The downfall of the 2-party system

Photo of Congress in session in 2019
Ellen Wuibaux/Creative Commons

With the onset of a tumultuous election, the likes of which Americans have never seen, there has been much discussion about the frontrunner candidates and their policies regarding issues such as universal health care, social welfare, stimulus checks and taxes.

In a two-party system, we are ultimately left with a Democratic candidate and a Republican candidate facing off against each other in the presidential election. While each nominee has attempted to paint the other as extreme or radical, it is worth looking at how the United States’ political parties and their respective policies stand, particularly in comparison to other Western nations.

The Republican Party and its far-right policies have become mainstream to many people. But when we look at fiscal and social policy, the Republican Party is an outlier compared to other Western nations and leans farther right than the Independence Party in Britain, Conservative Party in Canada, Freedom Party in Austria and the National Rally in France. It is worth noting that these are considered to be some of the more extreme parties in the world.

This is intriguing because in any other Western nation, the Republican Party would likely be a third party or an alternative to the mainstream parties due to some of its constituents’ extreme beliefs (nativism, white supremacy) and policies. However, in the United States, we see how the Republican Party and its far-right populist ideals have become accepted as a normal part of the two-party system.
While the Democratic Party has tried to appear progressive, its policies and values are much more moderate than that of other countries. Policies such as “Medicare for All,” universal college and increased taxes on the rich are not particularly radical, extreme or socialist, contrary to what far-right candidates have claimed.

In fact, a number of Nordic countries such as Norway, Finland and Sweden have free or low-cost college. The United States is one of the only developed countries that does not have universal health care and has subsequently left millions of citizens without access to coverage. U.S. taxes on the top 0.1% are lower than most high-income countries and stand in stark contrast to countries such as Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Iceland that tax the rich to fund welfare for the poor.

The Democratic Party is too broad and “can be too big of a tent,” according to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-Bronx, earlier this year in a New York Magazine interview, and she further commented that “in any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party, but in America, we are.”

If we compare Biden and Bernie Sanders, two candidates widely accepted as Democrats, we notice how strikingly different their policies are. Biden, the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, could be labeled as a conservative in other Western countries. Yet, a poll reported by CNN shows that 47% of respondents believe that the Democratic Party has moved too far left and 37% believe that the Republican Party has moved too far right.

It’s worth evaluating how a two-party system may have contributed to these beliefs. Perhaps it is because the Republican Party has moved so far right that it appears to many Americans that the Democratic Party has moved left. In reality, data shows that both parties are farther right than their European counterparts, and the consequences of this have been devastating for many Americans.

Income inequality is the worst it’s ever been, social mobility has become impossible for many people and labor protections and welfare are at risk. Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have enacted economic policies and rolled back regulations that have ultimately given big businesses and powerful elites dominance over society, largely at the expense of the poor, people of color and marginalized communities.

The two-party system makes citizens feel like there are only two options, allowing the Republican Party to appear mainstream and the Democratic Party to appear progressive. If people are able to vote based on values and priorities rather than just loyalty to one of two parties, smaller third parties such as the Green Party, Working Families Party and Libertarian Party would give citizens more options. Perhaps the American political system should seek to emulate other multiparty democracies — such as Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands — that have variety in their selection of political parties and thus represent a larger range of political perspectives and identities.

As we move closer to the election and continue to refine policies as a part of regular political discourse, we should not forget to step back, look at the bigger picture and consider how the United States’ two-party system can be improved so that our political candidates reflect the diversity of our country’s ideals and beliefs.

Contact Amrita Bhasin at [email protected].