NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Electoral Reform Could Increase Third Party Influence

August 11, 1999

Frustration with the virtual monopoly of the two major parties is fueling renewed interest in third parties. But unless the election laws are changed, the chances of any of these parties being anything but spoilers are nil. The problem is the Electoral College's requirement that presidential candidates get an absolute majority. That is why many disenchanted with the two-party system are becoming more interested in parliamentary government.

Under parliamentary systems, the leader of the ruling party in the legislature is the head of government. Thus the nation's chief executive always has the backing of a majority in the legislature. Parliamentary systems are much more responsive to changes in public opinion. But there is far less stability because although change can be instituted faster, it can also be undone more easily.

Also, it is usually easier to elect candidates from third parties to the legislature, where they often join the government coalition. Indeed, third parties frequently hold the balance of power in countries such as Israel. But the price is instability and gridlock. In extreme cases like Italy there may be several governments per year.

One possible compromise that would increase the influence of third parties without radically changing our system would be to allow cross endorsement of candidates. Such a system has operated successfully in New York for many years. That state has not only a Republican and a Democratic party, but a Conservative Party, a Liberal Party and a Right to Life Party. Candidates for office may run on multiple tickets, with their votes on all tickets consolidated in the end.

Allowing cross endorsement, at least in federal elections, could increase interest in politics, raise voting rates and provide an ideological conscience for Republicans and Democrats who now have none.

Source: Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis, August 11, 1999.


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