Illustration by Claire Merchlinsky
This essay is part of a series exploring bold ideas to revitalize and renew the American experiment. Read more about this project in a note from Ezekiel Kweku, Opinion’s politics editor.
America’s two-party system is broken. Democrats and Republicans are locked in an increasingly destructive partisan struggle that has produced gridlock and stagnation on too many critical issues — most urgently, the pandemic and climate change.
There is no reasonable or timely way to fix this broken system. But there is an alternative: more parties.
It is not so hard to imagine a six-party system — and it would not even require a constitutional amendment.
The description of how to get to such a system is below. But first, whether you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent (or other), in the 20-question quiz below, you can discover which new party would be the best fit for you.
You are closest to the
Here is how the makeup of each party breaks down across demographics, race and location.
Select a party to show its details
Each party represents a different portion of the electorate, not only ideologically but also by economic class and political engagement.
There is no “center” party here. That is because there are very few voters in the middle across all issues. Many readers who consider themselves centrist might also think of themselves as socially liberal/fiscally moderate or socially moderate/fiscally conservative. They will find a home in either the New Liberal Party or the Growth and Opportunity Party.
These six parties reflect the underlying factions — and divides — within the Democratic and Republican parties. Until American politics nationalized in the 1980s and 1990s around divisive culture-war issues, they operated more independently within the two major political parties.
We get to such a system through proportional multimember districts. This approach features districts much larger than our current tiny congressional ones — and each elects more than one person, at once, to represent the region. So more than one party could represent a district in proportion to their popularity within that large district — just as they do in most advanced democracies.
Legislation introduced in the current Congress, the Fair Representation Act, would require use of multimember districts with ranked-choice voting in most states’ House selections as well as elections for the Senate. If more parties emerged, coalitions across parties would form to elect a speaker and organize committee assignments — just as coalitions form in multiparty legislatures around the world. Multiparty democracy would facilitate the shifting alliances and bargaining that are essential in democracy but have largely disappeared in today’s zero-sum conflict.
The Senate would most likely become a much more free-wheeling institution, as it was in the past. Absent reform to the Electoral College, presidential elections would still probably come down to two major candidates. However, with partisan loyalties less fixed, more voters would judge candidates on the content of their ideas and character rather than the D or R next to their names. Moreover, a less hyperpartisan Congress will also most likely be less gridlocked and more productive, enabling it to reclaim a more central role in our national politics, lowering the stakes of presidential elections and potentially lowering the stakes for Supreme Court nominations in a new era of reduced partisanship.
It’s possible to see how the parties overlap by mapping survey results to our six-party mix.
Proportional multiparty democracies also have consistently higher turnout than majoritarian two-party democracies with single-winner districts.
No constitutional amendment is needed to enact this reform. Article I, Section IV of the Constitution gives Congress wide latitude to write congressional election rules. And in fact, multimember congressional districts were used commonly in the first half of the 19th century until Congress passed legislation banning them.
Freeing the existing factions to forge new and shifting alliances would liberate the political innovation lying untapped in our political system. Our current political system turns Americans against one another. Only by changing the rules and incentives of our politics can we give ourselves a fighting chance to respond to the tremendous challenges faced by our nation and planet.