As we consider the choice we will make this upcoming Election Day, most of us think of a clear-cut decision between two candidates. We define our options as either Democratic or Republican, with no gray area. We are so caught up in this political mindset that many of us may not even know that there are other candidates running for president: Libertarian Gary Johnson and Jill Stein of the Green Party, for example.
Most of us are probably asking ourselves who these people are and why anyone would vote for candidates with no chance of winning. The answer is rooted in our deeply bipartisan democracy. While other more parliamentary democracies have a multi-party election system, bipartisanship in the United States has both characterized and plagued our country’s political identity. Out of the 100 currently elected U.S. senators, only two are independents. And in the past 63 years, only six members of the House of Representatives have ever been elected as independents.
In a sense, this overwhelmingly two-party-dominated system constrains citizens as it tries to clump the diverse needs and concerns of all Americans into two massive parties, neither of which is able to fully serve all of its constituents. However, the strength of our political system could falter under the pressure of supporting a multi-party system while still keeping the majority of Americans politically content.
The main problem with a multi-party system is that no matter which candidate wins the election, it is unlikely that they will have won by a majority. For example, if there were five political parties ranging from radical liberals to steadfast conservatives, even if one of the five parties won by an overwhelming margin, it would be unlikely to have more than 50 percent voting for the same candidate.
So, while a bipartisan system can be seen as restricting individual political ideologies, in a way it is also unifying. Even if a candidate doesn’t fit a voter’s ideal political bill, our defined partisan division encourages voters to rally behind their preferred candidate early in the presidential race.
In a country where voter registration is decidedly low U.S. voter turnout hovers around 50 percent, we must question whether a multi-party system might encourage more Americans to vote, as their needs would more likely be represented by one of the multiple candidates for president. We live in a country where half of all Americans don’t come to the polls at all, some because they are uninterested in politics, but others because they cannot find a candidate who appeals to them and therefore decide to abstain from voting at all.
Some voters decide to go against the grain of America’s political system and vote for an independent. But voting for an independent is essentially just a way to make a political statement. There has never been an independent presidential candidate who has had even a glimmer of hope to ultimately win the election. Even Ralph Nader, who won a respectable 2.7 percent of the popular vote in the 2000 presidential election, didn’t win a single electoral delegate and only served the purpose of helping Bush’s White House win. While Nader supporters were for the most part unquestionably liberal, voting for him rather than Al Gore cost Gore the election, and left liberals with the worse of two evils as president.
So, as you ponder the question of who to vote for next month, keep in mind that your choice extends beyond Democrat and Republican. But remember that voting on principle alone could end up derailing the lesser of the two evils, as it did 12 years ago. For some of us, casting our ballot becomes a decision between making your vote “count” and making it matter.
Madeleine Tibaldi ’16 firstname.lastname@example.org is from New York, N. Y. She majors in political science.