The crisis of the two-party system in the United States

HAVANA – Cuban diplomat and intellectual Ramón Sánchez Parodi believes that the two-party system in the United States is in crisis and that it constitutes one of the most relevant phenomena of the current political scene in that country.

The evidence demonstrates that neither party is in good health. Conceived to articulate the national consensus between two forces capable of harmonizing their positions for the benefit of the system, bipartisanship has ended up being a reflection of the enormous polarization existing in American society.

The differences between the parties have made many important institutions practically dysfunctional. It helps to explain that the most dynamic part of the national political debate is precisely that — whether it be on the right or the left, it is the criticism of how the system functions and the distrust of the country’s ruling class.

There are several lines, at times blurred, that characterize the relationships between the various sectors. As we’ve seen, the parties settle into their diverse niches colored in red or blue on their political maps. But even this characterization can be limited, since the parties do not represent the entire spectrum of society. According to statistics from the PEW Research Center, in reference to the 2016 presidential election, 227 million Americans had the right to vote in that election. Fifty-one million did not register, and another 24 million did not do so correctly, indicating that 33 percent did not want, or were prevented from, going to the polls. Add to this the fact that among those registered, slightly more than 50 percent participate in general elections, a figure that is even lower in state or local elections.

Although many do not participate, some because they are disappointed with the system, too many others do so out of ignorance or secular alienation, which in many cases the electoral mechanisms help to contribute themselves. This is the case of many racial and ethnic minorities, as well as the poorest sectors.

Add to those who do not participate others registered as ‘independents,’ or what appears as No Party Affiliation. Periodic studies carried out by Gallup regarding partisan affiliation (Gallup Historical Trends) indicate that in August of this year 40 percent of those registered had done so as independent, while only 31percent registered as Democrats, and 24 percent as Republican. In just a decade, the number of independents grew by 10 percent.

For these independent voters, because of the absence of other options, when they do vote, end up doing so for either a Democrat or Republican, which helps keep the two-party system alive. And herein lies the supposedly democratic system’s trap — which functions under the control of large economic interests.

An obvious fact, therefore, is that American politicians hardly ever win with a majority of their party’s voters. Since the two major parties are more or less evenly divided, registering new voters or tilting the independent voter towards one’s party can make a difference in an election’s results, which has become the fundamental objective of the electoral struggle.

In recent times Republicans have been characterized more with the attempt to limit voter participation than promoting it. This has to do with the fact that the critical mass of the Republican electorate is concentrated in demographic sectors that are not very dynamic, highly conservative, very active in politics, and loyal to the candidates of their party.

An example of this type of behavior is the case of Cuban-Americans. In recent years the Republican right has tried to limit the participation of new immigrants, since they tend to vote for Democrats, breaking the pattern of the so-called ‘historical exiles,’ which in the past guaranteed them a majority of the votes.

For the Democrats, however, adding new voters and persuading them to vote is a life or death case in most elections.

Most of the young voters, ethnic minorities and immigrants who have recently become citizens, even when registered as independent, tend to lean Democrat because of its more inclusive nature and an agenda of greater comprehension.

However, given the existing divisions in American society and the antagonistic interests with which they manifest themselves, the heterogeneity of the Democratic base conspires against the satisfaction levels of this agenda. When conditioned by the limits imposed by the system or the lack of integrity of its politicians, the party fails to comply with its promises, and disappointment leads to high levels of abstention which explain how, in spite of being a minority, Republicans manage to control essential mechanisms of political power, including the presidency.

The Democrats, on the other hand, face these challenges in 2020: Their ability to unite their bases, register new voters and persuading independents to vote Democrat. These are just a few of the variables facing them that will determine next year’s election.

In the end, Republicans do not win elections, Democrats lose them — which is a tragedy. Because regardless of the restrictions on democracy because of the two-party system and their hegemonic interests, Democrats represent a broader view of American society, and in their ranks live the more progressive tendencies.

It’s been a while now since there was much difference between a Democrat and a Republican. And therein lies the crisis of the two-party system.