With Election Day quickly approaching, politics will become even more present in our lives than they already are. This cycle’s campaigns have been interesting to say the least—it can and should be accepted that neither the Republican nor Democratic parties have walked away from their campaigns and debates unscathed. Both major party candidates have been in the media’s crosshairs, receiving backlash and a surprising amount of criticism within their respective parties. Many Americans are researching third party candidates––including former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party––in response to dissatisfaction with both major parties. This ongoing election season makes us question how the two-party system became so powerful and if there is a way to revise it.
Consistently, Americans state their overall dissatisfaction with their party’s candidates. The Pew Research Center for United States Politics and Policy reported that, after conventions, only 43 percent of Democrats and 40 percent of Republicans are satisfied with this election’s candidates. If a large percentage of Americans are not satisfied with the two major party candidates, we shouldn’t be following the same frustrating political system.
Political scientists answer the faults of the two-party system and how we can avoid them with Duverger’s Law. Named for French sociologist Maurice Duverger, the principle states that elections with “winner-takes-all” mechanisms favor two-party systems. Additionally, it states that the fusion of parties is unavoidable in a two-party system—one of the two major parties will act as an amorphous blob, absorbing any successful policy a third party may develop. This is unfortunate for voters because the policy they support may become tied to a larger party that they do not support.
Duverger also found that voters have a tendency to desert third party candidates on the idea that their success rates are minimal. As reported by The Fiscal Times, in a year when the Democratic National Convention had a budget of $84 million, you can see how easy it is for the two major parties to outpace their third party competitors. Align that with little government involvement in party finances and you can be assured that the Republican and Democratic parties have a good chance of dominating other presidential hopefuls.
Many now question if it is even worth it to get a third party candidate on the ballot—an action that might shake up the entrenched two-party plague. Stein or Johnson would need to earn a support rating of 15 percent or higher to get on the ballot and into the debates.
As noted in The New York Times, Johnson has reached double-digit support ratings in the polls, while Stein is lagging behind. When Vermont Sen. and former presidential nominee Bernie Sanders was asked about the threshold on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” he said that 15 percent is “probably too high” and should be lowered by the Commission on Presidential Debates, as it discourages third party competition. If this standard was lowered, it would allow third party candidates such as Gary Johnson and Jill Stein to enter the race earlier, debate earlier and become a reasonable option for the American people. Simply because this support standard is so high and any third party runner is financially outpaced, we may never see them on the campaign trail.
During this election season, voters are scrambling on both sides—the classic two-party system is no longer our ally. While the system offers more stability, clarity and quicker processes, there are smaller chances for other policy options to come to public attention; two parties gain total political power and control over voter support.
Although our current political system has survived for decades, perhaps now we are finally seeing the true, frustrating and brutal facets of it.