I’m surprised the US doesn’t have regional parties

I’ll state up front that I’m certain there are strong reasons why the US doesn’t have state specific political parties that are distinct from national parties. It is a mystery only in so far as there are limits to my understanding of the history. However, having said that I was just generally thinking about third parties in the US and one way first-past-the-post systems can still move beyond a two-party system is with very regional parties. So takes this as me, as per-usual, thinking out loud rather than telling-it-like-it-is.

In the UK this manifested historically in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The importance of parties like the SNP or Plaid Cymru has been increased in recent decades by devolved governments and a more federated system of government (conditions which have always applied in the US states). Yet, even prior to the reforms that set up a Scottish parliament, the UK parliament had some third party MPs from regional parties. The political party situation in Northern Ireland was different again with both Labour and the Conservative Parties not operating there (although the SDLP is an equivalent party to Labour).

So the US has some of the features that would enable region-specific third parties within a two party system. There’s arguably even an advantage for states to have a senator from a state-specific party IF the senate is otherwise roughly evenly split between the two national parties. A non-aligned mp/senator/representative can be paradoxically more powerful in a chamber when they end up being a deciding vote. They are less beholden to party loyalty and they can more openly state that they will vote with which ever party on the day is offering a better deal for their state/region. That would suit some of the claimed anti-ideological populism (often just species of conservatism) which has a long history in the US.

So why does the Repub-Dem split seem to be operate at multiple levels? There’s zero mystery why the Presidential election is wholly inimical to third parties — everything about it is geared towards a stand off between two candidates and those candidates need national parties behind them. The electoral college system means those parties have to operate at a state level and need state-level political apparatus. The process of picking the national candidate mirrors the state-by-state aspect of the electoral college, further necessitating state level version of national political parties.

However, that alone isn’t a sufficient explanation. The UK’s national parties operate in Wales and Scotland but regions still create a scope for regional parties. Geographic based electoral systems rely on the existence of local majorities, i.e. geographically concentrated support to pick candidates. So there is a built-in capacity for regional issue candidates to gain some third party traction in a way that broader issue candidates (say a Green Party) can’t without electoral reform.

So what else is in play? In the UK historically the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties have been specifically nationalist in character, all be it in a more progressive left-of-centre way than the term ‘nationalism’ may suggest. That nationalism rested on historic, cultural and linguistic differences as well as an aspiration for independence. Although there is periodic discussion about Texas seceding form the USA or California, there’s not really the deep national identity for US states that is anything like that of the non-England parts of the UK. Having said that the Liberal Party in its various forms remains a significant third party in the UK after the the two party system shifted to Lab-v-Con around WW2, partly by being a regional-party-lite within England.

Additionally, national politics and the pressure of the electoral college vote strategies has tended to sort US national politics into Red-v-Blue regions where the Republican (say) states have a degree of similarity in terms of demographics (more rural, less dense, less urban) and likewise for the counterparts. Each state may have their own issues but the differences between a given state and another similar state aren’t sufficiently large that they can’t be accommodated within two broad coalitions of interests.

Another aspect that has taken me much longer to understand was the extent to which the two main political parties have their own local character. This is obvious historically with quite severe differences within the Democratic Party in the past, arguably greater within the party than between the two parties. That’s not quite how other countries think of political parties.

Another thing that it has taken me longer to understand because of preconceived ideas from British politics, is the degree to which US Senators are more independent actors than parliamentarians in the Westminster system. It’s rare (and indeed a sign of a government in severe trouble) in the Westminster system when there is any doubt about how a non-third party representative might vote given their party’s position. That’s not the case, as I understand it, at least in the senate (I mean, technically its not the case in the UK’s House of Lords but that is such a messed up concept for a second chamber that it defies any sensible analysis — in the Australian Senate, Labour senators vote Labour and Liberal senators vote Liberal and it would be a massive deal if they didn’t).

No final conclusion, as this was just another episode of Camestros trying to answer his own question. Still, if somebody gave me a gazillion dollars to make the US a multi-party system, I would definitely start regional.

49 thoughts on “I’m surprised the US doesn’t have regional parties

  1. In California a lot of local politics, and to a lesser extent state politics, end up awkwardly implementing a weak form of regional parties informally. In San Francisco you have the “progressives” and the “moderates”. All of them are Democrats (and all local races in California are officially nonpartisan) but, while to the left of the country as a whole, they have different positions on housing, transit, policing, and other issues. It’s generally pretty easy to identify who’s who – look at various local Democratic club endorsements, for instance – although the labels do not really track with the national meaning of the words. It’s not as clear-cut here in the South Bay but there’s usually a pretty clear YIMBY/NIMBY split that’s obvious if you’re paying attention, and that frequently trumps actual party lines. I voted for a Republican City Council candidate last cycle because while more conservative than I am (although well to the left of any national Republican) we agree on much more about local issues than his opponent, who (in his current race) recently spoke against the downtown expansion because it risked making Sunnyvale “denser than Berlin”. And I’ve donated to a Green Party candidate for San Jose City Council, who a lot of local Dem clubs are quasi-officially supporting even though they can’t officially endorse him.

