The Two-Party System

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the two most unpopular presidential candidates in our nation’s history. A recent poll from ABC News and TheWashington Post found that both candidates have unfavorability ratings hovering around 60 percent among all registered voters. As Americans continue to voice their disapproval and frustration with the two major party nominees, now would seem to be the perfect time for an alternative, third-party option. If not now, then when?

Enter Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson and Green party nominee Jill Stein. Both candidates are aiming to position themselves as a strong alternative to the two extremely unpopular major party candidates. While neither candidate has been able to reach the elusive threshold of 15 percent required to earn a spot on the national debate stage, some polls have shown Johnson earning double-digit support and Stein polling at a modest five percent. Johnson, in particular, has been making a strong push to be seen as a feasible option for undecided voters (although a couple “Aleppo Moments” have not helped). Many Republicans who have been frustrated by the Trump campaign’s often divisive rhetoric have defected towards the Johnson campaign. A handful of prominent GOP congressmen have refused to support their party’s nominee. For his part, Johnson has declared that his candidacy will “offer a breath of fresh air to a presidential election that is otherwise consumed by divisive partisan rhetoric.” At heart, this is a sentiment that may be extremely compelling to voters. However, to think that any third-party candidate could possibly alter the partisan nature of the American political system is a massive oversight and a complete misunderstanding of the United States’ firmly entrenched two-party, winner-take-all system.

The reality is that the American political system – in its current state – is not conducive for the election of any third-party candidate for the presidency. Since 1970, the only third-party candidate to even poll in double digits was Ross Perot in 1992. Some may contest that this is largely due to the lack of qualified third-party candidates. However, there is a reason prominent independent and potentially qualified candidates such as Michael Bloomberg or Bernie Sanders have opted not to pursue a third-party candidacy. The reason is because the U.S. political system is winner-take-all. Not only does the majority party win, but the losing party earns absolutely no representation. In countries like Israel and Brazil, proportional representation systems allow multiple parties to earn representation. This subsequently makes it possible for several parties to come together to form coalition governments. With a winner-take-all system in the United States, it is essentially impossible for third-party candidates to gain prominence and grow their party’s base. Regardless of what you think of today’s third-party candidates, neither of them have even a remote shot at winning. Simply put: neither Gary Johnson nor Jill Stein can change the United States political system. 

There are only two candidates that have a chance at winning the most esteemed office in the world. Those two candidates are Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. If you want your vote to have any weight or merit, you must vote for one of these two candidates. When it comes to congressional seats, voters should feel free to “vote their conscience” up and down the ballot. However, the notion that a third-party candidate can ultimately become the President of the United States is not just unlikely – it is systematically impossible. For those voters who may be fed-up with their options and are considering a third party, it may seem reasonable to ask the question of “if not now, when?” Given our current political system, the answer is clear: never.