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Rich Kilarski said on August 8th, 2016 at 2:27 pm

“It’s not because the Republicans and Democrats suppress the competition, it’s because..”

Sorry, it’s not an “or”, it’s an “and”. The major parties DO suppress competition AND plenty of 3rd parties are blah blah blah, what you said.

Example of a good 3rd party: Check out MA’s United Independent Party: http://www.unitedindependent.org/

(Disclosure: Evan Falchuk, the founder, is a friend of mine)

It was started as a grounds-up response to Republican intractability and corporateness of Democrats and (ideally) aims to be the second party in a two-party system, replacing Republicans as a party of actual fiscal responsibility & putting the ‘culture war’ to bed (pro gay marriage, pro choice, etc).

Evan ran for MA governor a few years ago, and the party is currently fielding several “bottom-up” candidates for state-level positions, but the party had to jump through hoops to get the UIP on ballots & registration cards. Anecdotally, many of my friends and I were shocked to learn we were still registered to our old party a year after registering with the UIP–and of course the number of registered voters matters as to whether you can appear on ballots.

It still has a lot of growing pains, but there’s a huge institutional headwind against it, partly because the reigning parties control the field and don’t want to let go.

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Someone else raised this point. My stance remains that if you can’t navigate “get a petition together to get onto ballots and registration cards”, you’re probably not organized enough to run an entire state. I don’t think it’s unfair at all to request that people prove that a certain number of people actually care about your existence in order to be named on a ballot.

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To be fair to point 3, I am sure a lot of single issue parties aren’t expecting to win, but just expecting to force other candidates to acknowledge their pet cause. Like the Bloc Quebecois in Canada, who managed to rack up enough votes to become the Official Opposition for a time.

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ok. you know how in parlimentary systems a bunch of small parties all run on one thing apiece, be it communism, some other issue, ethnic loyalty, religion, fancy hats, or whatever; and then after the election they coalesce into a Government and an Opposition. In America, all that organizing and coalescing happens before the election, either in primaries or caucuses or veritable smoky rooms, and then the election mostly just ratifies the coalitions. Only occassionally do factions move from one coalition to another. For example, In the 19th century Progressives who went to ivy league schools and believed in civil rights were Republicans, today they’re Democrats. Moving through T.R. and Woodrow Wilson in 1912-16. 20th century saw southern whites move from Democrat to Republican through Wallace’s 1968 campaign.

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Actually there is something in our system that prevents a third party from forming and sticking around. The fact that the candidate needs one more than half of the available electoral votes to become president.

A competent party who could draw from everyone would result in every election being thrown to the house of Representatives, which most Americans wouldn’t stand for.

A third party that pulled votes from only one party would simply result in it overtaking that party or being absorbed into it

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Wolfthomas said on August 9th, 2016 at 1:33 am

@mrjl

Let me introduce you to my friend preferential voting. That would remove that problem. We’ve been doing in Australia for ages.

Instead of typing out an explanation. I’ll just link a better cartoon with the details.

http://www.joeydevilla.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/australian-preferential-voting-explained.gif

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At this point in history, any third party that gets anywhere close to viable is just going to get assimilated by whichever of the big two finds them most palatable.

If the Greens ever get any actual momentum, the Democrats will start adding their best ideas to their party platform and Greens who are there for the issues will vote with the larger party, which has a better chance to accomplish them. Same deal with the Libertarians and the Republicans. The obvious exceptions are the third party idealist that think the big two are irredeemably corrupt for any number of reasons but I suspect most voters are more pragmatic than that.

We do have a weird situation with the Republican party now, though. There is a growing divide between the culture war types like Cruz and the oligarchy types like the Bush clan and Romney.

Normally, this kind of breakdown would lead to reevaluating what went wrong and course correcting in the interest of maintaining and then growing their existing power base. But the GOP didn’t realize how much they have grown to depend on that culture warrior base, thus the tea party has been running roughshod over the usual power brokers. A group so ideologically driven as the tea party can’t accept that they are the ones who need to correct their path, so they just try the same things again, only harder. That way lies Trump.

