Do We Need To Change the Two Party System?

People say we need to have more than two viable parties but, well, I look at countries that do and have to ask myself “does having multiple parties produce better results in anything that is important to me?” Looked at that way, I really don’t see the advantage.

The alternate of “remove parties entirely” raises the question of how? People organize. They group. Without violating pretty several provisions of the 1st Amendment, how exactly do you prevent parties?

So parties are going to be with us no matter what we try to do and adding more parties doesn’t seem to help in terms of improving human freedom, so what can we do? Well, one thing to remember is that the problem isn’t “the two party system.” We muddled along reasonably well for for over a hundred years counting from the last big replacement of one party with another, leaving us with the current Democrat and Republican parties. It’s not that we have two parties that’s the problem, but the changed character of those parties. For example, John F. Kennedy would have been, at most, a “moderate Republican” if not outright “far right” as things are counted today. So it’s not the mostly two-party system that’s the fault. (“Mostly” because their have been minor third and other parties right along.) Looking at what’s happening it seems clear to me that the problem is that we’re reaching the culmination of a century of Soviet agitprop–agitprop that ironically has long outlasted the Soviet Union itself. Agitprop that has marched through education, entertainment, and the news media, filling them with true believers in Marxist-Leninist doctrine (even if not so named) and indoctrinating our young into those philosophies.

We don’t need to change the party system so much as we do to work to create a groundswell of support for liberty and especially to work counter to that indoctirnation. As Milton Friedman said, we don’t need to change Congress. We don’t need to elect “the right people” (of whatever party). It’s nice to elect the right people but what we need to do is create a climate of opinion so that it’s politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things.

Sarah Hoyt is big on “build over, build around, build under” to work around the Leftist control of things like the Media and education. Modern technology is making that possible. Back in the day Walter Cronkite was “the most trusted man in America” which simply meant he could lie through his teeth with a straight face and nobody would gainsay him. Today we have alternate channels of information that allow people to gainsay the lies. Imperfect those alternate channels may be, and still at a tremendous disadvantage when compared to the entrenched media, but they are there…and growing.

It’s this ability to challenge the official narrative that’s behind a lot of the current troubles. The Left is getting effective pushback for the first time in living memory. Their lock on information is cracking and so they’re doubling down. Other folk are starting to say “enough.”

Births are generally accompanied by pain and blood. What will be born out of the current chaos, I don’t know. I have my hopes, but I also have my fears.

So it’s not the two-party system we need to change. It’s the people we need to convince of the values of living in a free society. Convince the people and it sill become politically profitable for even the most ardent “statist” politician to promote policies that favor freedom and he’ll either do so or be replaced.

And I really don’t care what they want or believe so long as the policies they enact favor freedom.

16 thoughts on “Do We Need To Change the Two Party System?”

  1. This doesn’t speak to your main point at all, which I completely agree with (and have nothing to add to)

    But talking about two parties does tend to put me in mind of the New York system, which is one of the weird things I’m actually fond of with New York: There’s eighteen thousand parties on the ballot, but you can run in more than one. Now, one of the results is that there’s always an attempt to take both D and R in the primary… but near as I can tell that doesn’t usually work, so I’m not that bothered. But the other thing is that the candidates try to get the nominations of the smaller party. If a Republican doesn’t get the Conservative party nod, it’s harder for them to make it. I suspect the same is true of Democrats and the Working Families Party. (Huh, makes me wonder if The Rent Is 2 Damn High Party is still around… though they weren’t playing that game.)

    At the very least, it seems like it’s additional flavor information. I thought it was weird as heck when I first got here, but I’ve grown to kind of enjoy it.


  2. One of my favorite political/mathematical memes.

    Perhaps if the Libertarian party spent less time being weird (showing up to conventions dressed in Star Trek uniforms) or violating libertarian principles (Gary Johnson said that the government should force bakers to make cakes for gay weddings) then there might be three viable parties. Probably not though. I’ve seen good articles about why we have a two party system and it has something to do with “first past the post” elections, but I don’t remember the details. Of course only having two candidates on most ballots doesn’t make it easier.


