Though this election cycle has been nothing short of unpredictable and exciting, it has also affirmed that the electoral process in the U.S. is not perfect. The nation’s two-party system has existed in some capacity following George Washington’s two terms as president, but the first President warned against division and ran for a second term to prevent two parties forming. Washington foresaw disagreement between rising American leaders causing divided politics and nation’s first political parties, the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. Washington predicted the danger of gridlock between parties that can cause government to become ineffective.
The Federalists were lead by John Adams and the Democratic Republicans by Thomas Jefferson, both of whom resigned from Washington’s cabinet to lead their respective parties. Though both men served as presidents following Washington, they utilized their positions of power to eliminate their rival party from office. Jefferson effectively eliminated the Federalist party by only granting Federalists low-level political positions and firing those serving top-tier political positions. Because of these actions, John Adams was the only Federalist to serve as President of the United States, and the party died out.
Tension and disagreement within a two-party system is not new, though it was originally ill-advised by George Washington. And for good reason, as proven by the competition and division the existence of the parties brought about.
Today, the polarization of the two-party system only allows for extremists of each party to have any real influence. Take today’s presidential election candidates, both of whom not only have name recognition in their favor, but who also appeal to the extreme policy views of both of their parties. Trump has made frequent and blatant xenophobic and racist statements that have, unfortunately, resonated with fear and distrust of certain conservative voters; though Sanders expressed more extreme views than Clinton, the presumptive Democrat candidate has made statements about free university education and universal healthcare that appeal to liberal voters across the spectrum.
As Americans voting in 2016, we are left to choose between two polar candidates, neither of whom appeal strongly to moderate voters or even openly engage with Americans outside of the two-party system. The Electoral College makes it impossible for a third-party candidate to campaign, let alone win a presidential bid.
Even though Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are not the only two candidates running for the presidency, they receive most media attention and funding. Gary Johnson, a Libertarian candidate, and Jill Stein, a Green Party candidate, are also actively campaigning. According to CNN, as of July 16, Clinton polls ahead at 42%, Trump 37%, Johnson 13%, and Stein 5%. Despite third party candidates polling stronger than in previous modern elections, Clinton and Trump are still far enough ahead that one of them will take the majority of votes and electoral votes in November.
The polarity of the two-party system has not only limited the number of candidates to influence policy, but electing individuals from the same two parties limits what types of policy are proposed. Both parties are pitted against one another in every election and vote, rather than encouraged to compromise or to negotiate, which perpetuates the problems at hand. Inclusion of more parties not only invites more diverse ideas and individuals to participate in government, but it also challenges Americans to think outside the box for resolutions to problems that neither Democrats nor Republicans have resolved.
Historically, the two-party system has not served the U.S. well, and its negative effects affirm George Washington’s warning against it.
The Economist, http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2014/09/two-party-system
Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/willard-sterne-randall/founding-fathers-political-parties_b_1843593.html
U.S. News, http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2013/05/02/why-the-two-party-political-system-is-failing-the-united-states