Why Two Parties Control Our Elections
(and what we can do about it)
In the field of political science, there is a principle called Duverger's Law that says ‘the simple majority, single ballot system favors the two-party system’. In simple terms, whenever there is only one position available (single ballot) and the candidate that receives the most votes wins that seat (simple majority) then, over time, the political field competing for that position becomes dominated by two factions (two-party system). Without going into the whys and hows of it, Duverger's Law has been proven true beyond doubt.
The factions may change, but there are always two political camps, two parties, dominating such a system. In the 70 years after the United States Constitution was ratified, two factions emerged; the Federalist Party, which soon evolved into the Democratic Party, the oldest voter-based political party in the world, and the Whig Party that developed as their primary opponent. (Abraham Lincoln served four terms in the Illinois legislature and one term in U.S. Congress as a Whig.) By 1850 the Whigs had splintered over the slavery issue and the Republican Party rose to take their place. As we all know, those two parties have controlled our political system ever since.
The important point to focus on in that narrative is that, when one of the two dominant parties - the Whigs - crumbled into splinter groups, enough of those groups gathered back together and added other existing minor parties to create another single, unified faction strong enough to compete head to head with the Democrats and the people were still left with only two real alternatives at the polls - Duverger's Law in action.
A century and a half later, those two parties have entrenched themselves so thoroughly with massive barriers to competition, barriers collectively referred to as “ballot access restrictions” that many Americans today can't even envision any other possibilities. By and large, they discount minor party candidates as “throwing away your vote” and consider them a waste of time and effort.
Those are the biggest challenges facing the Veterans Party of America.
But other things have changed as well. Today's voter apathy: “We don't have any real say in what the government does” and “politicians don't care about what we think” is becoming more and more wide-spread. A groundswell of disdain for the two ruling parties is also growing across America.
We can take advantage of that groundswell. There is a way, there is a viable strategy.
Tackling the maze of ballot access regulations the Democrats and Republicans have in place to keep other parties out of the game isn't viable. The Libertarians can stand witness to that truth: in my home state, Arkansas, the LP admits to having spent upwards of a million dollars over just the past three election cycles to gain the privilege of running candidates under their banner – only to lose that access after failing to garner enough votes in the elections to retain it. And they still don't have a single party member in the state legislature. A million dollars and many years of effort, in one state alone. That million dollars, by the way, doesn't include the campaign costs of their candidates, only the cost to the Libertarian Party to gain ballot recognition as a “minor party”. Minor party ballot access is clearly a losing proposition. At least coming right out of the gate it is.
There are, as of today, fifteen independent incumbents in seven state lower houses and two independent state senator incumbents, one each in two states. A general rule of thumb for campaign budgets for a state representative race is in the $50,000 to $80,000 range, less if you pick your battles wisely. That's still a lot of money, but it's a far cry from spending a million dollars only to be right back at square one. Ballot access for an independent state candidate is much, much, MUCH less stringent than attempting to gain party recognition. And those seventeen incumbents are proof that a candidate doesn't have to be a member of one of the ruling parties to be elected. It can be done.
Many of us in the VPA are veterans. Many of our non-veteran members are spouses of veterans. We are used to thinking in military terms and using military methods and tactics. We are goal-oriented. We are adaptable to changing conditions and shifting priorities. We have discipline. We have esprit de corps. And we don't surrender. That's why the VPA is the fastest-growing political party in the entire nation. We did, in four years, what took the Libertarians well over a decade to accomplish, and we're still growing rapidly.
The VPA could, easily, research each state's upcoming election terrain, searching for weak spots in the entrenched defense. By examining, on a state by state basis, which lower house seats are coming up for election and which of those present opportunities for an independent to compete for, then aggressively searching for viable candidates to endorse and assist, we could, in only a few election cycles, conceivably have, as many VPA-as-Independent card-carrying VPA incumbents as there are straight Independents today. Then, as each state gains “527 status”; recognition by the FEC as a political party, those Independents could return the favor and help grow the VPA party organization in their home state. With enough VPA incumbents identifying publicly as VPA, the citizens of those states will have to take notice, will have to take us seriously. And, if the VPA simultaneously concentrated on recruiting party members – not party officers, but card-carrying VPA members – from the huge veterans population of each state, our base could experience rapid growth. Once that base is sufficiently developed in each state, then, and only then, should the state party begin its drive for party ballot access.
This strategy is contingent on a few things. One, that we give up, for awhile, the idea of attempting to field federal-level candidates. No presidential nominees, no U.S. Senators or Representatives. Those races are too expensive, too difficult to compete in at our current stage of growth. A state representative race, by comparison, is a cake-walk. Oh, we can field token candidates if our members insist, but we must accept that they are just that – tokens. Two is that each state candidate that we do select to assist must be a VPA member in good standing, and remain so throughout their term. We must thoroughly and ruthlessly vet them, assuring ourselves as much as possible, that they won't turn-coat on the VPA once in office. In short, we must forego our egos for the sake of the long-range mission.
And that is how we can beat them. That is what we can do about it.
Yours in Liberty,
in veritas, libertas
*Guest blogs do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, values, and core platform planks of the Veterans Party of America.