As I walked about this past week trying to harvest my fair share of the +50k sigs needed to get the Libertarian party recognized in the great state of Oklahoma, I found myself rebuffed in rather interesting ways. Many folks admitted outright (and with minimal prompting) that they had no desire for more than two choices on the ballot -- and some laughed out loud at themselves for doing so. This naturally set me to wondering -- why is it so damnably difficult to get third-parties noticed in this nation?
In my deepening frustration and profound ignorance I turned to the internet to learn what the political scientists had to say and I found the following thoughts and references courtesy of the folks at Janda.org
For almost 150 years, the U.S. has maintained a two-party system, which itself is rather unique among democratic party systems--as Jean Blondel shows in his classification of electoral systems. Why have we had only two dominant parties for so long when most other nations have a multiparty system? Our electoral system is the leading suspect. The French political scientist, Maurice Duverger, explained the influence of electoral laws on party systems in the late 1940s. One of his articles appears on our web site.
- Jean Blondel, "Types of Party Systems," in Peter Mair (ed.) The West European Party System (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 302-310.
- Duverger, "Factors in a Two-Party and Multiparty System," Party Politics and Pressure Groups (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1972), pp. 23-32.
- Farrell, Ch. 1: "The Study of Electoral Systems," 1-11.
I found the Duverger article particularly straightforward and insightful. All this time I thought the major parties had consolidated their hold on power gradually by adding statues to the books (e.g. restrictive ballot access) when the real culprit was the winner-take-all electoral scheme put into place at the founding of the republic. Alas and alack.
Turns out there are loads of ways around this problem, such as proportional representation in the legislature and alternative election methods for the executive branch.