    At the state level it tends to be a bit closer to national party politics, and the waters are muddied by national politicians wading in and making endorsements for more personal reasons. (In SD 15, Cortese (D) and Ravel (D) are the general election candidates. Cortese is backed by the state and county Democratic Party and is running clearly to Ravel’s left. Obama has endorsed Ravel because she used to work in his administration.) But there’s a caucus of pro-business Democrats in the Legislature (the “Mod Squad”) that in an alternate universe where the California GOP isn’t bugnuts I could imagine being centrist Republicans. (Some of them actually used to be just that back when those existed.) And of course there’s also intercameral rivalries between the Assembly and Senate.

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  2. A very simple answer for why we don’t have regional parties may be that, with very limited exceptions, our states were never independent nations — unlike Scotland et al. So our states never fully developed governmental organizations that were independent of the US federal system.

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    1. And, unlike Scotland and Wales, everyone with a vote/franchise/influence pretty much spoke English when the state was admitted to the union. Even the ones that had an independent existence before 1776.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Canada has regional parties, though we’re obviously a special case for historical reasons. The main one is the Quebec separatists, being the ‘Parti Quebecois’ within Quebec and the national party version, the ‘Bloc Quebecois’. (Which has done well enough to actually have the second highest number of seats in Parliament, leading to the rather odd situation of ‘Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition’ being a separatist party.)

    Aside from hat:
    – The ‘New Democratic Party’ or NDP started as a provincial level party but have since become a major national player;
    – The ‘Reform’ party was largely a western (particularly Alberta) alienation party until it ate the federal ‘Progressive Conservative’ party and literally removed the Progressive from the name;
    – The ‘Wild Rose’ party was essentially the Alberta provincial version of the Reform party for people who thought the Progressive Conservatives weren’t Conservative enough; like the Reform party, they’ve since eaten the more centrist Conservative party;
    – The ‘Social Credit’ party used to be a major thing, again starting primarily in Western Canada; it was less blatantly reactionary than the Reform party, and on paper was much more about economics than lifestyle, but both the provincial and federal levels of this pretty much collapsed by the early 1990s. (Interestingly, Canada’s only female Prime Minister started her political career as a SoCred.)

    So Canada has a fair history of regional parties, unsurprisingly because while Quebec was never really a separate country, it still has a different language and culture from the rest of the country. The only parts of Canada that really were separate countries at the time of the founding of the Dominion of Canada would have been British Columbia on the west coast and Newfoundland on the east. B.C. joined up pretty shortly after extracting a promise to build a cross-country railroad, and Newfoundland didn’t join up until after WWII. (Though they’d been kind of a protectorate since the Great Depression.)

    (B.C. is a lot like Washington State: the coast and the big cities are progressive and open, but you don’t have to go very far east before hitting Bible Belt and self-proclaimed mountain man types.)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The new leader of the national Conservative Party has as his slogan “Take Back Canada” and the United Conservative Party in Alberta has announced layoffs of 11,000 health service jobs (to be outsourced, ie: union-busting).


      1. Yeah, as I noted, in both cases the centrist Conservative party got actively eaten by the more reactionary party. And while I’m less familiar with the details of Alberta’s provincial politics, I know in the federal case there was active lying from the more smooth-talking members of the reactionary side in the lead-up to that, trying to convince the old-school conservatives that it was a ‘merger’ when they actually planned a complete take-over.

        The Bloc is still purely a regional party by anybody’s definition.


      2. Oh, sorry if I left the impression, Jenora, that I was somehow not recognizing what you said. I was just adding that detail on to it, because I find the slogan so abhorrent, and because Kenney/ Shandro/ Alberta terrify me.

        And just this morning the Ford govt in Ontario ended the rule about seniority in hiring teachers (which, again, is an attack on unions and salaries)


  4. In Germany, we have two true regional parties. One is the Christian Social Union (CSU), which is the Bavarian arm of the conservative CDU and further right than the main party. In general, the CSU sits on the furthest right edge of the respectable political spectrum and occasionally crosses over into no longer respectable territory. They’re the undisputed rulers of Bavaria. Because of their alliance with the CDU, they have more political influence outside Bavaria than they should. Pretty much everybody outside Bavaria and many inside Bavaria (but not enough) dislike them.

