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Rethinking Third Parties

Our two-party political system isn't working. We ought to rethink how we approach political parties.

America is preparing for the upcoming 2024 U.S. presidential election, but she didn't expect the re-emergence of third parties. There are two dominant parties in the United States, the Republicans and the Democrats, but there are actually more than 54 parties in the country. So why do only two parties continue to dominate American politics?

The answer comes down to how third parties are regulated. Federal campaign finance laws have made rules that political parties can receive government funding only if they receive a certain number of votes in the previous election. This has prevented third parties from collecting funds. It has forced excessive paperwork on third-party candidates, who need to collect signatures in all states to appear on the ballot. Further, state legislatures, composed of Republicans and Democrats, favor rules that benefit the two dominant parties.

There's also a psychological component. We equate voting for a third party with throwing away a vote.

Despite the roadblocks, third parties are gaining momentum as American voters grow tired of hyper-partisanship and lose faith in the dominant parties.

The United States has turned a new leaf, opening the door for the Great Rethink. While this term has been tied to how workers rethink their relationship with work, it is also fitting to look at America's biggest political issues and approach them differently. American politics are lodged in a partisan haze. Functional, innovative solutions are rare. Set party platforms trump meaningful change. Rethinking third parties' place in American politics can provide the change we need.

Americans have become too comfortable with the status quo of political parties—and that's devastating. But is it necessary? Is the Rethink justified?

In The Rise of Partisanship and Super-Cooperators in the U.S. House of Representatives by Clio Andris et al., it's shown that representatives crossing the aisle (cross-party cooperation) has diminished drastically. A contributing factor is the increasing polarization that both dominant parties perpetuate. Polarization creates one of two effects: political withdrawal or voting blue or red no matter what (neither being the smartest voting method). The key lesson from the lack of cross-party cooperation and the presidential terms of Joe Biden and Donald Trump is that solutions lie in multiple political parties.

While we can't propose an upheaval of the American electoral process to accept a multi-party system, we can embrace rank-choice voting. Creating a system where voters don't have to choose in an all-or-nothing election but can illustrate their nuanced views in the electoral process would be a massive win for our political climate. 

However, something else needs to happen first: we need to rethink third parties' place in American politics. The fear encircling third parties is one of ineffectiveness. If I vote for a party that has no chance, am I just wasting my vote?

But third-party candidates don't need to win to make a meaningful impact; their presence is enough to show that Americans want options and change. Getting Americans to change their mind about third parties comes down to exposure. Unfortunately, exposure is dependent on the polarized media giving these parties time. Hoping that the press can provide unbiased light to third parties is a losing game; what third parties should be fostering in greater frequency are public forums and confrontational politics. Americans don't embrace change, but with high levels of distrust in the government, low levels of prosperity and hyper-partisanship, third parties may be the way to go.

As the dominant political parties gear up for the 2024 Presidential election, they are not alone. Third-party or independent candidates are steadily being announced. Many propose that these candidates create division in political parties and obstacles to democracy—but the latter charge is false. We are witnessing healthy politics, where there is vibrant competition and options that reflect the wants and needs of the American people. We ought to rethink third parties in American politics in this new era. They might be the change we've been hoping for.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.

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