Under normal circumstances, they would realize they were overstepping, and dial it back in order to regain credibility. Unfortunately, with Trump doing as well as he did, they are going to think the flaw isn’t in his beliefs or tactics, but in the man himself. They will “reason” that if that self sabotaging clown can get that far, what can they accomplish with the base he built?

With the party on this course, though, we might actually get the oligarchs deciding that, having lost control of things so badly, they might be a chance to defect to the Libertarians. If enough of them, including enough of the money men and organizers agree to go together, it just might work.

But probably not, because they won’t want to abandon the institutional advantages they’ve spent decades building.

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Heksefatter said on August 9th, 2016 at 7:26 am

I think that’s unfair. Let’s face facts: The youngest US party with any real power is the GOP. That’s from 1854. That more or less proves that creating a new succesful party is too difficult. Blaming the actual “third” parties is a mistake. A healthy democracy spawns new parties with some regularity, because the bar is not too high.

So while it isn’t exactly written into the Constitution that there can only be two competitive parties, it should also be recognized that the situation has endured far longer than most of the world’s actual constitutions. And that’s a real problem.

That said, while I would have voted for the Greens previously, I will not this time, because:

1) It would be my duty towards all of humanity to prevent Trump getting into spitting distance of the nuclear football. We are talking about a serious threat to the survival of human civilization here.

2) Recently, the Greens have been pandering to some of the most disgusting conspiracy mongers with ties to actual holocaust deniers. Check out their new VEEP candidate.

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Sisyphus said on August 9th, 2016 at 9:32 am

As Wolfthomas and mrjl both point out, the first past the post voting system of the United States Presidential election (and, to be honest, most of the other elections) means that we do have things in law that prevent 3rd parties from really forming. Add into that the fact that we let politicians, in most cases do redistricting, and you have a system that perpetuates 2 party rule.

Also, the parties do realign themselves from time to time. In 1854, the Whigs imploded because the primary political issue of the day was slavery, and they didn’t have a coherent response. The Democrats of the day supported it, the Whigs didn’t want to talk about it, and so when the abolitionist branch of the party made the GOP, we get Lincoln.

The only time we’ve really had a third party that was of any threat to the other parties was in 1912, when Teddy Roosevelt, running against William Howard Taft, ran for president under the banner of the Progressive party. Wilson got 41% of the vote, Roosevelt got 27%, Taft got 23% and Eugene Debbs got 7% (which was the high mark of the socialist party in the United States). That election shows exactly why there are 2 parties, though. Most of Roosevelt’s voters probably would have preferred Taft to Wilson, and Wilson didn’t get 50% of the vote. However, he got a plurality in most of the states, and won 435 of 531 electoral votes. That result that shows that most people voted against him, in fact, assuming most of TR and Taft’s voters would have preferred either candidate to him, slightly over half of the country got the result they actively preferred not to get. Almost any preferential voting system probably would have seen Teddy Roosevelt in office until he died in 1919.

So, yes, the incompetence of 3rd parties does matter, but it’s a bit down the list on why they don’t succeed, really. There’s also an argument to be made that if they could grow, they’d gain competency as the political agents who run campaigns and things like that and have a history with it might see them as something other than a career ending choice. There’s a reason Trump’s campaign staff looks like amateurs. They are. Few GOP campaign operatives view signing on to his campaign as a way to do their careers any favors. It would burn too many bridges. But, if a third party could get popular, then they might start to attract at least some of those operatives who might see that they could have a quicker track to the top running presidential campaigns for the Libertarians rather than the Republicans, for example.

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@Sisyphus et al: Yes, I’m aware that first past the post means that there will probably never be three or more active political parties with roughly equivalent support and strength at the same time (although to be honest, nobody’s ever convinced me why this is an advantage–parliamentary systems can be gamed by coalitions to do some pretty fugly things, just ask any Brit right now).

