Trump vs. Sanders?

Written 26 September 2015

Duverger’s “Law” states that single-member district systems for parliamentary representation tends to favor two-party systems.(This is the system used in the United States.) One major critique of “Duverger’s Law”, however, is that there are simply not enough historical cases of single-member district systems to really make any “scientific laws” or similar platitudes. The system itself has only really been around for so long, not to mention that widespread democracy is still a recent phenomenon.

Nevertheless, I will further this theory to make my own: democratic implosion theory. This was inspired by the recent United States presidential race, where the front runner in the Republican nomination race is Donald Trump and the front runner in the Democratic nomination race is Bernie Sanders. Neither politician is likely to be accepted by mainstream voters, and it is likely that either a third party candidate will run and make a strong competition for office, or the system may implode (not necessarily through anything violent occurring, but simply from voters losing faith in the system).

While Trump and Sanders may not be the nominees, it is possible that similar scenarios may take place in the future in states with these systems. Duverger’s theory implies that single-member district systems see two parties dominate politics because voters are reluctant to vote for parties which are unlikely to win, namely third parties (despite the obvious inconsistency that one vote is not enough to make a numerical difference in modern elections).

This only leads to two parties becoming more entrenched and more polarized from each other. Eventually, they choose more and more extreme candidates, which only leads to voter disgust with electoral politics. What may result is either a low-level equilibrium trap, where voters are cynical about political participation and thus choose not to take part in politics, or a revolt against the political system takes place. In the latter scenario, it is likely that a demagogic populist will take advantage of the situation, and may indeed change the very political system which elected him (in a manner not too dissimilar from Hitler’s).

However it remains to be seen whether anything of the sort will happen. If Trump vs. Sanders were to be the general election choice, then it would not be surprising to see a powerful third party rise. Whatever the case, we may be in for a very interesting (and probably revolutionary) election cycle.