Could the U.S. Become a Multi-Party Nation?

While the U.S. allows multiple parties to participate in the political system, it is, and always has been, a system dominated by two political parties. However, this year both the Democrats and Republicans have evolved into factions that could be imagined as new political parties.

The Democrats have two wings. Bernie Sanders, previously an independent, now leads a faction focused on social programs and lifting the status of the less financially endowed. Hillary Clinton espouses traditional Democratic values, but also focuses on U.S. responsibilities in the world order.

(B)oth the Democrats and Republicans have evolved into factions that could be imagined as new political parties.

The Republicans are more complicated. The Tea Party faction, although marginalized during this election cycle, still seeks a reduction of both government spending and the influence of government in the lives of individuals. A favored candidate, Rand Paul, dropped out of the race early.

A core group of Republicans, represented by the Bush family, Mitt Romney, and others, espouse more traditional party values. Ted Cruz represents a faction that could be called the Revivalists, focused on a faith-based interpretation of governing.

Finally, the Trump faction favors isolationism without the fiscal restraints of typical Republicans and, like Sanders, places an emphasis on being a champion for the less fortunate.

The “rigged system” alluded to in recent months has simply referred to the way each party places a presidential candidate before the voters in the general election. However, voters dissatisfied with government and political polarization have threatened to overtake the system and wrest away some of the control from party leaders.

How would the campaigns have evolved if coverage of other candidates in the broadcast media had been equal to the coverage Trump received?

The role of the media in this cycle has been particularly revealing as reporting has continued to move toward titillation from journalism. The Pew Research Center for Media and Journalism reports that “while the question of what is entertainment and what is news is open to interpretation, the data clearly indicates that there have been major shifts in how the news media define the news.”

An article on October 22, 2015, in The Atlantic reported that “[u]nder a law passed in 1934, the FCC requires broadcast television and radio stations (but not cable channels) to give equal opportunities to “legally qualified” candidates. The law exempts news programs, which the FCC has broadly interpreted to include talk shows like The Tonight Show.”

As a celebrity with non-conforming approaches to campaigning, Donald Trump has met the entertainment demands of the 24-hour news cycle and the requirements of the FCC by perceiving the value of being entertaining in a way that ensures coverage by both broadcast news channels and cable news shows.

Donald Trump has met the entertainment demands of the 24-hour news cycle ...

How would the campaign have evolved if coverage of other candidates in the broadcast media had been equal to the coverage Trump received? Would Bernie Sanders be ahead of Hillary Clinton if his early campaign had been covered seriously and equally? Would John Kasich still have been in the race if his more mainstream and less entertaining approach to campaigning had been given the same air time as Trump? Would Libertarian Gary Johnson have received more coverage if the public knew that he self-describes himself as aligned with the policies of Bernie Sanders but with fiscal constraint?

What would have happened if the uncivil and unprecedented name-calling and allegations had not been reported, or at least not in an around-the-clock way?

If no candidate received the 270 Electoral College votes required, the election would be sent to Congress. What would that outcome be?

More importantly, has media coverage been complicit in fracturing the parties by spending more time covering personalities and the entertainment value of candidates rather than their content and policies? Has this shift in coverage in part been responsible for the polarized political climate, leading to the possibility of a true multi-party system emerging in the United States?

How would voters respond if they had choices like the following in the general election?

  • Democratic Party: Hillary Clinton
  • Green Party: Jill Stein
  • Libertarian Party: Gary Johnson
  • Republican Party: John Kasich
  • Revivalist Party: Ted Cruz
  • Social Democrat Party: Bernie Sanders
  • Tea Party: Rand Paul
  • Trump Party: Donald Trump

How would the Electoral College respond? According to a 2004 fact sheet authored by the Regents of the University of California, the Electoral College “offers many unique benefits,” including the following:

  • Even in close elections it is relatively easy to determine a winner;
  • It allows a president to receive a mandate from the people, as every president must receive a majority of electoral votes to be elected; and
  • It maintains a two-party system.

The Regents fact sheet also says this: “If an election was determined by popular vote, there would likely be several candidates and voters would have a difficult time identifying their preferred candidate. In an election with multiple candidates, the winner would be unlikely to receive a majority of votes.”

If no candidate received the required 270 Electoral College votes, the election would be sent to Congress. What would that outcome be?

Whether one or more of the factions imagined above evolves into a true political party remains to be seen, but it will likely be difficult, particularly for the Republicans, for each party to effectively merge their factions into a unified platform, other than a common desire to defeat the opposition candidate.

In addition, both Democrats and Republicans know that if one of their candidates created another political party, then their party’s votes would be reduced in the election. This pressure is the connecting tissue that each party does not want to break, even when distinctly differing perspectives have emerged. Given this need to stick together, a true multi-party general election is not likely in 2016, and perhaps never.

However, public dissatisfaction with the current polarized state of national politics, the seemingly irreconcilable factions within each major party, and the clear voter interest in party outsiders Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders suggests that the connecting tissue might soon be broken and an evolution to a true multi-party system could be in our future.

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