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Debate: Two-party system

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Is a two-party system preferable to a multi-party system?

Background and context

The political systems of several nations are dominated by two parties, most notably the governments of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Other countries are nearly two-party systems, in the sense that two parties dominate and one or two smaller third parties ensure one or the other major parties maintains power (Germany being a good example). These systems stand in contrast to multi-party parliamentary systems where coalitions regularly shift (Israel, Japan, various Eastern European countries, various Latin American democracies). Recent developments have seen a number of countries, such as France and Italy, move towards a more two-party system as a number of smaller parties have come together under an umbrella organisation for the purpose of contesting elections. There are strong voices on either side of the debate over which kind of system is preferable. Some countries began more as multi-party systems, but they gradually settled into a two-party pattern as the electorate’s preferences polarized. Other countries, traditionally dominated by one or two parties, have seen the gradual emergence of influential third parties (such as in Canada). Advocates of the multi-party system are fond of its diversity and the fact that it forces coalition building. Advocates of the two-party model argue that those governments are more stable and experienced.[1]

See Wikipedia's article on two-party system for more background.

Contents

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Ideological distinctions: Does two-party system capture main ideological difference?

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Yes

  • Two-party system emerge as representations of public will. Where two-party systems have emerged it is either the result, or reflection of the will of the electorate. Often the two parties represent key ideological divisions within society over the direction of policy, e.g. between left and right, small government and activist government, liberalism and authoritarianism. Most voters have little interest in the minutiae of policy, but they can understand the broad political choices presented them by a two-party system and make their decisions at election time accordingly.[2]
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No

  • Two-party systems create false dichotomies. By framing debate in terms of only two-parties or points of view the two-party system gives the false impression that their are only two choices on any given issue. the reality is that issues facing any country are deeply complex with multiple view points. This is particularly harmful when political parties begin to enforce ideological purity and shout down party dissent. [3]
  • "Left"/"right" ideologies of two-party systems are no longer clear cut. The cold war with its left/right divisions is over and ideological labels are increasingly meaningless as, for example, traditional parties of the left have embraced the market.[4]
  • Two-party systems establish precedents that exclude third parties. Third parties often find it difficult to emerge later, even if they have a decent following. The dominant parties tend to shape electoral rules to the exclusion of smaller parties, and the more dominant parties tend to be the most successful at raising funds.[5]


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Legislative production: Is a two-party system more capable of producing more and/or better legislation?

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Yes

Governments in two party systems are more able to drive policies. This is because one party is almost certain to have a clear majority. This means they can implement important changes quickly and without compromise.[6]

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No

Multi-party systems tend to produce coalition governments. These governments have to work together to balance interests and produce a consensus around the need for change. This makes it more likely that such changes will be accepted by the country at large and not reversed at the next election.[7]

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Incumbency: Is it good that incumbents last longer in two-party system?

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Yes

  • Incumbents last longer in two-party system, acquire more experience. This means the level of experience of legislators is greater. This results in better and more consistent policy, and more effective scrutiny of the executive.[8]


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No

  • Incumbency can lead to complacency. The longer people hold office, the more comfortable they become and the less likely they are to take risks and make controversial decisions. They can even end up "captured" by lobbyists and losing touch with their electorate. The freer marketplace of ideas in a multi-party system forces politicians to adapt their message and become more responsive to minority voices.[9]
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Voter interests: Are voter interests better represented in two-party system?

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Yes

  • Two-party systems are more stable: Because parliamentary majorities in multi-party systems can shift suddenly, those systems are far less stable.[10]
  • Multi-party systems do not fairly implement the wishes of the electorate: This is because the government and policies formed after an election are often the result of backroom deals between parties instead of being based of manifesto promises and the number of votes cast.[11]
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No

  • Threat of losing office in multi-party system encourages compromise. The threat of a no-confidence vote, a collapsing coalition, or the departure of a coalition partner from a governing majority forces leaders to make compromises and compromises make for policies that serve the interest of the majority of the voters. Moreover, most countries have mechanisms in their constitutions to ensure a relatively smooth transition to a new government and new elections.[12]
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Two-party moderation: Two-party invites great compromise?

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Yes

  • Two-party systems better reflect centrist views. This is good because it better reflects the mainstream of a country. In order to remain competitive with only one other competitor, parties will tend to moderate their platforms.[13]


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No

  • Diverse opinions are suppressed in a two-party system. A tendency toward moderation is not necessarily in the public’s best interest. A multi-party system helps to ensure the views of a variety of different interests are considered when policy is made. Voters get more of a choice in the platforms they wish to support in a multi-party structure, ensuring that minority groups’ interests have a voice in the political process. This combats the common fear of a tyranny of the majority emerging, in which the interests of minority political groups are never adequately upheld.[14]


See also

External links

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