November 3 has come and gone. Bihar is now prepping up for the third and final phase of the election which is scheduled on November 7. In the US, there is a nail-biting competition between The Democrats lead by Joe Biden and The Republicans lead by Donald Trump. But, have you ever wondered why in the US, the names of only two political parties are always thrown around – The Republican Party and The Democratic Party. What are the other parties doing? Don’t the Americans like variety in their politics? Variety is the spice of life after all.
We Indians sure do like variety. Just look at Bihar. We have so many political parties eyeing for power. We have the BJP, JD(U), RJD, Congress and many more. Well, this difference in the number of political parties fighting for power is because the US has a Two-Party System while here in India we have a Multi-Party System. What is this Two-Party System and Multi-Party System? We are glad you asked. Let us explain.
What is the Two-Party System?
In a Two-Party System, two major political parties (The Republicans and The Democrats) dominate voting in all the elections of the nation, be it at national-level, state-level or district-level. As a result of this, all the publicly elected government posts (President, Governor, House Representative, Senator etc) are occupied by either of the two parties currently dominating the landscape.
The Two-Party System has been a signature of American politics since its inception, though the two parties that have been dominating have changed substantially. All this said, the Two-Party system is not a part of the US Constitution but it emerged as a result of the winner-take-all voting system.
In a winner-take-all voting system, a voter is only allowed to vote for one candidate and the candidate who gets the most votes wins. This system is also followed in elections to the Lower House i.e. Lok Sabha in India. However, the existence of strong state parties has never allowed two parties to dominate all elected offices.
What is a Multi-Party System?
In a Multi-party system, various parties with different political ideologies run against each other for elected office at all levels. A Multi-party system gives rise to a clear distinction between a State-level party and a National-level party. State parties only contest elections for a particular state during state elections and general elections.
For example- Janata Dal (United) in Bihar. National parties aside from running on a national level can also run for state elections. In fact, India has so many political parties that the Wikipedia page for it just goes on and on.
In India’s Multi-party system, it is theoretically possible that 29 different parties form governments in the 29 states and also a single-party can form government in all 29 states and at the national level as well (This would be any political party’s dream).
Coalition Government possible in Multi-Party System but not in Two-Party System
Multi-Party allows coalition governments to exist. For those who do not know, a coalition government is when several parties form an alliance to gain a majority in the Parliament or the State Legislative Assemblies. For Example- The National Democratic Alliance which is made up of the BJP, JD(U) and other smaller parties. In fact, for the last 50 years, most governments at the centre have been coalition governments.
The presence of the Two-Party system does not mean that third-parties have never existed in the US. Third-parties do exist in the US. Right now, the most prominent third-parties are – The Green Party and The Libertarian Party, but neither of them has significant control over any government organization.
Why does the US have a Two-Party System instead of a Multi-Party System?
Early political players of the United States envisioned that the prevalence of a Two-Party System would stop parties from holding any extreme political beliefs as they would need more than half of the total electorate to win. They also envisioned that because of the Two-Party System no extremist anti-establishment outsider riding a populist wave could sweep up the highest elected office. Which did end up happening centuries later, but we are not discussing that today.
The prevalence of the Two-Party System also means that each party has to appeal to the largest possible demographic and cannot survive by just pleasing a small section of the population. Hence, it is harder for parties in the US to participate in ‘Vote-Base’ politics on the same level as we do here in India.
A common criticism of a Multi-Party system is that it allows parties with extremist political ideologies to form a coalition with bigger parties and thus gaining considerable influence over the functioning of the government.
Since small parties can’t join to form coalitions the possibility of any extremist party being a part of the government is unlikely in the US. Dominant parties do not have to bargain with other parties to form coalitions, they hardly ever compromise on any issue.
However, according to some political analysts, this goes against one of the core tenants of democracy which is ‘compromise’. The Two-Party system disincentives the majority party from compromising as they do not need to worry about any other party they might have had an alliance with. This has given rise to extreme partisan politics in the US in the last few decades.
Both the Two-Party System and Multi-Party System have advantages and disadvantages. Which among them is best is a question that political analysts have been debating for decades and will probably continue to do for the considerable future. But now you at least know the difference between the two.
(This article was written by Team Deshbhakt, Mohammad Haaris Beg)