The biggest problem with American democracy is one that hardly gets any attention. The United States doesn’t have enough political parties. Two is not enough.
Most modern democracies are multiparty systems. They use fair electoral methods like proportional representation (for multimember legislative districts) or ranked choice voting, sometimes called the alternative vote (for single-member districts) to ensure that the full spectrum of political opinion in the society is represented among elected representatives.
The U.S. does not. Along with Britain and some of its former colonies, including India, the U.S. is stuck with single-member districts in state legislature and the House of Representatives and an archaic voting system called “plurality voting.” This means that the candidate who wins the most votes — even if the number falls short of a majority of 50 percent — wins the race.
The candidate with the most votes wins — that’s fair, isn’t it? But plurality voting can lead to perverse results. In a race among three candidates, a candidate opposed by a majority of voters can win, because the majority splits its vote among two other candidates.
This is why countries like the U.S. with plurality voting tend to have two dominant parties. If you vote for a third party, you may end up electing the one of the two main parties you like the least. Progressives who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 took away votes from Al Gore and may have helped to elect George W. Bush.
But what if your society is not naturally divided into two parties? If your country has plurality voting rules, you will still tend to get two national parties; but they will be incoherent coalitions of what, in a system with other electoral rules, would be independent parties.
Under a different, more fair electoral system, the Tea Party would be a real political party. It would not be stuck in a loveless marriage bickering about “crony capitalism” with Wall Street kleptocrats.
If the U.S. had a fair voting system, the Democratic Party might fission into more independent caucuses or even different parties. Why should upscale environmentalists who want to eliminate hydropower dams, nuclear power plants, natural gas pipelines and automobiles be in the same party as unionized workers who want to build all of these things? In a fair voting system, they wouldn’t be.
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