For a long time, my political pet peeve was people’s claiming that the Democrats were a radical liberal party. Lately it’s changed to some misguided electoral reform proposals. A commenter on David Brin’s post, “Okay, so now what?” managed to hit the new one, responding to a commenter who hit the old one:
A viable third party sounds like a great idea, but we won’t get it to work without reforming the Electoral College. Political types tell us this is impossible, while the psychohistorians warn that the issue breeds subtleties. (I say this as a person whose friends all voted Green in 2000 — but in Alabama, who cared?)
If we overhaul the system — somehow — to allow the Greens, for example, to become a viable force, then the effects can hardly stop there. “Leftists” will split between Greens and Democrats, while those “on the Right” divide into Republicans, Libertarians and the Dominion of Melchizedek. (Or maybe they’ll call themselves the American National Party?)
Reforming the Electoral College will do exactly nothing to break the two-party system. Mexico, where Presidential elections are direct, has de facto two-person Presidential races. So does France in most cases; 2002 was an exception because the candidates who made the runoff were mainstream conservative Chirac and fascist Le Pen, since the leftist vote was split. During Russia’s short democratic stint, so were its Presidential elections, even though they used a version of approval vote.
The standard in most consensus-based democracies is a multiparty system in the legislature, with two large parties that alternate in forming the coalition government. In Germany, no party except the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats can realistically get its leader elected Prime Minister. But voting Green or Free Democrats still makes sense if you want the ruling coalition to weight the ruling coalition in favor of the left or libertarianism respectively.
Presidential democracies are of course different from that standard, which is parliamentary. If the US only changes the method of election of the House to proportional representation, it will probably have a situation like this of Brazil, whose Chamber of Deputies is a madhouse whose effective number of parties is 9.32. But note that even Brazil has an effective two-party system in its Presidential elections.