Why are there only two major parties in US? [party attachments below]

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1 Why are there only two major parties in US? [party attachments below] A. Institutional Constraints on 3 rd Parties 1. Election System Single-member districts (SMDs) Winner-take-all first-past-the-post used to elect most US offices o State legislature o US House o US Senate o President (SMD by state) Plurality, NOT majority takes the seat Losers (2 nd place, 3 rd place) get nothing Fear of waste vote when considering 3 rd Party Encourages strategic defections away from small parties Origins in Great Britain Britain moving to greater use of Proportional Representation Few nations still use pure winner-take all by plurality:

2 2. An Example India (4 parties) Canada (3 parties) Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, Bahamas (2 parties) Botswana (less than 2 parties) United States What if a Congressional District where voters had the following true preferences 39% Democrat 31% Republican 20% Green 10% Libertarian When voting in our system: What options do the supporters of smaller parties have? Over time: What would happen to a small party? 3. Consequences of Single-Member Districts Who draws the lines? What do they consider when drawing the lines? Protecting

3 Wasted Votes In US, most voters cast votes that have meaning 85-90% of us live in safe congressional districts a handful of congressional races competitive only in these races do votes affect result What if you are a Dem voter living in a 60% R district? R candidate will win, no matter what Your D vote is wasted, doesn t affect anything Better your vote went to a D in another district What if you are a Rep voter living in a 60% R district? R candidate will win, no matter what Your R vote is wasted, R candidate doesn t need it Better your vote went to a R in a compt district What if you are neither a D or R? 4) Compare SMDs to multi-member districts Votes Seats via Proportional Representation Most democratic nations use some form of PR Minimum vote threshold to win seats (5%, 10%)

4 Nearly all votes matter in that they affect how many seats each party gets in the legislature A. (Other) Institutional Constraints on 3 rd Parties 2) Legal constraints on 3rd parties ballot access laws campaign finance anti-fusion laws 3) Electoral College (in US) President elected via 50 state contests Each state a pure winner-take-all district If you live in a safe state, your vote wasted Again, doesn't take much to win everything 2nd, 3rd place get nothing Example: Kerry s 52% of WA vote in 2004 = all 11 EC votes Gore s 50% of WA vote in 2000 = all 11 EC votes Clinton s 49% of WA vote in 1996 = all 11 EC votes Clinton s 43% of WA vote in 1992 = all 11 EC votes 4) separation of legislature and exec branch

5 No dividing cabinet positions across parties in Congress e.g. Greens in Germany B. Cultural & Historical Constraints on 3 rd Parties 1) Nature of popular conflict in society dualistic labor v. capital city v. rural manuf. v. agric. 2) major party co-option of small party issues 3) US lacks regional-based parties lack of regional conflict e.g, Canada uses SMD, but has 4-5 parties in Natl legisl Reform (west), Block (Quebec), PC (East) Liberals (Ontario), NDP (??) What is lost or gained w/ having only two parties? A. Normative Concerns Fairness Trust

6 Participation Minority Representation Stability? B. What is gained by having just 2 parties? 1. Stability? Maybe not. multi-party democracy said to be unstable must form coalition govts. evid = coalition govts no less stable than majority govts competitive 2 party system unstable 2. Illusion of majority rule manufactures majorities 3. Accountability "responsible party" thesis C. How could a third US party form?

7 1. Institutional Change prospects slim for US Congress to act, State Legislatures Citizen's initiative (Oregon) 2. Rise of regional conflict w/in present institutions 3. Major split in existing party Elements of party attachments (about 70% in US loyal to a party) A. social- psychological attachments voters have to party 1) generally speaking, do you think of yourself as a D, an R, an Ind, or what? NOW: aggregate of responses to this question in US = underlying strength of each party in system party s normal vote that is stable across time

8 No party over 35% of voters loyalties More "independents" MANY independents behave like a D or R Since 1968, independents more independent B. What party attachment is NOT not evaluation of a single candidate at a point in time not really an ideological belief system o few have beliefs w/ rigid ideological structure not articulation of clear set of policy preferences o many see no difference the parties C. Early voting studies 1. Michigan Study, 1960 found little issue voting strong role of party loyalty people project their own opinions onto party many don t use party to figure out policies use party to reduce information costs of vote know D or R = stock of past performance D. What voter s party attachment is: 1. long term loyalty

9 2. information cost cutting cues 3. frame of reference to politics not easily articulated 4. enduring not likely to change over life time attachment may grow stronger over life E. How attachments are formed: 1. family influence / socialization most important kids end up with same party ID as parents 60% of high school students same ID as parents only 6% had opposite party ID as parents shaped very early 80-90% of students w/ parents who have strong party loyalty also have same strong party loyalty. 2. group attachments, interests ethnicity, labor union, profession, region 3. past party policies that served your social group(s)

10 4. generational experiences at time of socialization first exposure to politics what party popular when voter was 18-30? depression, crisis War charismatic President

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