But I’m using “third party” more in its colloquial sense of “a party that isn’t the Democrats or the Republicans rising to power”. I absolutely agree that such a party would probably supplant the Democrats or Republicans, much like the Republicans supplanted the Whigs, rather than co-existing with them. I’m basically saying that the reason that doesn’t happen regularly has far more to do with the fact that the people starting third parties do so because they don’t work well in existing political power structures (which is kind of a liability in, y’know, governance) than to do with bias or rigging.

@Bael: That’s what the last line was about–it really feels like the coalition that Reagan put together of theocratic culture warriors, unrepentant racists, neocon empire builders and laissez-faire economic libertarians has finally started to utterly collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. (Yes, I know, Nixon actually invited in the racists. But Reagan perfected the strategy of dog-whistling to them while pretending to be egalitarian.)

It’s actually pretty surprising it lasted as long as it did–victory papers over a lot of flaws, of course, and as long as it looked like Republican hegemony would continue undiminished and there was enough power and money to make everyone’s dreams come true (the libertarians got rich and could fly to Europe for their abortions, the neocons had their wet dreams of conquest funded through strategic borrowing, the theocrats tacitly agreed to oppress only LGBTQ individuals and women, and the racists were allowed to run rampant so long as they didn’t get any crazy ideas about telling the other three factions what to do) then everyone buried their mutual complete incompatibility. But now that they’re losing, each faction is asking why the hell it sticks with the others when they can’t deliver on their promises and they can’t actually stand each other.

Basically, I’m not sure that the assumption that a two-party system is the default will remain true. I think that coalition could fracture to the point where the Democrats can control the majority of the government simply because the conservatives are splitting their votes between the Amend the Constitution for Jesus Party, the World Domination Party, the Abolish the IRS Party, and the Kill All the Brown People Party. I don’t think that will be a permanent state of affairs–eventually, a new coalition will form–but I think we could see a one-party system within my lifetime.

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I don’t think that would last any real length of time, because the Democratic Party has its own internal divisions that would come to the fore without the threat of a functional Republican party in opposition.

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This is a very grumpy old man response to a genuine flaw in many political systems, particularly the US. Isn’t the chance to have your views better represented in govt more important than the threat of coalitions or the fact that other fringe voices you disagree also get to have their views represented?

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Alexander Hammil said on August 9th, 2016 at 7:45 pm

@Matt, not necessarily, no.

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Any one party dominant situation will be only temporary. First past the post systems just select for two strong parties. If one party is too dominant, they will continue to push the country’s laws farther and farther toward their own ideal as long as the electorate will let them. They can’t help it, since they honestly believe their ideas are the best thing for everyone.

Eventually, everyone with a minority worldview will band together with the other minority groups out of self preservation, if nothing else. That is why the Democrats are finally getting their act together now. Enough independents are deciding that the Republicans are getting out of hand. If the Republicans do get blown away, they will eventually put their more obnoxious tendencies on the back burner until people forget about them and start working together to deal with however the Democrats inevitably start to overreach themselves.

The real question is if Trump has poisoned the Republican name badly enough to force them to get it together under a new banner.

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What’s causing a lot of this in the Republican party is that most people don’t vote in primaries, and every Republican is terrified of a Tea Party-esque primary challenger like happened to a bunch of people in 2016. Therefore they cater to the crazies that control the primaries, which makes them less able to swing to the center later, or they come off as mannequins with no actual personalities. This doesn’t matter so much in a safe seat, but it’s a big problem in the primaries.

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That last bit should have been: “it’s a big problem in a presidential race.”

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@John Seavey, I still think there’s a bit of chicken and egg problem here. Are third parties unsuccessful because they’re just incompetent? Or are they incompetent because the big 2 more or less suck up all the talent who might otherwise go to a 3rd party due to structural issues?

Let’s say that we have a youngish white guy (because, well, they’re almost all youngish white guys, right?) who wants to become a senator. He’s socially progressive, but economically conservative. His political beliefs really do align most closely with the libertarians. What’s more, he’s smart. He’s well educated. He knows how the political system works. He has a choice. He can join the Libertarian party, knowing that he’ll be lucky to get elected mayor of some small town somewhere (and more likely, not even that). Or, he can join the GOP, get access to their campaign and party apparatus, and maybe become at least a state representative, if not go to Washington.

