Killing the Alternative: the US Elections Is a No-Win Situation For the Third Parties

The history of the third parties in the US is a struggle for survival. Political analysts often proclaim that bipartisanship is hardwired in the structure of the electoral process. They notice three main factors that predetermine the existence of the two-party system: campaign finance rules, Electoral College and special rules giving party candidates ballot access.

Such euphemisms as «campaign finance rules» are ridiculous, to say the least. Any viable alternative is blocked at the grassroots level by underfunding. But thanks to many investigations, the problem of the so called «soft money» is not unknown to the public. By definition, soft money can only be spent on issue advertising during the campaign. In reality, it’s a loophole, designed to ensure, that sponsors’ cash finds its way in the “right” hands. The private campaign financing is non-transparent, exclusive and discriminatory against third parties. Corporations, unions and special interest groups know: big money likes silence. And the guy with the biggest checkbook is the one who wins, because any corporation or individual can donate as much as they want and not have to disclose where the dollars came from.

It’s all about the money

Without large sums of money candidates have no chance of being elected. Statistically, about 90% of all House and Senate races are won by the candidate who spent the most. There is no reason to believe that during presidential campaigns things are different. Third party candidates are marginalized by the mainstream media as spoilers and, to make things even worse, some of them play up to the expectations of the public (does anybody remember Herman Cain now?). They just know the rules.

Every attempt to change the system failed. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (2002) against soft money contributions was killed by the Supreme Court decision. The DISCLOSE Act 1.0 (2010) was eventually defeated and the future of its 2.0 version, initiated by the Democrats, remains unclear.

International and OSCE efforts to observe the polls faced a problem: threats of criminal prosecution of the observers in Texas and blocking of observation in Iowa shocked the Europeans. A Florida congressman running for the Senate, Connie Mack, expressed his opinion on the matter in the following way: “The United Nations should be kicked off of American soil once and for all”.

The total amount of money pumped by the contenders into campaigning for 2012 elections is impressive. According to the Centre for Responsive Politics, 2012 presidential campaign will cost an estimated $5.8 billion. A large portion of this sum will be spent on negative ads and blatant mudslinging. In the light of public debt of the USA rising beyond $14 trillion, inspiring speeches of both candidates about budget cuts seem self-contradictory.

Exporting the controversial model

No wonder many Americans express profound mistrust of federal politics and its main tool – the media. Recent Gallup report said that distrust of the media hit an all-time high this year, «with 60% surveyed saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly». The criticism of the plurality voting system is also high, as the majority of the electoral college does not represent in many aspects the majority of the states. A conservative Republican in California or a Democrat in Utah may feel that their votes are unweighted. Moreover, they have no alternative. Does such a system, prone to both partisan bias and elitism meet the needs of the global age?

The United States continue to «spread democracy», creating stress points around the globe. This strategy implies, that American democracy in its modern bipartisan form is applicable everywhere. But, as famous English historian Eric Hobsbawm showed as early as 2005, «it’s impossible to effect social change by transferring democratic institutions across borders». Particularly if these institutions in the US have potential for improvement.

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

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