What does it mean to be a Republican or Democrat in 2020? What did it mean in 2016, or in 2012? How has the meaning changed between the last three presidential elections?
Debate over the two party system in the United States has been occurring for some time and especially more so now as the characteristics of both parties continue to rapidly change and evolve in the opposite directions of each other. I believe that the American two-party system will lose popularity and legitimacy as time progresses due to the lack of effectiveness from gatekeeping within parties, extreme polarization between the two parties, and lastly because of the intensification of populism.
Gatekeeping is a political party’s responsibility to keep out authoritarians or extremist leaders; political parties are the quote on quote gatekeepers of democracy. Keeping out extremist leaders was the most significant importance of having parties because they can check these leaders before they appear on the ballot or engage with citizens. A successful example of gatekeeping was the Swedish Conservative Party (AVF) during the 1930’s, leading up to World War II. The AVF had a youth group, named the Swedish Nationalist Youth Organization . The Swedish Nationalist Youth Organization condemned parliamentary democracy, supported Hitler, and even assembled a group of uniformed storm troopers. The AVF reacted by dissociating and removing the organization .
However, with the introduction of media and technology, gatekeeping is no longer as successful as it once was for parties. Technology removes the barriers for extremist candidates to reach citizens because in this day and age, everyone is constantly digesting media through their technological devices. Although a meme, President Donald Trump was able to engage with his voters and build his platform through Twitter. The Five Star Party, which currently holds the most seats in the Italian Parliament, also arose from the internet. Technology has successfully infiltrated the effectiveness of gatekeeping for parties. The deterioration of the two-party system is only going to be aggravated more since media and technology use will only increase in future elections.
The next determinant towards two-party deterioration is the extreme polarization between the Democratic and Republican parties. In the 2016 election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, many people voted for Trump even if they did not believe in his platform due to partisan interests. Candidate platform polarization is incredibly damaging to democracy because people put aside their own views in order to vote in accordance with their party . Trump may have not been representative of the Republican party and would likely bring an irresponsible, negative connotation to the party, yet people were willing to concede that fact in order to go red.
In the recent 2020 election, we saw the effects of likely some of the greatest party polarization in American history. President elect Joe Biden gained over 74 million votes, defeating President Donald Trump who received over 70 million votes. Biden gained the most votes in American history and Trump gained the second most votes in American history. This high turnout was a result of extreme polarization between the parties because polarization raises the stakes of elections and causes people to make a decision between partisan interest or democracy . Polarization is detrimental to the two-party system because if gatekeeping is no longer a check for democracy, then polarization can exacerbate democratic erosion and two-party erosion due to extremist candidates being able to run for office with polarizing platforms. The current polarization of the two-party system will only get more polarized as extremist candidates with even more polarizing platforms run for office, thus foreshadowing the two-party system’s imminent demise.
The last factor that hinders the two-party system is the intensification of right wing populism that has arisen with the Trump presidency. Populism happened to cling onto the right side of the two hyperpolarized political parties due to Trump’s efforts to pit the commoners against the media and political elites . Trump’s charismatic populism especially resonated with communities consisting of racial and economic inequalities along with cultural cleavages . Charismatic populism has contributed to partisan degradation, which was seen in an almost complete red wave control of the US in all branches of government combined with Republicans often placing partisan concerns over national issues . Populism is essentially a catalyst to speeding up the process of two-party system degradation, that specifically arose most prominently with the Trump presidency. With President elect Joe Biden, the fate of populism and its effect on the two-party system now remains uncertain.
In sum, the degradation of the two-party system has been assisted with media and technology undermining gatekeeping, polarization between the two parties, and populism in the Trump era. It will be interesting to see how the process could slow down or unexpectedly speed up with a new presidency over the next four years.
Citations Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. , 2018. Print.  Graham, Matthew and Svolik, Milan, Democracy in America? Partisanship, Polarization, and the Robustness of Support for Democracy in the United States https://ssrn.com/abstract=3354559 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3354559  Robert Lieberman et al., “The Trump Presidency and American Democracy: A Historical and Comparative Analysis,” Perspectives on Politics 2018, pp. 1-20  Ginsburg, Tom, and Aziz Z. Huq. How to Save a Constitutional Democracy. The University of Chicago Press, 2020.
You touched on a very important issue that I believe could have serious consequences for our political system as a whole. In the past, we have not seen a candidate like Donald Trump in terms of the media. Trump’s twitter allowed him to access millions and the information he has used the platform to rely is not always accurate or appropriate. Do you think, in the case of the United States, candidates will continue to use a similar strategy to gain attention/favorability of voters? Would it be a more popular decision for extremists?
