The problem with American politics

Written by Nick Penn

Since 1776, political parties have been a controversial topic. John Adams once famously said, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties.” In fact, all the founding fathers strongly opposed the creation of a two party system. Yet, the political struggle between Democrats and Republicans dominates American society today, and almost everyone has a side.

America’s bipartisan system is limiting and divisive. According to Gallup, over 95% of the time, when a U.S. citizen registers to vote, they choose either the Democratic or Republican party. “Third” parties such as the Libertarian and Green party barely muster 4% of the vote. 

In all primary elections, citizens affiliated with a party can only vote for members of that party. This means that a registered Republican voter has no say in the selection of Democratic representatives and vice versa. As a result, according to John Fortier, director of the Bipartisan Policy Center, less than 20% of eligible voters participated in federal primaries in 2016. In other words, over 80% of eligible voters essentially only have a choice between two candidates.

The two party system not only limits the selection of candidates, but it also forces congressmen to vote along partisan lines. 

Not only do congressmen need to please voters of their party for reelection, they also need to keep the party “honchos” happy so they don’t lose their support. The shining example of this dynamic is President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. When the House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump on Sept. 24, 2019, only three democrats voted for acquittal and no republicans voted for impeachment. There are 435 voting members in the House meaning that only 0.6% of members voted out of partisan lines. In the senate’s vote to convict Trump on Feb. 5, 2020 only one senator voted out of partisan lines, Mitt Romney, and Romney was a republican candidate that lost to Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

The dramatic clash between liberals and conservatives has politically polarized America, and it’s getting worse. In the late 1950s, Gallup found that 18% of parents wanted their son or daughter to marry a Democrat, 10% a Republican, and 72% didn’t care. In 2016, only 45% of parents said they didn’t care what political party their child’s spouse belonged to. Across all 30 political values that Gallup surveyed, from gun control to abortion rights, the differences between Republicans and Democrats are vastly greater than the differences between races, religious beliefs, education, age and gender. 

Some might argue that the two parties are simply a reflection of the natural polarization of the American people. But it must be noted that over the course of American history, there have been countless debates about everything from slavery to women’s suffrage; and nevertheless, American voters have almost always only had a choice between two major parties, even though the parties themselves have changed names and positions (e.g., the Republican party started as the anti-slavery party).

Political parties limit representation by forcing their politicians to conform to a predefined set of values. In today’s political climate, for example, a presidential candidate could never be pro-universal health care but anti-gun control or pro-choice but anti-immigration. This leaves American voters to choose between two candidates with a specific set of views and thus forcing everyone into one of two opposing political camps.

America’s current two party system is limiting and divisive. There have been numerous proposals for how to solve this problem ranging from open primaries to defunding political parties. But all 18 year olds could simply follow the advice of the founding fathers: don’t support political parties. Abstaining from registering with a political party would not only break up the political division in America and protest the bipartisan system, but it would also allow the voter to participate in either party’s primaries.

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