2 years ago
Thomas Grice
Commentary

Correction: In a previous version of this story, the party that 43 percent of U.S. citizens affiliated with was not identified correctly. The Mercury regrets this error.

Recent election has made it apparent current two-party system doesn’t serve needs of American populace sufficiently


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The 2016 election season has revealed an identity crisis among the American political parties. Fewer and fewer Americans identify with the mainstream political parties. Gallup polls show that around 43 percent of U.S. citizens don’t associate with either the Democratic or Republican Parties , and, given the rise of anti-establishment candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, is the time right for Americans to coalesce around a third party?

Sanders and Trump’s popularity and the growing number of Americans with an Independent affiliation are testaments to the disconnect between the goals of the American populace and the accomplishments of the political establishment. Take the left, for example. The leftist ambitions of many Americans culminated historically with the New Deal politics of Franklin D. Roosevelt and have been slowly compromised ever since, a descent that is now reaching a floor with the centrist politics of the Clinton and Obama administrations.

One of the exemplary models of this fact is the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. President Barack Obama and a Democrat-controlled Congress compromised on implementing the hugely popular concept of a single-payer system of health care, an implementation which would most likely have shifted the cost of health care onto the upper tax brackets and corporations. Additionally, much of the bureaucratic pressure in the form of choosing the correct health care coverage would have been lifted.

Instead, they erected a monument to the incomprehensible cronyist nature of 21st century American politics: an originally-Republican plan that forces individuals to purchase health insurance, or pay fines, through interfacing with a Kafkaesque system of immeasurable complexity. It cannot be denied that this system is very different from the single-payer system established in the Nordic countries, Western Europe or Canada. Despite incremental improvement in the number of individuals insured, Obamacare is emblematic of the fact that the Democratic establishment isn’t accomplishing ambitious leftist goals.

Meanwhile, the Republican establishment, as well as right-wing pundits of all strata, have been simultaneously battling and promoting their grassroots movements in the form of the Tea Party and now, Trump supporters. Using nativist enmity and obstructionism to drum up excitement in their party has left them with a problem: the mainstream Republicans want to win a general election, but the party leadership-backed candidates have largely been bullied out of the race by Trump. His supporters constitute such a formidable fraction of the party that it is impossible for party leadership to ignore them. This party-within-a-party dynamic is mirrored between Trump and Sanders.

With Sanders admirably competing with the largest political machine in existence in several states and national polls, and with Trump nearing electoral invincibility in his party’s primary, it is increasingly clear that a large portion of Americans do not fit neatly in the red or blue boxes of the major political parties.

The question is, where should this all lead? Perhaps we can look to other nations, with more diverse and viable political parties, for an example. Other Western democracies are notable for their highly diverse party options. In Sweden, there are eight political parties. In America, we currently have two Independents in the Senate and none in the House of Representatives. If we add all of the seats in Congress up, we’ve got less than a percent that aren’t officially representing the Democrat or Republican parties.

This means that a much more diverse array of groups are represented in Sweden’s system. If the United States was similar, we may not observe the dramatic and exhausting in-fighting of the political parties to the same extent, as individuals would not feel as though their only option as a far-left individual is to “throw away” their vote on the Green Party. Instead, they could at least hope to elect a few Green Party members to Congress, and expect them, as a more ideologically pure liberal party, to filibuster health care legislation that lacks of a public option. As it is, very liberal and very conservative individuals do not have a party they can count on to push agendas accordingly.

The United States could be a country where the parties are the Republicans and the Democrats, plus the Socialists — lead by Sanders — and, let’s say, the American version of Greece’s Golden Dawn, lead by Trump. However, this is a catch 22. The only way that such parties can exist, by definition, is if Americans decide that it’s worth committing to those parties.

As such, examining other democracies like Sweden’s does not give us many easy answers. They take some seemingly imitable steps, such as choosing to hold general elections on weekends so that it is easier for citizens to vote, which may result in their 85 percent voter turnout. More crucially, they have a politically engaged populace that hasn’t given up on the idea that a plurality of platforms can coexist and viably influence the activities of their government.

There are structural obstacles in the way of third party success. In particular, the winner-take-all rules governing most U.S. elections are an obstacle for the election of minor party candidates. This is true at most levels of government, but is most easily overcome in localized elections. These are perhaps the best areas of focus for third party hopefuls to begin making an impact.

An instructive tale is that of the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements, aligned oppositely, yet both highly concerned with crony capitalism. Although the Tea Party in particular has made some impact in pushing for more socially and fiscally conservative candidates on Republican tickets, both were largely co-opted or deflected by their respective establishment parties by the time the 2016 election season had begun. Although it may be easier to tweak party platforms by running satellite parties in this manner, the malleability of the mainstream political parties remains questionable. Third parties should aspire to elect their own candidates for the symbolic significance and to make the most direct, purest impact.

In order for third and fourth parties to thrive, Americans need to articulate their political ideologies among themselves and coagulate accordingly, which is no small feat. However, as we witness the unrest and splintering of the Democrat and Republican parties, it’s looking more and more likely every day. Maybe after this election, it will be time for Sanders and Trump supporters to consider coalescing into their own factions and demolishing the de-facto two-party system of the past century and a half.