Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
×
Home

Why Two Parties? Ambition, Policy, and the Presidency*

  • John H. Aldrich and Daniel J. Lee
Abstract

Duverger’s Law suggests that two parties will dominate under first-past-the-post (FPTP) within an electoral district, but the law does not necessarily establish two-party competition at the national level. United States is unique among FPTP countries in having the only durable and nearly pure, two-party system. Following this observation, we answer two questions. First, what contributes to the same two parties competing in districts all across the country and at different levels of office? Second, why is the US two-party system so durable over time, dominated by the same two parties? That is, “Why two parties?” As an answer, we propose the APP: ambition, the presidency, and policy. The presidency with its national electorate and electoral rules that favor two-party competition establishes two national major parties, which frames the opportunity structure that influences party affiliation decisions of ambitious politicians running for lower offices. Control over the policy agenda helps reinforce the continuation of a particular two-party system in equilibrium by blocking third parties through divergence on the main issue dimension and the suppression of latent issue dimensions that could benefit new parties. The confluence of the three factors explains why the United States is so uniquely a durable two-party system.

Copyright
Footnotes
Hide All
*

John H. Aldrich, Professor, 281 Gross Hall, 140 Science Drive, Box 90204, Durham, NC 27708-0204 (aldrich@duke.edu). Daniel J. Lee, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Nevada, WRI B227, Box 455029, 4505 S Maryland Pkwy, Las Vegas, NV 89154-5029 (dan.lee@unlv.edu). The authors thank anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and suggestions. The authors are responsible for all remaining errors. We also thank participants at a conference held by the Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania, Comparing Elections and Electoral Systems in North America and India (2011).

