America's two-party system feeds on fear
Updated: May 19, 2021
Just ask a Chicago Cubs fan — it’s never fun to root for a losing team. But when it comes to elections, that doesn’t mean rooting for a loser isn’t worth it. When a few thousand votes decide an election, candidates notice the percentage points they lost to other parties and listen to the voices of third-party voters.
So, if we don’t feel represented, why do we keep voting for the two parties as though we don’t have another option? Fear. But we shouldn’t be afraid.
Trump and Biden supporters had one thing in common: They want to preserve our democracy. It makes sense. The two major parties tell us we’re facing the end of America as we know it if the other guy wins.
The Republican and Democratic parties make up one of the world’s largest and most powerful duopolies. Every election year, each party brings in billions campaigning against the other, and this year their individual earnings amounted to more than twice the GDP of the Dominican Republic. To me, that means they want new competition about as much as Samsung and Apple want another smartphone company to pop up.
The parties have perfected the art of attacking each other by running emotional campaign ads. When it comes to the political rat race, people choose to vote, volunteer and donate based on emotion. Sadly, in this election that emotion is fear. When we’re scared, we act irrationally. This election has already torn apart many relationships. Wives have threatened to leave husbands, kids have disowned parents and families wonder if Thanksgiving dinner really is such a good idea. It even makes the news when neighbors with different political views manage to remain friends.
It doesn’t have to be this way. As two-sided as this election has become, I think — and I doubt I’m alone in this — that neither presidential candidate accurately represents my worldview. In fact, both Donald Trump and Joe Biden diverge from my beliefs on issues I consider indispensable. Trying to choose between the two, I was stuck deciding which issues mattered most to me and which I could compromise. That turned out to be an impossible decision.
When I was filling in my ballot, I knew I wasn’t scared enough of one candidate to compromise on my beliefs just to stave off four years of the other. If in the future enough people come to the same conclusion, the major parties will be forced to take note. Instead of abandoning my views to side with one candidate, I’m taking the long-run approach. If they want my vote, I’m going to demand the parties create good policies, not merely good attack ads.
After the dust clears and voters see the policies pushed by their candidate, they’re often unhappy. Then four years later, we do it all again, guaranteeing we never get a candidate who fights for policies we support. Many of us are too quick to give away our vote. A third-party vote isn’t a throw away vote. It gives voice to a viewpoint that has been ignored too long.
According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 57% of Americans think we need a third party and only 38% think the major parties represent them well. In fact, despite the two-party status quo, 1.6 million Americans voted for Jo Jorgensen. In Wyoming, Libertarian candidate Marshall Burt won the statehouse. All in all, the Libertarian Party won 13 local elections.
Just because a candidate wins a majority of votes doesn’t mean they represent the majority of the American people. Many simply voted for a candidate they detest because they feared the other guy.
I’m worried, too. I have no idea what a longer Trump presidency or a fresh Biden presidency will do to the United States, but it doesn’t seem like it’ll be good. Even so, I’m not willing to silence myself and “vote for the lesser evil.” You don’t have to be, either. To quote President Franklin Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Maybe, then, we should stop voting against bad candidates and instead vote for policies and candidates we can genuinely get behind. That’s really the only way we’ve got of changing the shape of our democracy for the better.
If that candidate is Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden for you, congratulations — your guy might win. If not, know that in four years you can make your vote count by voting third party. And that’s not a waste. If we keep voting out of fear rather than for candidates who most represent our values, the American people are always doomed to lose.
This article first appeared in the Washington Times on November 5, 2020.