Clearing the Path for New Parties

America’s democracy is dysfunctional, and our broken primary election systems are to blame. Across every level of government and nearly every U.S. state, primary rules punish small parties and independents, depress voter turnout, and enhance the prospects of candidates who are unqualified. Presidential primaries are no exception, with state ballot rules making it tougher for new parties to emerge to challenge Democrats and Republicans.

Favorability polls from Gallup revealed that in 2016, the Democratic and Republican Parties nominated the two most profoundly unpopular presidential candidates in modern U.S. history. So with the major parties failing, and with 42% of Americans identifying as independents, why is it so difficult for another party to succeed? 

With the 2020 Democratic primaries racing around the corner, The New Center is releasing a three-part series on primary reform in which we propose counterintuitive solutions to America’s most vexing primary problems, including its two-party complex. Today, we launch the second paper in this series, Clearing the Path for New Parties, which describes the key features of America’s duopolistic stranglehold—and brainstorms how to crack it.

Besides tearing down ballot access red tape, the New Center proposes these solutions:

  1. Establish a shared financial infrastructure for independents. New parties and independents can only stand a chance by establishing a shared election and financing infrastructure. This involves building organizations with resources such as staffers, campaign experts, capital, and organizational rules. For independents specifically, Americans dissatisfied with the status quo could found an organization akin to the RNC or DNC that supports, endorses, and funds independent candidates across the U.S. 
  2. Bring back fusion candidates. Another solution entails jointly sponsored or “fusion” candidacies. These are commonplace in the U.K., which sees small political parties team up in order to win more seats in parliament. There were hundreds of such candidacies in the U.S. in the 1800s and early 1900s, with over 30 states using them in 1890.
  3. Reform ballot formats to support fusion candidates. Sponsored candidacies would require ballot reforms. If the fusion candidate’s name appears next to a list of all the parties strung together, no one knows which one most attracted the voter—thus preventing a major party from appreciating the value of a minor party’s votes. The fusion candidate’s name would need to appear multiple times, each time next to just one party, so that tallies can demonstrate how many votes each party reined in. 

If independents and new parties hope to make a meaningful dent in our duopoly, they need to think creatively—and take a gander at the history books. The U.S. has only recently become the rigid two-party system that it is. Duopoly-disruptors should understand this, and think strategically (and historically) about solutions.

Click here to read the full paper, Clearing the Path for New Parties.

Click here to read the first paper in the primary reform series, Letting the Parties Decide Who Represents Them.