Right now, we find ourselves in a political era like no other in our nation’s history. Fueled by the influence of social media and the easy spread of misinformation, our nation is more politically polarized than ever. This new wave of media pushes eye-catching headlines with the sole aim of radicalization; politically-oriented media outlets portray the opposing party as threats, fostering an “us vs them” mentality. These headlines only portray the far ends of the political spectrum when, in reality, the majority of America’s voter base lies somewhere closer to the political middle. Yet this middle ground frequently gets lost in the crossfire.
Where there are only two parties, there can only be two options. Because these two parties are pitted against each other, their main objectives stray from representing their true political beliefs. Rather, in order to rally support and fill positions, parties design their campaigns solely around what the other party isn’t, pushing their promises to the extremes. As the divide between the two parties grows, so does the divide between the government and the people. These extremist politics cleave the American voting populace in half, forcing middle-ground voters to compromise their ideals to vote for one of the two parties. Voting for a party that is “close enough” to one’s values relative to the opposing party leads to an inaccurate representation of voters’ desires. Parties assume that their voters agree with all of their policies and attempt to enact them without compromise.
Once in office, officials are unable to fulfill their campaign promises because they refuse to compromise with their opposition. This unwillingness to compromise creates hollow promises that are simply used to counter one another. Politics then becomes not a battle of ideas trying to improve the status-quo, but rather a competition of rhetoric. The government loses its original goal of serving the people, instead engrossing itself in countering and discrediting the opposing party.
In order to solve the problem of extreme partisanship we see today, America needs a valid third party to represent the political middle ground. The routine of hollow, extreme campaign promises goes unchecked in the two-party system, but would change dramatically if there were a valid third party. A third party would hold the Democrats and Republicans accountable for not achieving their promises and would give voters a better option to reach down the aisle and pass more legislation. A third party would also dilute extremist politics, as the Democratic and Republican parties would no longer be directly competitive. Middle-leaning voters, or the majority of Americans, would finally be able to achieve proper representation in our policies.
So how can this three-party system be achieved? We’ve seen it work in countries such as France, which has elected its last five presidents from four different parties, the Netherlands, who have also had four different parties represented in the past four presidencies, and Norway, whose last four prime ministers have represented three different prominent parties.
In America, it starts with talent. While the US does technically have multiple parties, the showings from the Green and Libertarian parties in the last few years have been abysmal, with neither party putting an official into a major office in recent history. These parties lack talent because the pull of the two major parties is too strong. Young, free-thinking politicians succumb early on to the promise of large donors and a large platform that the Republican and Democratic parties offer. Slowly, these young mavericks conform to the groupthink of their party and just become another Democrat or Republican. In order for a real third party to emerge, free thinking, middle-leaning politicians need to come together. Centrist politicians such as Liz Cheney, who was recently exiled from the Republican party for standing up to Donald Trump, or Michael Bloomberg, who after being a long time Republican ran a Democratic presidential campaign in 2020, have a real opportunity to form a third party and give some validity to a multi-party system. Talented politicians running a third party would attract young free thinkers who are uneasy about joining the Republicans or Democrats, and form a strong third party that could get people into major offices.
The second thing that must happen to make way for a third party is political donor and lobbying reforms. Currently, the American political system is ruled by big donors who give hundreds of millions of dollars to campaigns each year. The two-party system's reliance on these big-ticket donors turns elections into competitions of fundraising, rather than a battle of ideologies. In turn, donors send lobbyists to Washington who influence the two parties to pass legislation in their favor. With this system in place, the two parties effectively sell out to donors and lose their own values and agendas. This system also makes it nearly impossible for a third party to emerge and run campaigns, as it would not have anywhere near the same funding as the two major parties. Donor and lobbying reforms would not only make the two main parties stay true to their beliefs, but also give a third party a level playing field to put people in office.
But the question remains: Will this ever happen? With Republicans and Democrats finding so much success from the current donor system, it is unlikely that they will pass any donor reform legislation. The formation of a strong third party starts with us as voters. We must push both the center-leaning voters and center-leaning politicians to express their frustrations with their party and take matters into their own hands.