Do We Need More Political Parties?

Some Believe That a Genuine Multi-Party Democracy is an Answer to Our Political Ills. We Already Have Dozens of Political Parties. How's That Working Out?

You probably missed the story last week. Former Democratic Presidential candidate and, briefly, a frontrunner to replace outgoing New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio, Andrew Yang, officially left the Democratic Party.

You remember Yang among the Democrats looking to challenge Donald Trump in 2020. But despite not surviving past the New Hampshire primary (he would endorse Joe Biden), he and his “Yang Gang” of enthusiastic, young-ish supporters garnered plenty of media attention. His signature issue was, and remains, Universal Basic Income (UBI). Everybody gets a check, and you don’t even have to work for the money.

The former attorney, health care and education test prep executive is no longer a Democrat and has started the “Forward Party.” It is a Political Action Committee that wants to morph into a political party. From Wikipedia:

Yang stated that he would have liked to have implemented the Forward Party's platform within the Democratic Party. However, he felt that the implementation of ranked-choice voting and open primaries would be difficult to get the Democratic Party to support.

24 states have ballot initiatives and the Forward Party is organizing people to get initiatives, similar to Alaska Measure 2, in support of ranked-choice voting and open primaries on statewide ballots in 2022. The Forward Party will also be endorsing candidates, running as both Democrats and Republicans in the 2022 midterms, who support open primaries, ranked-choice voting, fact-based governance and modern effective government.

Yang stated that the Forward Party is not interested in running a candidate for president, but is focused on trying to decrease partisan gridlock within Congress and state legislatures. However, on the Forward Party website, the organization has stated if there was a demand amongst American voters for a third-party presidential candidate it would look to address it. The Forward Party has stated it may hold its own primary process to nominate a candidate prior to the 2024 United States presidential election.

Yang and his new PAC will focus on organizing to get initiatives or referenda on state ballots, including open primaries (you in whatever party’s primary you want for any office, regardless of your own registration), and “ranked-choice” voting.

Yang’s real target, aside from monthly UBI “stimulus” checks of $1,000 (or more) sent to every American (will Jeff Bezos even notice his?), is to end the polarization of our politics. The House Progressive Caucus promotes $2,000 per month stimulus checks until a year after the coronavirus pandemic ends (whenever that is) by issuing everyone their debit card that your friendly government will recharge monthly.

Why do Democratic policy debates always turn into bidding wars? It’s as if we’re being bribed with our own money.

Yang’s goofy UBI gambit should help get people back to work in some 10 million unfilled jobs currently, solving supply chain and logistics issues. And I’m sure it won’t be inflationary.

But the wisdom of UBI aside, a boomlet to increase the number of political parties is well underway, led in part by the New York Times.

America’s two-party system is broken. Democrats and Republicans are locked in an increasingly destructive partisan struggle that has produced gridlock and stagnation on too many critical issues — most urgently, the pandemic and climate change.

There is no reasonable or timely way to fix this broken system. But there is an alternative: more parties.

It is not so hard to imagine a six-party system — and it would not even require a constitutional amendment.

They would like you to respond to a 20 question survey to help you figure out in which of their proposed political parties you’d best fit. And while Yang and the New York Times are leading the efforts, they’re hardly alone. NBC’s “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd is also embracing the idea, writing for MSNBC.com:

I’m not here to advocate a third party; that’s not the answer. Where on the ideological spectrum would a third party make sense? Certainly not in the center, as some would like to believe. “Moderates” by their nature want a little of one and a little of the other.

No, instead the solution is the same one that would help solve the problem of big corporations. If both parties split in two, the now-four major political parties would be far better at being responsive to their constituents and far more clear in what they were advocating.

The questions are, just how many parties, and why?

