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Many modern democracies seem to have the TINA problem : There Is No Alternative.

For example, in the US - its Biden vs Trump. TINA anyone else.
In India, its either corrupt Modi or a coalition of corrupt parties. TINA anyone else.

In both cases, most other "third" parties/politicians don't have the power to win national elections.

Has this problem been studied? Has any solution been proposed?

Edit: I'm not extrapolating anything. This is a well discussed problem in popular culture.

Some references:
There is no alternative: Young Americans tell us why they are keen to vote in US polls
TINA Factor Could Defeat Democrats in 2024 Polls
TINA factor, weak Opposition mean Modi will return: Jaitley

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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_is_no_alternative is generally about there being no alternative to capitalism. If you want to extrapolate to other situations, it's more like what happens in Russia, etc. with one candidate dominating (forever). Apr 12 at 13:08
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    OTOH the situation in India is starting to look more like in Russia, depending whom you ask: "Political experts say the key reason behind the decline in India’s opposition is that many of the important institutions essential to the functioning of democracy—such as independent media or the judiciary—have been captured by those in power." TBH, I'm not sure it was all that different when Congress had a long rule. Apr 12 at 13:31
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    If someone says TINA, good chance they're trying to browbeat you into consenting to an arrangement that goes against your interests. Where it was used to justify neoliberal economics, dismantling of unions etc, the claim of no alternative was IMO a case of simple fraud
    – Pete W
    Apr 12 at 15:35
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    I don't think we've clearly defined what "the TINA problem" actually is. I get that it's "third parties can't get elected even when both major parties/candidates are bad", but what are our criteria (beyond the asker's specific personal opinions) for judging if a party is bad? Are we basing it on approval ratings?
    – MJ713
    Apr 12 at 17:08
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    Does this answer your question? Why do the main two US political parties not seem to suffer from "power erosion"?. If not, then do a general search on this site for "two party" and you will see many questions/answers which already deal with this issue.
    – wrod
    Apr 13 at 3:28

4 Answers 4

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A solution that is often debated is inclusion of None of the above category in the ballots. It may come with provisions like: if None of the above scores more than other candidates, a new election must be held, possible with new candidates.

In absence of a strong popular support for introducing such an option, politicians have little interest in promoting it, since it threatens their political longevity in favor of fresh faces. Russia is a notable case where such option existed did function on local level, but was abolished under pretext that the repeated elections were too costly.

Vote blanc (=None of the above) is a simmering political issue in France (although not a frontline one), which involved recent modifications of the election law in 2012 and 2014.

A related issue is making voting obligatory - which assures high voter turnout, benefiting certain political forces, and/or absolving politicians from having to deal with voter apathy (which is a regular problem, e.g., in the US, especially among young voters.)

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  • The thing is that Modi isn't even explicitly running for any office as such. The PM post is not [directly] elected (in India). I suppose you also mean to damn parliamentary/Westminster systems. Anyhow, in a parliamentary system the PM has to secure a majority in parliament. So 'none of the above' sometimes applies when a designated PM fails to assemble a majority. Anyhow, the one-candidate-at-a-time style of PM nominations isn't exactly an election, but a vote of confidence. Apr 13 at 14:44
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TBH this is a bad comparison, and so a bad attempt at unifying two rather different situations under the same meme. The situation in India looks nothing like that in the US from where I'm sitting.

In the US there has been frequent alternation in power between the two leading parties at all [federal] levels. The presidential term limits certainly appear to help with that. (The deep blue and deep red states are a somewhat different issue.) But sticking to the federal level, that's hardly the case in India, where the long (50-year) rule of [the] Congress [party] was succeeded by a long-ish (but not uninterrupted) rule of the BJP. One could certainly read/say about two decades ago that

the United States is widely recognized as a two-party system and India is often categorized as a one-party dominant system.

Nowadays the BJP and Congress (and their respective fans) take pot-shot shots at each other as to whom tried/tries to controlled the press more (see e.g. 1 vs 2), and likewise for the judiciary (e.g. 1 vs 2). Suffice to say that long stretches of one-party rule are more likely when there can be capture (and lack of competition) in other parts of the society.

