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The Norwegian Parliament. It has 169 representatives of which 150 are selected from Norway’s 19 provinces.

Why Only Two Parties in the US, But Nine in Norway?

How the US voting system reduce the number of parties and how voting systems in other countries give more selection to voters

Since my home country Norway, has been in the news in resent times ever since Trump made his “shithole” comment, I thought it might be interesting to discuss why it is so difficult to introduce a third party in the US, while quite easy in a number of other countries.

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Some of the biggest political parties in Norway. From top left to bottom right: communists, socialists, labour, farmers party, christian party, liberals, conservatives, low taxes and anti immigrants party.

Call Your Congressman!

One of the more confusing expressions to me as a Norwegian familiarizing myself with American political life, is the common utterance of the phrase “Call your congressman,” or alternatively, “Call your representative!” To Americans this is a central thing. When I first kept hearing this I asked myself, who is my representative? Do I even have one? Why does nobody in Norway ever utter this phrase, while Americans do it all the time?

  • 33% voted Conservatives (4/12)
  • 50% voted Liberals (6/12)

How Does This Affect Choice of Parties?

In an American election, if the Socialists only got 17% of the votes in each district, while the Conservatives and Liberals took turns getting 33% or 50% of the vote, then the Socialists would not get a single representative in the American system. That is because a district can only select one representative. In essence, the winner takes all.

Swing States

Another novelty to Norwegians is the American concept of swing states. This concept exists because when electing the president (not electing representatives to congress/parliament), the whole state functions as a voting district.

Parliamentarism

To understand what that means, it is useful with a history lesson. If one head back to the 1800s in Europe, when the Norwegian constitution was made, kings and queens served the same role as the president in the US. They made the major decisions. However like the American presidents, they had to pass new laws in parliament. A monarch had like an American president, his/her own government or administration. Heads of ministries or departments that is. The most important of these ministers would be the prime minister, who essentially carried out the orders of the king by interacting with parliament. Hence a prime minister was not a head of state, but rather more of a practical arrangement.

No Prime minister election

What all this means is that there is no separate election of the prime minister and government. Government follows directly from whatever the composition of parties is in the parliament.

How you end up with multiple parties

What I’ve covered is basically the two reasons why it is easy to form new parties in Norway and hard in the US.

  • No electoral college or direct selection of prime minister

Third Parties in Presidential Systems

Getting more parties is of course not impossible in a presidential system. The French system with two rounds to elect president makes it easier for third parties. The two candidates with the most votes enter the second round of voting in France. That means you can afford to vote on a candidate you are in doubt will gain majority, because your vote isn’t wasted.

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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