Polarization was extremely prominent in this election and I agree that Trump may have created a negative view of the Republican party through his actions and the furthering polarization preceding the election and after. I believe that Trump is a unique case considering the nature of his behavior and supporters, but do you think that the republican party would try to return to a more “normal” candidate rather than continuing to allow extremists? If the country continues to rally around candidates similar I believe that this would be the greatest threat because as you said, it increases polarization.
The rise of populism is also something that could be detrimental to the two-party system and democracy itself because it increases distrust in the government which could further polarize the country and if it becomes linked to one party as explained with the “red wave.” If it is only Trump himself and not populist rhetoric that attracts some republicans, will populism become less of a threat to the two-party system?
I loved reading this post! I especially liked what you said about technology and how citizens are constantly receiving information through their devices. As you said, even though President Donald Trump was seen as a “meme,” he still used Twitter to his advantage. This made me think, as someone who leans more to the left and uses social media daily, I rarely ever see tweets from the President or from those who lean more to the right. I mostly see posts that agree with my beliefs, thus showing that social media platforms introduce certain posts to specific timelines, so people are more likely to interact with them. This also leads me to think of the 2016 election as well, seeing that social media groups specific people with similar beliefs together, I am assuming that all those with left-wing ideologies saw posts claiming Donald Trump was a “meme” as well and extremely unlikely to win against Hillary Clinton. This would be the same for Republicans and what appears on their timeline as well. It is difficult to realize what information each party is being exposed to without explicitly searching for it due to this social media issue. Do you think that this issue also adds to the extreme polarization between the two parties, and how could we fix it?
Hey there Jackie! I really enjoyed your post. In particular, there was a great amount of liking that I took to your parallels to Populism and polarization. With the concepts of manipulation and pitting one side against another, your take on this was very strong. There is an intense amount of leverage that can be used in partisan politics, particularly if small problems by one side can be blown up into a much larger catastrophe, like elite corporations or media outlets, by which we see by both right and left-leaning conspirators. On top of this, I enjoy the idea of polarization that you brought up. With today’s divisive country, being polar is not atypical. This brings about a grandiose amount of tension between states and even towns and cities, which can (of course) incite violence and hatred towards those of another political mindset.
Overall, I really enjoyed your analysis, it seems very well thought out and represents an intense criticism on today’s two-party society.
This was a really well written blog post and I agree with everything that you mentioned. I think that the degradation of the two party system will benefit the American public far more than it will hurt them. The two party system allows for the hyper partisanship you mentioned in your blog and prevents people from voting for a candidate they support, and rather a candidate that they believe is the “lesser of two evils”. When more candidates are on the ballots it will allow for more people to feel represented and have a strong third or fourth choice.
Great post! I think these are very important issues to consider going forwards in this country. The polarization you talk about is very relevant to the discussion. So many people end up voting based just on what political party they belong to rather than the issues themselves. The biggest danger of this I think is that instead of having a respectful exchange of ideas we are seeing this vicious war between the two sides. I think it’s safe to say that both political parties have valuable and different views and ideas to offer to the table for discussion. To immediately dismiss these ideas simply because they don’t originate with one’s political party is not a very effective way to move forwards as a nation. The role technology plays in this that you discussed is very interesting too. Technology is definitely not helping this party divide either. It’s very easy nowadays for someone with a lot of influence on social media to manipulate how people think or how certain things are interpreted.
I really enjoyed your analysis of the American two-party system! I agree that the degradation of this system will likely accelerate in years to come, and I am doubtful that it will survive infinitely; I believe that there will eventually be a new political system in the United States. I too am curious to see what Joe Biden’s presidency will do to this degradation and would further question, what would happen to the two-party system if Trump had remained in office for another four years? You make a great case for the past four years and the acceleration of this degradation of the two-party system largely due to Trump and his populist tendencies, but I would be curious as to whether or not the two-party system would have outlasted four more years? I also would wonder what other implications the increasingly evident erosion of the system would hold for both Republicans and Democrats; would either side eventually rise of oppose populism/ put country over party following four more years of Trump? I agree with your point that Biden’s presidency seemingly will have some sort of stabilizing effect on the political system, but I am also unsure of what the next four years will look like in terms of the trust of the American electorate in the system, and subsequently, the degradation of the two-party system.