Former President Donald Trump has claimed at times that he’ll start a third political party called the Patriot Party. In fact, most Americans – 62% in a recent poll – say they’d welcome the chance to vote for a third party.
In almost any other democracy, those Americans would get their wish. In the Netherlands, for instance, even a small “third” party called the Party for the Animals – composed of animal rights supporters, not dogs and cats – won 3.2% of the legislative vote in 2017 and earned five seats, out of 150, in the national legislature.
Yet in the U.S., candidates for the House of Representatives from the Libertarian Party, the most successful of U.S. minor parties, won not a single House seat in 2020, though Libertarians got over a million House votes. Neither did the Working Families Party, with 390,000 votes, or the Legalize Marijuana Now Party, whose U.S. Senate candidate from Minnesota won 185,000 votes.
Why don’t American voters have more than two viable parties to choose among in elections, when almost every other democratic nation in the world does?
As I’ve found in researching political parties, the American electoral system is the primary reason why the U.S. is the sole major democracy with only two parties consistently capable of electing public officials. Votes are counted in most American elections using plurality rules, or “winner take all.” Whoever gets the most votes wins the single seat up for election.
Other democracies choose to count some or all of their votes differently. Instead of, say, California being divided into 53 U.S. House districts, each district electing one representative, the whole state could become a multi-member district, and all the voters in California would be asked to choose all 53 U.S. House members using proportional representation.
Each party would present a list of its candidates for all 53 seats, and you, as the voter, would select one of the party slates. If your party got 40% of the votes in the state, then it would elect 40% of the representatives – the first 21 candidates listed on the party’s slate. This is the system used in 21 of the 28 countries in Western Europe, including Germany and Spain.
In such a system – depending on the minimum percentage, or threshold, a party needed to win one seat – it would make sense for even a…