Are GB and the USA really two-party systems

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The USA and GB are by the majority of people and textbooks considered classical examples of two-party systems. Can we define this way? This paper’s task is to shed light on this statement, analyze the party systems of the mentioned countries and their background.

The paper will also pay attention to party system evolution and will make an attempt to clarify why the system operates the way it does and whether it is prone to be changed or not. Firstly, the discussion is going to concentrate on the USA stating some theoretical points and comments, secondly, Great Britain is going to be on the spotlight.

The USA:

The first country, whose party structure is going to be discussed is the USA. It is important to define the two-party system, to determine what such a system is based on.

A two party system is a competitive environment in which only two parties have any chance of accomplishing the basic goal of a political party: capturing control of government and nominating the presidential candidate. This clearly shows that what can be seen in the USA can be defined as a two-party system. The reasons for this are numerous. Leaving out the historical foundations of the system which are, no doubt about it, important, the crucial elements influencing and maintaining such a division that I would like to elaborate on are: the commonality of views among Americans, the winner-take-all electoral system and the state and federal laws favoring the two-party system.


One of the determining factors in the perpetuation of the two-party system is the commonality of goals among Americans. The major split in American politics has been economic with Democrats wooing the working class, as opposed to Republicans favoring middle and upper class and commercial interests. Most Americans wish continuous prosperity, so the division revolves around how much government should intervene into economy. In addition, the USA managed largely to separate religion from politics. Religion has never been a dividing force triggering splinter parties unlike many other countries.

Parties themselves are adept at making the necessary shifts in their platforms or electoral appeal to gain new members by borrowing popular policies from the opposing ‘rivals’. They also perceive themselves as being broad enough to accommodate every group in society. The Republicans try to gain support from the African American community, and the Democrats strive to make inroads among professional and business groups.

Another argument for the persistence of the American two party system focuses on election rules. Given the kind of elections there are in the USA, a two party system is the result. Almost all elections in the United States (presidential, congressional, state, and most local elections) are single member, plurality elections. In this type of election, one person is elected to represent a specific electoral district (single member) and the candidate with the most votes (plurality) wins the election. A majority of the vote (50% + 1) is not necessary. Under these conditions, it is difficult for a third party to compete. It follows that countries with multi-party systems must use different kinds of elections. Indeed, countries with multi-party systems generally use multi-member, proportional representation elections.

Many state and federal election laws offer a clear advantage to the two major parties. In some states, the established major parties need to gather only a few signatures to place their candidates on the ballot, whereas a minor party or an independent candidate must get many more signatures. Surprisingly, in some states, it is easier to get a new party’s presidential candidate on the ballot than to put a full slate of candidates for the House of Representatives on the ballot. For example, in Louisiana, no signatures are needed to put a presidential candidate on the ballot, but 125 000 signatures of registered party voters are needed to field an entire House slate. The criterion for making such a distinction is often based on the total party vote in the last general election, penalizing a new political party that did not compete in the election.

At the national level, minor parties face different obstacles. All of the rules and procedures of both houses of Congress divide committee seats, staff members, and other privileges on the basis of party membership. So, a legislator elected on a minor-party ticket, such as the Liberal party of New York, must choose to be counted with one of the major parties to get a committee assignment. The Federal Election Commission in charge of campaign financing also places restrictions on minor-party candidates. Such candidates are not eligible for federal matching funds in either the primary or the general election.

Sartori’s viewpoint

However, according to Sartori’s party system analysis there is no classical two-party system in the USA. He comes up with four crucial points for a two-party system, which, as we can see does not apply entirely for the US party scene.

1. one party wins the election

2. the other goes into opposition

3. there is an alternation of the two parties ( an intrinsic feature of the system)

4. there exists two-party electorate

The major dissent is in virtually all points except from the last one. In the USA, one party usually wins the majority either in the House or in Senate. Off and on it happens that one party gets the majority in the whole Congress. Then, it usually faces the major opposition from the president, head of executive branch, elected from the second party. This argument introduces the comment to the point number two. In terms of the party in opposition, it all boils down to cooperation, rather than fierce opposition. Regarding the alternation, it can but does not have to take place. Sartori claims the US party allegiance is weaker than elsewhere. On the other hand, there is a greater loyalty to ideology, so the Congress division is not Democrats against Republicans so much, but rather conservative wing of the two parties is opposed to liberal one. This plays a key role in voting in the elections.

Role of third parties:

I think that although the US party system does not coincide with Sartori’s scheme, the US can be ranged among countries with two-party system. There is no doubt there has been more than two major players on the scene, but only two parties are in the contest for control of the national government. Nevertheless, the third parties’ importance lies in taking over a substantial number of traditional voters of one of the two long-established parties and thus making the other lose because of this reflux of votes. Most of the time the successful ones were spin-off parties from either Democratic or Republican party. The faction is founded when a particular personality is at odds with the major party.

The most famous one was the Bull Moose Progressive party, which split from the republican Party in 1912 over the candidate nominated to run for president. Theodore Roosevelt announced the formation of the Bull Moose party, leaving the regular Republicans to support William Howard Taft. Although the party was not successful in winning the election for Roosevelt, it did succeed in splitting the republican vote so that Democrat Woodrow Wilson won. Recently, have we witnessed the critical influence of the Reform Party presidential candidate, Ralph Nader on the outcome of the 2000 presidential elections, allowing George Bush to win Florida.

Conclusion 🙁 my part, you can add it with your part, or leave it out, as you like, or you can leave it here, at the end of my part, I do not care)

Even though it may not seem that way, it is a tough call to define the US party system. I did not take into consideration the state levels, which would make the evaluation even more divers. I presented a few opinions and facts from which I draw this conclusion: Looking at the national level political party competition, I think there is a competitive two-party system inherent for the USA itself, having only two major players vying for the control of national government. Some countries exhibit what has been called an indistinct two-party system. In the USA political competition at practically all levels, federal, state and local, is between the Republican and Democratic parties. However, party structure differs in major respects from that found in Britain and many other liberal democracies. The two parties do not have distinct ideological differences and are as likely to show intra-party (internal) splits as inter-party ones

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