3 Indisputable Reasons the Two-Party System is Failing America

Author: Jackie Salit
Created: 08 November, 2017
Updated: 21 November, 2022
5 min read

In a nutshell, here’s how I would describe the state of American politics. The regulators are unqualified to regulate. The parties are unqualified to govern. The political scientists are unqualified to call themselves scientists. A sorry state of affairs.

These days it’s very fashionable to require “evidence-based research” to confirm pretty much anything and everything, including things that are obvious to the naked eye. This “standard” has spread like wildfire through the social sciences and policy world.

I’ve never been a fan of this approach and “big data,” the motherlode of evidence-based research. It is a classic case of “can’t see the forest for the trees.” Just ask Hillary Clinton.

However, I was feeling charitable while writing this column and decided to show some “evidence-based research” on the trifecta of “claims” listed above.

Claim Number One: The Regulators are Unqualified to Regulate. 

On Monday, The Daily Beast published a piece by Christopher Shays and Martin Meehan, former members of Congress, titled "Two Former Congressmen Explain Why the Federal Elections Commission Can't be Trusted."

In this hard-hitting piece, Shays and Meehan — principal co-sponsors of the House version of the McCain/Feingold Act — give an account of how the FEC “refused to meet its obligation to enact strong regulations required by law,” and consequently, Shays and Meehan were forced to take the FEC to court.

This evidence about the FEC — from two longtime political insiders — is compelling now because of a lawsuit brought by Level the Playing Field and investor-activist Peter Ackerman (the Green Party and the Libertarian Party are co-plaintiffs).

This federal litigation seeks to hold the FEC accountable for its failure to regulate the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which acts as the presidential debate sponsor.

In this case, the FEC has turned a blind eye to the CPD’s bipartisan nature, even though regulations require sponsors to be nonpartisan. Shays and Meehan argue that the FEC—also a bipartisan construct — is unfit.

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“Don’t count on the FEC to abide by its legal obligations. It is a highly partisan political institution, with commissioners beholden to their parties and disrespectful of the court,” they write.

That pretty much says it all. Good work by Peter Ackerman and his legal team, headed by Alexandra Shapiro, and supported by LPF Executive Director Cara McCormick.

Conclusion: The regulators are unqualified to regulate.

Claim Number Two: The Parties are Unqualified to Govern.

My friend Bradley Tusk makes this case in "Why Would Anyone Be a Member of Either Political Party?" in this week’s Observer.

Bradley and I worked together on several New York political campaigns, including the effort to bring nonpartisan elections to the city in 2003 (it failed!) and Mike Bloomberg’s re-election bid in 2009 (it won!).

In that last campaign, the Independence Party, whose campaign I ran, delivered 30% of Mike’s vote, his margin in what became a close election. Bradley is a confirmed independent and no pie-in-the-sky idealist. He’s a “just the facts, ma’am” political strategist, and a very successful one at that.

In his blistering account of the divisions and crossfire within both parties — citing the extreme disarray in the GOP, including George W. Bush’s refusal to vote for Trump, and former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile’s candid account of dishonesty and deceit by the Clinton campaign —Tusk raises a simple point.

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“The state of both political parties makes me question why anyone would want to be a member of one at all,” he says.

What’s more, he adds, “The more these factions take you, the voter, for granted, the more they act only in self-interest.” True that. Thanks, Bradley, for calling out the corruption.

Conclusion: The political parties are unqualified to govern.

Like many pro-democracy alternativists, Tusk and Ackerman understand the disintegration of the two party system. They also recognize that independent voters — now 44% of the country — are so disaffected with the dysfunction of the country that they choose to identify themselves as something other than party loyalists.

Which brings me to my third claim:

Claim Number Three: Political Scientists (Most of Them) Aren’t Scientists. 

In October, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel sponsored by American Public Square in Kansas City, hosted by its founder, Ambassador Allan Katz. The topic: "The Future of America’s Political Parties." You can view that discussion here.

The panel, which included former DNC Chair and 2003 anti-war presidential candidate Howard Dean, and Greg Orman, an outspoken independent trailblazer as an independent Senate candidate in Kansas in 2014, has apparently stirred the pot in political science circles.

The Kansas City Star, a co-host of the event, published editorials on the rising tide of independent politics by Orman and myself. Our views provoked a series of counterpunches from the political science establishment.

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The most recent was an editorial by Patrick Miller, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Kansas. Professor Miller makes several deeply flawed points about independent voters.

First, he digs up the old saw that independents are not really independents, but are “leaners.”

Second, he argues that a true independent is a moderate “yearning for centrist politics.”

Third, “pure” independents — only 8% of the country, according to Miller — are unknowledgeable, disinterested in politics and unlikely to vote.

I won’t take up the valuable time of you, the reader, dissecting Dr. Miller’s mistaken conclusions, the bias of which is now being thoroughly discredited by the most forward-looking political scientists. In contrast to Miller, they grasp that his paradigm prevents analysts, academics, and activists from seeing the emergence of new alignments, new voters, and new outcomes.

I hate to repeat myself, but just ask Hillary Clinton.

For a radically insightful and scientific look at these issues, check out the new report Gamechangerswritten by my outspoken colleagues at Arizona State University and the University of Southern California.

The basic lesson here: You can’t use old tools to measure new phenomena. Your tools, conceptual and otherwise, need to transform as the objects of study are transforming. Otherwise, you can’t see them.

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This is a basic rule of scientific revolution, and political revolution.

Conclusion: Political scientists (most of them) aren’t scientists.


Please have a look at this great photo.  It was taken on Monday morning, November 6 outside of City Hall in New York City, on the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in New York.

These amazing postmodern suffragists were there to commemorate the anniversary and to urge a “Yes” vote for a Constitutional Convention so that New Yorkers can amend the state constitution to end corruption in the state capital (huge!) and give greater power to the voters.

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