd parties to have any kind of real influence then you need start electing legislative bodies with proportional representation, or at least use instant-runoff voting. IRV also works for executive postions. Or even just have a 2-round election; all candidates from all parties compete against eachother in the same primary election, then only the top 2 candidates advance to the general election. AKA the nonpartisan blanket primary.

Sure, the Greens and Libertarians.

Actually, the last time there was a really successful third party in the US, it was in fact the Republicans, but slavery had already been gone for decades, and they didn’t win (though they did play spoiler to the Bull Moose).

I’m kinda tired of the third party whiners. The reason there isn’t a viable third (or fourth or fifth) party is not because of a rigged system, it’s because they invariably back a set of positions that a majority of people don’t want. The Randians want a gold standard and the Greens want to stand over my shoulder and make sure I put my recycling in the right bin. The Libertarians are a bunch of social misfits that think the world would run perfectly if we just looked at the first chapter of an economics textbook and ignored the rest.

If there were an issue that the American people backed that was not part of the Republican or Democratic platform one of the parties would just adopt it.

People who believe in the gold standard, or alien abductions, or that explosives brought down the WTC, or that we should throw the borders wide open, or shut them completely down always think that there are scads of other true believers out there just like them.

Whilst I see the idea that only having two parties could make things easier it does stop innovation at the edges. In Australia when the Greens or Shooters Party get votes the two major parties tend to either form coalitions with them or adopt some of their ideas.

We need the lunatic fringes to stop parties melding into some beige nightmare that only caters to the mob or those with the most influence [generally money].

What fumster and sisu have effectively described is a process of evolution. The minor parties provide the raw variability, and the major parties winnow it down to what is actually survivable. It seems to work; when a minor party comes up with a good idea, one of the big parties will adopt it (and the other will decry it as socialism or something…) Meanwhile, we don’t want the minor parties to get any real power, because they usually are too fringey, too obsessed with a limited agenda, and unwilling to participate in meaningful compromise.

We need 'em, because if any really good new ideas ever arise, they’re where the ideas will arise from. But idealists and dreamers make rotten legislators, so, while we should listen to what they have to say, we shouldn’t vote for 'em.

No, it’s really a problem with the First Past the Post system we use. I’d go into detail, but this video does it much better than I ever could.

And why shouldn’t the disagreeable people get a voice in Congress? We might not agree with them, but it’s really not fair to not give them any chance at introducing and debating legislation unless their support is really that tiny. I also think you’re mixing up cause and effect – third parties aren’t tiny because they’re crazy, they’re crazy because only a tiny amount of crazy voters are ignorant enough about the realities of the system to vote for them, so they HAVE to be crazy to cater to those people.

Is the existing deep pockets of the current parties the only reason centrist Ds and Rs haven’t come together to form a Centre Party? I mean, there has to be a core of moderates in both parties, right?

No, it’s the spoiler effect (mentioned in the video I linked above too). Whichever party lost the most voters that election cycle to the centrist party would lose and the other party would get minority rule, so to be safe people strategically vote for the major party candidate they’re least disagreeable to winning.

A moderate leftist has more in common with a flaming liberal than with a moderate conservative. A moderate righty has more in common with a fire-breathing conservative than with a moderate liberal. I don’t see a party working out in the long-term when it’s primary platform is “let’s work together and not stand for anything in particular.” Politics is passion.

I wouldn’t mind this so much since I share some views with the libertarians (no tariffs, free trade between countries, natural collapse of unproductive industry), but each party when elected would focus on “cleaning up the mess left behind by the other party”. For the Greens, that’d probably mean reversing deregulation, for the Libertarians, that’d be removing universal healthcare.

Not really clear on what problem the OP is meant to solve.

But for what its worth, the Vermont Progressive party usually has a few seats in the State legislature and frequently holds the mayorship of Vermonts largest city, and their signature issue (a state single-payer health plan) is looking like it may come to pass.

They’re still dwarfed by the larger parties, but they aren’t completely marginal either. It would seem kind of dick to outlaw them.

The effect of the Tea Bagging Party on the 2010 elections shows the OP is incorrect.

Aside from the fact that it violates the Bill of Rights, why do this? What purpose does it serve? I can only see negatives.

And that’s exactly what we do too. We form political coalitions.

But we form them BEFORE the election, by nominating candidates. And then again during the election, by building a majority to win.

We have a winner take all system, so it’s not really possible to form coalitions after elections. You have to have the most votes before Election Day, not after.

But the Republicans were only a third party for a very short time. They rapidly became one of the first two, and the others faded away. That’s because parties must form winning coalitions of voters, and a third party has little chance of that.

No third party will succeed in America, unless it replaces one of the first two.

OK I have an Australian view and we often have a few parties in our senate and even a few genuine independents and it seems to work out OK.

The issue with forming them before an election is that it is the generally the party faithful who are picking candidates, I am also talking about forming government not indiviual seats.

I’ve been following the presidential race and others pretty closely, and haven’t seen a single story on anyone other than a Republican or a Democrat. So as far as this point goes, I don’t see a need for what your propose. Maybe races in other parts of the country have viable third party candidates, so that could make a difference in my opinion…