Why Do We Have a Two-Party System?

Or, Why Are There No Strong Third Parties?

"Duverger's Law"?

-         single-member districts produce two-party systems

-         limited empirical support: Britain, Canada, India all have multiple parties



-         state-based organization makes it hard for new, national parties to form

-         limited empirical support:  Canada, India have multiple parties


Restrictive Ballot Access Rules

-         states determine rules for appearing on ballot

-         some states have high "barriers to entry"

o       states with higher number of electoral votes, dominance of one party, or less organized parties have stricter ballot access laws (Lewis-Beck & Squire, 1995)

o       e.g., in CA, House candidate must submit 150 signatures from eligible voters in district in 54 days to avoid $1,621.00 filing fee;

o       Senate candidates must collect 10,000 signature to avoid 3,242.00 fee, and collect 165,573 nominating signatures from registered voters in 60 days; submit signatures to county officials of voter's county


Campaign Finance Provisions

-          major parties get full matching up to $20 million inflation adjusted dollars ($74.692 million in 2004)

-          major party is a party's whose candidate in the prior election received 25% or more of the popular vote

-          minor parties get share of major party funds up to the ratio of their percentage of the vote to the average of the major party candidates’ percentage of the vote in the last election

-         minor party candidate must have received at least 5% of the popular vote.

-         A new minor party candidate must gain 5% of vote to be eligible for funding after election

-         - get less than 5%....


"Lock-In" by Major Parties & Media

-         Congressional committee system has no place for independents

-         Media covers most popular candidates

-         Debates restricted to candidates likely to receive at least 5% of vote


Nader and Valtrex Democrats

("It's about suppression")

-          legal challenges to Nader in swing states in 2004

-         on ballot in 43 state in 2000; 35 in 2004

-          Ballot Project, Inc. founded to aid local Democratic parties in finding pro-bono lawyers to challenge Nader

o       in PA, Reed Smith law firm had up to 10 laywers working 80-hour weeks for

o       over 2 weeks with over 100 volunteers to review Nader petitions (NYT 19 Aug.2004)


Effects of Third Parties

-         spoiler: Nader v. Gore in 2000

-         alter future voting patterns

o       Most 1992 Perot voters turn Republican in 1994, 1996, 2000

o       Gore loses popular vote shares to Bust due to Perot/Reform effect (Stone & Rapoport, 2001)



Decline in Turnout


Presidential Elections 1948-2004



mean VEP 1948-1968



mean VEP 1972-2004






Mid-term Elections 1950-1998



mean VEP 1950-70



mean VEP 1974-98