Should the US formally adopt a two-party system?

I was not aware that any of the self-described “Tea Partiers” actually ran as anything other than Republicans. They positioned themselves as a faction within an already-existing party so as to push the platform in a direction they desired (i.e. far right), and didn’t actually attempt to break away formally from the GOP. This kind of thing has quite a number of precedents within US political history.

I had an idea for a formal three-party system, which the current parties could occupy different slots of depending on the context of who won last time. The idea would be that the incumbent party is by definition the middle one, and there must be one alternative given mainstream attention on each side of the political spectrum. To me this makes more sense than the current US system, which presently offers only “stay where we are” or “move farther right” and also the current 3+ party Canadian system, which divides the left-of-incumbent vote between different major parties.

In the 2008 election, the Democrats would be the Farther Left Party, the Republicans would be the Status Quo Party, and the far right independents would be the Farther Right Party. But since the Democrats won that election, in 2012 we would have the far left independents as the Farther Left Party, the Democrats as the Status Quo Party, and the Republicans as the Farther Right Party. (If the far left independents manage to take 2012, an even more left-leaning bunch rises up to replace them in the Farther Left Party, the Democrats now occupy the Farther Right Party option, and the Republicans are out of the game.)

I’ve never studied political science, so I’ll admit there could be something really flawed about this.

How many parties do you have that have seats? How many are dominant, with a majority or a large number of the seats? I’m curious to know. And are your elections all by candidate, in different districts? Do you elect anyone by voting for a party rather than a person?

We have a few independents and third parties too. In a few districts, they can manage to displace one of the major parties by taking enough votes from them, or even both, to win. It’s usually when one of the major parties is really weak though.

Except many of our candidates are chosen by primary elections now, meaning it extends beyond the party faithful. And either way, as I mentioned, a candidate must win the most votes, among all voters, to win office. Even if the party faithful choose the candidate, they know that if they pick someone who does not appeal to a majority of voters, they will lose. The other side knows that too. That’s still part of the process of forming coalitions before elections.

You could change the electoral system to Approval Voting. Then you could vote for as many parties as you like.

I disagree. It’s the feedback loop created by the existing rules that results in third parties being strictly a repository for kooks.

If you’re serious about trying to instigate positive change, you don’t do it through a third party, because from the time your third party’s support got out of the white noise until the time it supplanted the current major party that would be more sympathetic to your ideas, you’d be helping the major party less sympathetic to your proposals win election after election - which would in and of itself make it unlikely for your party to ever supplant anybody, since those elections would move the political center of gravity further away from where your party stands.

The rule that creates this situation is that, in almost every jurisdiction, you only need a plurality to win an election. So for instance, if the Republican candidate wins 45% of the votes in an election, but the Dems and the Greens split the rest 40%-15%, and the GOP wins, despite a center-left majority for the Dems/Greens. This is why we need runoffs of one sort or another, whether it’s IRV or open primaries or whatever.

This is why third parties are repositories for kooks. Anyone serious about trying to realize change through the political system is aware that a third party working for those changes will work against those changes, if it draws any meaningful support at all.

Another rule that works against third parties is the rule, which applies in all but a handful of states, that says that a candidate can only be on one party’s ticket. For instance, if the Greens wanted to run candidates in Congressional races, but didn’t want to hurt the Dem’s Presidential candidate, they should be able to list the Dem candidate at the top of their own ticket - but in all but a few states, they can’t do that.

If the rules ever get changed to create a level playing field between major parties and third parties, and third parties are still no less a repository for kooks than they are now, I’ll STFU. But not until.

I disagree with that, too. Lots of issues simply never get into play because it never occurs to either party to think about them, or the party that would have more sympathy for a policy position thinks it’ll be less popular than it turns out to be. Besides that, a competitive* third party could take more unequivocal stands on issues that the major parties aren’t willing to do, and could test the value of standing on principle. (E.g. a lefty third party could be adamantly against any reduction of Social Security benefits, or could be more unequivocally pro-union than the Dems are.) Finally, a competitive third party could take the time to sell the electorate on ideas that the major parties wouldn’t bother with.

*By ‘competitive,’ I’m not talking about the level of support for a given third party, but about third parties in general that exist in a set of rules that allows them to prosper rather than hurt their own causes by their very existence.

Exactly. Well stated.

I don’t understand what this means. What “ticket” do you mean? A party can endorse whoever they want.