Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop | Lee Drutman

Summary of: Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy in America
By: Lee Drutman


Step into the enthralling world of ‘Breaking the Two-Party Doom Loop: The Case for Multiparty Democracy in America’ by Lee Drutman, where the book dissects the consequences of the ongoing political divide in the United States. A divided America, poisoned by uncompromising and entrenched two-party system, echoes the need for a stable and flourishing multiparty environment. Inspired by other functional multiparty systems across the world, Drutman explores how America can move towards a more inclusive and solution-oriented approach to governance. Dive into the rich history of America’s political landscape and learn how we can heal the divide and inject much-needed civility into the political system.

American Politics: A Flawed Democracy

America has been downgraded to a flawed democracy due to its political failings, with both parties claiming to be the only solution to the nation’s problems. The ‘winner-takes-all’ mentality fuelled by this toxic partisanship is damaging the political environment. In the past, the two-party system allowed for a certain level of compromise, but this is no longer the case. Dissenters are now seen as enemies to be defeated. The answer to this problem is a multiparty system, as is evident in most other countries, which could help resolve America’s current partisanship and divisiveness.

The Four-Party System

From the mid-1950s to the mid-1990s, the American political system technically consisted of two parties. In reality, however, there were four parties; liberal Democrats and Republicans in urban areas, and conservative Democrats and Republicans in rural and southern areas. Compromise was necessary in this system to pass major legislation, but it began to disappear in the mid-1990s. The rise of the Tea Party marked the end of legislative compromise, and now America’s two-party system is fully resistant to any stance aside from tribal warfare. Instead of blaming specific individuals, the issue lies within the institutions themselves. Changing these institutions can help American democracy function more effectively.

The Role of Parties in a Thriving Democracy

In the 1950s, the American political landscape was described as a “bipartisan love match.” Both parties courted Dwight D. Eisenhower as their candidate for the presidency, but he ultimately ran as a Republican and governed as a centrist. Mid-century political scientists worried about too much compromise and too little disagreement between the parties. They believed that a thriving democracy required spirited debate and strong disagreements, an argument that remains valid today. Voters need a meaningful choice between two opposing parties to avoid a bland and meaningless distinction. Without some organizing force, political debate and discussion would be impossible, and a system with no dissent is a dictatorship. Parties play a crucial role in a mass democracy to ensure a healthy and vibrant democracy.

The Rise of Two-Party Democracy

Obama’s vision of a bipartisan America was crushed by the GOP’s strategy of obstructing all his policies. They vilified the Democratic agenda and portrayed his plan for healthcare as a socialist takeover. The result was a victory for the Republicans in 2010, where they took control of Congress and cemented a two-party democracy. Liberal Republicans vanished, and conservative democrats were defeated in the midterm elections. This resulted in Washington becoming fertile ground for political theatrics, such as the 16-day stalemate staged by Senator Cruz over the federal budget. The 2014 midterm elections saw personal attacks exchanged between the two parties with voter turnout hitting a low of 36%. The closely-knit coalition that once defined the Blue Dog Democrats was wiped out, leading to the final death of the unofficial four-party system.

The Rise of Republican Nativism

The book details how the Republican party, particularly the Tea Party, adopted nativist themes in the 2010s, targeting immigrants and framing healthcare as a referendum on whether tax dollars should go to newcomers. After Mitt Romney’s loss in the 2012 presidential election, the party realized it was alienating younger voters and minorities, but instead of inclusiveness, they got Donald Trump in 2015. Trump validated white Americans’ anxieties about America’s culture and diversity, and his appeals to nativism and flirtations with racists helped him win the presidency.

RCV: A More Civil Approach to Elections

RCV or Ranked Choice Voting allows voters to select multiple candidates in their order of preference while ensuring that the most popular candidate wins. This system has been successful in Maine, Australia, and even in the Academy Awards. RCV draws in a deeper pool of candidates and encourages a more civil approach to campaigning. With the fear of spoilers gone, voters can express their genuine preference. San Francisco and Minneapolis have used RCV in municipal elections, and it has also spurred turnout by letting voters know their ballots matter. This system also produces less polarizing choices since divisive candidates cannot win. RCV ensures that candidates have incentives to be nice to each other and compete to be the voters’ second and third choice. The system is not as confusing as skeptics suggest. In conclusion, RCV could be the answer to more civil elections where all voters can express their honest opinion without fear or bias.

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