.Let’s start with the history part of your question. The two big political parties don’t splinter into more parties because the big parties keep re-defining themselves and re-absorbing new interest groups or falling away interest groups. The Democrat and Republic platforms are very different from what they were thirty years ago let alone fifty or a hundred years ago. As I understand the European political parties, they ‘coalesce’ after the election to form the government. In America, they do so before.
American third parties act more as spoilers than anything else. Democrats vote for Nader to punish the Democrat party. They are saying, “Look at all the additional votes you could have gotten if you stuck to your principles,” or something like that. Sometimes the third party candidate has a personal beef against a nominee. Anderson ran third party to stop Reagan. It failed. Perot hated Bush and was successful in attracting many votes that likely gave the presidency to Clinton (who only won 43% of the vote in 1992. Perot won 19% of the national vote). Although in today’s era, I think voters are seeing third parties as wasted votes, and they don’t seem as popular as before (if they were ever popular).
There has been destruction of a political party. The first was the Federalist Party. It was caught talking to the British about getting Massachusetts to secede and to rejoin the British Empire during the War of 1812. After the War of 1812, the Federalist Party went extinct. Another example is the Whig Party that went out of existence because of the Civil War. The remnants of the Whigs turned into the Republican Party starting with Lincoln.Historians have divided the major ‘periods’ of the American parties into ‘systems’that span half a century. Perhaps that may be of some interest to you.You presented definitions of the parties through ideological ideas. I don’t think that applies anymore and will certainly not apply in the future. What’s happening today is a very different change in the parties.
Why is abortion a political issue in the United States and not in places such as the UK? It isn’t because of religion or any of that. It is because the issue was not decided democratically. Prior to 1972, where the Supreme Court ruled on it, the issue was ruled on by a state by state basis.
When the democratic process is taken away from an issue, you create a high tension situation. American politics has become more and more high tension because these situations are multiplying.
The biggest example of that would be Obamacare. The people really let their congressmen and senators know how much they didn’t want it to the point where some congressman wouldn’t even hold town halls. There were two versions of the bill originating in both the House and Senate. Due to a special election in Massachusetts from to replace Senator Kennedy who died, a Republican was elected just to stop it. Since the House bill couldn’t be passed in the Senate, the Senate bill went to the House where they passed it. When the next election came around (2010), the Ds lost the House.
What is significant about this is that the R pres candidate, Romney, did set up a health care system in his state. I thought that issue would cause conservatives to go third party. Instead, it has turned the conflict to not about health care but about the process of how these things are done.
Another example is Welfare Reform. In 1996, Clinton vetoed the Welfare Reform Bill three times. His adviser, Dick Morris, told him him if he wanted to be re-elected, he had to sign it. So he signed it. That represents how things are normally done. Politicians, of both R and D, often do things they don’t want to do in order to get elected. The people demand certain things.
Quietly, through executive order, Obama removed welfare reform. It is very unusual to do something like that without going through Congress or, at least, getting public support for it.
Look at this one part of Obamacare. It calls for the creation of an Independent Payment Advisory Board. Coming into existence into 2014, it consists of 15 unelected technocrats. At August 15th each year, this board makes recommendations for reducing Medicaid to Congress. If Congress doesn’t enact them, then the board’s recommendations immediately become law without Congress’s approval. Or the president’s approval. How can a law tell Congress what to do?
The Texas Legislature passed a Voter ID law that said you had to have a photo ID in order to vote. A federal court overturned it. Pennsylvania also passed a similar voter ID law in which a court struck it down.
In the 2008 election ( a very good Democrat year), the voters of California voted to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Not long after, a California judge ruled gay marriage to be legal in California (and ‘retired’ soon after).
In that last example, one can be an advocate of gay marriage and realize that by short-circuiting the democratic process, you’re only hardening people’s resistance.
Many people confuse people’s anger over illegal immigration to be about the immigrants. It isn’t. It is about citizenship… specifically their own. What illegal immigration is saying is that there is no legal definition of citizen. This is also why voter id laws are so popular. They want citizenship to have a definition. Eventually, these people are going to stop protecting their own citizenship and start attacking the politicians by declaring each other senator and being ‘illegal senators’ and ‘illegal congressman’ and start trying to take the politicians’ perks. If citizen doesn’t mean anything, why should senator mean anything?
In a civics classroom, the question is always asked, “What if a politician just does whatever it wants no matter what the public thinks.”The answer has always been that such a politician would be thrown out at the next election. That question that is always asked has become reality.
