Two-Party System in the United States

By admin ~ September 23rd, 2011 @ 7:05 pm

One of the prominent features of the American political system is the presence of a competitive two-party system. Parties were formed in the U.S. polity while the founding fathers were against the formation of parties and George Washington in his farewell speech warned the nation against parties. The reason for that might have been the fear of parties splitting the country in parts once they had just managed to make a union. Contrary to Washington’s idea, the United States experienced a short period of partyless politics. During the presidency of Washington’s successor, John Adams, the Federalists consisting of Adams and his allies supported a strong central government while the Democratic-Republicans of Thomas Jefferson were more in favor of state power. So, the first two-party competition in the U.S. began at that time and Jefferson who succeeded Adams was the first U.S. president elected as the nominee of a political party.

The second party system began around 1824 when the old Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans changed to be the Democratic Party to which President Andrew Jackson belonged and the opposition party to the President was called the Whig Party. The Whig Party was replaced with the Republican Party which was formed in 1854. Since that time the Republicans and the Democrats have been the two major parties in the U.S. Other parties have also been formed throughout the history but they have not been very influential and the two parties of Republicans and Democrats have dominated elections in the United States since the presidential election of 1860. Now, the question is ‘why has the United States maintained a two-party system up to now?’

America since its foundation has tried to represent democracy. However, preserving a two-party system seems contrary to what people expect of a democratic country. While some people believe that American two- party system no longer serves the interest of the nation, we see that this system is unlikely to change. The reason for this lies in the American mindset. As stated at the beginning of this essay, the founding fathers of America were against parties because they were afraid of the country being divided in parts; thus, creating a chaotic environment. American polity was based on the system of checks and balances and balance is the key to American mindset. A single- or multi-party system creates unbalance.

In a multi-party system, extreme elements are allowed in which may cause the system to become unstable. A single-party system is also unstable since not all people of a country have the same attitudes and beliefs. So, any opposition to the dominant party weakens the stability of the country. However, at this point one might say that two parties cannot also represent the will of the entire nation. This is true but what is interesting about the American polity is that its two major parties are very inclusive and their views cover a long spectrum of ideas. Thus, the need for having a three- or multi-party system is not really felt. It seems that the two parties of Republicans and Democrats can be representatives of the majority of the population since nearly two-thirds of Americans identify themselves with either the Republicans or the Democrats and most of those who introduce themselves as independents have partisan leanings. According to statistics about 71 percent of democratic-leaning independents and 79 percent of Republican-leaning independents have voted for their parties’ nominees in the last four presidential elections. It is estimated that only 9 percent of Americans are ‘pure independents’. We can see that the scope of the ideas of the two parties is broad enough to represent the will of the majority. Hence, the American two-party system does not contradict its democracy.

Moreover, in polities with the system of “first past the post” having a two-party politics is needed so that two similar candidates would not split the same voters. Although the two-party system provides people with only two choices and limits the diversity of the government, it makes it easier for the voters to vote. This is beneficial to the American system which usually experiences a low voter turnout.

All in all, despite the deficiencies of a two-party system and the criticism against it, in America this system has long been preserved. This is because bipolarity is the most balanced system which maintains consistency and promotes stability. The American two-party system; however, does not contradict democracy since the two major parties have a wide range of views to which the majority of people can attach themselves. Thus, the country maintains its stability while representing the ideas of the majority via the two parties.

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