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Advantages and Disadvantages of the Two-Party System


Image credit: Shutterstock, Victor Moussa


Introduction


Well before the modern political structure of the United States was established, there has been discussion upon the merits of different systems of government. A subject that has been topical in this ever-revolving debate, recently, has been the worth of a gubernatorial system with two distinct main parties. This article seeks to provide clarity to the issue and show the main points from either side in the context of the United States, as well as provide commentary on a theoretical world compared to the application of a two-party system.


Advantages


This section will discuss a few key points (noting that others may be derived from these) that support the existence of the two-party system in the United States: balance of power, majority representation, and legitimacy.


The advantage of the two-party system over that of a singular party is generally considered to be quite major. This is attributed to the lack of balance of power in a single-party system, which skews close to a monarchic or autocratic system. Balance of power was one of the founding principles of the United States, developed in detail through French philosopher Baron de Montesquieu’s De l’Esprit des Lois.


Another advantage of the two-party system, this time more generalized as an advantage over other systems, is the definite majority. Having a two-party system is simpler to manage in any state, as there will be a clear majority winner in the public, which proponents of this two-party system believe shows that the majority is satisfied.


The final argument that this article makes in favor of the two-party system is that it can achieve a greater sense of legitimacy. Theoretically, since the majority is shown through this two-party decision, the elected official can lay a stronger claim to the office, allowing for greater stability and popularity of policy. After this majority win, the other party can plan and strategize as to their tactics and policies for the next election, thus increasing the possibility of change and growth as well.


Dulio and Thurber, in their paper “America’s Two-Party System: Friend or Foe?” make a comparison to the Congress of now compared to a hypothetical Congress with many parties. “With complaints of "do-nothing" Congresses already thriving, imagine the inaction that would present itself when two parties, which have just finished a tough American-style campaign, had to try to build a coalition with other parties so they could govern.”


Disadvantages


This section will discuss a few key points (noting that others may be derived from these) that contradict the existence of the two-party system in the United States: an unheard minority, lack of efficiency, and polarization.


Although the two-party system seems to promise satisfaction for the majority, providing what a true majority actually wants is not feasible in a society that contains people of many different backgrounds and demographics. Many citizens feel that their ideals do not fit perfectly into one party or the other, and to force them to choose between the “lesser of two evils” somewhat undermines the aforementioned argument of legitimacy.


As Williamson writes in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology, “We proceed upon the obviously fallacious assumption that together these two parties express all of the political principles which any substantial group of citizens would have or would care to express. We make no allowance and no provision for those of our people who do not believe in the principles and the practices of either of our two major parties.”


A second argument against the two-party system is its lack of efficiency in action. When two parties are opposed for every election, and each party has a different set of ideals, it is inevitable that they clash in almost everything that they do. When the parties do not work together, they will not get anything productive done. In periods of crisis this is highly evident, and it is not uncommon that one party may sabotage the other and pin blame on them for the crisis.


Tied heavily to the other points is the argument that polarization is rife in a two-party system. As previously stated, a two-party system cannot realistically represent the ideals of every person in the state. This problem can cause the members and supporters of each party to mold their ideals towards that of their preferred party, and begin to categorize the other under inaccurate, polarizing labels. Labeling and molding beliefs causes strong divides between each party, and makes it difficult for true progress and understanding.


Conclusion


There are many different arguments for and against the two-party system, and trying to say that it is either perfect or evil accomplishes nothing. The United States of America is a society founded on principles of philosophy, yet all philosophical thought requires baseline assumptions. The real world is complex, and though systems try their best to account for that complexity, not a single one can do so perfectly. The two-party system is one that has its flaws, but the benefits should not be ignored in pondering.


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