Democrats, Republicans and Winner-Take-All Elections

Map illustrating how Americans voted in the presidential election of 2016 that saw Republican Donald Trump come to power. A state’s population determines its number of electoral votes.
A person carrying a rainbow flag, a commonly used symbol of people emphasizing rights of the LGBT community.
Republican Sarah Palin on the campaign trail.
A donkey, often used to symbolize the Democratic Party, and an elephant, often used to symbolize the Republican Party.

In elections in the United States, such as presidential elections, as a rule, a winner-take-all system is applied. This means that whoever wins a plurality of the vote in a voting district or a state wins the entire voting district or the entire state. Candidates or parties who don’t come in first place, regardless of how many votes they secure, get no political representation and no direct political influence.

A two-party system

With small parties having it very tough in the winner-take-all elections in the U.S., only a vote for either of the two big parties — the Democrats and the Republicans — can realistically change the outcome of most elections. As a consequence, American voters, generally, cast votes for whichever of the two giants they like better, even if neither of them is their first choice. This system for electing politicians, where Democrats or Republicans practically always wins, has obvious democratic flaws in the opinion of people who prefer proportional representation, while it is sensible to others. The sense in the winner-take-all regime, as argued by its proponents, is that it produces clear winners and losers, shields the country from a great deal of political deadlock and favors politically experienced organizations.

Democrats and Republicans

Comparing the American people’s two, practically only, political choices, we see that the Democrats believe in relatively high taxes and an ambitiously funded public welfare system, while the Republicans tend to embrace lower taxes and a somewhat smaller government. Furthermore, politicians in the Democratic Party often have abortion rights, LGBT issues and climate change in focus, whereas representatives of the Republican Party are inclined to concern themselves more with gun rights, Christian moral values and freedom from coercion. However, since both political groups are so large, a wide spectrum of beliefs and concerns can be found in either party.

Criticism of the political system

The existing differences between the two major parties notwithstanding, for those opposing the two-party system, the Democrats and the Republicans are often seen as two faces of the same coin. In line with this, both parties have been accused of being part of a Washington bureaucracy that, more or less, perpetuates the same policies and the same winner-take-all election system in order to benefit themselves and other insider groups.