The US is mostly criticized for high polarization and (legislative) deadlock, as well the lack of much prospects for a third party to succeed. Yes, if you have fringe views in the US, it looks like "there's no alternate" in that no 3rd party candidate succeeded at presidential level, but otherwise it's not really the case there's no alternative. Also, the parties are broad/big tents in the US, with legislators often criticizing the policies of their 'own' president in some respects. I'm less sure about India in those regards.


Thanks for updating the Q with some sources. Alas, as I suspected, these are not talking about the same phenomena, despite using the same meme/words.

The 1st & 3rd are easiest to summarize, so I'll leave the 2nd for last.

  • 1st one says essentially that there was no alternative to Biden for driving Trump out in 2020. On Nov 2 when that article ran it was no brainer to claim that, because the primaries were long over and Biden the nominated Democratic candidate. Slightly more interesting would have been to refer to earlier polls that were then finding that Biden was the least divisive candidate for the opposition/Democrats then, and could capture more independents because he was less left-wing (or more centrist). But the article didn't even bother mentioning that instead talking about an obvious triviality that on Nov 2 the only real alternative to Trump was Biden. (Election day was next day, Nov 3.)

  • 3rd one claims there was no alternative to Modi being PM [in 2019] because the opposition (by other parties) was weak & fractured. If the analysis is correct, this is in fact the opposite situation of the above, where the opposition was not weak or fractured [past primaries], and had a single counter-candidate that had good odds of beating the incumbent.

So those two are hardly the same situation despite apparently being described by the same meme.

As for the 2nd source. This one is pretty confusing past the title. Essentially it seems to say that because Biden is running unopposed inside the Democratic party now, he could lose to Trump. But the rest of the analysis is pretty weak IMHO, entirely focusing on the Gaza thing, which may or may not be a big deal by election time. (Even if it is now.) Also, IMHO, the biggest weakness of this analysis is that it doesn't even try to look at any polling whether any other Democrat could do better against Trump. It just claims/implies that Biden running virtually unopposed could cost the Democrats the POTUS, but it's not really showing with any data that any other Democrat could do better presently. But presuming the analysis is correct and Biden prevented a more electable (v. Trump) Democrat from running, it's still not similar to the other two scenarios/claims from the other articles. E.g. it's not claimed that there being no internal BJP alternative to Modi is any kind of issue/disadvantage. And unlike in 2020, there's a 3rd party candidate running now (Kennedy) so even the claim that there's no alternative to these two guys isn't [theoretically] correct now, although practical odds are a different matter. Anyhow, if you buy that Democrats not vigorously challenging Biden internally now [on candidacy rather than specific topics] is an issue, the situation is unlike 2020 (when Dem primaries were competitive), so again 'TINA' used for setups that aren't actually similar in terms of what's claimed about them.

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  • Its entirely incorrect to call the situation after 1989 as "rule of the BJP".
    – whoisit
    Apr 12 at 17:56
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Ok first of all that's not really what TINA is about. Usually it's not about the people that you elect but about the systems and policies. So often enough conservative parties try to frame their way of doing politics as the one and only option and all other parties would either do the same or their experiments will lead to devastating results (fearmongering).

Having 2 bad options on the ballot, is a) not really TINA as you have alternatives... and b) it is not so much a problem with democracy but rather it's absence

This 2 party system is largely a problem of filling 1 leadership position. Which is not really democratic to begin with. Like the idea of a democracy is the rule of the people so usually even in representative democracies it's the parliament that is supposed to be the most powerful institution, rather than any sort of president/chancellor or coalition. Having a distinct government is more or less a remainder from the older more monarchist systems.

And if you want to fill 1 government position you essentially have a barrier of entry of 50+%. Which usually means the formation of 2 major parties or 2 relevant candidates (either due to party internal pre-elections or official multi round voting), because smaller parties stand no chance to gain 50% or if they do, that just kicks out one of the established parties.

Also let's say there are two parties in favor of policy A one arguing for A+ the other for A- and one party arguing for Z and the A+ gets 30% and the A- gets 30% and the Z gets 40% then the Z party is elected despite parties in the ballpark of A would have gotten a combined result of 60%. So these combinations are incentivized by the system.

