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Law and Politics

Two-Party System: Pro/Con

Benefits and drawbacks of having two political options

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WHAT IT IS

  • “Two-party system” refers to how a government is controlled primarily by two political parties. [Merriam-Webster

  • In the U.S., the two major political parties are the Democrat Party and the Republican Party (or GOP).

  • Politicians at all levels usually run for office as either a Democrat or Republican. The dominance of these two political parties has created the two-party system. [Encyclopedia Britannica]

  • The United States has operated within the two-party system since the presidential election of 1796, and it hasn’t wavered much since. [HISTORY]

  • The overwhelming majority of people in the United States align with the Democrat or Republican party. [The Washington Post

  • People choose which party to support or publically register as based on the party "platform", or the published list of policies the party supports.

  • Other political parties that have public support in the United States include the Libertarian Party, the Socialist Party, and the Green Party. [PBS, Independent Lens

  • Although rarely holding high-ranking government offices, third-party groups have been able to influence elections throughout the years. [PBS NewsHour

  • Registering "Independent" means you align with no party but can result in voting restrictions during primary elections. [National Conference for State Legislatures]

WHY IT MATTERS

 

SOCIAL: The two-party system affects how politics are run and elections are conducted. Although some feel frustrated by a two-party system, learning how it works will help us understand how it affects our government and its role in the future of politics.

 

PRO 

Consolidation

A two-party system allows people to define their political views by aligning between fewer options, resulting in more support for issues and ultimately the likelihood of legislation passing. 

 

Balance

If in a two-party system one party splits and there are then three political parties, the split party might be too weak to challenge the third party, which would then assume control of many offices. [The New York Times

 

Effectiveness

It is easier to pass legislation, particularly bipartisan legislation, with only two parties. More parties would mean more opinions to consider and votes to count, which could slow down the government. [The Washington Post

 

CON

Exclusivity

Under this system, it is difficult to get a third-party candidate elected or a third-party’s platform to be heard. Those who disagree with the ideas of the two majority parties are likely to join one of these platforms or phase out. [FiveThirtyEight]

 

Polarization

Some believe that as each party adopts certain platforms, the two-parties will slowly drift to two extreme opposite beliefs. This threatens collaboration on legislation and the moderate, middle-ground voters who don’t identify with either extreme. [The Atlantic

 

Limiting

The two-party system is often noted to reduce the options of voters, allow politicians to run for office on name recognition, make introducing new ideas difficult, and restrict individuality in the government. [Vox

WHERE WE ARE NOW

  • With the 2020 Presidential Election coming up, many Americans are expressing that they do not feel represented by either party. Some believe the United States has become so polarized that the two-party system could collapse. [Vox]

  • Aug. 2020: A poll from Gallup found 41% of Americans identify as "Independent." [Gallup]

  • Jan. 2020: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, "In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party."

  • Oct. 2018: Findings from a Gallup poll showed 57% of Americans say there is a need for a third, major political party; 38% of Americans believe the current two-party system does an adequate job of representing the people. [Gallup]

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

  • When President George Washington retired from the White House, he warned about a two-party system. Some believe he was right while others do not, what do you think?

  • In some states, you may be restricted in voting during the primaries if you are not affiliated with a political party. This may force people to identify with a party or risk being unable to vote in these types of ballots. [National Conference for State Legislatures]

  • How has the two-party system created a divide in the United States? What issues do you see as only-Democrat or only-Republican?

  • What does a one-party system look like? Would you consider this a dictatorship or a majority party?

Key Vocabulary