I’m eternally hopeful that a viable third party will emerge from the chaos that is the American political landscape. Movements with sufficient momentum (e.g. the tea party who think taxation with representation is just as bad as taxation without) get absorbed into one of the two traditional parties. And while I am still certain a viable centrist party would provide a truer picture of American’s actual will, the Republican primaries serve as warning against dividing the electorate among dozens of parties.
In the UK, there are hundreds of parties. A good dozen of them are represented in Parliament. But there’s no national vote for Prime Minister – if no party garners a sufficient majority in Parliament, then parties agree to work together (a coalition government) until a sufficient majority is created. And failure to abide by the agreement can force a PM out of office. Unless a plurality of Britons chose to elect the same party, the most extreme views of any party are tempered by the views of their coalition partners.
In the US, however, there is a nation-wide vote for head of the Executive branch. What would an American election look like with a dozen viable political parties? The Republican primary has shown us – last cycle and again this year. The lesson from last cycle is that a dozen people researching and publicizing the worst about each other diminishes them all. If half a dozen people spent six months digging into every single action or interaction you’ve had in your lifetime and assembling a worst-of list … I doubt anyone would look good. But this year the lesson is more dangerous — splitting your electorate in so many pieces allows an individual who is not the majority’s preference … a charismatic individual, an individual with divisive enough views to appeal to a “their” segment and a small fraction of other voting segments … to win the election. If 120 million people vote in the presidential election, but split their votes across a dozen parties, someone could win with thirteen million votes. 89% of voters don’t want the person in office, but there they sit.
I still wish for a viable centrist third party, but many party systems are probably best left to Parliamentary systems.