Footnotes
References
Hide All
Abramson, Paul R., Aldrich, John H., Diskin, Abraham, Houck, Aaron, Levine, Renan, Scotto, Thomas J., and Sparks, David. 2014. ‘The Effect of National and Constituency Expectations on Tactical Voting in the British General Election of 2010’. Unpublished manuscript, Duke University, Durham, NC USA.
Abramson, Paul R., Aldrich, John H., and Rohde, David W.. 1987. ‘Progressive Ambition Among United States Senators: 1972–1988’. Journal of Politics 49(1):335.
Aldrich, John H., and Bianco, William T.. 1992. ‘A Game-theoretic Model of Party Affiliation of Candidates and Office Holders’. Mathematical and Computer Modelling 16(8):103116.
Aldrich, John H. 1994. ‘A Model of a Legislature with Two Parties and a Committee System’. Legislative Studies Quarterly 19(3):313339.
Aldrich, John H. 1995. Why Parties? The Origin and Transformation of Political Parties in America. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Aldrich, John H. 2005. ‘The Election of 1800: The Consequences of the First Change in Party Control’. In Kenneth R. Bowling and Donald R. Kennon (eds), Establishing Congress: The Removal to Washington, D.C., and the Election of 1800. 2338. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.
Aldrich, John H. 2011. Why Parties? A Second Look. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Aldrich, John H., and Rohde, David W.. 2000. ‘The Consequences of Party Organization in the House: The Role of the Majority and Minority Parties in Conditional Party Government’. In Jon R. Bond and Richard Fleisher (eds), Polarized Politics: Congress and the President in a Partisan Era. 3172. Washington, DC: CQ Press.
Barrie, Doreen, and Gibbins, Roger. 1989. ‘Parliamentary Careers in the Canadian Federal State’. Canadian Journal of Political Science 22(1):137145.
Bonica, Adam. 2014. ‘Mapping the Ideological Marketplace’. American Journal of Political Science 58(2):367386.
Chibber, Pradeep, and Kollman, Ken. 1998. ‘Party Aggregation and the Number of Parties in India and the United States’. American Political Science Review 92(2):329342.
Chibber, Pradeep, and Kollman, Ken. 2004. The Formation of National Party Systems: Federalism and Party Competition in Canada, Great Britain, India, and the United States. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Cox, Gary W., and McCubbins, Mathew D.. 1993. Legislative Leviathan: Party Government in the House. Berkeley, CA: University of Berkeley Press.
Cox, Gary W. 1994. ‘Strategic voting equilibria under the single nontransferable vote’. American Political Science Review 88(3):608621.
Cox, Gary, and Monroe., Burt 1995Strategic Voting Equilibria in Parliamentary Elections’. Paper presented at Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, IL.
Cox, Gary W. 1997. Making Votes Count: Strategic Coordination in the World’s Electoral Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cox, Gary W., and McCubbins, Mathew D.. 2005. Setting the Agenda: Responsible Party Government in the US House of Representatives. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Desposato, Scott W. 2006. ‘Parties for Rent? Ambition, Ideology, and Party Switching in Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies’. American Journal of Political Science 50(1):6280.
Docherty, David. 2011. ‘The Canadian Political Career Structure: From Stability to Free Agency’. Regional and Federal Studies 21(2):185203.
Duverger, Maurice. 1954. Political Parties: Their Organization and Activities in the Modern State. New York, NY: Wiley.
Gaines, Brian J. 1999. ‘Duverger’s Law and the Meaning of Canadian Exceptionalism’. Comparative Political Studies 32(7):835861.
Gallagher, Michael. 2012. ‘Election Indices Dataset’. Available at http://www.tcd.ie/Political_Science/staff/michael_gallagher/ElSystems/index.php, accessed 20 December 2012.
Godbout, Jean-François, and Høyland, Bjørn. 2013a. ‘The Emergence of Parties in the Canadian House of Commons (1867–1908)’. Canadian Journal of Political Science 46(4):773797.
Godbout, Jean-François, and Høyland, Bjørn. 2013b. ‘Parties and Voting in Parliament’. Paper presented at the Center for Study of Democratic Politics Workshop at Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, USA, 2013. University of Montreal.
Grynaviski, Jeffrey D. 2010. Partisan Bonds: Political Reputations and Legislative Accountability. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Hemple, Carl G. 1966. Philosophy of Natural Science. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Klarner, Carl E. 2003. ‘Measurement of the Partisan Balance of State Government’. State Politics and Policy Quarterly 3(3):309319.
Laybourn, Keith. 2001. British Political Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
Lee, Daniel J. 2012. ‘Anticipating Entry: Major Party Positioning and Third Party Threat’. Political Research Quarterly 65(1):138150.
McCarty, Nolan, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal, 2001. ‘The Hunt for Party Discipline in Congress.’. American Political Science Review 95(3): 673687.
Palfrey, Thomas. 2001. ‘The Hunt for Party Discipline in Congress’. American Political Science Review 95(3):673687.
Mershon, Carol. 2008. ‘Legislative Party Switching and Executive Coalitions’. Japanese Journal of Political Science 9(3):391414.
Palfrey, Thomas. 1984. ‘Spatial Equilibrium with Entry’. Review of Economic Studies 51:139156.
Palfrey, Thomas. 1989. ‘A Mathematical Proof of Duverger’s Law’. In Peter C. Ordeshook (ed.), Models of Strategic Choice in Politics. 6991. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Poole, Keith T., and Rosenthal, Howard L.. 2007. Ideology and Congress. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Riker, William H. 1982. ‘The Two-party System and Duverger's Law: An Essay on the History of Political Science’. American Political Science Review 76(4):753766.
Rohde, David W. 1979. ‘Risk-bearing and Progressive Ambition: The Case of Members of the United States House of Representatives’. American Journal of Political Science 23(1):126.
Rohde, David W. 1991. Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Samuels, David. 2003. Ambition, Federalism, and Legislative Politics in Brazil. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Schlesinger, Joseph A. 1966. Ambition and Politics: Political Careers in the United States. Chicago: Rand McNally.
Seitz-Wald, Alex. 2013. ‘Dennis Hastert: “There is no Hastert Rule”’. National Journal Daily, 3 October.
Seyd, Patrick. 1999. ‘New Parties/New Politics: A Case Study of the British Labour Party’. Party Politics 5(3):383405.
Shor, Boris, and McCarty, Nolan. 2011. ‘The Ideological Mapping of American Legislatures’. American Political Science Review 105(3):530551.
Singer, Matthew M. 2013. ‘Was Duverger Correct? Single-Member District Election Outcomes in 53 Countries’. British Journal of Political Science 43(1):201220.
Singer, Matthew M., and Stephenson, Laura. 2009. ‘The Political Context and Duverger’s Theory: Evidence at the District Level’. Electoral Studies 28(3):480491.
Snyder, James M. Jr., and Ting, Michael M.. 2002. ‘An Informational Rationale for Political Parties’. American Journal of Political Science 46(1):90110.
Taagepera, Rein, and Grofman, Bernard. 1985. ‘Rethinking Duverger’s Law: Predicting the Effective Number of Parties in Plurality and PR Systems – Parties Minus Issues Equals One’. European Journal of Political Research 13(4):341352.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Political Science Research and Methods
  • ISSN: 2049-8470
  • EISSN: 2049-8489
  • URL: /core/journals/political-science-research-and-methods
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed