Why does the United States have a two-party system?

The United States has been known for its two-party system for a long time now. In the present scenario, democrats and republicans are the two major parties in the US electoral ecosystem. It is important to look at the reasons why the United States ended up with a two-party system even when the founding fathers were against the formation of any political parties. Here are the top three reasons why the US has a two-party system:

  • Winner-take-all results: The United States follows winner-take-all election results wherein the candidate that receives the most number of votes is elected for a particular district (Bartels). There are no prizes for being second or third in this system. For instance, if there are three candidates and the first candidate receives 45% vote, the second received 42% vote and the third receives 13% vote, the first candidate would be elected to the office of that seat and while the second candidate is close to the first, he will end up with nothing. This approach has ended up demotivating many independent candidates who are not sure about going head-to-head with the big guns.
  • Plurality of Votes: As against the system which favors the majority, United States follows a plurality of votes. In this system, the candidate who receives the maximum number of votes is elected irrespective of the fact that whether the candidate has received the majority of the votes (Blake, 2016). For instance, when Abraham Lincoln was elected as president in 1860, he received only 40% votes from the voters. Thus, he did not enjoy the majority of the votes but was elected due to the system that favored plurality of votes.
  • Ballot access laws: Over the years, the now stringent ballot access rules have made it difficult for independent candidates to contest elections. These differ from one district to another but broadly these are there to control who gets to contest the election by putting conditions like signatures from a percentage of voters in a district or petition process, The ballot access laws started in the 1880s and have become stringent over the years. It is also said that if the ballot access laws were as stringent as they are today, the Democratic Party would not have become this large in the country.

Works Cited

Bartels, C. A. (n.d.). Chapter 44: Why Do We Have a Two-Party System? Retrieved from Salt Lake Community College: https://slcc.pressbooks.pub/attenuateddemocracy/chapter/chapter-44/

Blake, A. (2016). Why are there only two parties in American politics? Retrieved from Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/04/27/why-are-there-only-two-parties-in-american-politics/

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