Political Parties • Two-Party System
Objective: Use a sports analogy to discuss reasons for a two-party system and barriers to third-party participation.
- How does the American winner-take-all system make it so difficult for third parties to gain momentum?
Notes on Implementation:
- Extend the activity by having students research and discuss alternatives to the winner-take-all system. Have students debate whether they think the system should be changed.
- Provide support to students by giving them an outline to take notes about the obstacles to third-party engagement. The outline should include space for them to take notes on the following factors: (1) Natural Structural Barriers; (2) Electoral College; (3) Tradition.
Student Activity: Students can access the below activity in the Political Parties Topic Center within the American Government database.
The two-party system is a defining feature of the U.S. political landscape. The Republican Party and Democratic Party have dominated U.S. politics for more than 150 years; during that time, both parties have evolved and changed significantly.
In this activity, you will consider how political parties are like sports rivalries. Then you will create a chant or cheer for the party of your choice and hold a pep rally for the party.
- Think about a sports rivalry you know of. Your school may have a school that you just have to win against for some reason. Perhaps your family or friends are fans of one professional team and people from another part of the city or state are fans of the rival team. What makes you love your team? Perhaps you have grown up watching and cheering because it's the team of your parents, other family members, neighbors, or friends. Perhaps you've watched the team for a long time and feel like you know the players. Jot down a few ideas about what you think builds team loyalty, and talk about your ideas with your classmates.
- Working with two classmates, imagine now that in your town, there are two teams—the Lions and the Tigers—and everyone in town is a big fan of one or the other. Next, suppose a new team—the Bears—comes to town. Talk to your group about how this changes the sports scene in your town. Discuss the following questions: What challenges will the Bears face? How can they win over fans? Will the Lions and Tigers be worried about losing some of their fans to the Bears? How would a third team change the rivalry between the first two teams? Do you think the existing teams might join together to stop the new team from succeeding? If you are working without a group, consider these questions on your own.
- Political parties are not sports teams, but just as people often think of themselves as a Lion or Tiger, they think of themselves as a Republican or Democrat. Like the Bears, third parties face many challenges in entering the game. Review the ABC-CLIO resources above to learn more about how the two-party system emerged and the barriers to third-party participation. As you do so, think about how this is similar to and different from the Lions, Tigers, and Bears scenario you discussed with your partner.
- Choose one of the third parties in American politics, such as the Green Party or the Libertarian Party. Read about the party in ABC-CLIO's American Government database or visit the party's website on the Internet. Then, hold a pep rally to advocate the third party. Create a chant or cheer for your pep rally, and write a short speech in support of the party.
- A government's structure determines how political parties will form and operate.
- Political parties strongly influence the operation of democratic governments.
Possible Answers for Activity:
Student chants and cheers will vary depending on the third party they choose.
In discussions students should recognize the following key ideas:
- Two-party system has emerged over time, as part of the natural function of our democratic system.
- Two-party system is easier for voters to understand; it helps cast issues in an "either/or" light.
- People inherit their political opinions from parents.
"Two-Party System." History Hub, ABC-CLIO, 2019, historyhub.abc-clio.com. Accessed 23 Aug. 2019.