“They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.” – George Washington, “Farewell Address," 1796
George Washington once warned Americans about the dangers of factions within the framework of democracy, of political parties that promote the interests of a minority rather than the will of the nation. It is evident that we have not heeded the warning of our most famous forefather in the slightest.
We are a nation of two political parties, which dominate not only Washington but also local and state governments throughout the nation. No sector of American society is immune to the influences and corruption of political parties. To take it a step further, American political parties have developed as a dual-party system. This development has occurred on either side of a distinct divide, leaving no room for any outside, or third, party to have an impact or triumph in any major way.
The famous, ongoing debate between Thomas Jefferson, an Antifederalist, and Alexander Hamilton, a Federalist, during the time of the ratification of the Constitution marks the birth of the American two-party system. These two factions each held different beliefs. The Antifederalists feared that the Constitution would simply replace the oppressive British government from which they had broken free, taking away liberties and freedoms they had just won, while the Federalists saw the merits of a stronger national government and supported the ratification of the Constitution.
The Antifederalists began calling themselves the Democratic Republicans, and with the exception of the “Era of Good Feelings” in the early 19th century, when most Americans identified with the Democratic Republicans, America would never be void of political parties again. The progression of political parties continued; in each era, two political parties dominated. Whether they were the Whigs and Democrats, southern Democrats and northern Republicans, or modern-day Republicans and Democrats, the structure was the same. Two parties vied for power, Americans voted along party lines, and third party interests were largely ignored or neglected.
It is clear today through media bias, the lack of compromise on Capitol Hill, and the adherence to voting along party lines that we are still dominated by the mindset of the two-party system. It is all most Americans know. One’s parents largely influence political beliefs, as most children share their parents’ beliefs throughout childhood, adolescence, and (often) adulthood.
We are a nation divided along party lines: you are either a Democrat or a Republican. You vote for a party, not a candidate. If you hold a different ideological belief, of course you can voice it, but a vote for a third party candidate or an independent is, essentially and unfortunately, a vote wasted.
There are clear advantages to a two-party system: stability and moderation, which are crucial components of American democracy. We are not alone in hosting a dual-party system, nor are we necessarily wrong. But does a two-party system detract from the idea of democracy? A party that is primarily only supported by a minority can control the federal government.
Is it worth it to have less choice? The United Kingdom, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Serbia, and Canada are all nations that operate or have operated under a multi-party system, that is, a political arena in which three or more parties are considered “major," exerting some kind of political control.
As the November election approaches, it seems as though a growing population of Americans are dissatisfied with both political parties and both presidential candidates. It is times like these when we must question whether there is a better way to structure our democracy, a better way to give more Americans a voice, greater choice, and more direct influence in government affairs.