    The other true regional party is the South Schleswig Voters Union, which is the party of the Danish minority in the state of Schleswig-Holstein. They generally get between 3 and 5 percent of the vote and are treated like a protected species, since the 5% hurdle does not apply to them in Schleswig-Holstein state elections. They have been part of coalition governments in Schleswig-Holstein, usually because their few seats could break a deadlock, but have next to no political influence nationwide. A pity, because they seem to be decent folks.

    The Left Party used to be a quasi-regional party, for though they operate nationwide, for a long time they only got votes (often a significant percentage) in former East Germany. This is no surprise, because the Left Party grew out of the East German Socialist Party. However, in the past 15 to 20 years, the Left Party continuously managed to expand their percentage of voters in the western half of Germany, largely because the Socialdemocratic Party abandoned its left socialist heritage and the Green Party cares more about ecology than poverty, unemployment, etc… Hence, a lot of frustrated leftists started voting for the Left Party. By now, the Left Party is part of coalition governments in several states in East and West Germany. One state, Thuringia, has a minister president of the Left Party.

    The far right xenophobic AfD (Alterbative for Germany) also is a quasi-regional party, since they are much stronger in former East Germany than elsewhere, but they operate nationwide. Thankfully, they have no direct political influence, because the other parties won’t work with them.

    The Green Party started out as a quasi-regional party in the big West German cities, but now has voters everywhere and is the second largest party. The liberal party FDP (liberal meaning here libertarian, pro free market, etc…) is stronger in West Germany, but again they operate nationwide and have recently gained in East Germany. Unfortunately, they’re somewhat incompetent on the leadership level.

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    1. Regarding the South Schleswig Voters Union, I’m actually surprised that the Danish minority is the only ethnic minority to have its own political party, because we have other ethnic minorities. The Sorbs, a Slavic minority in Saxony, would be the obvious candidates for their own party, but they don’t have one. Though for many years, the minister president of Saxony was a man of Sorbian origin.

      I’m also surprised that the large immigrant groups don’t have their own parties. Instead, Russian immigrants, mostly descendants of ethnic Germans who emigrated to Russia in the 18th century, overwhelmingly vote conservative, though some of them support the AfD in recent years. The roughly five million people of Turkish origin (though not all of them are German citizens, while the people of Russian origin usually are) are politically all over the place, though you are more likely to find them supporting the Socialdemocratic and Green Parties.

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      1. “The roughly five million people of Turkish origin (though not all of them are German citizens, while the people of Russian origin usually are) are politically all over the place, though you are more likely to find them supporting the Socialdemocratic and Green Parties.”

        This drives leftist/secular types in Turkey nuts because the diaspora in Germany votes almost entirely for the conservative/Islamist AKP in Turkish elections.

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      2. Yes, that’s another thing I should have mentioned, that those members of the Turkish diaspora in Germany who still have a Turkish passport, overwhelmingly vote for the conservative AKP. Partly that’s because the AKP actively courts these voters via campaign appearances, the DITIP mosques, etc… And partly it’s because the people who retain their Turkish passport are often more conservative. Meanwhile, Kurds, Armenians, Aramaics and left-leaning Turks are more likely to renounce their Turkish citizenship and become German citizens, because until recently it was nigh impossible for Turkish-German citizens to have a dual nationality.

        Meanwhile, the conservative German parties show very little interest in courting conservative leaning people of Turkish origin. I guess part of the problem is that there is still a lot of xenophobia and islamophobia in those parties, particularly among the rank and file membership. The branding doesn’t help either. A conservative Muslim is unlikely to vote for a party with the word Christian prominent in its name, even if they politically agree on many points.

        Interestingly, Turkish Aramaic Christians living in Germany are usually conservative and tend to vote for the CDU/CSU or even the far right AfD, which makes no sense at all, because the AfD is explicitly xenophobic and doesn’t really distinguish between Christian and Muslim Turks either but views them all as “icky foreigners who should just go home”.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. This answers it:

    There are a few, but they generally amount to a rounding error in the overall electorate, even in their region.

    The two major ones cover such a broad range that they’d be several different parties a lot of places — but the regional ones, again, would be too small to matter.

    Also we had that dust-up between the regions about 150 years ago that kind of gave regionalism a bad name politically.


      1. Yes, but ours was almost within living memory. There are a few elderly people still alive today who remember their Civil War veteran relatives.

        My mother had one grandfather on either side. They didn’t talk much about the war (“it was sad”), they just played a lot of chess and lived together after their wives died. Which I think is a lovely image — two old soldiers from opposite sides living in peace as their descendants married.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. (And of course yours weren’t because of chattel slavery of one visibly-identifiable race.)


