WARNING: … This is going to be a super political-speak article, and will mull over political parties decently in-depth. So, if you’re not actually interested in the question, then I would suggest not reading it … because parties are difficult to describe, and are multi-layered animals. … and I’m having a difficult time formally organizing how I’ll even attack the question. So if anyone else can better describe them, then please chime in.
With that warning out there, dig this: Everyone hates them. In every election in the United States, you have two “clubs” to choose from. But, ironically, there are only two main political flavors in America despite it being one of the most-diverse countries on the planet. And that’s frustrating.
… And everyone says, “well, we need more parties.” To which I say: It’s a very tall order, and I’m not even 100% it would put a dent in substantial problems.
How central are Parties?
OK. Parties have a super-long history. Like back to old England. … But I don’t know Party history well enough to explain it, and that isn’t what this article is about. Instead it’s about the contemporary Democratic and Republican parties: as is, in the now.
And it’s no secret that the Republican Party is divided. Also, there are obvious (growing) disagreements within the Democratic Party. And both parties seem to have rifts between donor and voting classes (among perhaps other variables like age, gender, race, education levels … the list goes on). And if these rifts are wide enough, why not form a third party with those dissatisfied voters? Or why can’t the Libertarian or Tea Party grow? Can we have three (viable) options!?
— To start off with, there are a few things about the American political party system that are … unique: 1) There are only two (viable) parties at ALL levels of government: local, state, federal. 2) Parties are nothing more than clubs of people and organizations. 3) The two main parties are really old. 4) American parties are private clubs, not public. 5) Power is derived primarily from top donors (individual or organization) in both parties.
… So there are a lot of challenges to creating a legitimate third party in America.
— (Modern) Parties derive legitimacy from, most importantly, the support of those people and entities that give it money.
— “But you said DONORS are most important!”
I did. But that’s because donors fund the efforts that win over voters. Hence donors are more important than voters, to a party.
While people ultimately vote, parties yield the power to deliver messages and rhetoric, which frames the arguments.
SIDE NOTE: Ideally, there are independent news outlets that check party and candidate messages — and that’s still the case with the established outlets. But a lot of niche internet sites (and blogs, like this) serve as alternative sources, and some are perhaps affiliated with parties. Not good nor bad (perhaps inevitable), but something to be aware of.
Here’s an example of parties are intertwined with policy: There was a point in time when nobody cared about transgender people in bathrooms. It was a non-issue … who ever thought of it other than transgendered people? And even then, I’m not sure transgendered people even thought about it much. … I’ve never heard ANYTHING about it until like 2 months ago, and I never heard anybody say anything about it either.
But one day, it became an issue. And why? Because there was a bill, supported by a member of the Republican club, which was covered by reporters, and then the Internet reacted, businesses reacted, and so did celebrities, and … whoever else.
The biggest part of the story is the Party. .. because, at the end of the day, people associate the issue with the Republican Party and not the representatives themselves.
Now, all of the sudden, the members of the Party are held liable for the transgender issue, and Republicans are now associated with anti-transgender bathrooms. Whatever they say, it’s about the Party.
And why is this? Why are parties so central to American politics? Because the two parties are really, really big, powerful organizations. I would even say that they are second only to the federal government. So, how can you get more of them (if you can)? This is essentially the question.
Side note: In reality, the transgender bill thing was probably rural representatives trying to please their constituents.
Here’s the point: It all goes back to the Party. There are always scapegoats like media, wealthy and such (they’ve been cliche scapegoats for a long time), but, in the end, the Party is responsible for the conduct of it’s members. And it just so happens that, these days, not all the members have a unified vision of anything … which is understandable, because the world isn’t that black and white. That and the Parties are HUGE, so it really can’t be expected to have all members unified the same way …
Mathematically, in the United States, there must be one absolute winner of any election. And that winner gets whatever seat (s)he won. In other countries, there is perhaps 20% representation for the worker’s party, 30% for the business party, 20% for the feminine power party, and so forth … In some countries, the idea is to diversify the representation for all sorts of people. … But not in the United States. It’s all very free market here. If you get the most votes, you win. And this essentially forces two groups to compete with one another.
While ultimately it’s the votes that matter, voters make choices based on which groups is attached to whatever issues they care about.
