Third Parties in American Politics: Playing Spoiler in a Duopolistic System

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It’s hard to imagine a period in American political history that hasn’t been dominated by a duopoly of political parties. Even though resistance from the founding fathers on the issue of political parties is well documented, the two-party system we are well accustomed to developed shortly after the emergence of the United States as an independent nation. Whether it was the Federalist/Democratic-Republican system in the late 18th and early 19th centuries or the Democratic/Republican system we know today, two ideologically opposite parties have always maintained dominant control of the American political system. The existence of third parties and independent candidates, therefore, complicates the political system that we have used for …show more content…
In order to avoid losing voters to third parties, the two major parties are often forced to adopt positions championed by third parties. To fully comprehend why third parties exist, it is important to first be able to identify the numerous challenges they face in order to gain any sense of credibility. In order to participate in major elections, third parties must first overcome a myriad of obstacles that have been put in place by both the founding fathers and politicians of our current two-party system. Rosenstone and his colleagues contend that the most important barrier in place to discourage the success of third parties is the plurality single-member districts that are the cornerstone of the American electoral process. Not only do single-member districts elect only one member to higher office, but they also allow such elections to occur without an electoral majority. If voters know that a third party is unlikely to receive a substantial amount of votes, they may believe a vote for the party would be a wasted vote. This requirement for a plurality of votes is especially detrimental for a third party presidential campaign, due to the fact that the Electoral College distributes electoral votes to the winner of each statewide vote (excluding Nebraska and Maine), and the only plausible way for a third party candidate to receive any electoral votes is to be extremely popular in a certain region of the United States. Unlike the two major
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