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Response to LuvNewcastle (Original post)

Mon May 27, 2013, 12:15 PM

81. The system virtually locks in two parties, with change accommodated through primaries.

 

Tea Partiers who think establishment Republicans are insufficiently conservative haven't stomped off and formed a new party. (There is a Constitution Party but it's extremely fringe.) Instead, they run right-wingers in primaries, and sometimes succeed in nominating them, against the wishes of the party establishment, and electing them (Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, etc.).

The same has occasionally happened in the Democratic Party, such as Carol Moseley-Braun's ouster of Alan Dixon. (Defeating an incumbent of one's own party is more difficult than winning an open seat, the way Cruz and Paul did, but it can happen.)

The classic formulation is that, if the rules establish single-member districts with plurality election, the result is a two-party system. The reason is that, if a third party forms, the most likely result is that the seat is won by the major-party nominee who is less acceptable to the third-partiers. When the defection to the third party produces this undesired result, people realize their error and the third party withers. The classic example is 2000. Nader's choice to run as a third-party candidate, instead of contesting the Democratic primaries, was widely seen as one factor in producing the Bush presidency. (Yes, there were other factors, yes, he had a right to run, spare me the usual arguments. Just read the next sentence to see the important point.) The result was that, in 2004, Nader's vote crashed, with the vast majority of his supporters from 2000 deciding not to vote for him again.

The Republican Party arose before there were primaries. The Whig Party leadership wanted to be able to contest the South, and so was reluctant to be strongly anti-slavery. If the same situation arose today, Whigs like Abraham Lincoln would run in the primaries instead of joining a third party.

For all its faults, this is actually a better system than what you seem inclined toward. With three or four major parties splitting the vote, there would be a significant danger that the seat would be filled by an extremist (on one wing or the other) who would not genuinely represent the will of the electorate. Runoffs (instead of plurality election) reduce this danger, but it's still a problem. If the vote in the first round is Socialists/Greens 28%, Tea Party 27%, Republicans (right-leaning centrists) 23%, and Democrats (left-leaning centrists) 22%, then the runoff between the top two is bound to produce a winner who is the last choice of more than two-thirds of the people.

By contrast, with plurality election and open primaries, each wing's challenges to the party establishment are fought out in the primaries. If the votes are there for a significant move to the left or the right, then that candidate wins the primary and the general. If the votes aren't there, then the candidate loses in the primary (like, to my sorrow, Kucinich) or wins the primary and loses the general (like several Tea Party candidates, such as Christine O'Donnell).

The role of money is a separate problem. Good electoral rules will produce a winner who's fairly representative of the electorate's preferences. If those preferences are warped by corporate money, you can't cure the problem by tinkering with the party structure.

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LuvNewcastle May 2013 OP
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LineNew Reply The system virtually locks in two parties, with change accommodated through primaries.
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