Summary

The American Two-Party System

Summary The American Two-Party System

Example: In the 1992 presidential election, independent candidate H. Ross Perot received nearly 19 percent of the popular vote, but he did not get a single electoral vote. Other recent third-party candidates—including John Anderson in 1980, Perot again in 1996, and Ralph Nader in 2000—also failed to win electoral votes. The last third-party candidate to win any electoral votes was George Wallace in 1968’s tumultuous election.

Proportional Representation

Many other democratic legislatures use proportional representation instead of plurality to determine how seats are allocated to political parties. Parties win seats in the legislature in rough proportion to the percentage of the popular votes the party wins. A party that receives 30 percent of the votes, for example, will get roughly 30 percent of the seats in the legislature. In multiparty systems, parties can achieve electoral success without winning a majority, so there is less reason to form giant parties that strive for the majority.

Advantages and Disadvantages

There are a few advantages of the American two-party system:

  • Stability: Two-party systems are more stable than multiparty systems
  • Moderation: The two parties must appeal to the middle to win elections, so the parties tend to be moderate.
  • Ease: Voters have only to decide between two parties.

But there are also a few disadvantages to our system, including the following:

  • Lack of choice: Both parties tend to be very similar, limiting voters’ options.
  • Less democratic: A percentage of people will always feel marginalized by the system.

Realignment

Scholars use the term realignment to describe a major shift in the political divisions within a country. Realignment marks a new change in direction for the party that redefines what it means to be a member of that party. It usually occurs when a new issue challenges the old party lines and splits its members. The issue is often crosscutting: Both major parties are split on a matter, and some Democrats find they agree with Republicans more than other Democrats. When the issue becomes critically important, the parties shift around the axis of the new issue, and a new party system emerges.

Critical Elections

A critical election often indicates that a realignment has occurred. Critical elections do not cause realignments. A critical election is a sign, not a cause, of a realignment.

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