Few democracies in the world are as tightly in the grip of a two-party duopoly as ours. I’ve railed against this in the past, multiple times, during my wonderful decade-plus of MinnPosting. I even once got to learn about and then write about Duverger’s Law, which explains that the likeliest way to lock two and only two parties into power is to have single-member districts with plurality winners, which is how we elect our House and Senate, which have been roughly forever dominated almost totally by the RepubliCrats.
We might have to go beyond Duverger to explain the duopolism of the presidency with its weird Electoral College features, but it’s no coincidence that we have had nothing but Democratic or Republican presidents since the Republicans came along in the 1850s (and before that nothing but Democrats and Whigs going back almost to the creation.
I believe we’re so used to this lesser-of-two-evils duopolism that we think it’s the only way to do democracy, which it isn’t.
So I was a bit surprised and ever so slightly encouraged by a Gallup poll result that came across my desk yesterday, in which I learned that, if the Gallupers know how to take a poll, a fairly sturdy majority of Americans are sick of the RepubliCrat duopoly and wish they had more choices.
Gallup has asked intermittently since 2003, and pretty much every year 2006 this question:
In your view, do the Republican and Democratic parties do an adequate job of representing the American people, or do they do such a poor job that a third major party is needed?
And, it turns out, in every single year starting in 2006, the majority, or at least plurality, have said they wished they had a third choice. (Of course, they do have third and fourth choices, but the question asks whether they believe a “third major party” is needed? And the majority/plurality has said, for 13 straight years, yes please, we’d like more meaningful options..
Some years, the question has produced a pretty close outcome, but since 2013, when by an impressive 60-26 percent margin “a third major party is needed” triumphed, that answer has won by a significant margin every year. In 2017, the “more choices please” answer reached its highest number ever, 61 percent, but that answer has been preferred by a margin of 19 points or more every year since 2013.
I wouldn’t want to make too much of it. It’s just a poll question, and we can’t cross-examine it to ask what bothers the majority about their current choices and what kind of other choices they might like to have.
And even if this is a sturdy feeling, it’s not clear to me how our rigidly duopolistic system could or would be changed to accommodate this desire. And we should note that there are third and fourth parties, and at least two of them, the Greens and the Libertarians, do have at least a presidential ticket most recent cycles, and they have never come anywhere near the obvious major status of the Big Two.
But I, at least, take the sturdy majority in favor of more choices as a meaningful suggestion that many of us aren’t satisfied with the choices that have been on offer.
Many other electoral systems offer a larger number of realistic choices to voters than ours does. There are a lot of examples we could pursue if we were really open to change.