What The American Left Would Look Like Without The Two-Party System

The radical British filmmaker Ken Loach has called for the creation of a new political party ideologically to the left of the current Labour Party and more in line with what he and his co-authors see as Labour’s true socialist roots. Building on the themes of his new documentary about the creation of the modern British welfare state after WWII, The Spirit of ’45, Loach and his colleagues argue that a new party is necessary to fully reject the austerity policies of the Tories and to avoid the fecklessness of Labour in challenging this consensus.

The likelihood of this new party (a) taking off and being successful and (b) being politically attractive to enough voters seems low, given that the “first past the post” system for U.K. parliamentary elections ensures a small, leftish party will lack real power. Putting the wisdom of this venture aside, it does raise an interesting question about the stability and attractiveness of the major political parties going forward.

In the U.S., our electoral system forces people to choose between two parties that many voters clearly do not like. What might the American left look if we had a proportional system similar to much of continental Europe? There’s no way to tell for certain, but based on attitudes and groupings it’s quite possible to see the current Democratic coalition fracturing into three parts — not unlike the breakdown of greens, social democrats, and liberals in Europe.

The biggest part of this center-left coalition would emerge from the traditional base of the Democratic Party represented by labor, African Americans, Latinos, women, and the many constituent groups that have built up around the party over the decades. Ideologically, this remaining Democratic Party would be all over the map as it is today, basically pursuing center-left policies and values that fit the needs of the component parts. A second more-ideologically left party (call it a revamped Green Party) composed of environmentalists, progressives, and other social movement types would likely emerge to advocate more forcefully for social justice, civil rights, anti-poverty efforts, sustainability and climate change reduction, steeper progressive taxation, and greater public investment. A third, even smaller component of centrist types (call it the Moderate Party) would also likely emerge to scoop up the remnants of anti-deficit, pro-business, and socially moderate-to-conservative Democrats.


Assuming that the right would also splinter into three components — a hard core libertarian element, a mainstream GOP arm, and a group of socially conservative, Tea Party-types — one could see how a “grand coalition” of center left and center right parties might coalesce under this electoral scenario to advance the “radical centrism” that many of today’s elites advocate.

As it stands, the American left has figured out how to coexist fairly peacefully within one party, thus keeping our politics more progressive than they might be otherwise under a proportional system. Given the dim long term prospects of the GOP at the national level, don’t be surprised if we start hearing more mainstream conservatives supporting a move towards a more proportional voting system in the U.S.