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KevenSeven On November - 9 - 2009

morepartyanimaldadfs1 - wideTonight I introduce a new feature: A recurring seminar on various topics.   The concept is deliberately academic.   I (and others assuming y’all embrace the concept) will be conducting a conversation on various topics: politics, policy, economics.

For this first effort, I will outline a discussion and invite you to comment.    We will have the thread up for a day or two, then take it down.   I would ask you to do some research in preperation for next week’s continuation of the topic.   Please try to find trenchant and persuasive material and bring us a link.   Also write a synopsis of the mateiral that you are bringing us.  Hopefully we can work for several weeks and find quite a bit of material to share.

And perhaps we can synthesize some new thoughts on the topic.   Do please try to be careful to follow standard academic rules: avoid plagiarism or anything smelling of it, and give us citations.    I’m pretty jazzed on this, I hope you will join me in this exercise.


A recent comment on a thread got me thinking again about a subject that is often in the back of my mind.

Someone wrote that America needs a third party, which could lead one into an interesting Political Science conversation.

Obviously, for a democracy to be a democracy, there must be more than one party.    The question then arises: how many would be ideal?   I would not hold up America’s two party system as a desirable model.   Now, I have often twitted people who threaten to bolt off to the Greens for being irrational and silly.   My beef with the American Green party is that it wastes money running a candidate for president.   I know, I know, it draws attention.   Not much, it doesn’t.   My argument is that if the Greens got six congresspeople elected, they would become a real power.    Imagine how Pelosi would  be wooing them just now.    Look at how gingerly the Senate Dems must treat that cold fish Leiberman!

So I think we could agree that two is too few.    How many is too many?   That would depend in part on your expectations of govt.   If you were a Rethug, you want govt to accomplish nothing at all.    You seriously want govt to shrivel up and die.

Most other democracies are parliamentary in nature.   Which means that the executive power resides with whichever party in the legislature has the majority.   Some states have a somewhat mixed structure, featuring both a president and a prime minister.   France, Russia and Israel are important examples.

The question that we are attempting to answer is: What number of parties leads to the most progressive and effective society?

In America we have been fixed on a two party system for nearly two centuries.   Arguably that is not ideal.

Britain has two and a half parties: Labor, Tory and Liberal Democrat, the LD being really only half a party, as it has never lead a coalition (to my knowledge.   Part of this exercise is to fill in our collective knowledge.)

Other nations have settled on three parties, in general.

Others have multiple parties.   In some systems it is necessary to achieve X percentage of the vote to win a seat in parliament, which is designed to limit the number of parties represented in govt.    I believe Britain and Germany could be counted in this group.

Italy, famously, had a new governing coalition every year for the first 45 years after WWII.   A driver of that is the fact that there is (or was) almost no minimum needed to gain a seat in parliment.

Israel is a dramatic example.   The Knesset has 120 seats, and any party that earns at least 120th of the vote has a shot at a seat.    Often as not, the Knesset has ten parties seated.   Many analysis of the deadlock in the MiddleEast has referenced the out-sized influence of minuscule parties in Israeli politics.

That is the first installment.   An overview of subject and a few examples to discuss.   Let’s chat about this for two days then go find more material to share in a week.   I’ll repost this introduction and your comments, with a bit of a refresh, then we can continue our chat.

43 Responses so far.

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  1. kesmarn says:

    I know this is possibly the most light-weight comment I could make but: I LOVE the graphic for this article. The notion of a Rooster, Kangaroo or Beaver Party is too funny.

    I’ll try to come back later with something more intelligent to say.

  2. KevenSeven says:

    My wife got tickets to Area 9, which I have yet to see, for this evening, and thus I will not be able to respond as this moves forward tonight. I will let this go one more day, Mo offered some good points, as did Nellie. Feel free to continue this until Thurs evening then I will pull it down and refresh it for next Monday.

    Please try to have some research to share then.

  3. Mogamboguru says:

    Hi, folks!