And we all know that unions and pro-minority-rights groups are aligned with Democrats. We also know that big businesses and pro-guns rights are aligned with the Republicans. So, your vote will be informed by that.
So I ask: If there were to be another party, what groups would they “represent?” Which organizations would support it? Where would this group get funding? How many people would care about these other, smaller issues? Can you capture enough votes to win anything? And, more importantly, can you frame issues in a way that makes sense?
The only real way for a third party to exist — because the system MUST have an absolute winner — is to have a third party win local elections and somehow gain momentum from there.
And it’s important to note that politics doesn’t operate like the Internet. Going viral doesn’t work. To be viable, you need a real, sustainable platforms. You need steady income to support candidates and elections. You need a way to move candidates through the system, to vet them, to ensure they understand how interests work, and which ones the Party supports most. And, most importantly, voters have to care.
But currently, instead of having more parties in the US, the current Parties simply “shift” their identities over time, which really means that people and organizations (and donors) gradually associate with the winning party … because they want to win, and they know that to win, they need to align themselves with the most-likely party.
Individual Preferences and History
Why is it so hard to break people away from political parties?
A huge problem is the historical aspect of them. … Grandma was a Republican back in the day, and she’ll always be a Republican. But mom was a Democrat, so she’ll stay a Democrat.
… It’s impossible to change a lot of people’s minds … especially after a particular age. Once people get ideas in their heads in adult years, it is pretty much over. Because very few people listen to new ideas in older age. … deal with it.
But also, those same people are the ones who vote. While it’s slowly changing, by-and-large, young people only vote for presidential elections. And, if you want to start a party from the ground up, you NEED local support. So to you Libertarians and Tea-Partiers: you really need to start winning elections, building grassroots support, and start attracting interest groups (donors). Top-down party building is probably really difficult, because you need credibility, legitimacy, historical context, donors, and groups to support you. Not only does a party need to win elections, it also has to continually win for some time.
Parties are similar to businesses. To remain competitive you need clients. But in this case, clients can be major donors, organizations (which also donate), or voters. And to remain competitive, you need all three. To hook donors, you need to win. To hook organizations, you need issues. And to hook voters, you need to establish history derived from PR and marketing tactics.
Money, Power, and Human Interests
Here’s another problem with the multi-party American dream: Money.
To get power, in American politics, you need the ability to be heard. You need to craft speeches to different crowds, you need people to hear your name, you need to be able to relate to a LOT of different people, you need to know how to talk to businesses and non-profits. You need to touch a lot of people and groups. And you can’t do that without strategy, time, and, most importantly, money.
And money is what parties offer to potential candidates. If you’re interested in running for office, your first resource should be whatever party you choose. After that, you better be either really good at talking to potential donors, or independently wealthy, because it’s going to cost … even with Party money helping out — depending on the size of the election. Unless you’re a billionaire with nothing to do.
But naturally campaigns are cheaper in smaller areas, rural areas, and in easily partisan areas. In rural areas, your safe platform is guns and God, but bigger positions require more articulation and finesse.
And this leads us to other problems … the problem of human interests.
Should a potential candidate secure the money necessary to run for office, each of those donors (organization or person) will be looking for something in return. And, depending on the number of investors, that could be a pretty tall order. Then there’s the voter element … those are the people to keep happy above all. But, considering poor voter turnout, I think it’s safe to say that donors have more sway in a lot (but not all) districts.
Ultimately, the person who gets elected belongs to a club, and that club has a reputation. And everybody talks about Parties when they discuss politics — Americans can’t resist it.
… It’s not rigged.
Parties have rules within themselves, and they can make whatever rules they want. Because at the end of the day, they’re private clubs. And private clubs can do as they please. And frankly, parties don’t have to be democratic, because they’re private. They aren’t government, and they aren’t in the Constitution either.
The problem is the balance between votes and donors is getting wider. There is more donor say in parties than there is voters.
The Internet really changed things. Issues are now being brought up every day, right in everyone’s faces, and that puts pressure on the representatives and the parties alike. And parties can’t keep up with this exponential pressure.
And will a third party emerge? N0 idea … but probably not. Because a party is far more than any singular candidate. A party is a collection of a lot of people with different interests that align together to achieve say in policy. And I’m not sure there are enough donors and interests to be gathered cohesively that aren’t already Republican or Democrat.