Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Death of the Two Party System

While the party system isn't dead, it is on life support.

A political party derives it power essentially in two ways: controlling both the nominating process and the money. The latter has been consistently weakened over the years. While rule changes have definitely hastened party control of the money, it is advancement of society which has cemented it. Candidates can now appeal directly to the people for money and the average American has more cash to give.

Party control of the nominating process has also been weakened in recent history, but it is now approaching code red. The Democratic party has already taken away Florida's delegate votes and now the Republican party is threatening to do the same to Florida, New Hampshire, Wyoming Michigan, and South Carolina (here). Essentially the system is in chaos.

The party may stave off this attempt but in the long run they will lose. If every state moves their primary forward will they take away all delegates? No. They can only hold the line temporarily. Also the party cannot control the Ned Lamonts and Steve Laffeys (Rhode Island) of the world from mounting primary challenges. Voter turn out in primaries have shrunk along with party enrollment making the primary electorates sufficiently extreme and polarized group to open the Lamont window.

How will this play out in the long run? Third parties will proliferate. The long run may be 50+ years, but in the end the two party system will crumble. A lot must happen to get there including loosening ballot access restrictions, redrawing ultra-gerrymandered districts, and a reversal of Buckley v Veleo (this limited individual contributions to candidates), but it is only a matter of time.


BillT said...

Interesting analysis. Is it possible that the parties will morph, as has happened before? Or do you think a 21st century "Bull Moose" movement will take root? Our system doesn't function well outside of the 2 party system, but I've never been one to complain about a listless and ineffectual government.

If all we get is gridlock, our problems may be solved.

Matt said...

Yes. Morphing is the only way the 2 party system will stay.

I do think there will be a bull moose type movement. The problem is that every time there is a Perot, they run for president and only have personal ambition. They do not create an infrastructure or stay around long enough to gain a following. A party must cultivate at the local level by organizing and creating a farm team of partisans willing to run for office .

No Perot type has attempted to undertake such a large project.

The other obstacle is gerrymandered districts. If a the districts can be sliced in a way that democratic or republican partisans control every district, then a third party cannot compete there. This is true for a majority of districts which is why there are so few truly competitive districts every election. That is why the congress has about as much turnover as the Russian Duma. No coincidence.

BillT said...

Thus the problems with the LP. Without sufficient organization on a local level, the national stage is a pipe dream.

Enough dissatisfied non-partisans in a district will kill it, gerrymandered or not. I think a serious challenge to the status quo at this point would be refreshing. We have 535 drunken sailors with a limitless bank account underwriting crap we'll never use.

A good political beat down would solve an abundance of problems.