    1. Our electoral system of declaring whoever gets the most vote the winner, even if they don’t have a majority, doesn’t support three viable parties. Places like UK and Australia can get away with it because in a parliamentary system there aren’t any national elections, people vote for their member of parliament and then parliament votes for the prime minister. The result is that each district is a two-party race, but the two parties that have a chance can vary from region to region. Parties can use their base of support in one region to try and supplant one of the two predominant parties in another region.

      In the US, since we vote for President nationally (even if it is indirectly) there are only going to be two national parties, which means that even at the local level parties will be at a disadvantage if they aren’t associated with one of the two parties. We replace multiple parties with multiple factions within parties, which is arguably less transparent. If you vote for a Republican is he going to be from the Trump wing or the Bush wing?

      Some kind of ranked voting system might make third parties more viable. If there’s no cost to voting for the Libertarian candidate because my vote for the Democrat or Republican will still be counted after the third-place candidate is eliminated, then we’d get a better idea of the true support the LP has. And that might, in some circumstances, result in the Democrat or Republican being the third-place candidate. The major parties could also see how the support of the minor parties changes with time and adjust their policies accordingly.


    2. And I just realized I never addressed why first-past-the-post results in a stable one or two party system.

      First off, first-past-the-post simply means that the candidate who gets the most votes wins, even if they don’t have a majority. There are no runoffs or do-overs if nobody gets more than 50% of the vote. Imagine parties A and B regularly swap victories, neither party is dominant. Third parties never evenly draw from the other two parties, so party C ends up siphoning votes more from party B than from party A. As a result, party A keeps winning elections, even if parties B and C combined have more voters and most of the voters overall would prefer B to A. Since the whole point of political parties is to win elections, party B will either adjust its policies to siphon off enough party C voters to start winning (the Republican party did this to the Reform party after Clinton won, and you could argue that the Democrat party is doing it to the Green party today) or parties B and C could merge to form a new party that could take on party A. Or people from parties B and C will decide that if you can’t beat them, join them and become wings in party A, creating a one-party system. At least until the divisions in the party become so large that it splits into two parties. That’s happened a couple of times in our history, the Era of Good Feelings was a one-party system under the Democrat-Republicans following the collapse of the Federalist party until Andrew Jackson split the Democrats off as a separate party from the Whigs. About 30 years later the Whig party collapsed and we had a one-party system for a few election cycles until the Republicans coalesced the anti-slavery vote.


    3. When I was unable to bring myself to vote for Trump, I actually voted fourth Party because of this very issue. After Egg McMuffin worked to cancel Milo after the election, however, I regretted doing even that.

      (Even so, I’m still disappointed that Hillary came in second in Utah; I’d rather that McMuffin had done so instead, with Hillary second.)


  3. My understanding is that any system with a first past the post election system tends to end up in 2-3 parties for a variety of reasons which I believe have their foundation in game theory and winner take all games. Parliamentary systems which use proportional representation tend to have more “viable” parties, but there is a disadvantage. There minority parties tend to have power out of proportion to their size (e.g. the religious parties in Israels Knesset) in any case where the major parties are nearly equal or below the majority needed to make a government. If you look back in US history there tend to be two parties but they mutate/change over time (see and other party system articles, although remember wikipedia can be biased). We’re overdue for a mutation, I wonder if Trump and this madness of the Democrat Left is a harbinger of that.


    1. There is a theorem in mathematics says that it’s impossible to create a voting system that cannot be manipulated to produce an outcome guaranteed to be in alignment with the majority.

      I strongly suspect that a side effect of this is that any voting system is going to have anomalies that are disagreeable to the majority of the population. It’s merely a question of which anomalies you’d prefer.

      I’d also add that this is a good reason to desire a government that does as little as possible, and otherwise leaves minority populations alone (however one may wish to define “minority”).


