In my previous article (on how you can write-in “None of the Above”, rather than be forced into the choices dictated by the two party system, http://donklephant.com/2012/10/18/you-can-vote-none-of-the-above/), I just noted how the write-in ballot can be used to express one’s dissatisfaction with the current partisan system, without really getting into how & why things came to be so partisan. However, discussions with others leads to me believe that is a question on many people’s minds, so I will take this as an excuse to give a quick opinion on this.
It is known that “first past the post” or “winner take all” electoral systems, were one person who gets the most votes (whether it be a majority or not) wins everything, promote the presence of a two party system. This is known as Duverger’s Law, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duverger%27s_law. For this reason, the United States, with a few exceptions, has had two viable parties throughout its history.
The use of modern demographics and marketing have allowed the parties to tune this effect to high degree. This has gotten to the point where, for example, here in CA both parties cooperate in gerrymandering. The Democrats get a bigger majority and the Republicans, while fewer, have safer districts (and so both sides are safer from any backlash over not being willing to compromise). It seems that preventing any reform to this the only thing they will cooperate on.
Add to this another fact, negative advertising will cause people to be unhappy with the side that puts out the ad, for being negative, but it tears down one’s opponent even more. So, if voters can’t go anywhere else (as is the case in a two party system), it works. Further more, modern marketing has allowed parties to also tune this too a high degree. They both avoid, as much as possible, saying anything that can be can be a target of partisan attacks (which mostly means anything of substance), which trying to attack anything they can. This is one reason why campaigns are so heavily full of “gotcha” charges where each side tries to jump on what they can without really saying anything.
So, in the end, my view is that we need to change the way we elect. There are a number of suggestions. Instant runoff voting (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instant-runoff_voting) is but one of them. Another is a number of proposals for a formal “None of the Above” choice. But, for this election, the thing to do is show just how fed up we are with the current system and show that we don’t want the future to be “business as usual”.