OPINION: Andrew Yang’s “Forward Party”: The Problems With The Two-Party System


Andrew Yang recently announced his own political party, departing from the Democratic party in an attempt to disrupt the two-party system. Many progressive politicians have expressed their distaste for the Democratic establishment. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “The Squad” have been at the forefront of this infighting, but continue to try to enact change within the system. Yang’s announcement of his own political party is certainly unique, but it remains to be seen if it will make an impact on the political landscape?

“Third parties have four major strikes against them,” Wayne Steger, a political science professor at DePaul University who specializes in political parties, told The DePaulia.

The first strike presented by Steger is the “cumulative legal barriers,” including single-member plurality: the way we most commonly vote in the United States. This strategy of determining representation can be understood as a winner-take-all process, in which the party that receives the majority of votes receives all the representation. A transition to an election system that keeps losing votes from being no more than a inconsequential protest, such as ranked-choice voting, would make the introduction of a third-party more possible.

Steger also explains how voters’ loyalty to current parties makes the emergence of a third party difficult.

“The vast majority of voters are loyal to parties, which makes it very hard for third party candidates to get to a plurality,” Steger said.

Many voters pledge their loyalty to parties regardless of how representative they are of their political views, since the two-party system is easily digestible and makes representation simple. If a broader spectrum of political parties existed, voters may better identify with new third-parties.

Another obstacle Steger explains is that major parties often adopt popular third-party policies to their platforms. In order to gain voters that don’t directly align with Democrat or Republican ideologies, parties will shift their narrative in order to gain a larger range of support. Many Democratic candidates in the 2020 primaries had to shift their policies slightly to the left in order to appeal to the growing populist left sector of the Democratic party, which is commonly characterized by politicians including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Steger added that the two-party system has made the Democratic and Republican parties into large coalitions of a variety of viewpoints, rather than focused parties with the rigid agendas that third-parties often have. This makes it more difficult for third-parties to appeal to voters, since they often sport more niche and specific policies.

However, Yang seems to be circumventing this by appealing to centrism. He seems to be targeting Americans “in the middle” who are tired of the two party’s extremes. While this could be an effective strategy to grow the party’s interest, targeting Americans who lack a strong ideology could lead to policy inaction down the road.

Tommy Virgil, a 21-year-old film student at DePaul feels the skepticism that many progressives have about the establishment of a third-party. He wasn’t convinced that a third party politician would ever become mainstream enough in American politics to make an impact.

“The entire way that we vote would have to change, and right now there’s no collective movement that will work to make that change,” Virgil said. “Democrats have the House [of Representatives], the presidency, and the Senate but they won’t pass essential voting rights legislation, so expecting them to make third-parties possible is absurd.”

Virgil is right. A majority of the politicians that are currently in the system identify with either the Republican or Democratic party. Within the population of politicians that identify with different political beliefs, most of them work within the establishment to make change, rather than trying to disrupt it. It would be surprising if the politicians that benefit from the two-party system worked to make third-parties viable, as it would only steal power from them.

Even Yang himself, in a blogpost on his website, states a similar argument, making his decision to leave the Democratic party more puzzling.

“I am NOT suggesting that you also change your voter registration to Independent, as I have done,” Yang wrote. “Doing so could disenfranchise you if you live in the 83 percent of the country that is very blue or very red.  For this reason, I considered either not making this change or not talking about it.”

I see Yang’s new party as a bland attempt at gaining notoriety among those dissatisfied with the current state of American politics. In the blogpost, Yang argues “I’m not very ideological.  I’m practical.  Making partisan arguments – particularly expressing what I often see as performative sentiment – is sometimes uncomfortable for me.”

I’m disturbed at this attempt at mobilizing Centrists by labeling them the voice of reason, labeling a lack of ideology as practical. Not that Centrists do not have valid experiences and beliefs, as do members of all parties, but being “practical” is not a policy stance – practical is a matter of opinion, which is intrinsically partisan.