    1. Didn’t say it was working. Said that places with multiple parties didn’t show better results by any metric that I care about (namely in terms of personal and economic freedom).

      Adding more parties just does not appear to lead to better results. Thus “we need to break the two party system” is a red herring. What we need to do is work to convince people that they actually do want a free society, to create the “climate of opinion” such that it will be politically profitable for the people in those parties (whether just two or more than two) to actually support a free society.


    2. While it’s always worthwhile to examine how the mechanisms might have contributed to the situation we find ourselves in today, I think it’s far more productive to ask ourselves “what is it about the cultures of the Republican and Democratic parties that led ourselves to this situation?”

      The Democrats, for example, are angry that they lost the last Presidential election, even when they won the popular vote. The fact that Hillary lost because she lost some midwestern States that she expected to go her way — and that she ignored, even when campaign managers in those States tried to warn her that she could lose them — is actually proof that the claim that the Electoral College forces Presidential candidates to campaign in all States, and not just well-populated ones, has merit.

      Yet I have seen little evidence that Democrats have asked themselves how they can appeal better to middle America. Instead, they have doubled down on the hate for middle America. Time will tell whether this will be a winning strategy for Democrats, but I strongly suspect that if they can’t win this way (and they probably can’t), this may very well cause the unraveling of the Democratic Party altogether.


  4. I’m not sure I’m convinced that the elimination of political parties would violate the First Amendment. It seems like a really big stretch to say that the right “to peaceably assemble” can be interpreted as the right “to form two giant organizations that control obscene amounts of money and limit voters’ choices in elections at all levels.”

    A lot could be gained from eliminating political parties. Even in Congress, I’m sure there are people who have fairly moderate views on things and would be willing to reach across the aisle to get things done for the good of the country…if only they wouldn’t be punished for doing so by their party “leaders.” That’s nearly impossible under the current setup. It would also require candidates to clearly state their views on a variety of issues and not just hide behind the (R) or (D).

    And regarding the obscene amounts of money mentioned above, it would do us a lot of good if limits were placed on political contributions: Caps on how much any individual can contribute to any campaign (so billionaires can’t run the whole process); allowing contributions to be only from individuals within the jurisdiction of the campaigner (anyone in the U.S.–but only in the U.S., not foreign citizens–can contribute to a presidential campaign, but only, say, Oklahomans can contribute to an Oklahoma senatorial candidate; and of course, the repeal of Citizens United (sorry, a corporation is not a person, and money is not speech).


    1. So where’s the line? How big an organization of people is too big? If it’s X number of people, then why “X” and not “X-1”? If’ it’s Y dollars than why “Y” and not “Y-1”? At what point does the First Amendment stop applying.

      As for political contributions, consider:

      I decide to speak out for a candidate or policy of which I approve?
      I decide to buy “air time” to speak out for a candidate or policy of which I approve?
      I get together with some friends to pool our resources to buy air time to speak out for a candidate or policy of which we approve.
      I get together with some friends and acquaintances and decide to pool resources to accomplish some venture and, along the way buy air time to speak out in favor of candidates and policies that are beneficial to that venture.
      I get together with some friends, acquaintances, and even strangers to pool resources for some venture and, along the way, buy air time…etc.
      I get together with some friends, acquaintances, and even strangers to pool resources for some venture and decide to pass along some of those resources to a another group that’s speaking out on candidates or policies which we believe will be beneficial to the venture.
      I get together with such a group and pass along some resources directly to a candidate we believe favorable to our venture so that he or she can more effectively speak for him or her self.

      At what point does the First Amendment stop applying? And why there and not a step before, or a step later?

      The problem of money in politics isn’t that people and organizations are spending the money. It’s why they are willing to spend the money. Government has become so intrusive and expansive that the presence or absence of influence in that government can be the difference between life or death for a business. It’s also why calls for “getting money out of politics” are doomed to failure. It’s mice voting to bell the cat.

