Why we Should Switch to a 4-Party System in American Politics

Let me begin by admitting to two things. One, I am in no way a political expert. And two, I have lost faith in our country’s ability to make logical change at a decent pace. But here’s my tiny voice in a flood of many requesting that it should.  

For many generations now we’ve been stuck in the 2-party system. With the hundreds of social and economic issues out there, somehow we’ve managed to always lump them into two camps.

It’s like we’re looking to buy a car and the one dealership in town is offering us a hybrid pink minivan with a booming stereo system, a huge scratch in the door, and flat tires OR a supercharged green sports car with manual transmission, an oil leak, and no air conditioning. Each car has its benefits and I like a couple things about each, but do I really have to take the whole package? And do I really only get two options? 

As new issues have arisen over the many years of our country’s history, they each get lumped into one of our two major political parties. And by the end we have two eclectic monstrosities of some good things but a lot of random-feeling stances, special interest alliances, and political baggage. Sure, I know you’re going to say that there are other political parties out there. But are there, really? Despite years of trying, the collective consciousness of America has never given them a fighting chance. 

Equally baffling is looking at which issues each party has chosen to adopt. Republicans tend to be about small government economically (help businesses succeed, lower taxes, only involve government when necessary), but strangely are at the same time about large government socially (define marriage, define abortion rights, use government influence to maintain a certain “American” culture).

On the flip side Democrats are typically all about large government economically (Obamacare, welfare, large government involvement in everyday life, higher taxes), but strangely are about small government socially (let people have the freedom to do what they want with abortion, marriage, marijuana, etc.). 

The 2-party thing would make more sense if the two parties were either “big government” and “small government” across the board on economic and social issues. 

Again I’d like to mention that I am not a political expert, but to me it’s not that big of a stretch to imagine a scenario where 4 viable parties exist and each represent a quadrant of the big/small social/economic grid. It would look something like this: 

Party #1: Big government economically, big government socially. 

Party #2: Big government economically, small government socially.  

Party #3: Small government economically, big government socially. 

Party #4: Small government economically, small government socially. 

Perhaps the 4 houses of Hogwarts had it right all along.

Here are some of the advantages that a system like this would provide:  

  • In the past two elections the most common sentiment I heard was, “is this really the best we can do?” or something to the effect of “can I vote for neither?” In a country as diverse and powerful as the USA, this is really a shame. In a 4-party system there would obviously be 4 candidates to choose from. Some people would vote down party/ideological lines regardless of the candidates, but for people more focused on the candidates themselves, 4 options is twice as good as 2. 
  • Along with the point above, voting for a candidate that didn’t represent your political party wouldn’t be that big of a stretch, because remember, 2 of the 3 other candidates would share at least half of your political grid (small/big economics, small/big social). If my party’s candidate was a real piece of work, I think I’d be willing to sacrifice some ideology for a strong leader for the next 4 years. 
  • Congress would “reach across the aisle” all the time! Gone would be the days of a single party controlling all of the policy, because a single party would on average only have 25% of the votes. To use the parties listed above as an example, on an issue that favors big government economics, representatives from party #1 would naturally want to work with representatives from party #2, since they both value big government economically. But then when a social issue arose, reps from party #1 would be inclined to work with reps from party #3, since their social ideologies are more closely aligned in that regard. Sure, party #1 and #4 wouldn’t have much in common, but #1’s natural allies (#2 and #3) have ties to #4. And all of a sudden party lines don’t create so much division since it’s less about my “good” party vs your “evil” one, and more about a political spectrum of negotiations and working together. Right now at each State of the Union one half of the crowd childishly gives a standing ovation while the other half sits somber and sullen. With 4 parties, the chamber would be much less dramatic, with standing ovations coming from all over the hall. 
  • People’s beliefs would align much more closely to their political party of choice. Right now if I’m all for small government economically and small government socially, should I vote Republican or Democrat? Either way I’m sacrificing half of my beliefs and buying a “package” where I only want half the stuff. In a 4-party system, people can sit down and figure out exactly what it is they believe, and then choose a party that is actually a pretty close match.
  • During elections, it will be much harder to run a negative attack-based campaign. In our current set up it makes sense to spend a million dollars making my opponent look like a baby-eating imbecile, because a vote against my opponent is a vote for me. If I have three opponents to demonize, all of a sudden it gets expensive to make me look like the only saint among them. And all of a sudden a vote against an opponent is only a vote for me about ⅓ of the time. At that point candidates might actually focus on elevating themselves with substance and platforms instead of turning it into a mud-slinging contest. 
Gone would be the days of a half-hall ovation.

All this sounds pretty good, am I right? Well, the next part is the implementation. How do we actually change into this system? Here are some ideas: 

  • Currently, any political party can form and put up a candidate. Every election there’s the third party that gets a percent or two of the vote and mostly serves as a reminder that there’s no way out of this 2-party mess we’re in. I hate to have to “hold hands” of the people to lead them from the current system, but I think that’s what is needed in this case. The government should start by abolishing the Democratic and Republican parties and then setting up the skeletons of 4 new, independently-run political parties. 
  • Each party would need a new name, otherwise the two parties called “Republican” and “Democrat” would get all the votes right away regardless of stance, since people are sheep. Colors would also be a no-go, since Red or Blue or Green might also steer people back into their old habits. “Liberal” and “Conversative” would also need to be avoided if at all possible, since those words have built up so much baggage and misconceptions over the years. I’m not sure of the best solution on this, but names in themselves have a lot of power. If names were chosen correctly and were “fresh” and didn’t give people an obvious connection to their former party, then in the first year of the new system people would have to actually research what their party stood for (heaven forbid) and make a choice based on their actual beliefs. 
  • The 4 parties could evolve over time and the appropriate party could champion new issues that arose. But the important thing is that the government would ensure that all 4 parties get representation on ballots, get relatively equal unbiased press coverage, and each get the opportunity to have a seat at the debates. 

I’m sure there are many holes and flaws in a 4-party system that I have not considered here. But the last decade or so has really dampened my enthusiasm and faith in our current political system. Perhaps this article is a therapeutic way for me to scream into a pillow, or perhaps it is an attempt to fulfill the obligation I’ve been imbued with to participate in our democracy and try to improve it. Not so coincidentally, today I cast my ballot for president. And yet, just like 4 years ago, the motion felt empty and done out of desperation rather than hope or excitement. 

It’s not so hard to imagine a world in which I vote for someone who I want to vote for (who actually has a chance of winning) and who represents a party that actually aligns with my beliefs. That sounds like a democracy that people could believe in for a long time.

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