The 2016 Presidental Election was a harrowing one, to say the least. The results turned friends into foes and sparked a massive wave of protest. The Democratic National Committee was exposed for its corruption and underhanded ways via the now infamous email leaks. The GOP began its path to a total implosion. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald J. Trump showed record-breaking disapproval ratings across the board. Never have more voters been so dissatisfied with their candidates, and many began looking for an alternative. Registration for third parties such as The Green Party and The Libertarian Party surged. The people were fed up with the establishment. Disaffected Bernie supporters who felt cheated, conservatives who saw Trump as terrible news, and a population of voters who wouldn’t have voted for the Elephant Or Jackass with a gun to their heads, indicated that it was time for a revolution. Surely this would be the year of the third party. Of course, that was not the case. Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson pulled 3.28% of the popular vote and Dr. Jill Stein pulled a mere 1.06%. Donald Trump was elected President Of The United States. One could argue that the third party candidates themselves weren’t the best, and even yours truly, who was once a diehard Johnson supporter, felt let down by the candidate and cast my vote with a sigh; But in spite of their faults, they still represented a better alternative; An alternative to the tyrannical duopoly of the two-party system.
So what keeps the two parties in power? The answer lies in the multifaceted system that they have created. Let’s start with the Commission on Presidential Debates. The Commission on Presidential Debates sponsors the debates in the mainstream media. This gives them the ability to set rules for said debates, and one of those rules is that a candidate must poll at least 15% to be eligible for inclusion. This creates quite a major hurdle for third-party candidates. They do not have a large amount of media coverage, to begin with, and are often not even included in the polls. Getting on the debate stage in the first place would allow them to get that much-needed media coverage and polling numbers, so this creates a catch-22 scenario. The kicker? The Commission on Presidential Debates is a private corporation jointly owned by, you guessed it, The Republicans and Democrats. Color me surprised.
Another system in place that maintains, and in fact created the two party duopoly is our winner takes all voting system. In this system, a voter has only one vote and can pick only one candidate. With a system such as this in place, two major parties gaining a stranglehold on the political landscape is inevitable. To illustrate this, let’s create a scenario. Let’s say that John, David, Jane, and Ed are running in a mock election.
The majority of voters pick a candidate other than John, but John wins.
In subsequent elections, this causes voters to vote not for candidates that best represent their values, but rather vote against the candidate they don’t like; the all too familiar “Lesser Of Two Evils” scenario. The other parties are gradually squeezed out of the elections, giving two parties majority control. This also engrains in the minds of the populace, the concept of a spoiler effect.
That spoiler concept is often used by supporters of the major parties to discourage others from picking an alternative candidate.
“You can’t vote for Johnson! He’s just taking votes away from Trump! If Trump doesn’t win, Muslims and Mexicans are going to take over America!”
” You can’t vote for Stien! If Hillary doesn’t win, minorities will suffer and be deported!”
“If you don’t vote for Trump, you are a baby killer and you hate America!”
“If you don’t vote for Hillary, you are a racist and you hate LGBTs and People Of Color!”
I’m sure many of you reading this have heard these or variations thereof during the election. This is, of course, a form of scare-mongering used to rein in would be dissenters and keep the parties in power.
It’s a social structure designed to discourage rebellion. After the election, as predicted, the blame game started, with the proverbial finger being pointed at Johnson and Stien supporters. This would have been no different had Hillary won.
The irony is that most Americans will lecture you until the cows come home about “making your voice heard” and the importance of voting, providing of course that you vote for their candidate.
With all these structures in place, it seems that Americans will be forced, continually into a vicious cycle of voting for candidates who do not represent their values fully, and truth be told, this will be the case for some time. All hope is not lost, however! While there are still many other factors in place that one article cannot cover, these are some of the main components. By dismantling them one by one, we can bring about the end of the two party system.
Going back to our election scenario, let’s say we replaced our winner takes all voting system, with an instant runoff election.
In Instant Runoff Voting (or IRV) voters still only have one vote but are allowed to rank candidates in order of preference. With IRV, if one’s initial pick doesn’t win, their vote goes to another candidate of their choosing. This allows one to vote for a third party, without fear of the spoiler effect. While this does not guarantee that two parties won’t dominate the election, it makes them much less powerful, thereby increasing the chances of a candidate that better represents the values of the majority of voters being elected.
The Commission On Presidental Debates is a much tougher foe to tackle. Many lawsuits have been brought against them on the grounds of violating anti-trust laws and violating the rules of the Federal Election Commission. None of these have succeeded. There is a possibility of revoking their 501(c)(3) status, however. The CPD is indeed a non-profit organization, and while it’s perfectly acceptable for a 501(c)(3)organization to be a political organization, their rules excluding third parties could be raised as an issue, forcing them to either change their rules, or have their 501(c)(3) status revoked. It’s a small chance but an avenue we should look at.
These changes require a hefty amount of work and money, so the question remains as to what you, as an average citizen can do. The answer to this is simple; get informed and educate others.
I’m just a small-time writer for a growing website. I will not claim to have all the answers. But the more people who band together and get informed about the issue, the closer we get to dismantling the machine that is ruining our democracy. We’ve got to get informed, get angry, and get active. It’s the only way to bring about any real change.
We need to ditch the “that’s just the way things are” attitude. That is defeatism and quite frankly, cowardice. The system is bearing its fangs more viciously than ever before because it knows it’s days are numbered. It is time to act.