Many Americans have expressed their displeasure with our current two-party political system. Back in 2016, opinion polls suggested that the majority of young voters were unhappy with the established political parties. Some experts even suggest that the days of the Republican-Democratic duopoly may be numbered. Such conjecture ignores the incentives of the self-interest legislators to maintain the status quo. Legislators are generally affiliated with one of the major parties that monopolize American politics. By any realistic estimate, the Republican-Democrat paradigm in the U.S. is here to stay.
The irony is that prior to the 1930s third-party candidacies were quite common. The Republican party started as a minor party focused on the abolition movement of the 19th century. In the 1930’s the trepidation surrounding the potential growth of the Communist party in the United States laid down the substrate for stricter ballot access laws. Per the research of the political scientist, Richard Winger, the requisites to appear on the ballot have only increased over the years. Typically presenting an asymmetrical burden upon independents and third-party candidates. Unfortunately, previous case precedence has shown that the Supreme court seldom takes these insurmountable barriers to entry seriously. Presenting notable threats to the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of minor party candidates in elections. The courts typically skirt over these considerations through loose technicalities making it impossible for the underdog to have a favorable ruling. This is particularly alarming when presented with the fact that ballot access laws are typically utilized to exert political control and maintaining dominance.
There are several core arguments for maintaining the status quo of the two-party system. One of the standard points is a state interest to look out for the best interests of the voters. By eliminating voter confusion, ballot overcrowding, and eliminating frivolous campaigns. While many proponents of stricter ballot access requirements provide lips service to the concern of ballot overcrowding it has never been a serious issue in American elections. The other category of concern expressed by ballot access law advocates is that of keeping political stability. Although per attorney Oliver Hall of the Center for Competitive Democracy there is little evidence to suggest that the absence of stringent requirements would result in instability.
Bootleggers and Baptists:
Bruce Yandle’s examination of coalition-building in his conceptualization of Bootleggers and Baptists tends to have two acting parties. The Bootleggers that stand to benefit from the policy position, action, or regulation. On the other side of the alliance are the Baptists who provide the moral justification for the suggested course of action. The Baptists provide the moral smoke-screen that enables the Bootleggers to obscure their self-interested motives.
Ballot access laws like most policies have their moral proponents and silent beneficiaries. However, it can be argued that the instance of American ballot access laws the moral advocates, and the beneficiaries are the same. Presenting a scenario of a “dual-role” actor coalition advocating for these policies. Dual-role actor coalitions can be found in a wide array of social organizations the actions of a solitary economic agent to the aggregated motives of a group. The event of a dual-role actor coalition is more than just a coincidental alignment of motives within a single group or person. It is the unification of self-interest and moral goals. If an individual can hold multiple motives simultaneously, there is the possibility of an agent to be both a Bootlegger and a Baptist. Even if the moral element is being subverted and the self-interest is taking primacy in the individual’s advocacy. Moral concerns and the allure of potential benefits may not necessarily be equal in the decision-making process. If an actor or group provides a moral argument for policy and stands to benefit, then they are a dual-role actor.
Ballot access laws exemplify the previously described dynamic of coalition building. Most legislators fall into either one of the dominant camps in the bipartisan divide. Making their self-interest quite salient. Placing a great burden on third-parties will help retain the power of Democrats and Republicans in American political life. Especially when the Supreme court has marginalized the Constitutional concerns of ballot access laws for third-party candidates. Reinforcing the institutional barriers imposed by the legislator. The same self-interested lawmakers also voice concern over political stability, voter confusion, and weeding out frivolously campaigns. These objectives may or may not be laudable, but are moralistic in tone making them the rhetoric of a Baptist.
The legislator making itself the white knight that saves the common voter from confusion, joke candidates, ballot overcrowding, and political chaos is unnecessary. Many of these issues can be remedied at the ballot box rather than through passing bills. Often pro-market economists will expound upon the concept of consumer sovereignty. I would like to suggest that matters of voting are best resolved by voter sovereignty. Meaning that voters and the electoral college will ultimately determine whether it is permissible for satirical political parties to be on the ballot. There isn’t an ever-present moral duty to shield society from such issues. Weak third-parties rise and fall on their own merits.
The notion of this creating instability is laughable at best. Third-parties have next to no electoral representation in the United States. The platitude of voting third-party squandering votes is so pervasive throughout American society, the oddball candidate doesn’t stand a chance. Political candidacies mirror advertising campaigns. There are voter demographics, candidate/party branding, and behind the scenes marketing. As with any consumer product, brand recognition is important. Most of the ideologies supported by minor parties tend to be conceptually foreign to the average voter. Making the probability that even in the absence of strict ballot access laws the two major parties would still be in power.