Thoughts on the Two Party System

One country. Two parties. This has been the reality in the United States of America since nearly the very beginning. The Two Party System’s roots can be found in the disputes that occurred during George Washington’s presidency in the 1780s-90s. As the new nation was working toward crafting a stable government, two main factions arose despite Washington’s desire to keep factionism outside of American politics. Originally, there were not supposed to be any parties whatsoever. Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson each had their own vision for the future. Their two visions often conflicted and indeed Congress quickly became divided. As early as the election of 1796, politics in the United States has been drawn between party lines. The roots of the two party system surround the concept of federalism. In short, federalists believed that federal laws issued by a central government overrode state law while the anti-federalists disagreed. Supporters of Hamilton’s faction believed that actions that did not specify conflict the Constitution, mainly fiscal related actions dictated by Congress were lawful. In contrast, Jefferson believed  Congress should let each state dictate its own borders and that Congress should remain limited to provisions in the Constitution..

The basic disagreement of the two dominant parties has always been centered around how much the  government should be involved in society.  The bottom line of contention in politics in the United States has always surrounded the following question: Does the government have an obligation to legislate and enforce guidelines on the public and if so to what extent?

Consider the following political scenarios:

  • The Desegregation of the South: Following the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the Southern States strongly resisted desegregation. It took the use of the National Guard to force the South to lift its openly racist practices targetingAfrican-Americans. In this case, individual states tried to enact their own laws that conflicted with that of the federal government.
  • The Fall of the Soviet Union: During the height of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party reigned supreme. There was no room for alternative positions and indeed the Soviet Union was only collapsed because the suppressed voices among eventually gathered in large enough force to overturn the iron tight rule. In the Soviet Union, the government made decisions that affected the general population whether it was popular or not.

Another option used in other nations is the multi-party system. In a multi-party system, voters vote in members of their respective Parliaments based on individual party choice. While some leaders are elected directly, the vast majority of Presidents and Prime Ministers gain office based on having a majority of seats in Parliament. The ruling party rarely creates a voting majority forcing like-minded parties to band together into voting coalitions to ensure that the passage of laws is possible.

Are two choices better than a multi-party system based on coalitions? Multi-party coalitions make it harder for the system to completely halt as we have seen in the United States whenever the government shuts down due to the annual budget successfully passing. At the same time, when coalitions do fail, it usually means another costly round of early elections in order for a new government to come into power. An example of this instance can be seen in Israel whenever the Knesset goes to new elections upon the majority coalition deciding to break apart.

In contrast a two party system makes it difficult for viewpoints divergent from the two main party platforms to win at the election box. It also means that with only two choices, there will always be a majority of votes making it harder for the government to fail. Both systems have their pros and cons that make this question complicated. A simple “We do things this way because we have always done them so” response hardly qualifies as a serious analysis of the two party system.

What are your thoughts on the two party system? Leave a comment and let us know!