Three-party politics weakens democracy

American observers of the recent German elections might be puzzled that the process of building a government is not complete. In the United States the governing parties are firmly determined on election day, the victor being the political party that has won the presidency or a majority in the House or Senate. This is not the case in most democracies. The recent elections in Germany have instructively provided an example of the pitfalls of a multi-party system. The multi-party system is more fractious and unstable, failing to measure up when compared to a two-party system.
One major benefit provided by the two-party system is a stable government. The reactions toward President Clinton’s troubles demonstrate its inherent strength. Imagine if the United States had three strong political parties and that a coalition of Democrats and the Mysterious Third Party held the majority in the Congress. As news of the Lewinsky scandal spreads, if the Mysterious Third Party decided to back out of the coalition, the country faces a situation in which selecting the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader becomes impossible until a new coalition is formed.
It is in exactly this sort of situation that multi-party European systems fail. It does not take a large issue to bring the government grinding to a halt. Petty fighting and minor slights have disabled numerous European countries in this fashion. Indeed, the European country with the most stable government, the United Kingdom, also operates within an essentially two-party system like the United States.
Another example of the problems a third-party candidate can cause is right here in Minnesota. Jesse Ventura has made the Reform Party an important part of the 1998 gubernatorial election on the strength of his charisma, name recognition, and populism. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate, Hubert H. “Skip” Humphrey III has paid special attention to ensuring that Ventura is included in all debates. Voters who favor Ventura are more likely to come from Norm Coleman’s Republican camp. The excitement in the Humphrey camp about providing fairness for Ventura seems to come primarily from the reduction in Coleman’s voter base. Perhaps the Humphrey camp would not be as eager to include the Reform Party candidate if he were campaigning for the protection of the environment and support of labor unions. As it stands, Ventura, besides relying on his outsider image, is making inroads on traditionally Republican issues such as crime fighting and decreasing the size of government. The DFL’s abuse of Ventura’s candidacy could not occur in a two-party system. Moreover, should Humphrey achieve a plurality, he might be the next governor even though a majority of voters voted for more conservative candidates.
Carefully consider the consequences that a major third party would have on the American political landscape. Do we really want a system in which governing majorities sit precariously atop fragile coalitions and the election process is distorted? This hardly seems a fair trade for excessive diversity among candidates.