Concept of the Two Party System

Topics: Elections, Coalition government, Two-party system Pages: 5 (1710 words) Published: February 10, 2014
2-Party System Essay

As we know, a two-party system is one in which two political parties have a clear electoral advantage. Other political parties may exist, but in two-party systems the vast majority of elected office positions are held by members of only those two parties. Multi-party systems also exist throughout the world; in those systems, coalition governments are quite common, while in two-party systems they are very rare. Single-party systems also exist, but these systems tend not to be democratic in a substantive sense, as elections exist only to re-elect the ruling party. China is perhaps the most prominent example of a single-party system. The United States is a highly visible example of a politically stable country with a two-party system. Proponents of the system argue that it is more stable and more nourishing of democracy than the alternatives. Opponents argue that the entrenched interests of the Democratic and Republican parties do not allow for new ideas to gain traction. While it may be true that the two-party system in the United States creates stable political conditions, the evidence overwhelmingly favors the argument against such a system. When the United States was still an infant, George Washington, who was not affiliated with any political party, warned his countrymen against amassing too many political parties. He feared that the electoral fractures wouldn’t be sustained well by a nation that had just begun to unite. In the years following Washington’s inaugural presidency, a two-party system was initiated with John Adams’ Federalists opposing Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans. The Whigs came next, followed by the now-familiar Democrats and Republicans, but there were never more than two dominant parties in this country at any one time. Our current configuration of Democrats and Republicans has been in place since the 1860s. Chief among the most commonly cited arguments for the two party system is its stability. Since fringe ideologies are unable to gain enough traction to create political waves, policies are not likely to change in response to short-term demands. Most scholars agree that the U.S. is a fundamentally conservative country, and this kind of built-in stability is therefore appropriate. Alternatives to a two-party system in a democracy are few. A single-party system is (arguably) undemocratic since only one set of views can be advanced. There are few if any examples of single-party democratic states and indeed, this seems essentially un-American. A multi-party system, on the other hand, is considered by many to be unbalanced and can lead to chaos. Italy is one oft-cited example of a multi-party democracy that has splintered and then suffered incoherent election outcomes (Donnheisser, 2003). The result is a governing coalition that may, yes, represent everyone’s particular viewpoint but fails to contain the building blocks for successful governing. When there are only two parties, the elected officials are forced to develop centrist solutions in order to gain support. Scholars argue that the so-called “median” voter is in fact very common in the U.S. and this kind of pull to the center will satisfy many constituents. Evidence for this argument comes from voter rolls. Only 9% of Americans identify themselves as true Independents; that is, although the number of registered Independents is much higher, the majority of those do in fact consistently lean toward one of the two parties. If only 9% of voters do not find themselves suitably represented by the existing two parties, then we must conclude that “the scope of the ideas of the two parties is broad enough to represent the will of the majority,” (Arjmand, 2010). A two-party system may also be less vulnerable to corruption. Multi-party systems, for example, tend to rely on “government by undemocratic coalitions assembled after the fact, often behind closed doors,”...

Cited: Alesina, Alberto. (1988). Credibility and Policy Convergence in a Two-Party System
With Rational Voters
Arjmand, Marzieh. (2010). Two-Party System in the United States. Available at:
Dalton, Russell J. (2008). The Quantity and Quality of Party Systems. Comparative
Political Studies, 41 (7): 899-920
Dannheisser, Ralph. (2008). No Major Shakeup Likely in U.S. Two-Party Political
System: Political Analysts Predict Parties Will Adapt to Address New Challenges
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