I’ve never seen the American electorate enraged. 2010 was a demonstration of the electorate’s wrath (note that in that person’s letter to republicans, he calls himself a political exile). The Ds knew they would lose seats, but they didn’t think it would go all the way down the ballot to dogcatcher.
Carville described the first debate as Romney coming at Obama with a chainsaw. So much focus had been on Obama that there hasn’t been much interest in asking why Romney was so aggressive. In the past fifty years of debates, there is never any such aggression. The discussion is folksy, maybe a zinger or two, and it is pretty boring. One significant difference is that Romney has an enraged electorate behind him. How else would a candidate representing an enraged electorate act as anything but ‘going after him with a chainsaw’?
The root of the anger is at the ‘revolution from above’ going on. It just not done in this country. If you want major policy changes, you go bottom-up, not top-down. The enraged electorate is eager to make sure each and every politician involved pays. And they’re going to remain angry going into future cycles. They’re just as angry as when Obamacare was passed. They’re still angry at TARP which was four years ago. They have not forgotten about the Ds and Rs who voted for it.
The difference is that before, they would have stayed home to ‘protest’ or vote for the D instead of the R to ‘protest’. Now that they have a political vehicle of the Tea Party, they can use that to as a weapon against Ds and Rs (mostly Rs). What you’re not hearing is that both parties are very scared of this electorate.
That is what I think is unique about *today* versus the past. But your email didn’t ask that. Let me address your email.
You’re trying to say the two parties are like two ideological boxes that hold voters of that ideology. You’re in wonder how, with that system, can the two parties remain competitive with each other.
The answer is that the parties are not ideological boxes. The voters like to believe they are. The reality is that they are not. They are designed to win election. They tend to form coalitions of various groups. There is much calculation going on. The only anomaly in these machines has been Reagan who, not looking to balance certain groups, somehow ended up with landslide electoral victories (one winning 49 states). Both parties look at him in awe. Don’t believe me? Look at this cover of Newseek and the story written by Sullivan trying to see Obama as the Democrat’s Reagan.
Pretend there was a student election between Bob and Jimbo. What happens is not that Bob says, “Here are my ideas,” and Jimbo goes and says, “Here are my ideas,” and everyone votes. It is more like Bob goes to Freshmen and promises them new lockers. Jimbo goes to the Seniors and promises them better parking spaces. Bob goes to the Sophomores and says “I can get you extra pudding at lunch if you vote for me.” Jimbo goes to the Juniors and promises that they’ll get less homework if they vote for him. This is more of how the American parties work.
What is more interesting is when coalitions fall apart. Usually, it is done because certain groups will not tolerate being around another group. One of the reasons why the Democrats did so badly in the 1970s and 1980s for presidential elections was that their coalition fell apart. The Vietnam War split the party. Since both parties’ coalitions are established, neither will perform lower than 45%.
When George W. Bush’s approval numbers were going into the 30s, that is because Republican conservatives were going against him. In order to get below 45%, you have to have an issue inside the party coalition.
I think there is fantasy on both sides that all of the electorate is liquid and will wash over to one side if they get angry enough. The truth is that most of the electorate is solid and a little percentage is liquid.
Based on geography, you get a different ratio of the D and Rs which define that region as D or R ruled. The so-called Battleground States are so because the Ds and Rs are even.
You might ask, “Not counting depopulation or population growth, how do some regions change?” It appears to be more with money. This is a generalization: Poor and wealthy people tend to vote Democrat, middle class goes Republican. The reason why the ‘Solid South’ states voted Democrat for over a hundred years (!) was because they were poor Jacksonian farmers. Feudalism was the political structure of the southern states. After World War 2, the states began to modernize out of the agricultural age. As the populations became middle class, they began voting Republican. That is how those states re-aligned. There’s data that suggests that a person’s income influences their party preference far more than any ideological belief.
Just having someone’s exact geographic location is enough for someone to give a good estimate about what that person “believes”. The location will tell us the general range of income the person gets, the industries located in the area, the ethnicities in the area, all prior history of voting in that exact area, and on and on. When a politician enters into that area, they have all this information and tailor their language directly to it. Every voter believes his or her political opinion is the product of ‘intellectual exploration and debate’ when the political machines just laugh at it. They know the environment produces the beliefs. Therefore, American parties do not seek to ‘convert’ people’s beliefs but to change the environment to create permanent voting majorities. This is the game they play.