Washington Monument

The Two Party Political System Must End

Ralph Nader announced his candidacy for president today. Hurray! I'm not a huge fan of Mr. Nader's politics, but I support his presence in the race. As most political analysts will tell you, his Green Party "spoiled" the race in 2000 and is the reason that Bush is in office currently. The pressure exerted by his party could lead to a significant change in the way we elect presidents in the future.

The Green Party wasn't this first third party to cause havoc in a presidential election. The Reform Party's effect in the 1996 election was significant as well. Clinton was the first president elected by a plurality in modern time. Much was said about him not having a clear mandate by the people, but then the issue was dropped and the Republicans and Democrats went back to business as usual.

Then came cousin Ralph. Yes, he didn't have a snowballs chance, but look what he did. The Green Party's popularity caused one of the most significant political events of our time, the Florida Recount. Since the margin was so slim, the effect of the votes being cast for Nader, instead of the probable second choice, Gore, made the difference in the election. History books will document the events of the recount, hanging chads and court battles, but Mr. Nader was the true catalyst of action.

The Green Party's effect was a political shockwave. No plurality debate this time. The outcome of a presidential election was shifted and people stood up and took notice, in particular the Democratic National Convention. They were screaming at Nader. He lost the election for them and there wasn't a damn thing they could do about it.

You see, Ralph upset the cozy little game that has been going on in this country for over a hundred years, the two party political system. You can't get elected to the Presidency unless you are member of the Democratic or Republican party. It's an ugly little secret of American politics. We support competition and new ideas in all aspects of American life, with the exception of the election of the most powerful person in the world.

Now, the RNC and DNC will tell you that the system works. They believe that there are only two avenues of political thought and they have them all covered. The reality is that there are AT LEAST five major political divisions: Liberal, Conservative, Libertarian, Authoritarian and Centrist. Look below for and explanation (To find out where you really stand, go here) And these are only the major strains of political thought. There are thousands of splinter groups including the aforementioned Green and Reform Parties.

Libertarians are self-governors in both personal and economic matters. They believe government's only purpose is to protect people from coercion and violence. They value individual responsibility, and tolerate economic and social diversity.
Liberals prefer self-government in personal matters and central decision-making on economics. They want government to serve the disadvantaged in the name of fairness. Leftists tolerate social diversity, but work for economic equality.
Conservatives prefer self-government on economic issues, but want official standards in personal matters. They want the government to defend the community from threats to its moral fiber.
Authoritarians want government to advance society and individuals through expert central planning. They often doubt whether self-government is practical. Left-authoritarians are also called socialists, while fascists are right-authoritarians

The current political landscape makes it difficult for the third party to gain a foothold. First, the RNC and DNC control the legislature and have adopted rules to make it difficult if not impossible to for a third party to make a serious challenge. Any third party that would like to have a candidate on the ballot must petition each state every election. The RNC and DNC automatically have a place reserved. Additionally, to qualify for matching federal election funds, the party must have had at least 10% of the vote in the previous election. Finally, the RNC and DNC have banded together in the past to disallow third parties during the debates. This effectively removes their message from the public eye.

The voting system in place also prevents serious challenges by third parties. In presidential elections, we use a First-past-the post election system. This system is biased toward the majority parties and as a side effect allows smaller parties to "Spoil" elections. The 2000 elections are a glaring example. Lets look at the election results to see how this played out:

USA VOTE TOTAL: VOTE PERCENTAGE:
Al Gore
Democratic
50,128,338 48%
George W. Bush
Republican
49,800,372 48%
Ralph Nader
Green
2,781,109 3%

As we all know by now, Al Gore lost the 2000 election by roughly 930 votes in Florida which is a statistical tie. His campaign could be categorized as a moderate liberal one. George Bush was generally considered a moderate conservative. Ralph Nader ran a campaign that was focused on environmental issues and played on anti-corporate sentiment. This type of platform is generally categorized as appealing to liberal voters and was a stark contrast to Bush's platform of relaxed corporate regulation.

Florida VOTE TOTAL: VOTE PERCENTAGE:
Al Gore
Democratic
2,910,942 48%
George W. Bush
Republican
2,911,872 48%
Ralph Nader
Green
97,421 1.6%

Nader having 1.6% of the popular vote would have most likely received vote from borderline Gore supporters or people that would not have voted anyway. We will assume that if Nader had not run, 50% of the voters would not have voted. Additionally, we will assume that even though the Green Party Campaign should have appealed overwhelmingly to Liberal voters, that only 51% of the remain votes where cast for Al Gore.

Projected Green Party Effect VOTE TOTAL: VOTE PERCENTAGE:
Total Expected Turnout
50% of Green Party Votes
48,710 100%
Al Gore
Democratic
24,842 51%
George W. Bush
Republican
23,867 49%

 

The difference? 975 more votes for President-Elect Gore. Again this is a far more generous estimate for the RNC than should have played out.

Now the effect...

What Green Party voters have realized after the election is that their votes actually undermined their liberal beliefs. By voting for a long shot candidate and having him lose, their vote was actually wasted to a degree. If they had voted for the more electable Gore, although a second choice, the resulting administration would be closer to their desires. With this information, it may be unlikely that they will repeat their previous voting decision.

So what can we do about it? Simple, vote with your conscience. Don't worry about "wasting" your vote. It's not really a waste in reality. Consider this. Now that Ralph Nader has entered the race for 2004, the Democrats are on edge. Quite simply, they have three choices for the foreseeable future:

A) Convince Nader to never run again
B) Show Green Party voters the 'wasted' vote scenario that I outlined above.
C) Change current legislation to account for the fact that there may be future third party challenges.

Scenario 'A' isn't going to happen. Nader is the last person to bow to political pressure. 'B' is possible but it will take a very serious campaign to accomplish it and that would remove valuable funds from issues. 'C' is a strong possibility and the one that I hope that they will take. It would require bi-partisan support and would be politically popular. The Republicans may block the legislation currently because it would be to their advantage. However, the next serious third party challenger could be a conservative spoiler so they might give it some consideration.

But what exactly would this legislation be to support multi-party elections? First, there needs to be an allowance for a runoff in the case that no one candidate received a majority. This would have played out in the last three elections because they were decided by a plurality. Simply put, allow a voter to select a first, second and third choice for president via Instant-runoff voting. If no candidate is a majority winner then the least popular choice is removed from the ballot. Any person voting for the eliminated candidate automatically has their vote cast for their second choice. The process continues until there is a majority candidate. This would allow the RNC and DNC to keep their strong leads and keep spoilers from having undesired effects on elections. It would also allow people to vote for third parties with less fear of undermining their general political beliefs.

Finally, to be truly fair, I believe that they should allow any candidate on the ballot in 50 states to participate in the debates. New ideas are never a bad thing. When is the last time you heard a really good political idea? Yes, their might be some fringe elements that happen to get in, but quite honestly can anything stain the 'good' name of politics? Please. Radical concepts such as Women's Suffrage and Civil Rights eventually became mainstream, so I'm open for debate. You should be too.

Recommended Reading:

Vote Smart
Election Methods
Voting Systems
Approval Voting

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