Mon, Sep 18, 2023 12:29 PM
By Lauren Jessop, The Center Square
The polarized state of the nation’s two-party dominant political system often sparks debate over whether adding yet another will change anything.
That question was discussed during a live virtual event hosted by Open to Debate between Andrew Yang, former presidential candidate and founder of the Forward Party, and Daniel DiSalvo, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and political science professor at City College of New York – CUNY.
Several local and state elected officials in Pennsylvania have joined Yang’s Forward Party, which bills itself as centrist and says they have “roadmaps for achieving legal party recognition and recruiting credible candidates in many states.”
Yang said surveys show 65% of Americans want a political alternative; the current system is not working; and there are concerns the two-party system “is ideally designed to serve us up to an authoritarian regime.” He sees problems getting worse and says we do not currently have a functioning government.
DiSalvo says the case for third parties has been made – unpersuasively – many times before, and maintains our current system allows for a fair amount of choice and change. With respect to the 2024 election, the subject is perhaps more salient than it has been “in a good long while.”
Third parties do not win in our political system, and most of the time act as spoilers by draining off votes from one side or the other, he said, also pointing to their lack of clear policy positions.
Only once in American history has a third party successfully displaced an existing party – and that was the Republican party displacing the Whig party in the 1860s, DiSalvo said.
“We have first-past-the-post elections with single-member districts,” he said, adding that there is probably more to be said on behalf of the two-party system than is typically said.
Yang also advocates for Ranked Choice Voting, claiming it ensures winners have a majority of support, and believing the spoiler effect would disappear. DiSalvo thinks it has some merit and should be experimented with in state and local elections, but it is not a road to a third- or multi-party system in and of itself.
Forward Party Managing Director of Communities and Building Joel Searby told The Center Square, “in Pennsylvania, party status is determined through candidates,” and they will petition them onto the ballot with signatures in state-wide races, focusing on local offices.
To achieve full statewide ‘ballot access’ they need to run a statewide candidate and receive at least 2% of the largest vote cast, he said.
“We can be a party that matters…with elected officials now, though, and that is our intention,” Searby said.
Nationally, Searby said, a political party is ‘official’ once it petitions, and is recognized by, the Federal Election Commission. To achieve that, they need a regionally diverse set of state parties with established elected officials and executive committees.
He said they are actively building across the country, “focusing on 12 states in particular - but seeing progress in others - and will have between 8-12 official state parties of some standing by the end of 2024, building on that in 2025 and beyond.”
Yang said the Constitution contains no mention of political parties.
“So, our Founding Fathers did not design this political system, and if they woke up, they would say, ‘Wow, you guys are actually living our worst nightmare,’” he said.
Primary races were discussed as well.
DiSalvo said primaries are indicative of his point that choice and change are available inside of a large party. He did, however, suggest shortening the time and costs of primary seasons, which he believes would address campaign finance issues.
Yang said he would get rid of primaries altogether, preferring to follow the process used in Alaska. There, he said every candidate runs, the top four get through to the general, and the winner is chosen via Ranked Choice Voting.
DiSalvo called that reform “interesting,” saying it would actually be an attempt to eliminate political parties entirely.
DiSalvo said our current system, although it has many defects, has many virtues as well.
“Compared to standards of other democracies around the world, I would say the United States doesn’t fare so badly,” he said.