Ideological Mystification and the Reproduction of the Two-Party State

One of the most perplexing ideological paradoxes generated by the politics of the two-party state is the contradiction between the electorate's recognition that the two-party system is neither democratic nor republican in character, on the one hand, and its general unwillingness to support anyone but Republicans and Democrats when casting a vote, on the other. A new poll on the NJ gubernatorial race from the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling at Rutgers gets right to the heart of the matter. In "Daggett's Challenge: New Jersey Voters Say They Want Choices but Still Support Major Party Candidates," we read:
While a large majority of New Jersey voters wants an alternative to the two-party system, independent gubernatorial candidate Chris Daggett has yet to capitalize on this discontent, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll. The poll finds that only 27 percent of likely voters say the current two-party system works well. Given a choice, 37 percent would prefer more than two strong parties while another 32 percent believe candidates should run without party labels at all. Despite nearly 70 percent support for an alternative to Democrats and Republicans, just one-in-five likely voters supports Daggett . . .

Only 17 percent of voters who think the two-party system works well support Daggett, compared to 46 percent for Democrat incumbent Jon Corzine and 34 percent for Republican Chris Christie. But even among those who say New Jersey needs more than two strong parties, Daggett wins only 25 percent, while the major party candidates win about one-third each. Finally, voters who think candidates should not run under party labels also fail to support Daggett. He wins 20 percent of these voters, compared to Christie’s 40 percent and Corzine’s 36 percent.

"It is striking how many New Jersey voters say they want an alterative, yet how unwilling they are to vote for that alternative when available,” said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers.
Let's consider the first of these findings without, however, focusing on Daggett. After all, he is but one of ten third party and independent ballot-qualified candidates for governor in the Garden State. The report notes that "despite nearly 70 percent support for an alternative to Democrats and Republicans, just one-in-five likely voters supports Daggett." The ideological contradiction at work here is much more clear when we remove Daggett from the equation: despite nearly 70 percent support for an alternative to Democrats and Republicans, nearly 80 percent of likely voters say they will vote Democrat or Republican. Why do voters continue to throw their votes away in support of Democrats and Republicans knowing full well that the Democratic-Republican duopoly system of government does not "work well"? In the poll, almost 40 percent of likely voters stated that they want "more than two strong political parties to give us more choice," yet only one in five is willing to cast a vote for someone other than the duopoly party candidates, even though there are ten alternatives to the Democratic-Republican status quo. Is it possible that Americans simply want more choices, but have no intention of ever actually making a different choice?


Samuel Wilson said...

I'm afraid it may be as simple as a desire to be on the winning team, or to pick the winning team, depending on whether you prefer a sports or sports-betting metaphor. But the growing confusion between parties and constituencies may encourage people to think that if they don't pick the winner, they're somehow not represented in government -- which means that they perpetuate the Bipolarchy because they think that way they'll have a voice in how the country's run. That'd be quite a joke if you found it funny.

d.eris said...

There is certainly no lack of fair weather fans in sports or politics, but in many cases I think it is nothing more than political cowardice.

Septimus said...

Excellent analysis. I suspect it may be part of our education.

I know that when I was in school, we were taught about the "two-party system" and that third parties ideas, if popular, would be incorporated into one of the two parties. I was actually taught this, in high school and in college.

Now most people, don't think about these things that much, and are not politically active. They don't question the world as it has been presented to them. The "two-party system" is like the sun rising or the law of gravity. It is how they make sense of the world.

I know it took me a while to change my ideas about third parties, and now when talking to people, I face resistance to even the idea.

I think many negative reactions are due to the challenge to their world view when presented.

An open, multi-party political system is completely outside of how they view the world.

d.eris said...

And yet, at the same time, so many people are so fed up with the two-party system and recognize that it is implicated in any number of real world problems, crises, etc. Independents outnumber Democrats and Republicans. IN some locales they already outnumber Democrats and Republicans combined. Calling oneself an independent is a major first step toward actually becoming independent of the two-party charade. Perhaps third parties and independent candidates will break through once people begin to think about them in terms of two-party cliches. I've already seen at least one article on the NJ race quote a Daggett voter saying he's the "lesser of three evils."