Moderates in America Should Not Give Up on Political Reform

View of Washington DC with the United States Capitol in the distance, September 28, 2017
View of Washington DC with the United States Capitol in the distance, September 28, 2017 (Ted Eytan)

Regular readers know I believe the two-party system in America is one of the root causes of the country’s many political problems: extreme partisanship (but weak parties), polarization, a politicization of the judiciary and an unwillingness by lawmakers to rein in presidents of their own party, to name the four most urgent.

What are moderates to do? I propose reform.

Ideally, these various changes would break up the Democratic-Republican duopoly. Countries in Northwestern Europe prove that multiparty democracy produces better outcomes. Read more

Five Parties Are Better Than Two

The United States Capitol in Washington DC
The United States Capitol in Washington DC (Shutterstock/Orhan Cam)

In my most recent column for World Politics Review, I argue that other European countries should welcome the chance to be “Dutchified”. Political fragmentation is often interpreted as a sign of political crisis, and indeed the transition from a two- to a multiparty system can be a bumpy ride, but the Netherlands proves it produces better outcomes.

There is no reason this shouldn’t be true for the United States as well.

Forcing Americans to make an either-or, left-or-right choice every election has bred extreme partisanship (but weak parties) and polarization. It has politicized the judiciary and led to a stalemate in Washington, where lawmakers are unable to tackle major issues, such as entitlement reform, and unwilling to rein in presidents of their own party.

If the only alternative to extremism in your own party is the other party, most will choose extremism.

But what if there was another alternative? Read more

Spain Better Get Used to Multiparty Democracy

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez greets Albert Rivera, leader of the Citizens party, outside his residence in Madrid, October 16
Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez greets Albert Rivera, leader of the Citizens party, outside his residence in Madrid, October 16 (La Moncloa)

With no party or bloc winning a majority in Spain’s Congress on Sunday, the country’s politicians need to finally come to grips with coalition politics.

The center-left Socialists and center-right People’s Party are used to alternating in power. They split 80 percent of the votes as recently as 2011. But Spain hasn’t been a two-party system since 2015, when Podemos (“We Can”) on the far left and the Ciudadanos (“Citizens”) on the center-right took one out of three votes between them.

This pattern has now been confirmed in four elections in as many years and still the old parties continue as though nothing has changed. Read more

Spanish Parties Break Cardinal Rules of Coalition Politics

Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, answers questions from reporters in Madrid, January 22, 2016
Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, answers questions from reporters in Madrid, January 22, 2016 (PSOE)

Spanish parties have broken the cardinal rules of coalition politics. As a result, the country may need to go to elections for the fourth time in as many years.

Outgoing prime minister Pedro Sánchez has one last chance to stay in power. If the far-left Podemos supports him after all, and the Catalan independence parties abstain from today’s investiture vote, he could scrape by with the smallest possible majority.

But if either sticks to its guns, the Socialists would either have to nominate another candidate (unlikely) or call snap elections in the autumn. Read more

Political Fragmentation Need Not Lead to Paralysis

Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a speech in the German parliament in Berlin, October 15, 2015
Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a speech in the German parliament in Berlin, October 15, 2015 (Bundesregierung)

Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Alina Polyakova write for the Brookings Institution that Europe’s political fragmentation threatens to lead to paralysis.

With anti-establishment parties, mostly of the right, taking a quarter of the vote, remaining parties are forced into ever broader and more unwieldy coalitions that fail to address such complex issues as sluggish economic growth, immigration and defense. As voters become frustrated with a lack of results, they could look to “more effective” strongman models of the type embodied by China and Russia. The authors give Germany and Sweden as examples.

I think this is too pessimistic. Read more

To Be Successful, Britain’s New Centrist Party Needs Electoral Reform

The statue of Richard the Lionheart and the Palace of Westminster in London, England, August 12, 2014
The statue of Richard the Lionheart and the Palace of Westminster in London, England, August 12, 2014 (Shutterstock)

Britain’s youngest political party is growing. The Independent Group (TIG) has attracted eight lawmakers from Labour and three from the Conservatives. A ninth Labour member of Parliament, Ian Austin, has left his party but not (yet) joined the new centrist group.

Polls give TIG between 8 and 14 percent support. Read more

Don’t Fear Dutchification

Dutch government buildings in The Hague, March 29, 2015
Dutch government buildings in The Hague, March 29, 2015 (Pixabay/Unsplash)

The Financial Times argues that the big political story in Europe is not so much the rise of populism as the fragmentation of electorates and the parties that represent them.

  • In Spain, once-dominant conservative and socialist parties must compete with liberals, nationalists and the far left.
  • Neither the center-left nor the center-right bloc has a majority in the Swedish parliament anymore and neither is willing to allow the far-right Sweden Democrats to become kingmakers.
  • The far-right Alternative and the left-leaning Greens have eaten into support for the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats in Germany.
  • In what the Financial Times describes as “the most extreme example of such fragmentation,” the Netherlands, it now takes four parties to form a government.

This isn’t wrong per se, but I would like to offer two nuances. Read more