Though if there are only 2 options left these parties either both try to go for the centrist audience thus reducing the palette of political options to 1 going by different names or they occupy fringe positions of idk C and Y which alienate most of their voter slightly appealing to the other voter base, but you don't really have an alternative as for an A voter C is still much closer to A than Y.

So what you could do is allow for more prioritization of issues. So rather than make the government the most relevant institution you could increase the relevancy of the parliament. This reduces the barrier of entry for smaller parties and while it's still about majorities of government the composition of coalitions could allow for some prioritization.

For better or worse it can also inflate the power of smaller parties, for example if they are the ones who push the coalition over the edge of 50% their cooperation might be bought with more concessions than that of a medium sized party.

You could also have variations of ranked voting if it's local representation and you have to pick 1 candidate.

And you can set a limit for the voter turnout, so if none of the candidates receives an absolute threshold of votes they'd be forced to have a new election and likely new candidates.

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    What makes you think the legislative branch in the US is not more powerful than the other branches? After all it has the ability to remove all of the members of the other branches via impeachment (which is a political process, so it doesn't require a reason).
    – uberhaxed
    Apr 12 at 18:42
  • @uberhaxed It very well might be but it suffers from the same problem in two ways, one is the direct election of the members of congress. Which is both an advantage as they are local to their district, rather than just a member of a party, but which also means it's a single position to be filled. The other is that they aim for the majority in these chambers so again disincentivizing 3rd party candidates unless they strongly affiliate with one of the existing parties.
    – haxor789
    Apr 16 at 8:59
  • IMO, getting a majority is exactly how democracy is supposed to work. If you can't convince a majority to vote for your ideas then it's not good idea. The concept of coalitions in parliamentary systems is an afront to actual democracy and seems to be trying to use technicalities in the rules to pass minority opinions instead of the spirit of democracy (majority rules). That being said, third parties do exist (they are unpopular). The idea of big tent parties are to unite people under a common banner instead of fracturing the population politically, causing political discord.
    – uberhaxed
    Apr 16 at 14:45
  • @uberhaxed The quintessential idea of democracy and what it literally means is "rule of the people". So rather than one dedicated ruler or one ruling class, caste or whatnot you'd have self-governance "by the people". Ideally directly; replacing any sort of government with a plenum discussion forum where anyone has the same rights and abilities to participate. So that is more than majority rule, which to the minority can look very anti-democratic, though compared to other forms of government with a tyranny of the ruling minority, majority rule is often a step towards democracy.
    – haxor789
    Apr 16 at 17:56
  • The point of voting in the first place is the implicit belief that the decision of the majority of the decision of the group. No matter what sophistry you use, you have to accept that a democracy consents to submit to majority opinion.
    – uberhaxed
    Apr 16 at 18:00
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Many modern democracies seem to have the TINA problem : There Is No Alternative.

This is largely because "modern democracies" are sham affairs, controlled by rich liberals who don't want there to be any alternatives to their economic management and intense exploitation.

There are a number of ways liberals undermine the mass democracy that was broadly achieved in the 20th century. They force control out into the "market", where the wealth of the rich rules. They promote the existence of a "free" (rich-liberal owned and controlled) press, which pumps propaganda they control. They install an "independent" judiciary, who are typically drawn from rich or professional elites, and often oppose politicians who are in fact elected and supposedly democratic. And they use intelligence-gathering and storage networks, in conjunction with press control, to selectively discredit democratic candidates with policies the rich don't want.

Has this problem been studied? Has any solution been proposed?

It has certainly been studied.

In the past, the solution has been to destroy the ability of the rich to corruptly influence politics. Political funding is tightly controlled. Lobbying officials is controlled and treated as corruption when done behind closed doors. Money flows in the economy - especially internationally - are tightly monitored and controlled. Corporate privacy is rejected. The wealthy are heavily taxed. Press ownership is tightly controlled, and foreign ownership excluded. Judges are subordinated to elected officials. The threat of violence also often played a part in disciplining political candidates into a greater level of honesty and consistency, since the opportunist liar otherwise thrives on conditions of impunity.

Basically all the measures that are inconsistent with what the liberals call a "free" society, where they are allowed to operate corruptly and unchecked.

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