A Multiparty System? Let’s Be Real

Rob Wisler


Earlier this week Donald Trump locked up the Republican nomination, for all intents and purposes, with his victory in Indiana and the subsequent exits of Ted Cruz and John Kasich from the race. What lies ahead for Trump is a likely blowout at the hands of Hillary Clinton, the presumed Democratic nominee. What lies ahead for the Republican Party is anyone’s guess. What does seem likely is that the war that has erupted between the establishment, white working class, and anti-establishment for control of the Republican Party will not end after the election of our next President and Congress in November.

In March, Michael Austin explored four models of political realignment following this election cycle. Austin’s models are certainly interesting ideas to play around with, but ultimately I think a multi-party system that he suggests could come about is just not possible, not in the institutional framework that currently exists.

This institutional framework that I am talking about is the combination of single member electoral districts and majoritarian/plurality rules and the presidential system. Maurice Duverger was one of the first social scientists to examine electoral systems and what he repeatedly found was that systems that use single member electoral districts and majoritarian/plurality have two or fewer parties. This phenomenon is now known as Duverger’s Law. A pure presidential system also tends to encourage two or fewer parties. As only one party can win the presidency, minor parties or coalitions are encouraged to align to form grand coalitions (if you’ve ever wondered why there are so many ideologically different groups within the Democratic and Republican Parties, this is why). If we are going to see a multi-party system develop, there has to be changes to the institutional framework and that would require amendments or even the scrapping of our entire system. I just don’t see that happening.

What do I see happening? I still see a two-party system with the Democrats on the center left and the Republicans on the center right. However, those parties could look very different from today both demographically and ideologically. This will give the Progressive Republicans a chance to become the leading player of the new-look Republican Party following the likely defeat of Trump in November.


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