How Did The U.S. End Up With A Two-Party System?

We’re here at YouTube Studios at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania! Tonight Hillary Clinton will accept the nomination as the Democratic presidential candidate A lot of voters, upset with the Democratic pick, are calling for a third party option

But in the last 163 years, the president has been either a Democrat or a Republican So how did the United States end up with this exclusive two-party system? Well, it’s important to note that the US has not always operated this way During the first official presidential election, there were no political parties, and George Washington won without even campaigning And in fact, most of the founding fathers were sceptical of political parties In his famous Farewell Address, Washington argued that opposing parties would mercilessly seek to undermine each other at the expense of the American people

Nevertheless by the time he left office in 1797, the country had split into two parties: The elitist and business-minded Federalists and working class Democratic-Republicans This persisted until the mid 1800’s, by which time the Federalists had dissolved, and the Democratic-Republicans had split into the modern Democratic Party, and the New Republican Party After a brief 20-year run as the Whig Party, the New Republicans evolved into just “Republicans” So, by 1854, the US had what we know today as the Democratic and Republican Parties Their duopoly has persisted over the last century-and-a-half, largely because of the country’s unique first-past-the-post voting system

That is, each state has a set number of electorates, and whichever candidate gets the majority of votes- even by a fraction – wins all of the electorates There is no reward for second-place, and therefore little incentive to create a party that will get some votes, but not the majority For example in the 1992 presidential election, independent candidate Ross Perot received nearly 20 percent of the popular vote and still did not garner a single electoral vote The United States is one just a few countries that has this first-past-the-post system As a result, most other democracies see representation from more than just two parties

Japan, for example, sees representation from five major parties, as well as a number of minor parties And in Israel, ten parties or party affiliates are represented in the national legislature That’s because these countries use proportional representation to elect officials, rather than a winner-take-all system Many have argued that America’s two-party system is unjust, not only because it limits voters options at the polls, but because it encourages politicians to go to great, oftentimes shady lengths to grow their party One example of this is gerrymandering

Because voters will ostensibly vote one of just two ways, policy makers can easily draw up and manipulate voting districts to favor their own party The electoral system also creates an environment where parties aim to be as large as possible, even if it means absorbing ideas that don’t necessarily square with their base As a result, voters tend to identify with their party less and less over time

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