    10 in the morning here in Germany, and I am having breakfast, while I am watching your political discurse.

    A short note on the Green Party in America: I am afraid, that they may have been set up as a mere deception, to draw the attention of voters away from serious topics. One has to accept, that tha mayority of voters IS and WILL ALWAYS BE consist of moderate conservatives, with occasional progressive twinklings.

    So if yo uwere REALLY going to change the political landscape in the USA, you had to go, where the mayority is, to get things done -- i,e, establish a party, where the farmer as well as th clerk, the progressive redneck as well as the conservative businessman may find a platform to join.

    I know -- because I am fighting this same fight in Germany actually. I am a member of the Left Party. We have a HUGE chance to replace the SPD, the left-leaning, moderately progressive mayority-party in Germany, which has taken a way too far to the right recently due to the bad influence of too conservative leaders, and, thus, have laid a good swat of their former constituency left out and laid bare to pick up and incorporate into our party.

    But while there is a HUGE chance for us to become a mayor player in german politics in short time and become able to REALLY influence the course of this country, we hava a huge problem with the extreme left wing of our own party, which is still fighting for socialism and is out for an all-or-nothing approach in the streets.

    I am not fighting for leftist ideals. I am fighting to improve the lives of people. And a party always only should considered to be a tool for improving the lives of people.

    Extremism in ny direction is NEVER adaptable to the mainstream. But it’s the mainstrae one MUST appeal as a political, to really get things done.

    • KevenSeven says:


      Thanks for this. You were slightly off topic, by five or ten degrees. Not a complaint.

      Seeing as you know German politics so well, perhaps you can take the next few weeks as we work thru this to educate us in depth as to how things work there?

      Remembering the first question: what number of parties best progresses a society?

      Be looking for evidence of roadblocks to progress. You illustrated in part a classic, Puritanism. An unwillingness to compromise. Like allowing an abortion rider on a national health care bill.

    • nellie says:

      Hey, Mo. Interesting take on our Green Party. I don’t know if the Green Party is a set up, but it certainly is ineffectual. I was the chair of my Green Party local a few years back, and the party is plagued with angry, idealistic, inflexible types who genuinely don’t know a lot about politics — don’t know how our system works, don’t know how to get things done. The party is highly dysfunctional, with a lot of infighting and not much direction. Which is why I am no longer the chair of my local, or even a member of the party.

      The idea of a progressive party is very appealing, as long as it does not attract a leadership group like the one in the Green Party. From experience, I can see that the leadership component in the party is essential — not only in establishing a sustainable platform, but also in managing the growth and public image. It sounds basic, but the Green Party has never gotten those things under control, despite national recognition and years of growth.

      • KevenSeven says:

        In other words, Puritans.

        I just sent a bit of a snotty letter to the VP of my Dem Club (of which I am an officer) because her hair is on fire over the abortion amendment. She wants the club to send Nancy a Stern Letter! As if Nancy did not gag on that amendment.

    • AdLib says:

      Hey Mo!

      I agree that there is an element in the American population that keeps one foot of society nailed down in conservatism (and against progress), mainly stemming from the overly religious nature of Americans (certainly as compared to most other industrialized nations).

      At the same time, there is the dichotomy of a desire to be able to change, to try new things.

      Take for example the election of the first black man as President of the United States. Looking back at all other industrialized nations, the U.S. is the only major nation to date to have chosen that kind of diversity in their leadership. And in health care, most polls show a clear majority in favor of the public option and even for single payer. These are actually quite liberal positions.

      So, my perspective is similar to yours with a bit of a variation. The American public has a very status quo side to itself but when times are tough, they are flexible enough to discard that conservatism and move towards big change.

      As for the Green Party, it was a wholly “grass roots” (couldn’t resist!) movement that founded this party, under the same Green Party organization that as I’m sure you know, began in Germany.

      Still, you and I end up with the same conclusion about the Green Party, it does not seem ideal to become a competitive third party in this country.

