Duverger’s Law: How Third-Party and Independent Candidates Can Win Elections

Published By: All Right Magazine on July 28, 2010

capitolhillBy KAREN Y. MURRAY

Duverger’s Law is often cited by conservative groups as a justification for not endorsing third-party and independent candidates who have successfully passed their strict vetting process. It is the basis of the argument that third party and independent candidates split the conservative vote and allow liberals to win, and therefore there should only be two parties so forces with similar philosophies can combine to defeat the “enemy.” This misunderstanding of the sociological phenomena inherent in various electoral systems, as observed by French sociologist Maurice Duverger, has led to the deterioration of the original Constitutional Republic. Understanding this process and understanding the characteristics of the original electoral system of the United States can help us restore a government where the people, not parties, have the final say in governing themselves.

Duverger’s Law: Who is Maurice Duverger and why does he have a “law” named after him?

Maurice Duverger was born 5 June 1917 in Angouleme, Charente, France. He became a French jurist, sociologist, and politician. He is an emeritus professor at The College of Sorbonne in Paris, and a member of the French National Foundation of Political Science. He served in the European Parliament as a member of the Party of European Socialists, which is a member of Socialist International founded in 1951 as the global umbrella organization of all democratic socialist, socialist, labor, and social democrat parties.

Karl Marx and Max Engels, fathers of modern socialism, began their attempts at transforming society by forming the Social Democratic Worker’s Party of Germany in 1869. This is the basis of the “party” as a governing force, where the party, representing the interests of a specified group of people, vied for power in a government to benefit their constituency. This is the definition of “party,” which Duverger bases his ideas upon. It is not the definition which most Americans understand. Parties, as a part of government, are not mentioned in the United States Constitution and play no role in a true constitutional republic, yet the American electoral system seems to have left its roots and headed straight into a socialist interpretation of the role of parties in government.

Duverger wrote a series of papers detailing his observations on how two-party systems often develop from an electoral system in which a single voter casts a ballot for a single candidate in a district in which there is only one seat available, and the candidate with the most votes wins the seat. For example, a voter in one congressional district votes for one congressional seat. This tends to set up two opposing forces and exactly describes the current American system. As other political scientists studied his writings they began to refer to it as a “principle” or a “law”. Duverger himself never referred to his work in those terms.

What did Duverger observe?

Duverger studied the electoral systems of many different countries. He approached the subject empirically, that is from a scientific point of view, rather than philosophically. However, his basic world view of socialism underlies the definition that he attaches to “party.”

As stated above he found that a system such as the American system quickly tends to form a two party system when competing candidates vie for a single seat in a governing body. He then looked at Proportional Representation, where each party would receive a number of seats in proportion to the number of votes they receive. There are many different versions of how seats are allotted, but Duverger observed that this method tended to create a multi-party system where voters are seen as members of voting bloc (such as Labor), rather than individual voters as in the American system.

What he also observed is that, although there is a tendency in a single voter electoral system to form two parties, it is by no means a hard and fast “law”, which is why he personally never referred to it as such. The most notable exception he examined took place in the United States of America. It seems that major societal upheavals, such as the political climate of the United States previous to the War Between the States, can break the two-party cycle in elections. The Republican Party formed and took power under those very conditions. Their first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont, lost. Four years later, as tensions between the northern states and the southern states increased, they ran a second presidential candidate who won. His name? Abraham Lincoln. The rest is history.

Since the Reconstruction Era, Americans have elected third-party or independent candidates at nearly every level of government. There have been 31 Senators, 111 Representatives, 22 Governors, and 104 state legislators. Of the state legislators 15 are presently serving. Rick Jore ran for Montana state legislature in 2006 as a member of the Constitution Party, and won. Five third-party or independent candidates are currently serving as mayors. In spite of the fact that the media seems to ignore or downplay these candidates, the voters do continue to vote for them.

The Hegelian Dialectic and the Two-Party System

It is important to remember that the word “party” means different things to different people. To socialists such as Marx, Engels, and Duverger, a government is controlled by a party or parties. To the Founding Fathers a party was simply a group of people who had common core beliefs but no specific role in government.

G.W.F. Hegel, a contemporary of Marx and Engels, developed a system of problem resolution referred to as “Hegelian Dialectics”. It is what we understand as the concept of thesis, anti-thesis, and synthesis.

It is also the way legislative decisions are made in a two party system. Here’s how it works. The Republicans decide that they want to cut taxes (thesis) so the Democrats oppose it (anti-thesis). No one asks if the proposed tax is constitutional or not, that is beside the point. The Republicans want to cut it and the Democrats oppose it. So they conference together and come up with a bi-partisan compromise (synthesis) that makes both groups look good. The Republicans did their best and saved part of the cut, and the Democrats managed to “win” against the evil rich guys who don’t like to share nicely. Both sides can claim victory. The actual result is that there is still a tax and the next legislative session will see the same process played out over and over and over with taxes and spending rising and rising and rising, ad infinitum.

A two-party system is the ideal form for playing out social planning because philosophical social planners set the final goal, universal healthcare, for example, then use the concept of bi-partisan compromise (Hegelian dialectic) to slowly spiral towards that goal. Everyone gets so caught up in the gamesmanship of compromise that no one asks whether it is actually a constitutionally enumerated responsibility of the federal government.

