Why America has only two parties

My explanation is not institutionalist.

Why does America have only two parties? We usually hear it’s because of the voting system. Proportional representation (PR) causes more than two parties. And until the United States has proportional representation, you’d better not vote for third parties!

Not so much.

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How liberals ended PR in the US

Proportional representation is a mostly left-wing cause in the US. Some see it as a path to bigger Democratic House delegations. Others see it as a way out of the Democratic Party, period. Much liberal-wing anger centers on the party’s ties to Wall Street. If we had PR, the story goes, the liberal wing would seat its own party. If not, it might at least scare the Clinton wing into moving left. And the affinity between PR and left politics might draw on a myth, neatly summarized below:

Proportional representation systems were tried earlier in the past century and then discarded precisely because they favored minority representation (racial and left wing/socialist) too much.

I’ve found evidence that the most liberal Democrats were actually PR’s worst enemies. Yes, racially and economically liberal. I’m talking about the AFL and/or CIO and Young Democrats. At roughly the same time they were pulling the Democratic Party leftward, they were working to repeal PR in at least three of the cities that had it.
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STV is also totally compatible with polarization

On Friday, I showed NOMINATE scores for Cincinnati City Council members elected under permissive rules. Polarization was super low* for some years because, in each of those years, a lone wolf was able to play coalition kingmaker in a hung parliament.**

Now look at 1947, which is new in this plot, and watch those parties diverge. Yup. STV is totally compatible with high levels of polarization. (I never said it wasn’t.)

cincyThru1947

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