The United States national political scene is hopelessly a two-party system.
It is unrealistic to imagine the emergence of a viable third national party within our lifetimes. As long as elections are determined by a simple plurality or ‘first past the post,’ it will be incredibly difficult for a third party to gain seats in Congress or win a Presidential election.
But the two-party system is not necessarily to blame. The issue lies in both parties creating homogenized ideologies over the last half century. Individuals say what the party says and a gridlock between just two ideological camps is born.
But it certainly has not always been this way. Political blogger Ezra Klein explains a world where party affiliation did not necessarily predict ideology.
“In the mid-20th century, the two major political parties were ideologically diverse. Democrats in the South were often more conservative than Republicans in the North. The strange jumble in political coalitions made disagreement easier. The other party wasn’t so threatening because it included lots of people you agreed with.”
So how do we break apart the parties? Caucuses could be the solution.
Congressional Member Organizations, often formed as caucuses, are officially recognized factions of Congress. They are governed by a few rules pertaining to funding and staffing and must register, but otherwise the groups are free to form around just about any topic or ideology.
Some caucuses contain members of just one party. The Blue Dogs are more conservative members of the Democratic Party. The Republican Study Committee is a subset of 170 Republicans.
Other caucuses reach across party lines, such as the Congressional Pro-Trade Caucus, the Senate Oceans Caucus or the U.S.-China Working Group. These groups bring together like-minded individuals from both sides of the aisle.
Both partisan and bi-partisan caucuses have the potential to blur the lines. The Senate Oceans Caucus allows for coalition building on marine issues. A coalition of like-minded Senators from both sides can provide another alternative on specific issues to the traditional ideologies of the two parties.
And partisan caucuses can break apart a party as well. The Tea Party Caucus was formed in 2010 and had 66 members. Although it has officially gone dormant, the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party is alive and well.
The 2013 federal government shutdown came to an end when moderate Republicans broke away from the Tea Party and formed a compromise with Democrats. The eventual compromise bill received support from every Democrat in the House and Senate but divided the Republican Party.
In essence, you had three groups fighting for a solution. The party had been broken and compromise was struck.
We may never break away from the two-party system, but it is insane to think that every member of a political party should have the same ideology. It’s time for elected officials to think for themselves and find others who also think like them, even if they have a different letter next to their name.
And it’s not just Americans who are fed up.
“Parties need to redefine their culture by which they do politics,” said British MP Douglas Carswell in a recent interview with The Economist. “Instead of this absurd belief that every single conservative has to subscribe to the same views and beliefs, we should lighten up. We should relax. We should recognize that parties are broad coalitions of people with different views. And that’s fine, that’s okay.”