Back in the 1980’s, I lived in a pretty small city, and in that city, we had three home-goods stores: Walmart, Kmart, and Target. I wondered back then why we needed all three stores. All were vying for essentially the same market. It seemed wasteful to me. I do not recall who it was, but someone explained to me that you need three (or more) major independent players in order to not have a monopoly, and so, having all three of those stores was a good thing. At first thought, it would seem like two players would be sufficient, but in fact, it’s easy for two players to either work cooperatively to form a monopoly, or to be so opposed to each other that one players’ move immediately dictates the other players countermove. Either way, you end up with monopolistic behaviors that can easily have huge negative impacts on the economy, society, and most importantly, on human rights.
I have observed the same problem in politics, and over time, those monopolistic behaviors have grown. In my opinion, the greatest single factor in creating the environment we have now is the two-party system that we have.
I have observed how both parties have separated from the other. There is virtually no bipartisan work being done.
The first time I really noticed this (not because it’s the first time it happened, but because it was the first time that I had participated in an election with a fairly well developed sense of what I believed) was in the 2004 reelection of George W. Bush. This was in the immediate post-9/11 era, and tension was extremely high concerning American response to 9/11 and terrorism in general.
I had observed how, in response to 9/11, Bush’s administration had been able to enact laws that infringed horribly on the rights of citizens, such as the Patriot Act (which allowed widespread search without the need for a warrant) and others. I was really concerned. During the years leading up to that, my political beliefs had developed and matured. I had learned that the protection of human rights is the first and highest priority of the government. It is for the purpose of protecting those rights that our government was formed. No other action, policy, or purpose must be allowed to supersede that purpose. And the function of securing our rights must not be sacrificed for any other purpose.
In that post-9/11 environment, someone (I will not give a name) who I had really respected, and who had played a significant role in my life, almost a mentor, in me discovering my political identity stated “in this election, the safety of America is the highest priority, so we must vote Bush!” I felt betrayed.
At that point, I realized two things. One thing I realized is that many people are willing to trade their rights for safety. For health care. For social security. For comfort. That event, more than any other, made me realize how important it was; how CRITICAL it was; that there be a voice in the government who’s goal it was to protect my rights, because that was clearly of secondary importance to the parties then in power. This realization was incredibly important to me… but it is actually not the realization that I am discussing now.
The second thing that that statement demonstrated to me was how the two parties were so opposed to each other; so polarizing of people. Many people felt the same necessity to vote for Bush to guarantee safety. Others felt that the Republicans were ruining the country, and therefore, a vote for Kerry was the only possible solution. I understood that polarizing effect because I too was polarized (even if it was for a party other than the main two).
Since that election, I have seen the same polarizing effect. In the election that followed, I have personally heard people say:
We cannot afford to have Obama as president, so we must vote for McCain.
We cannot afford to have McCain for president, so we must vote for Obama.
Four years later, I heard the same statements, but that time for Obama and Romney.
But the strength of the sentiments that I heard in those elections were nothing compared to the Trump vs. Hillary Clinton election. I saw the sentiment that Trump was ultimate evil, and the only possible vote was for H. Clinton. And I heard the exact opposite in favor of Trump. And now, I’m hearing the same sorts of statements with Trump vs. Biden.
In our two party system, the polarization of the parties has increased drastically over the last several elections. We have really gotten to the point where, in many people’s minds, party X is good and party Y is evil. There is no such thing as bipartisanship. Neither party is asking: what is right for the country, what protects the rights of the citizens. Neither party is asking: how can we work together to make this country great. They are only asking: what is right for my party. What can we do to defeat the other party. The problem is… the other party (regardless of which party that is) IS America. It consists of people who live here, who enjoy the same rights, privileges, and liberties you do. In my case, the other party consists of friends, coworkers, and even family members.
Like almost everybody I talk to, I am firmly convinced that MY ideas are the right ones. MY party is the best for the country. MY policies would guide this country to true greatness.
But what if (and this is hard for me to accept)… what if the BEST policies are not MY policies, but are in fact, a combination of policies from all of the parties. Or what if the policies that will best strengthen the country, protect our rights, and perform all the other functions of the governments are the policies that we work together to create, rather than simply using MY policies.
The fact of the matter is, that even if you are a staunch republican, or a staunch democrat, we are in a position where the two parties (and both are equally to blame) are damaging the political integrity of this country by being a two-party monopoly. Neither party is living up to their potential. Neither are passing laws, creating policies, or leading this country with any sense of serving the country. They are simply giving in to their baser instincts of seeking for power at all costs; and of their need to defeat the other party by shifting the balance of political representation their way.
We need to reverse this situation, and the only way that I can see to do it is to get a viable third (and preferably fourth) party. We need to break up the monopoly that currently exists in American politics.