I don’t like the libertarians. I think their basic platform is a recipe for a lovely world that’s a cross between a novel by Dickens and one by Upton Sinclair. However, they do put in the work. They run people in as many offices as they can. They just don’t have enough people who could possibly win to run. They’re not fringe – there’s a real market for a party that is small government but also not socially restrictive. They aren’t single issue. They are single method (for every problem, the solution is probably that no one should intervene in any way if they’re from the government, except, maybe, wars to protect economic interests). They aren’t, completely, delusional nutbags, and certainly not in the sense of being bound to a “great leader” model like the other parties you cited. There’s no one you can point to in the Libertarian party and go, “That guy is their H. Ross Perot.”

And still, they will never go anywhere, except, potentially, by supplanting the GOP.

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James D. Jarvis said on August 10th, 2016 at 10:19 am

The two party system is unconstitutional but as long as judges and lawmakers are beholding to and subservient to said system we are stuck with it.
The standards 3rd party candidates must meet in most states to even appear on the ballot are designed to favor and support Democrats and Republicans who do not have to individually meet the same standards as a 3rd party candidates.

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@Sisyphus: Oh, there’s definitely an issue where the talented and ambitious people decide that it’s easier to sway one of the two major parties to their point of view than to create a new party from scratch. But I think that goes back to the problem of third parties being more symbolic than actual attempts to put in the work of government.

You bring up the Libertarians–I assume you saw the footage of the Libertarian debates, where they booed Gary Johnson suggesting that driver’s licenses were a necessary component to a safe society? That’s a fringe view. That’s a fringe party if the majority of candidates hold that view. The Libertarians aren’t kept out of power by bias, they’re kept out of power by a commitment to ideological purity that turns off the vast majority of voters, especially all the minorities fully aware that the Libertarian Party’s position is that the Civil Rights Act was a prime example of the kind of governmental overreach they want to roll back. The problems the Libertarians have are of their own making.

@James D. Jarvis: Again, that argument boils down to, “Oh, we’d totally be able to marshal thousands of volunteers to knock on doors, millions of dollars for political advertising and direct mailing, tens of millions of votes, and run one of the single largest and most complex governments in the history of the world while also managing international relations with every single other country–but we can’t get past this hurdle of ‘must get X number of signatures on a petition’. That’s clearly the System’s fault.”

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James D Jarvis: how exactly is the system unconstitutional

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This place is pretty dead now that MGK has abandoned it to this second rate Seavey guy, huh?

Glad I’ve screenshotted the Who’s Who posts so I’ll be able to read them even after the site inevitable shuts down in the next 6 to 12 months.

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You get party-shifts in this system when there are massive regional differences in politics, and when there are popular ideas important to voters that don’t have a home in either current party. Right now, to the extent that there’s a regional divide in the US it’s largely between urban and rural voters, and so can’t really play out in presidential elections, and while it would make a lot of sense in terms of actually serving voter preferences to sever state and local politics completely, we’re stuck with national parties for the most part.

Meanwhile, the past, what, 28 years or so have been have been a long debate over exactly what kind of home nativist/anti-immigration/protectionist voters have in the Republican party, with no sign of it ending soon. The other side in the party, the pro-trade pro-big business side wins if their guys are running the party and they win and also win if the other guys are running the party and also lose, and when the other guys go off and run third party it doesn’t matter who wins.

So I’d say that the Republican’s don’t actually break up until Trump or a future Trumpite candidate manages to win a general election, or until someone manages to, as a third party, find a way both appeal to that voting bloc AND peel off a lot of Democratic votes, not just the blue collar union votes but a solid chunk of minority and/or young women voters. Both are extremely unlikely, but not impossible.

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@quietude:don’t be a dick. I like some of Seavey’s posts.

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@Supergp I’d like to echo your post.

