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In the USA it's extremely rare for independent or "third party" politicians to win any elections at the national (federal) level; it's almost exclusively Democrats and Republicans. This has been mostly true throughout its history.

However, looking at other democratic countries, this seems to be exceptional. In some countries like the Netherlands, Ireland, and Italy, there are a huge number of different parties that have elected officials in their parliament. In others like Germany and France, there are two big parties, but even there it seems the alternative parties still have some power.

What about the American system causes it to consolidate to just two parties?

EDIT: This question is being marked as a duplicate, so I will be more specific so as to differentiate it. I have noticed that except for France, all of the aforementioned countries have parliamentary systems (i.e. the Head of Government requires a majority in the legislative branch). Does that have something to do with it? Why is France an exception?

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    These United States aren't a Democracy. – Drunk Cynic Jan 29 '17 at 19:51
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    "Almost exclusively Democrats and Republicans". Well, the Whig party had a good run with four presidents. But yeah, those two have been the only ones that have elected any presidents in the last 150 years. – Thunderforge Jan 29 '17 at 20:16
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    When the Whigs were in power it was still a two party system. When the Republicans ascended to influence, the Whigs died out. – lightspectra Jan 29 '17 at 20:21
  • If you want to ask a question about France, you should either edit out the parts asking about the United States or ask a new question. As is, it's somewhat confusing. Are you asking, "What about the American system causes it to consolidate to just two parties?" Or "Why is France an exception?" It also helps if you acknowledge the previous questions. E.g. "OK, I understand that ..." and "Apparently Duverger's law says..." Then we have more context for what is new about this question. – Brythan Feb 1 '17 at 15:10
  • This is not a duplicate. The other questions are asking if there are third parties. – endolith Feb 3 '17 at 14:45
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The main reason for this difference between the United States and Europe is the election system.

In the United States, there is a "winner takes all" system for federal elections. Whoever wins the district/state gets all the seats which represent it.

But the countries mentioned in the question have different voting systems. Details differ, but in general they all count all the votes in the complete country and then distribute parliament seats depending on the percentage of votes given to each party. That means that in order to get parliamentary representation, a party only needs to convince a small percentage of voters in the complete country instead of a majority of voters in a state/district.

You might now look at recent US election results and reason that even if the US would use the European counting model, the number of votes for other parties than Republicans and Democrats are usually so few that it wouldn't be enough for noteworthy representation in Congress. But this fails to take tactical voting into account. Voters will usually only vote for those parties which they assume to have a realistic chance to get into the parliament. So when the election system makes it next to impossible for small parties to get representation, people will vote them even less.

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  • Which countries in Europe use a non-"winner takes all" election system for their national offices? – lightspectra Jan 29 '17 at 18:21
  • I think the main difference is the parliamentary system. While general elections still are ofte first across the line, there is no direct votes for the highest office. – user1530 Jan 29 '17 at 19:09
  • I suspected it had something to do with the parliamentarian nature of those other countries. But what about in places like France that have a directly elected president? – lightspectra Jan 29 '17 at 20:08
  • @lightspectra Why would direct presidential elections have any bearing on how legislative elections are conducted? If you think there is a correlation, you should ask a Question. – J Doe Jan 30 '17 at 23:53

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