A True Constitutional Republic

What is a Constitution?   Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines a constitution as being the established form of government in a country. In a free state it includes the body of statutes and laws as enacted by the legislature, and in the United States, specifically the legislature and the rules under which it operates are created by the constitution itself.

What is a Republic?  Again, from Webster’s 1828 Dictionary: a republic in which the sovereign power is held in the body of representatives elected by the people. This differs from a democracy in which the people themselves vote for every piece of legislation. A modern example, in the television show American Idol, the judges give their evaluation of a contestant, but the audience determines the winner. This is democracy. A republic would exist if the audience elected the judges who then used their expertise, knowledge, and impartiality to determine the winners based upon ability and presence.

What did the Founding Fathers envision?

The Founding Fathers chose a Republican form of government because history and experience told them that democracies tend to be swayed by the heat of the moment rather than reason. They wanted to avoid social chaos by tempering those tendencies by a representative system with leaders who are accountable to the people who voted for them. It slowed down the system, allowing time for consideration and reason to be applied to any decision before them. They also wanted to avoid the dangers of a monarchy or dictatorship.

The word “party” does not exist in the United States Constitution. The Founding Fathers set up a republican form of government in which the people choose their representatives. Parties only choose representatives in a socialist form of government. We have strayed very far from our roots and the only solution is to defeat the party system and restore the original republican model. We need to experience a paradigm shift in how we think about politics and parties.

Third-parties and Independents are a Viable Option

Duverger’s Law simply states that a single voter system TENDS to favor the development of a two-party system. It is not an inevitable result. Duverger also noted that, in times of social stress, a single voter system TENDS to favor the rise of third-party and independent candidates because people become emotionally engaged in the process, voting their conscience because they feel a strong sense of right and wrong in the situation.

The United States of America is living through such a time as this. The people are beginning to see that a different form of government, a two-party socialist style system, has taken their choice of representatives away from them. The people are no longer represented by someone they choose, they are represented by someone chosen for them by a political party. They are told that a third-party or independent candidate will destroy the system, and indeed, it will destroy party control over the government, a first step toward restoring the constitutional republic.

The Founding Fathers intended that the people’s representatives and the state’s representatives speak for the people and the states, not parties. Parties can still serve a useful role as endorser or supporter of a candidate, but they should not propose or run candidates nor should they propose policy or legislation. Voting for a third-party or independent candidate is the first step towards breaking the power of the two-party system. It is the only way to break the grip of socialism which is strangling our nation. Duverger’s Law proves that voting your conscience will restore the power to the people and the states, restricting the power of the federal government back to its constitutionally enumerated limits.


3 Responses to “Duverger’s Law: How Third-Party and Independent Candidates Can Win Elections”

  1. Oggi Cohen Says:

    An interesting piece, but with two destructive errors, IMO:

    First, you purport to contrast “democracy” vs. “republic”, but you actually describe direct democracy vs. representative democracy. In a republic, government authority is constricted to areas of public concern (re: public) – other matters are off-limits to government. Thus, the U.S. system is a representative democratic republic. (Actually, it’s a constitutional representative democratic republic – but that’s a further discussion.) Understanding the real meaning of “republic” is essential to preserving freedom; passing “republic” off as just a varient of democracy will destroy the idea of it by tossing it down the memory hole.

    Second, your discussion of the paths to two-party vs. multi-party systems was thought-provoking, and appears to me reasonable. However, along the way you minimize the danger of third-party dilution of the vote, thereby throwing an election to the opposition. At the speed with which the gang in power is accumulating and solidifying power, I don’t believe we can afford to chance sacrificing an election to third-party idealism. To be able to disagree about the varieties of freedom in the future, we first must reclaim and protect freedom in all its varieties, by working together to defeat those who despise it.

  2. Linde Knighton Says:

    The obvious solution to this problem is to change the way we vote. State governments are struggling with huge deficits, and yet we pay for a primary every year, then we could try a method I call, the Instant Primary System.
    This is a way to save money and cut out the spoiler issue. In the November election, voter would be able to vote twice, once in an Instant Primary, where the votes cast are for the candidate they most perfer. And then for their second choice candidate in case their favorite does not win. Using this second choice method, which was legal in several startes in the pre-computer days (obvous why they stopped) any candidate winning more than 50% of the vote wins out of the gate. Otherwise, the biggest loser is dropped off the ballot and the voters who choice that candidate as their primary choice will have their general vote used to add to the candidate they voted for as if it was now the general election. This would continue until someone got more than 50%.
    It is more fair than the much vaunted Top Two, saves the states millions, and eliminates the spoiler problem.

  3. R.James Says:

    1. You yourself watered down the meaning of republic in describing our system of government. How is our system of government not a governing authority “constricted to areas of public concern (re: public)?”

    2. We can only ensure our freedoms are reclaimed and protected if we begin voting our conscience and no longer adhering to a “I can save my party from the inside” rhetoric.

    I think the point being made, and one I make often, is that if everyone truly voted their conscience, an individual who truly represents the public would rule. Instead, most people vote for who they think will win – too scared to vote their conscience because it might give “the other guy” the win and thereby institute evil. This is the type of nonsense this article is attempting to combat.

    We cannot reclaim and protect our freedom if we are voting based on who might win. How can we drive this republic back to it foundation-based freedoms if we are only voting with half a heart? I say we cannot.

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