There are three things that we can do. By far the easiest is to vote third party. During the last election, third party candidates captured 5.1% of the popular vote. Considering that Trump got 46.1% and H. Clinton got 48.2% (but lost due to how the electoral college works), that 5% of the vote that went to the third party is very significant. However, it needs to be more significant. If it could jump to 8% or 10% during this election, it would definitely prompt some change.
I have voted third party for every presidential election I’ve voted in except for my very first two elections. I must admit that early on, I had not yet given much thought to who I was, politically speaking. I remember who I voted for in 1984. I actually don’t remember who I voted for in 1988. But by 1992, I realized that I could not support either of the two main parties, and I have voted third party ever since.
The most common reaction that I get when I mention that is that I am wasting my vote. Indeed, when I mentioned this only a few days ago, I was told that, sooner or later, I needed to realize that it was either Trump or Biden, and so, if I did not vote for one of them, I was going to have no say in this election, and therefore, I was wasting my vote. The person who said this even said that having a third party would be good… but not at the expense of wasting a vote that could have gone to the GOOD candidate (i.e. the candidate that they favored) to help defeat the EVIL candidate (i.e. the other party).
Let me say right now, and with no apology at all: my votes have NOT been wasted. The two-party system is broken. By continuing to vote within the two-party system, we allow it to continue. The only way change has EVER OCCURRED is to vote outside the system. If our founding forefathers had looked at the status quo and realized that they had very little chance of making a difference, and accepted that, they would have never gone on to form a new country. Instead, they voted outside the system. At the risk of having their property confiscated, being thrown in prison, and even at the risk of losing their life, they chose to vote for change. We only make changes when we are willing to try something new. That applies today as much as ever. If you are looking at the two parties, and realize that the system really does need to be fixed; if you realize that neither party actually has the answers (despite their claims that they do); then do not waste your vote. Vote for change.
I am under no illusion at all that the candidate I vote for will win. They will not. But voting for them is the only way that I can cast a vote for change. Voting for Trump or Biden cannot do that. A third party candidate will not win this election. But if third party candidates get 10% of the popular vote… that will get people’s attention and changes will occur. And those changes could be far more important than any of the changes that Trump or Biden will be able to enact (though that will take additional involvement by the citizens of this country to not allow that vote to be ignored).
In addition to voting third party, there are two other changes that I would like to see occur that would also contribute to breaking down the monopoly.
First, our election system should be changed to a ranked system. A ranked voting system is one where you don’t just vote for one person. Instead, you rank them (this is my 1st choice, this is my 2nd choice, etc.). With a ranked voting system, I could actually say: I favor a 3rd party, but if it comes down to Trump and Biden, then I’ll pick XXX. I actually do have a very slight preference for one over the other, but I will not mention who, or why I have that preference. Because I cannot express both desires in our current voting system, I will be voting based on my overwhelming first priority. I will be voting for change. In a ranked voting system, I could (and would) vote for a third party, but then I would also vote for one of the two main candidates, thereby expressing both my desire for change AND my desire for one of the two main candidates over the other.
Ranked voting methods are already used in a small number of US jurisdictions for local elections, as well as some elections in other countries. You can go to rankedchoicevoting.org for information if you are interested. There are quite a few variations, and it is a bit more complicated to tally the votes, but with computers, it wouldn’t be hard to do. The difficulty is that the current set of politicians, who are virtually all members of the two main parties, do not wish to have ranked voting. They will say that it is subject to counting problems… but they say that about the current voting system too. Anyone remember all of the recounts in Florida (and other areas) in recent elections? The physical methods of casting and counting votes does need to be examined, and that is the perfect time to switch to a ranked voting system. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these systems from a mathematical or statistical point of view. The problem is that it opens up the possibility to vote for multiple parties. You can guess who objects to that.
The second change that I would like to see happen is that the debates need to be opened up to third parties. The primary debates should include anyone who is able to get their name on the ballot in enough states to win a majority of electoral college votes.
Currently, presidential debates are managed by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which is a nonprofit corporation established in 1987 by the Democratic and Republican parties. The CPD has run all debates since 1988, and, since 2000, has excluded all third-party candidates. The CPD should be replaced by a true non-partisan organization.
I remember watching the 1992 debates, when Ross Perot was allowed to debate for some reason. He went on to get 19% of the popular vote. I do not remember if he was allowed to debate in 1996, but since 2000, the debates have included only the two main parties. It is no coincidence that since then, no third-party candidate has received more than 3% of the popular vote. People rarely vote for someone they’ve never heard speak, or had the opportunity to listen to their opinions. If the debates included third parties, the number of votes those parties would receive would increase significantly. Both of the main parties realize that, and for that reason, are opposed to this change.