As a voter in the USA today, you've effectively got only 2 choices in any election.
The top two parties, the Democrats and Republicans (modulo party name-changes
that occurred during the early 1800s), have won every single presidential election since 1824.
(The present names were settled on in the 1860s.)
The total combined percentage of congressmen, senators, and presidents from
any party besides the top two is
since the Civil War has been (rounded off to the nearest integer) 0 or 1%.
There has been a generally declining trend too, since it
reached peaks of around 5% at times between 1860 and 1920, but those days are gone.
As I write this in 2005, there is exactly one member of the 435-strong US House of Representatives
who is not a Democrat or Republican (Bernie Sanders).
And there is exactly one such member of the US Senate (Jim Jeffords) but he
does not really count since when he was elected, he was a Republican. (Jeffords quit
the GOP while in office after a fight with Bush.) So count him
as half. That is 1-and-a-half non-major-party members who are
senators, congressmen, and high executive
branch posts, out of about 550 total, i.e. the rate is about 1 in 370.
And since both Jeffords and Sanders are partyless, the
third-party percentage is zero.
And if you think having only 2 choices is a bad marketplace, think again: really
you usually only have one
choice – i.e. no choice – just like a dictatorship!
Why do I say that? Because the system has gradually gotten more and more rigged and
corrupted by, e.g. gerrymandering and big money donations preferentially to
those already in office – to
the point where in recent decades 98% of the time a congressman tries to get re-elected, he
succeeds. In other words, if congressmen wanted to stay in office and managed
never to die, then they would
last for an average time-span of 100 years. That is greater longetivity than
has been achieved by any dictator. Dictators like Saddam Hussein and Fidel Castro
can only stand in awe of US congressmen.
Update (2018): it appears USA re-election rates are now more like 96%, not 98%; and
it is no longer true that death in office is more likely than defeat.
Still, this is pretty bad. During 1951-2017 USA House re-election rates
always were between 85 and 99%.
In contrast Canada during 1960-1995 had re-election rates always between 39 and 72%,
except for 85% in 1993.
India during 1965-1995 had re-election rates always between 40 and 85%.
These differences are probably related to the USA having enormous
gerrymandering while Canada was very nongerrymandered, and India's
appeared to be intermediate between Canadian and USA levels.
And to add insult to injury, the person in charge of the elections is usually
purposefully selected to be maximally biased.
Compare that 98% re-election rate (which is also true for US state-house elections,
at least in all the big states)
Ireland (83%) and India (below 50%); US House races are less competitive by a wide
margin than those of any other freely elected national legislative body in the world.
In fact, US congressmen are more likely to die in office than to be defeated – same
property as "kings."
Turnover in the old Soviet Politburo exceeded that of the US congress.
To add insult to injury – the two major parties take advantage of their
pre-eminence to further demean and diminish third parties:
on presidential debates"
is made up solely of unelected high Democrat and
Republican party officials and lets other candidates participate, or refuses to let them,
at their pleasure.
"Major parties" are granted ballot slots with no effort required for most positions in
most US states. Meanwhile
"minor parties" often need to surpass difficult hurdles to get on the ballot.
(That way, even on the fairly rare
occasions when one of the major parties does not run a candidate,
the third parties are still safely shut out.)
Such as signatures by three percent
of all the registered voters in Florida, an enormous requirement upheld by
a court in 1994; meanwhile the Democrats and Republicans required zero signatures
due to the their major-party status. "The Law of France is impartial: it is illegal for
both the rich and the poor to sleep under bridges."
editor of Ballot Access News,
reports that Georgia in 1943 enacted an even higher
new party and independent candidates must submit a petition signed by 5% of the
number of registered voters in order to get on the ballot for any office!
Previously, any party could get on the ballot just by requesting it.
The result has been that since 1943, there have been zero third-party
candidates on the Georgia ballot for U.S. House of Representatives.
Arkansas and West Virginia have even
more outrageous ballot access laws.
The Libertarian Party in 2000 raised $2.6 million for its presidential campaign, and had
to spend $250,000 just trying to get on the ballot in Pennsylvania and Arizona alone.
Here's a quick survey of ridiculous US state ballot access laws.
(Libertarian 2-time US Presidential candidate) Harry Browne reports:
in my home state of Tennessee, Republicans and Democrats are listed on the ballot with their
party labels. But candidates of any other parties must be listed as "Independent." Thus
anyone entering the polling booth determined to vote against the two major parties must
know already which third-party candidate to vote for. If he doesn't, he'll be
afraid to choose among the "Independents," not knowing which of them might be a Nazi or
Communist. For a similar pathology, consider
the Ohio 2006 Governor race.
Donation size limits, e.g. a $2000 limit, can work against third parties who otherwise,
e.g. could get a big boost from a wealthy philanthropist. (The only way around that is
if their candidate himself is a zillionaire.) Similarly, government campaign subsidy laws
often are written in such a way that only the major party candidates can take advantage of the
(Former Libertarian US Presidential Candidate)
Harry Browne reports:
The $2,000-per-person donation limit
works to the advantage of Republicans and Democrats.
They can promise large governmental benefits to industry leaders,
who in exchange will promise to collect large numbers of $2,000 donations for
We have nothing similar to offer, and so we have to raise the money one person at a time.