The defense of American political parties

Americans have taken issue with political parties since George Washington warned against them in his 1796 Farewell Address. Calls to abandon the two-party system are loud and persistent. Many loathe partisan politics, choosing to identify as “independents” in order to rise above the political fray. Yet the hard truth is, we need political parties just as much as they need us.

Think about the last time you voted in an election. How many candidates on your ballot did you recognize? For how many of the people who you voted for and chose to vote against, did you have enough information to make an informed decision about if they were right for the job? If you are like almost every other American, probably not many.

Sure, in an election year like 2020, most voters know the two presidential candidates at the top of the ticket. It does not take a politico to know the differences between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. But, countless other elected positions appear on the ballot, all of which carry out crucial functions in our society. State senators, town council representatives, district attorneys, city clerks, the list goes on and on. Most of us have no idea who they are, but if they all stopped showing up for work one day, we would notice.

How would we elect these people if a “D” or an “R” did not appear next to their name? If the Democratic and Republican parties disappeared one day, would we really take the time to research each of the (sometimes, dozens) of candidates on our ballots? Voting along party lines is certainly not the most informed way to make decisions at the ballot box, but most of our decisions would be entirely uninformed if it were not for parties.

The problem goes deeper than just decisions made on Election Day. Without political parties, there is no existing mechanism to simplify our ballots to the few choices we have for each position up for election. One thousand two hundred-and-sixteen people filed with the federal government to run for President of the United States in 2020. Without party primary elections and the party infrastructure to get candidates on the ballot and keep others off, it would have been a challenge just to find the names “Donald Trump” and “Joe Biden” at the voting booth.

Political parties are not perfect. Party polarization and the conflict it causes are serious issues that need to be addressed. However, the solution is not to eliminate parties altogether. The Democratic and Republican parties need our support to survive, but we need them too. We should hold the parties responsible for their actions, vote out those who deepen divisions and work to create a system that works better for all of us. Change is necessary to fix our existing system, but it is not impossible.