Since America’s founding, the framers warned against dueling factions that could tamper with the democratic institutions they set up, and the people that swore to serve and protect the greatest document in the free world. With new advances in technology and media, these factions are further insulated from the American people and are relentlessly polarizing the American electorate. Now the factions have taken a new name. Coined by former Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the “political duopoly” has hijacked the political process and gained control of the electoral system, barring third parties from being heard during debates and their ideas from gaining traction on the campaign trail. This firmly established political force has failed the American people, from forcing voters to choose one candidate from one of the two parties, to creating massive barriers to third party candidates, this duopoly is bigger than ever and needs to be stopped. It’s time for a change in the American electoral system, as the American people deserve better.
To understand the nature of this system, we need to define the system and understand the context in which it is being used. According to Investopedia, a duopoly is a market term where two sellers dominate the market. While similar to a monopoly, where one seller controls the market, a duopoly causes unfair price hikes that cost consumers more than a truly competitive market, in which competition forces consumers to choose between many other competitors.
As it relates to politics, a duopoly is where two parties dominate the system and limit the competition of ideas, force voters to choose between one candidate from the two parties, and stifles any potential for new ideas and new ideologies to develop. According to a Harvard Business Report on Politics and Business, the current system has taken on a more business-oriented structure where the elected officials, donors, interest groups, and partisan voters have the biggest influence on policy outcomes. Aside from the fact that this “iron rectangle” has corrupted the policy process, it has also created the political industrial complex. Much like the military industrial complex of the Defense Department, the political industrial complex is much more sinister and dangerous, as it brings together the power and influence of think tanks, consulting firms, big money donors and PACs. These combined forces create a political machine bigger than any other in American history.
The political duopoly as it is today creates a horde of problems that have existed since the country was established, of which include: the development of ideological factions that fight for influence, and a plurality voting structure that supports a single candidate with no majority support. Focusing on the ideological aspect of this duopoly, Republicans and Democrats are always conflicting over policy and issues that matter to the voters. According to a poll used in a Brookings Institution article, job creation (86 percent for both parties) and immigration (85 percent for Republicans and 82 percent for Democrats) are the two core issues that Democrats agree candidates should have focused on during the 2016 election. The most obvious flaw is the polarization of these issues is that they act as weapons for both candidates. Both Trump and Clinton had radically different approaches to these issues. For Trump, the notorious border wall was his proposal to the immigration crisis and tax relief was one of his many proposed and now established solutions to increased job creation. Clinton’s approach to these issues were the ideological opposite. Her stance on job creation is fundamentally different from Trump’s and that of the Republicans. From raising the minimum wage to taxes and other policy proposals, these issues were not only polarizing but also provided ample ammunition to PACs and special interests who invested millions in both campaigns for attack ads and issue ads. Both candidates also seemed not to come to a policy and issue consensus, much less advocate for the public interest.
So what does that leave the American people with? Aside from sore emotions and election weariness, it leaves the public with a prime opportunity for reform.
According to a PBS Newshour article, third parties have had some success in fielding enough support to gain a surprising hold. However, these successes haven’t held enough strength to matter in major elections. During its short life, the Reform Party made a significant impact on what issues were talked about. One issue in particular was the federal deficit, an issue never before mentioned in any campaign prior. Perot, the Reform Party’s nominee, won 19 percent of the vote.
The Libertarian Party made headway when former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson ran for the presidency in 2016. He was, of course, barred from the presidential debates due to the highly-partisan rules set by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Johnson established the “Our American Initiative” as a way to gain support for reform in the electoral system. So is there potential for reform?
There is, in fact, huge support for a third party. According to a Gallup poll, 61 percent of Americans think a third party is needed. 71 percent of independents, who tend to be the key target group for both parties’ support. It’s the independents that are the best and most fervent supporters of third parties. However, there are many barriers that discourage and even keep them completely off the ballot. Ballot access laws vary by state but most follow a trend. In order for third party candidates to be on the ballot, petitions must be submitted and have a certain number of signatures. This number varies by state. Michigan’s filing law requires 30,000 signatures for ballot access. New Jersey filing law requires 800 signatures for ballot access. Tennessee filing law requires the fewest, at 275 signatures. These signatures are submitted to the state’s Secretary of State for validation when running for federal office.
For decades, the two party dominance has etched away at America’s democratic institutions and values. Not one party is responsible for this slow and damaging trend. It’s the infiltration of think tanks, consultants and PACs supporting both parties’ interests that have eroded the very foundation of American society. The duties and the offices of the very officials that we elect to represent us, have been compromised by these interests. So have our elections, as 2016 marked the most expensive election cycle in US history thanks in part to these dark groups.
This duopoly has also stifled innovation and competition in the policy process. Ideological differences that have stood for decades have polarized the nation in every election since George HW Bush. This has bolstered the support and slight success of third parties in recent decades. Major barriers to reform are still limiting third party ballot access. There is still work to be done and the American people still have the power to elect competent individuals to office. Individuals who won’t fall for the duopolistic scheme and vote for legislation that they can support without sacrificing the principle while serving the public interest. There is still hope in America, hope that can only be continued through the will of the people and the dedicated few who will serve with honor and principle.
* Satchel Park is a member of Young Americans for Liberty and a passionate believer in libertarian principles. His goal is to become a dedicated liberty warrior and help elect liberty legislators through YAL’s Operation Win at the Door.