There’s nothing to stop anyone, including Andrew Yang, from starting a political party. There are dozens of political parties going back dozens of years, many of whom have appeared at times on ballots almost everywhere, including eight recognized political parties in Yang’s native New York (his parents immigrated from Taiwan). In 1992, millionaire businessman Ross Perot captured nearly one-fifth of the vote against incumbent George H. W. Bush and the winning Democrat, Bill Clinton. Four years later, running under the Reform Party mantle, he captured 8 percent. In neither race did he win a single electoral vote.

But in 1968, Alabama Gov. George Wallace ran for President on the American Independent Party ticket and carried five southern states, one North Carolina elector, and captured 48 electoral votes. Twenty years earlier, South Carolina Gov. Strom Thurmond won 5 states and one Tennessee elector, and 39 electoral votes on a “States Rights Democratic” ticket.

I could go on. There are scores of other examples of independents and third-party candidates appearing on ballots and capturing thousands if not millions of voters, including the 1860 election that gave us Abraham Lincoln. But you get the point.

Here’s how advocates like Todd explain why other parties don’t gain traction.

Currently, the biggest impediment to this idea is every election board in the country. Our elections are run by the two major parties to the point that they enact laws to make it extraordinarily difficult for any political party not named the Democrats or the Republicans to get access to the ballot.

And for this system to truly be successful, we’d need to redesign our presidential election system so that there was a runoff (or ranked choice) so that a minority didn’t end up electing the president.

There’s that ranked-choice voting scheme again.

This is the same Todd, in the same post, who complains that the major political parties have too much power, but GOP didn’t have enough “power” to stop Donald Trump from being nominated. Such classic tripe from an inside-the-beltway elitist - who do you think is supposed to have the “power” in America’s political parties and our government? That “consent of the governed” thing we’ve read somewhere. . . you know the thing.

If Americans want more “major” political parties, then Americans will find a way to create and support them. Or not. It will take time, hard work, money, and talent. Lots of it. It is no different, in many respects than starting a business. You need seed capital. You need willing and loyal customers based on a compelling sales pitch. You need to earn trust. And you need to deliver. Our politics operates just like our economy, for better or worse - free-market capitalism where the consumer, ultimately, decides who wins and doesn’t.

Yes, most western nations have multi-party democracies, with a significant exception - they are parliamentary democracies, where the legislature is the executive. People in parliamentary democracies, like Canada, vote more for the party than the person. Americans split their votes to reflect our system of checks and balances. How many of you have voted for, say, a Democrat for President but a Republican for Congress, or vice versa. Take 2020. Biden “won” the presidency, but the GOP gained seats in the House of Representatives.

Speaking of Canada, they have 5 or 6 “major” parties. But ultimately, either the Liberals or the Conservatives are in control and never with anything closely resembling a majority vote. The “ruling” Liberals “won” with about 31% of the popular vote. The others serve as coalition “partners,” perhaps “Kingmakers,” with influence over a few policies. Things always boil down to a choice of two major parties. You can look it up, starting with Germany’s election just a few weeks ago. And by the way, they don’t have “ranked-choice” voting in Canada (except within political parties, where it seems to work pretty well, even in Virginia’s GOP gubernatorial nomination this Spring).

Someone will note that our Founders opposed political parties, or “factions.” Several of them, including Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, founded our first political parties.

So you want more political parties? Fine. Start here, pick your horse, and start riding. Go ahead, put your name on the ballot for the “Libertarian” party or maybe the “Green” party. But do you want to ultimately dilute the power of your vote by picking candidates who won’t win? You’re welcome to vote your conscience, but as for me, I’ll take my passions, my dollars, and my vote where it is most comfortable and will have the most influence. And that, my friends, is why we ultimately have two major political parties.

Oh sure, we whine about our preferred party. I have plenty of complaints about the Republican Party. I’ve heard my Democratic friends complain about their party. Nothing is ever perfect, but we know never to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Good luck Andrew Yang. Your UBI idea is nutty, and most of your electoral reforms would undermine political parties. But you be you. Have at it. This is America.