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Is it time for a third party shake up in US politics?

By Caitlin Dean

My husband got up on his soap box last week and now he won’t get down. He is angry, shocked and wants change. Why is he so rankled? Well of course, it’s this US election and more precisely, voting and what he sees as an unfair process.

Dear husband’s frustrations with the voting system have got me wondering too. I have been living in the US for about 18 months and in my experience it does not seem like a country at odds with itself. But listening to any discussion surrounding the presidential candidates, it sounds like the country is about to tear itself apart.

While I have come to recognise and appreciate how diverse the US is, there are more facets and corners to this country than I ever expected to find. Does this diversity explain why every candidate seems to be divisive, engendering loathing by segments of the population?

Let’s think about the two-party system. People’s views are not binary, they are not one or the other, so I do wonder how a two-party system truly represents the nuances present in a country of 318 million people. While there may be a correlation between beliefs espoused by fiscal and social conservatives, this cannot hold true for many individuals. A country’s greatness is not formed by the vehement opposition of limited factions towards one another, or by the organisation of prejudices, but by the appreciation and exploitation of its many differences.

A parliamentary system is attractive in that there are multiple parties, which translates to multiple candidates. Voters have the choice to pick between a candidate standing up for the rights of, say, guinea pigs and a candidate representing clowns. Some might argue that these single-issue platforms do not necessarily provide diversity of opinion but instead allow us to further the entrenchment of certain individuals along myopic ideals.

Which brings me to one of those divisive candidates that I mentioned earlier … Donald Trump. He is now the presumptive nominee for the Republican Party. At the party convention in July, Trump will be considered the victor because he has the most votes even if the majority of people oppose him. Wouldn’t it be better for the electorate to vote in order of candidate preference so as to find a consensus individual, as they do in the Australian voting system? This might encourage a move away from strategic voting where people in different states swap votes and third-party candidates inevitably steal votes from the main two-party candidates. For instance, in the 2000 US election, third-party candidate Ralph Nader helped George W Bush triumph because he took votes from Democratic candidate Al Gore. Similarly, in 2016, no doubt there are Democrats living in states with open primaries who have voted for Trump because they believe that he can’t defeat the almost certain Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton.

People left, right and centre are incensed by the thought of a Trump nomination. Instead of unifying, the Republican Party is so badly fractured that establishment figures, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are starting to look beyond the inevitable Republican crowning of Donald Trump and the potential loss that this will bring in November. They are instead, talking about damage control during the general election campaign to try and hang onto the Senate. But instead of putting out fires, could the Republican conference consider changing the way they cast their votes? Might the entire electoral system benefit from this chaos and undergo reform?

So dear husband, make room on your soap box, I think I will join you up there. Maybe allowing for a third party to exist might not be so bad. At the very least, those guinea pigs and clowns will get a voice.

Caitlin Dean is a South African who grew up in East Africa and is currently living in the US. She has lived in various countries, including Kenya, South Africa, Jordan and Rwanda.

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