Two-party system

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A two-party system is a political party system in which two major political parties[1] consistently dominate the political landscape. At any point in time, one of the two parties typically holds a majority in the legislature and is usually referred to as the majority or governing party while the other is the minority or opposition party. Around the world, the term has different meanings. For example, in the United States, the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Zimbabwe, the sense of two-party system describes an arrangement in which all or nearly all elected officials belong to either of the two major parties, and third parties rarely win any seats in the legislature. In such arrangements, two-party systems are thought to result from several factors, like Duverger's law, sometimes referred to as "winner-takes-all",[2] [3] [4][5], first past the post[6], and deep-state entrenchment.[citation needed]

In such systems, while chances for third-party candidates winning election to major national office are remote, it is possible for groups within the larger parties ("political factions"), or in opposition to one or both of them, to exert influence on the two major parties.[7][8][9][10][11][12] In contrast, in Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia and in other parliamentary systems and elsewhere, the term two-party system is sometimes used to indicate an arrangement in which two major parties dominate elections but in which there are viable third parties or independents that do win some seats in the legislature, and in which the two major parties exert proportionately greater influence than their percentage of votes would suggest.

Explanations for why a political system with free elections may evolve into a two-party system have been debated. A leading theory, referred to as Duverger's law, states that two parties are a natural result of a winner-take-all voting system.

Generally, a two-party system becomes a dichotomous division of the political spectrum with an ostensibly left-wing and right-wing party: the Democratic Party versus the Republican Party in the United States, the Australian Labor Party versus the Liberal–National Coalition bloc in Australia, the Labour Party versus the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom, and the Malta Labour Party versus the Malta Nationalist Party in Malta.

Other parties in these countries may have seen candidates elected to local or subnational office.[13]


  1. Note: in the politics of Australia, there are not two political parties but rather "two major political groupings"; for further information, see the Australian Coalition.
  2. Wong Chin Huat (July 29, 2013). "When winner takes all". Malaysia Today. Archived from the original on 2013-08-01. Retrieved August 12, 2013. ...This "winner-takes-all" characteristic of political contestation then forces political groups to consolidate into two blocs, hence, the two-party system...
  3. Jim L. Riley. "The US System: Winner Takes All". Archived from the original on 2004-11-02. Retrieved August 12, 2013. ...Winner-take-all rules trigger a cycle that leads to and strengthens a system of few (two in the US) political parties...
  4. "The Two Party System". Boundless Learning, Inc. Archived from the original on 2013-10-03. Retrieved August 12, 2013. ...There are two main reasons winner-takes-all systems lead to a two-party system...
  5. "Why America is a two-party system". Archived from the original on 2015-06-08. Retrieved August 12, 2013. ...The American electoral system – winner-takes-all – guarantees that any third, fourth party etc has no chance of winning....
  6. Eric Black (October 8, 2012). "Why the same two parties dominate our two-party system". Minnpost. Archived from the original on 2020-05-02. Retrieved August 12, 2013. ...SMDP (single-member districts, plurality) voting system. ... This forces those who might favor a minor party candidate to either vote for whichever of the two biggest parties the voter dislikes the least....
  7. Patrick Bashan, CATO Institute, June 9, 2004, Do Electoral Systems Affect Government Size? (Archived here: archiveforthis on 2020-03-10), Accessed August 12, 2013, "...The current system has many disadvantages, most notably its propensity to discriminate against minor parties operating outside the increasingly uncompetitive, cozy two-party system.... America's winner-takes-all electoral system may be the least bad option for those seeking to limit government involvement in the nation's economic life...."
  8. George F. Will, October 12, 2006, Washington Post, From Schwarzenegger, a Veto for Voters' Good (Archived here: archiveforthis on 2017-05-20), Accessed August 12, 2013, "...That electoral vote system (combined with the winner-take-all allocation of votes in all states but Maine and Nebraska) makes it very difficult for third-party presidential candidates to be competitive..."
  9. Ashley Ford, September 17, 2012, Cavalier Daily, Party of three: A third political party is an important aspect of the Virginia democratic process (Archived here: archiveforthis on 2020-03-23), Accessed August 12, 2013, "...The two party system forces the third party to join their group in a winner take all system..."
  10. Two Party System, PBS, Two-Party System (Archived here: archiveforthis on 2019-11-17), Accessed August 12, 2013, "...Third-party or independent candidates face a slew of obstacles in American politics, from limited media coverage to legal barriers and Congressional leadership rules. Laws regarding third-party candidates also vary from state to state, presenting additional difficulties...."
  11. Cillizza, Chris (July 24, 2011). "Voters' renewed anger at Washington spurs formation of third-party advocate groups". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2018-06-21. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  12. Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake, May 18, 2012, The Washington Post, Americans Elect and the death of the third party movement (Archived here: archiveforthis on 2020-02-25), Accessed August 11, 2013
  13. Disch, Lisa Jane (2002). The Tyranny of the Two-Party System. ISBN 978-0231110358. Archived from the original on 2011-12-26. Retrieved 2012-10-29 – via Google Books.