      As to your proposal, I don’t see how any party could effectively represent the political leanings of the conservative businessmen who oppose regulation, taxing the wealthy, the minimum wage, universal health care, fighting global warming, etc., and progressives who are all about supporting those things.

      I do think that a populist-stylle Progressive Party could be a viable third party, if financed in the same internet grass roots style Obama’s campaign was so special or wealthy interests were kept out from control.

      Right now, the majority of the public seems to be behind more Progressive issues than even straight ahead Democrats.

      And when we see the compromises made to appease some of these regressive Dems, it’s discouraging to be in a party where some of “us” are Republicans in every way but name.

      A Progressive Party that aggressively campaigned for single payer, cutting carbon emissions, taxing the wealthy, independently regulating business and industry, reforming the electoral process to carve out corporate domination, these are all popular positions.

      Now, I am very pleased that a health care bill passed The House but look at how they had to cripple and compromise it to get their whole party behind it? And the radical anti-abortion amendment they passed and approved?

      How many Americans would support a party that was like the Dems but didn’t have a religious/conservative element that corrupted every progressive piece of legislation?

      Properly done, I think a good amount of Americans would.

      • Mogamboguru says:

        Good points!

        I like your ideas, Adlib.

        (BTW: Only yesterday I found out, what an “Adlib” really is. You seem to be quite an old hack, like I am, aren’t you? 😉 )

        How difficult is it in the USA to establish a party? Purely from the organisatorical point of view, i mean. In Germany, it’s quite a simple and straightforward process. All you need is a certain number of signatures from supporters, a meeting, some elections forthe positions of party-officials, then have your party registered at the electoral offices (federal, state, county and city) -- and off you go.

        Perhaps, a little propaganda and organisation are worth the efford? I mean, in the end, PlanetPOV offers a good internet-platform to start such a movement through discission and community-building, doesn’t it?

        Never before has it been so easy, to buld a communita and gather people around an idea than today, in the age of the internet, facebook, mobile phone and twitter.

        The Democratic party has shown a good understanding for these new means during the past elections. But perhaps it’s time, to bring the socializing and community building in the name of founding a new, progressive party to a whole new level???


        • KevenSeven says:


          What’s with the goddam emotacons? Uhg. I thought for a second that I was at the wrong site!

          It is trivial to establish a party. What is extraordinarily difficult is to achieve any credibility. And my knock on the Greens is that they waste effort running a presidential candidate. If they could win and hold a SINGLE House seat, they would gain vastly more credibility. If they could win a dozen, they would have actual power.

          • Mogamboguru says:

            Hi, K7 8-).

            • Mogamboguru says:

              Dammit, the period gave my smiley-secret away. Just type a classical smiley, K7, ad the software will translate it into an emoticon.

              bout the Greens, you are right. No more presidential elections, but seats. About credibility for a new party: Start small and earn your spurs through good, hard work. Then the credibility wil lcome with the results. Michael Moore has given some very good examples on how to apply for a public office. It’s easy as pie, really.

              Wouldn’t that be something, to get Michael Moore as figurehaed for a new, progressive american party…? Just dreaming. But, well: Yes: Some progressive seats in state houses or in the Congress itself would MASSIVELY boast the progressive agenda. I say, it’s definitely worth a trial.

              YES, YOU CAN! :-)

    • Mogamboguru says:

      Off to work (late shift).

      Seeya later, folks!

  4. Khirad says:

    Boy, Britain is an interesting one. Don’t forget the national parties, and the increasingly complex dynamics there with devolution, as well. I’m probably most familiar (and avid PM’s Questions viewer) with the British system (with special interest in Scottish politics, though I haven’t kept up lately), but also have working knowledge of Canadian, German, and Indian politics. Even the Mexican system, with two major parties in the Socialist International is intriguing, and I wish I had more of a knowledge base there.

