Breaking the Hegemony of the Two Party System

Ranked Choice Voting

“I don’t want to vote for either candidate.” How many times have you heard a friend or acquaintance say these words? How many times have you said these words? Whatever you may feel about the two presumptive presidential nominees of the two major political parties in 2016, there is one thing for certain; there has been no other time in recent political history when the Democratic and Republican nominees for president have been more unpopular than during this election. Yes there are many who are enthusiastic supporters of their party’s nominee, but there are millions of people who would rather not vote for either one.

The vast majority of the people who feel this way will end up voting for one of the two major parties’ nominees, but they will not be happy about it. Many will say they voted for the lesser of two evils, because, well, the lesser of two evils is by definition a “lesser” evil, and that is worth something.  Those who see themselves as voting for the lesser of two evils know that if they don’t vote, it is the equivalent of voting for the greater of two evils, so many of them, with nose held, will trudge into the voting booth and do their civic duty to avoid what they see as the worst of two possible outcomes. For the sake of the Supreme Court and for the sake of policies and causes they care about, many people will vote for a person they would actually prefer not be president.

Why does it have to be this way? Why do many of us feel we are in a position of being forced to vote for someone as our first choice when there are other candidates from other political parties whose ideas, policies, and vision align more with our own? The answer to these questions for those who lean to the left can be summarized in two words: “Ralph Nader.” After 90,000 Florida votes for Nader in the 2000 presidential election and the hanging chads and SCOTUS decision that brought the United States of America the Presidency of George W. Bush, many progressives have said to themselves, “Never again. Never again will we vote for a third party candidate when there is any chance it might allow a candidate whom we oppose strongly to win office.” Moderate to right leaning persons who voted for Ross Perot may have similar memories of 1992 when Perot likely took many more votes from then President George H.W. Bush than from Governor Bill Clinton. Persons on both sides of the political spectrum learned that if you don’t want a person in office whom you “really don’t want,” you had better not vote for a third party candidate you really like who has little chance of winning the election.

Such is the attitude about third or fourth party candidates that they are often vilified for even running because they might hurt a candidate who has a chance, and naturally this attitude makes it all but impossible for candidates who are not Democrat or Republican to gain any political traction. As a consequence, the two party hegemony of our political processes is strengthened and a diverse electorate feels compelled to find a way to express their preferences as a Democrat or a Republican. Other candidates hardly ever gain enough support to get on the stage for a debate, much less actually win an election.

This is not a healthy political situation for our country. It is likely one of the key reasons why many see the two parties as being like two different sides of the same coin. Instead of challenging the established environment, both major parties have a stake in maintaining the established environment for the sake of gaining and maintaining political power. The two party hegemony makes it difficult for a diversity of voices to find expression and access to the political process. Major party candidates can ignore the positions of candidates outside the two parties, because in the end they know that most voters will conclude that they have no choice but to vote Democrat or Republican, even if they are not enthusiastic about doing so.

Very little will change about the two party hegemony unless there is an intentional effort to break it, and protest votes that end up cutting off our noses to spite our faces are rarely helpful means to a good political end. To change the political system, we will need to change our elections systems. We cannot afford to continue the Either/Or politics of the status quo that leads us to situations where we are often choosing between two candidates who don’t represent our values or vision. We need an election system that allows us to vote our first choice every time without hurting the candidate who might be our second choice or even a third choice whom we might find acceptable. We need a movement calling for a Ranked Choice Instant Run-Off Voting system; where in the year 2000, citizens could have selected Nader as their first choice and Gore as their second choice;  where in 1992, citizens could have voted for Perot as their first choice and Bush as their second choice. If your first choice does not gain 50% of the vote, then your vote automatically will go to your second choice. Why should voters have to be scared that by voting their conscience and values that they could be contributing to the election of their least favored candidate? It does not have to be this way.

If we truly want a peaceful and sustainable political revolution in our country, we must have a revolution in the way we select our leaders that not only brings more voices to the table, but also makes all persons at the table take each other more seriously. The creation of a Ranked Choice Instant Run-Off Voting system, and of course a repeal of the Citizens United SCOTUS decision, are two practical and powerful ways to move the revolution for a more just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable society forward. Otherwise I am afraid we will hear more and more people keep saying “I don’t want to vote for either candidate.”

For more information about Ranked Choice Instant Run-Off Voting, visit this site: People For Ranked Choice Instant Run-Off Voting

Note: Ranked Choice Voting is already a reality in Australia, Ireland, and Scotland and in the cities of Berkeley, Cambridge (MA), Hendersonville (NC), London, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Oakland, San Francisco, San Leandro (CA), Takoma Park (MD), and a number of other municipalities. See Fairvote MN FAQ. Maine will be voting on a ballot initiative in November of 2016 that if passed would make it the first state in the United States to implement Ranked Choice Voting.


  1. It is important for readers to know at least one major Choice already. San Francisco has used ranked-choice for over a decade and the Oscars as well as the Heisman Trophy winner are also selected by a ranked-choice voting system. In addition, the League of Women Voters has endorsed the ranked voting system.

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