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” The Libertarians aren’t kept out of power by bias, they’re kept out of power by a commitment to ideological purity that turns off the vast majority of voters,”

But this ignores the nations where fringe parties can be very successful. FPTP encourages either

a)moderation
b)Geographic focused interests

That is, to win anything, you need to win over 50% (or a simple majority if theres more than one candidate) of the people in any given geographic region. Fringe ideas like libertarianism or socialism tend to be geographically dispersed, so it’s difficult for them to win. Where you see third parties who aren’t necessarily moderate succeeding in these kind of environments is by focusing on something people in a geography will agree on: nationalist movements in the UK.

But while it’s true to say that the libertarians would get more seats if they were more moderate, they’d also get more seats if America switched to, say, a single transferable vote system for electing congress.

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For more than a century, American politics only had two major parties. Obviously this is not a systemic issue.

ok.

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@Kieran M: I agree that they might get more representation in an IRV type ballot, but they wouldn’t get significant representation. A caucus of a half-dozen seats really can’t do much more than play kingmaker in divided legislatures.

Which brings up another point that we’d undoubtedly want to discuss if we changed our balloting system, “Is it actually desirable to have a handful of fringe groups or single-issue parties that can play kingmaker and deliver Congress to whoever courts their particular brand of batshit insanity to form a coalition?” We don’t talk much about it here, precisely because we don’t have a parliamentary system, but there are a lot of nasty and underhanded ways small parties can fuck up representative democracy when representation is divided up into multiple slices.

@Xander77: You are more than welcome to provide counter-examples to my case that third parties tend to be monomaniacal fringe groups run by narcissistic idiots. :)

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The thing (“For more than a century, American politics only had two major parties, though many an attempt to form a third major party was made” = systemic issue) is self-evident.

If you need an analogy to demonstrate this:
If, in the entire history of the United States, not a single person born working class rose to middle class or higher… well, quite a few people would use this as evidence of the diminished capacity the poors have for self-improvement (or “narcissistic idiocy”, as the case may be), but most ostensibly left-wing folks would generally point towards systemic inequality (as they do right now, when such self-made-man stories are rare yet evident).

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Heksefatter said on August 22nd, 2016 at 12:10 pm

Obviously, third parties have their share of nuttiness and narcissism. But so do both major parties. It doesn’t really seem that containing nuttiness and narcissism is a real problem for parties. When it comes to narcissism, Trump is a hard man to beat, even for the Emperor Nero.

In any case, a healthy political system would allow for more than two political parties to be succesful. When the youngest major party is more than 150 years old, there is a systemic problem.

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@John:
“We don’t talk much about it here, precisely because we don’t have a parliamentary system, but there are a lot of nasty and underhanded ways small parties can fuck up representative democracy when representation is divided up into multiple slices.”

That’s a feature, not a bug, of parliamentary systems. Yes, small parties can obstruct larger parties, and can (sometimes) play kingmaker.

But if they do that and it wasn’t a policy they took to the last election, or part of their clearly stated platforms prior to the election, they are highly likely to get destroyed at the next election.

With a functioning democracy, especially a parliamentary version of such, there is a fine and dynamic balance between the so-called tyranny of the majority and the tyranny of the minority, based entirely around the idea that all parties and their members are elected to enact and represent the will of the people.

It’s far from a perfect system, but so far no-one has come up with a better alternative.

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@JayDzed: Doesn’t our system work like that? The Republicans, especially, listen to their constituents.

Parliamentary systems also have another out: parliaments can be dissolved so there can be new elections. That would’ve been useful with our recent Congresses….

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@stavner:

Given I’m not in the US, my view of the way politics there works is limited to what filters through the media (not encouraging, even allowing for the bias of whichever source I’m reading) and what I hear from friends in the US (really not encouraging at all).

Speaking as an Australian, I can confirm that even in a parliamentary system such as ours, the main two parties* still do everything they can to crush any upstart parties, though it’s less effective than it appears to be in the US, partly because of the difference between the basic formats of the two countries and partly due to the fact that we don’t have a first-past-the-post system, and haven’t for something like a century.

(*) One of the major ‘parties’ is actually a coalition, but the junior party has been basically an atrophied adjunct for at least the past 40 years, so they don’t often get thought of as two separate parties in practice.

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