    I fully agree with your take on the Greens. The only reason I voted for Nader in 2000 as a young voter in my first presidential election (in a reliably blue state, too) was I hoped in getting enough percentage to qualify for federal funding and build a party with a greater profile. Since Nader bolting, and such figures as Cynthia McKinney in its leadership ranks I long since became disillusioned. Start off with town councils, build up. Grassroots and Green should go together, no?

    In any case, very interesting topic. I’ll give it some thought, but don’t really know if I’ll be up to the task. I’m more likely to anticipate eagerly the thoughts of other such luminaries of our Planet’s denizenry on this subject.

  5. KevenSeven says:

    OK, we have scratched the surface, but now I am looking for actual analysis.

    Pepe wrote of the Canadian system, with four parties.

    Pepe, how about finding us some articles on the subject that illustrate the issues of having four parties?

    And I am not convinced that the structure of our Constitution prevents utterly the rise of a third party. The fact is that the two parties collude to prevent third party success.

    I’ll leave this thread up until Wednesday evening, then write a follow-on come next Monday. Please do a bit of research before next Monday.

  6. PepeLepew says:

    Canada has four major parties — NDP, Liberal, Conservative, Quebe

    • Khirad says:

      Especially when the Conservatives play the other three off of each other. In progressive cities like Vancouver and the Toronto area, you also have the Greens poaching off likely NDP seats.

  7. TheLateGrardini says:

    Thanks for the information and the links, nellie.

  8. bitohistory says:

    This is the search page from “The Nation” on “German Party Politics”
    The fist one listed is from the the Nov. 2 issue and it does offer many thoughts on the multi-party system. One of the points made by Katha Pollitt stands out for me. That a smaller party (in a leadership coalition) may be tainted for a long time if that coalition fails in its leadership. Much like the Social Democrats(SPD) are now. One of many thoughts I have on this system.

  9. KQuark says:

    The biggest thing blocking a three party system in this country is the Constitution itself. Because we don’t have parliamentary rule where the executive comes out of the legislator multiple parties will never have enough money to run national presidential elections. Worse yet because the executive does not come out of the legislature there really is no impedes towards the formation of coalition governments where two parties rule. I find it very ironic that when the US had a chance to institute democracy in Iraq Bush did not institute our form of democracy but Great Brittan’s form of democracy.

    I don’t have as much problem with not having a third party as some either because face it the Dems are like a multiple party with their various coalitions. I would much rather have the executive come out of the legislative branch though because our form of government is one of the reasons the Executive Branch has too much unchecked power. Face it half of Americans cannot even name their own Representatives or Senators but all Americans know who the president is. Legislators would have much more clout if they produced the executive.

    If I do start a third party I think I’ll name it “Strange Quarks Progressive Party” or the “SQPP”.

  10. TheLateGrardini says:

    It is nice having somebody disagreeing with you and not questioning your sanity or ancestry!

  11. nellie says:

    I always have the same answer to our two party system — Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). It ensures that any third party will not end up being a spoiler for any stronger party—giving people the freedom to vote their conscience and thus giving third or fourth parties a real chance at winning an election. It would have solved the problem in 2000. It would have solved the problem of the Franken election. And it serves the will of the people.

    With this type of voting system, the party in last place has its votes distributed to the other party candidates according to the wishes of each voter. Right now IRV is being used to a limited extent in local elections (http://www.instantrunoff.com/uses/us.php ). Not surprisingly, MN was one location where IRV was tried this year (http://www.fairvote.org/?page=19 ). And there is current legislation pending for larger elections around the country (http://www.instantrunoff.com/legislation.php ).

    IMO, the question is not how many parties, but how we give smaller political parties a fair chance at winning, and how we become more inclusive without obstructing the people’s will. IRV is one of several electoral reforms that would help our democracy become more representative of (and responsive to) our citizenry.

    • KQuark says:

      Thanks for the info Nellie. I’m totally ignorant of the concept. I will check out the links.

