Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Our Two Party System - II

There is a central rule of political science that is called Duverger's Law.


Essentially, in a first-past-the-post system - a system which requires a plurality of the vote for an election; the most common and simple form of election - the natural and inevitable tendency is to become a two-party system.

Third parties can be successful but only in the sense that they supplant an existing party. In other words, they rise to become one of two parties in the two party system. The best example of this is, as you well know, dear Reader, the Republican party in the 19th century.

The greatest implication of this is that for any potential third party, there is an enormous uphill battle to overcome the perception that a vote for a third party, however proper and justified, is counterproductive. Consider the US Presidential election of 1992. Indeed, many otherwise Republican voters who chose Ross Perot were faced with the election of their last choice, William Jefferson Clinton (and we all know how that worked out).

A more recent primary election saw Republican "moderate" Judy Baar Topinka beat Jim Oberweis and Bill Bradley for the GOP nomination for Governor of Illinois. Judy won with a plurality of the vote at 38%. Oberweis and Bradley, both considered "conservative" candidates, finished with 32% and 19% of the votes, respectively. There is a perception - not without foundation - that a "splitting" of the vote occurs.

Now, factions within the major political parties may throw this into some degree of confusion. Indeed, there is a conservative wing of the Republican party (called "real Republicans"), just as certainly as there is a leftist side to the Democrat party. Should either party, assuming a two-party system continues, nominate a candidate either too liberal or too conservative for the respective parties, voter turnout may decrease or there may be cross-over to the other side (imagine a Zell Miller vs. John McCain race... there are significant conservatives who would consider voting for Miller or not voting for McCain).

The important conclusion to take away from this is that third parties must overcome their perception as a wasted vote and that there is an enormous PR battle to instill in the minds of voters that change is possible, and that as history shows us, change is necessary.

Many thanks to my dear friend Samuel for turning me on to Duverger's Law.


Samuel Adams said...

You are welcome, but thanks must also be passed along to William H. Riker and to Mr. Duverger himself. I hope the information will be useful to the reader and profitable to the Republic.

Call Me Mom said...

That perception of third party = wasted vote is certainly does pose a challenge.

I wonder what a good screenwriter could do with that? In fact, that's a good idea, I know a fellow who does some of that. I'll pass it along to him, maybe it will help him come up with a new script. Thanks.

Call Me Mom said...

Perhaps it requires a 4th party to divide the votes on the other side?

The Monarchist said...

I think that it will remain the way it is, and should it change, it would involve a new party displacing an existing one. For THAT to happen would take an extraordinary leap of faith on the part of the citizenry. Not impossible, but very difficult. There would need to be an ideological rift within an existing party. In 1860, slavery was the rift. Just as importantly, people need to be energized - apathy will work against any proper and necessary change.

Ol' Shep said...

It seems to me that the main problem with third parties is that the winner of a given election can turn out to be someone whom the majority of voters did not vote for. Clinton, for example, was elected both times with less than half the votes.

By the way, the link to Duverger's Law was not working when I tried it (several times). It could be my computer, I guess. These Stumbling Blocks don't always work like they're supposed to.