Political Impacts of Third Parties

Third Parties

Third Party Politics

As November second comes closer and closer, American citizens are tasked with an important and necessary task -- choosing the next president of the United States. Although the coming election is history making in many ways, some may have trouble choosing a president for one specific reason -- the choice is limited to two candidates from two rather defined parties with specific platforms. Although many states throughout the world allow citizens to choose from a variety of candidates from a variety of parties, some rather specialized, such as green parties, which operate on an environmental platform, the United States two-party system is part of the nation's tradition. This can cause problems for many voters, who believe the two major parties are not different enough, or do not present a wide enough spectrum of opinions to represent those alive in the United States. By examining the background of the two-party system and both sides of the argument for and against a more extensive inclusion of third parties in the United States, one can contend that opening the United States' political system up to make access easier for third party candidates will allow for better representation of the American public.


The American two-party system has its roots in constitutional interpretation. After the American Revolution, the colonial governments suddenly found themselves face with national government. Among the former colonists and new founding American citizens, the political issue of the United States constitution was primary. One group, the federalists, was the first real political party of the United States in that it organized under the Articles of Confederation. The first conservatives, the party was composed namely of wealth property owners, many of which were the founding fathers. Their primary platform was the strong, centralized government.

This was a conservative platform because a strong, central government was what had characterized the England that the founding fathers had left. Formed in reaction to the Federalists, the Anti-Federalists were composed of those opposed to a strong, central government, preferring instead greater states rights. These were more of the poorer class families that believed an innovative approach to government would help them achieve what would later be called the American dream. The Federalists ultimately triumphed over the Anti-Federalists, and both parties died shortly after the installation of the new constitution. However, the two first political parties exhibited the two-party system that would overtake American politics, in addition to the fact that parties would organize around platforms. Furthermore, the Federalists and Anti-Federalists served as the first conservative and liberal parties, suggesting the conservative-liberal debate that divides the United States even today ("Evolution of American Political Parties").

Since those first two parties were formed, the United States has been characterized by two major parties, a two-party system. Today, those two major parties are the Republicans, the conservative party, and the Democrats, the liberal party. Most elected officials are either Republicans or Democrats. Though third parties exist, they are not often seen in office. This is because of the way that the United States' elections are held, specifically because of single-member districts. In some countries, legislative bodies are elected based on the number of votes, with the person receiving the most number of votes filling seat one and so on. The United States' system is different because the winner-take-all single member districts allows only one winner from each distract to sit in the legislative body, not allowing much room for a third-party candidate. In addition, whenever a third party candidate has gained popularity, a major party candidate generally includes the issue that made the third party candidate popular in his or her platform, taking the third party candidate's votes ("What is the history"). While third party candidates have had some hand at shaping the elections in the United States, this is usually by taking votes from a major candidate who would have won the presidency had the third-party candidate not been running. Thus, the problem with third parties in the United States comes down to representation. Can a two-party system really represent a majority of Americans, or are third parties necessary for a true democracy?

Pros of a Two-Party System

One of the advantages of a two-party system is stronger parties, and another is a more unified government. In some countries, it is not unusual to have three, four, or even more parties represented in an election for the legislature, congress, or both. In this system, almost anyone can create a party revolving around almost any issue, as wide as working-class issues or as narrow as environmental issues. This certainly gives the voter more choices, but it doesn't make for strong parties that can appeal to a majority of voters. For instance, a voter may be concerned about environmental issues, but also international relations, homeland security, and the tax rate. Smaller, specialized parties don't provide platforms extensive enough to cover the many issues that most Americans feel are important. For this reason, they are likely to dissolve fairly quickly, with new ones shooting up to replace their withering predecessors. These kinds of parties don't encourage the activism, support, and grassroots organizations of larger parties like the Democrats and Republicans. They are weak, and most Americans know this. In short, they simply don't have the reach that the two major parties do. Thus, arguments in favor of the two-party system suggest this method makes for the best representation of the American public, as Americans want comprehensive, strong parties that allow activism.

In addition to strong parties, those who favor the two-party system also suggest that the system makes for an inherently stronger government. In the event of third, fourth, or more parties, coalition governments are much more likely to be formed. These governments consist of multiple members of many parties, and are arrived at as the result of elections that give a percentage of seats to a party with a certain percentage of votes. While coalition governments encourage multi-sided debate over the issues, the debates are also obstacles. Just as the Democrats and Republicans often clash to the point where a new bill cannot be passed, the various party members of coalition governments clash, but even more often than in the two party system. Thus, the government is weaker, and can accomplish less due to hang-ups among different party members. Proponents of two-party systems suggest that by keeping the number of parties to a minimum, the amount of legislation that can actually be accomplished is maximized.

Cons of the Two-Party System

Just as many agree that the two-party system was the system under which the United States political system was founded, and this should be the system that is currently imposed, others are of the opinion that the system actually decreases representation. These people would argue that very few Americans could actually be categorized into two succinct parties. Many vote for Republicans or Democrats just because they feel that no third party candidate could actually make a difference when, in fact, the third party candidates are better representatives of these citizens' values. This belief has gained popularity in light of the recent election. Many have popularized their views that both candidates are too similar to each other to be running. In other words, some believe the major Democrat and Republican candidates are tired cookie cutter politicians who do not bring anything fresh to the debate. Third parties, these voters would argue, would give more options to the American people. Furthermore, those who believe the two-party system should be replaced with a system that is more friendly to third party candidates argue that coalition governments are not bodies that can get little done, but are, in fact, the best representation of the American people. In short, those who argue in favor of a third-party friendly system argue…