      As for “limiting choices” 1) again there are lots of places with “more choices” but I see precious little evidence that having them ends up producing better results. 2) if the issue is that it’s too hard for someone not part of one of the major parties to get on the ballot, I might well agree with you, but that’s a separate issue from the existence of parties themselves


    2. ” limits were placed on political contributions”

      Including media and in-kind contributions? You immediately either run afoul of the first amendment or give inordinate influence to anyone designated as media. Who makes that decision?

      Corporations consist of people who have banded together under certain legal restrictions and requirements. The argument in CU is not that corporations are people, merely that you didn’t lose your free speech rights by incorporating. (PS This is a common straw man argument against CU which you may not be aware of)

      Money is speech to the extent that it requires money to exercise your free speech rights. If you are going to argue that you can stand on the corner and talk all day long so long as you don’t spend any money to do it, you are back to my first point, are media likewise restricted from talking about politics in any way, shape, or form, (including articles outlining the illegal activities of Candidate A and articles outlining the charitable works of Candidate B; thus supporting B by never mentioning illegal B and charitable A)?


      1. Indeed. This is why I can’t stand the anger against Citizen’s United. If McCain-Feingold had been left to stand, it would literally be illegal to criticize people running for office during an election season!

        People like to say “If Corporations are people, I’d like to see one executed by the State.” Never mind Enron being such a corporation. Never mind that the NRA is facing this right now — New York’s DA is arguing that the malfeasance of their officers is sufficient for dissolving an organization of 5 million people (give or take). States do have the power to “execute” corporations, and they have exercised this power.

        People arguing against Citizens United are downright ignorant of corporate law, and it’s a funny and sad sight to behold.


    3. Any statement that money is not X will always be incorrect. The whole point of money is that it becomes *anything* you spend it on, including speech. This is good. It enables specialization. If I am good at, say, aeronautical engineering, but not good at speech, but properly want something requiring speech, even something political, I should be able to spend the money I earn doing what I’m good at on something I’m not good at.

      To say money is not speech is bigoted against people who aren’t good at speaking. Stop saying that. It’s unethical.


  5. I have sometimes wondered if it would be better if we had a way for smaller parties to have more influence. One thought experiment I’ve performed, though, is this: suppose my favorite-in-theory-but-ashamed-of-in-practice Party, the Libertarian Party, had a percentage of members of Congress that accurately represented the percentage of people in the population that philosophically align with Libertarian principles — and suppose that this percentage was 9%. Would anything change?

    Probably not too much. It’s small enough to sway decisions one way or the other every so often, but overall, it will have no power to actually do anything. It’s power will only be in persuasion.

    Granted, it’s an important power, but is it all that out of the question that this kind of power already exists in Congress? I won’t look up the percentage, but Congress does have a Liberty Caucus, which is presumably there to push legislation to respect liberty. So the question isn’t so much “Would Libertarians have any influence if actual Libertarian candidates got into office?” as it is “Would a Libertarian Party influence be any different than the influence the Liberty Caucus has on Congress?” I strongly suspect that the answer is “No!”

    Ultimately, though, we have to ask ourselves: wouldn’t it be better if both Republicans and Democrats would introduce liberty-preserving legislation in the first place? And wouldn’t they do this if the people who voted for them, one way or the other, voted for the candidate that preserved liberty? Thus, it should follow that the best course is to convince as many people as possible to favor liberty, and then encourage them to vote accordingly.

    I consider the greatest failing of the Republican Party to be the fact that, more often than not, they think they need to be the Party of Democrat Lite, on the belief that it seems to them that this is what the voters want, rather than try to teach the people liberty, and convince people that they need to vote for Republicans to preserve liberty.

    (I sincerely don’t understand this desire to capitulate to the wants of uneducated voters: I’d rather stand for what’s right, and try to convince voters that they should stand for what’s right, and fail to get into office, than to ignore what’s right because that’s what uneducated voters seem to want, and then give the voters what they want, only to have that fail. I don’t particularly want to represent educated voters who still want that which will hurt them.)


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