    • TheLateGrardini says:

      Have you or do you know anybody that has participated in this? I can just about guarantee that would never happen here in Kansas.

      • FeloniousMonk says:

        You’re in Kansas? I’m sorry. Just kidding Lardini. I sold my last property in Kansas this winter. Kansas politics has always been strange but it appears to have gotten much more so since I left twenty years ago. I was born and raised in Salina. Nice place to drive through, but I wouldn’t call it living there!

      • nellie says:

        Yes, the links I posted will show you places that are using or considering IRV. It was an important item on the Green Party agenda a few years ago. Here is one of the information sties:


        And if you do a google, you’ll see a lot of information on the IRV electoral reform movement.

    • escribacat says:

      I have never heard of IRV. It’s an excellent idea. Even though the lack of mandate might be an issue (as you describe below), it would give the winning candidate motivation to shift more in that direction.

      I still resent Nader for giving us Bush in 2000. I don’t think I will ever forgive the guy.

    • KevenSeven says:

      I’ve seen IRV demonstrated. It is in effect in some parts of CA.

      The thing I like about IRV is that it naturally disadvantages tenth tier parties. It would acomadate a third and fourth party, but the tiny parties would not gain traction, and I’m OK with that.

      I really have no interest in having ten parties with a real chance to sit in the House.

      • nellie says:

        I hadn’t considered that aspect of IRV, but it’s an important point. Marginal parties representing fringe ideologies would be screened out early in the process, whereas a strong Green Party candidate might actually have a chance at winning a seat. And I’m ok with that, too.

        Good thinking.

      • KevenSeven says:

        IRV is interesting. Assume that Al Gore and George Bush were standing for the presidency, and the Greens put up an attractive candidate with a sensible platform.

        Good Liberals would be troubled at the choice between Gore and the Green, especially considering the prospect of electing Bush. With IRV, a voter could make the Green his first choice, and Gore his second. We assume just now that the Green would not win, but all his votes would go to Gore, that plus all the Dems and liberal independents delivers victory.

        The good thing there is that the Greens gain credibility. The bad thing is that the candidate who gets the secondary vote loses his mandate, assuming that he was the first choice of 40% of Americans and second of 15%.

        Not that Obama having won a clear mandate has slowed the party of NO.

  12. TheLateGrardini says:

    Two things would be required for a third (or fourth, or fifth…). We would have to amend the Constitution, if the other parties become viable. Suppose you had a three way split of Congress, and a Presidential candidate did not recieve an electoral majority? I think that would lead to even more corruption than we have now, with coalitions having to be formed, etc. I think then you would really see government to the highest bidder. Legitimate public financing of elections would also have to take place. Equal amounts of free advertising would have to occur (which would cost our radio stations a ton of money every two years, but sometimes you just have to suck it up). We would also have to find candidates that not only had a great deal of courage and principles, but also a great deal of charisma. Are there any out there? Right now I don’t see any. But, in this day and age anything is possible.

    • KevenSeven says:

      I think you have things all wrong here.

      Obviously there would be coalitions in the legislature assuming three viable parties. That is the rule, not the exception, in the other democracies of the world. What concerns me is at what number of parties does deadlock develop? Clearly, here in the states, two does not get things moving very quickly. But a lot of that arises from the structure and rules of the Senate.

      You have a good point about the election of presidents assuming three equally viable parties, in our system of Separation of Powers. Would the center party ally itself with the party to its right or left and run a single candidate? With the assumption that the other party would get to name Sec State or some other cabinet seats?

      The question of public financing is a tangent. I’m looking for a discussion of what number of parties is dynamically ideal. Financing is a matter of how to get there. Worthy of a discussion on its own, but off topic here.

      • KQuark says:

        Coalition governments don’t get much done unless one party dominates even in parliamentary system. Our gridlock has much more to do with the caustic nature of our politics and dishonest media than anything else today. Because of election cycles a presidency last one year these days.

    • TheLateGrardini says:

      I guess that was three!!!

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