      3. NI (or at least the Orange ones) desperately schemes to remain part of UK, even though everyone else in the world is all “Why don’t they just join the rest of the island?” I wonder if Brexit will hasten that.


  6. I’m sure others’ links have demonstrated this, but historically there HAVE been such parties in the US from time to time – during the mid 1900s for example, there was basically a difference between northern and southern dems, and right before the Civil War – the election of 1860, there were literally Southern Dems as a separate-ish party than the Democratic party.

    The key is that on the Federal level, these regional parties wind up folding into a major one, because theres no benefit of being a smaller party. Remnants do wind up still existing on the state level sometimes – so for local officeholders, there were Dems down south for quite a while, and even now this results in what seem like oddities like a Dem governor of Kentucky (Andy Brashear) or Montana. But the thing is that in the modern era the national parties are so much more significant than local elections and so when those big elections align, people will vote the same way as their national interest where again there is no benefit of backing a splinter group.


  7. There are sort of regional parties here too. One Nation, despite their aspirations, has never gotten much traction outside of Queensland, for example. Centre Alliance is probably the only one that has followed the path of becoming big in state politics before making a move to federal politics, but whether they will last beyond the next election cycle is hard to say (for those not familiar with Australian politics beyond our tendency to change prime ministers more often than we change our undies, Centre Alliance is a small party based largely around a flamboyant and charismatic independent politician who managed to carelessly manoeuvre himself out of both state and federal politics in the last election).


  8. The US has the elections on the ground run by the political parties. In many states you have to declare what party you are aligned with when you register to vote. The US simply doesn’t have an electoral culture of broad franchise, it’s been keeping undesirables from voting right from the start, and this makes it harder to vote, particularly if you don’t have a major party supporting you. I think these are factors.

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  9. The only part of the US with anything like its own national identity is the states from the old confederacy (aka The South aka Dixie). Since we’re talking about nationalism, let’s call this imaginary country Dixie. (The Economist had an article about this a few years ago, but since I grew up there I think I can talk about it off-the-cuff.)

    Dixie has its own flag and its own national anthem. It has its own distinctive dialect.

    People in Dixie don’t feel like immigrants. When I got to college (in California), I was baffled when people would ask me “where is your family from?” They wanted me to name some European country, but all eight of my great grandparents were born in Dixie and (I now know) all 32 of my great-great-great grandparents were as well. By contrast, my roommate’s mom was an immigrant and both of his father’s parents were immigrants. (Supposedly the lack of air conditioning made it difficult for anyone who didn’t grow up in Dixie to move there as an adult, so it became a place people moved away from, not to, with the result that most people born there have long local pedigrees.)

    Dixie has its own history. At school, we learned that we should be proud Americans but never to forget we were also sons of Dixie. At college a friend asked me about the Civil War battles that had occured in my home town (Chattanooga). This was something I could do enthusiastically and with details (even down to exact dates for some things), but partway through, I realized my dormmates were just staring at me–and not in boredom. What had stunned them was that, in my account, I was saying “we did this” and “they did that” but “we” was always the Confederate troops–not the Union army. In turn, I was surprised that it bothered them.

    We used to say that every teenage boy fights the Civil War all over again, going through a phase of wishing Dixie had won its independence. But eventually you grow up and realize that would have been a bad thing. When I see adults waving the Dixie flag, my first reaction is always “how childish.”

    This is why there’s such a powerful reaction to the effort to remove statues to Confederate soldiers. They want to be proud of Dixie, and this rubs their noses in reasons not to be proud of it. Note how hard they try to minimize discussion of slavery. “It was about States Rights.” Well, that was the argument Lincoln used with the North, but down South it was 100% about slavery at the time. In later years, though, pretty much everyone agreed slavery was an evil we were well rid of, and you could hardly be proud of that, so everyone tried hard to pretend it was a side issue.

    Dixie has its own culture and even its own cuisine. (I really miss the food I grew up with.) It had strong traditions of honor, duty, and courtesy, and a deeper religious commitment than most other parts of the country. It has a very strong tradition of military service. (At one point, if I remember right, 70% of US officers of flag rank were from Dixie.) In fact, people from Dixie are much more chauvinistic Americans than more other Americans. You can’t understand Dixie at all without appreciating the tension there between being an American and being proud of Dixie.

    I don’t really mean to defend it. Getting out of Dixie was my #1 goal in high school, and I never considered any college in the area. But if you’re looking for a national identity inside the United States, Dixie is the only one there is. As to why it doesn’t have its own regional party, I think it’s because that would smack of disloyalty to the US.

    Hope that helps a bit.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Texas has a pretty clear “national identity” too, to the extent that one can buy novelty Texas “passports” in tourist shops and airports. It was also its own independent republic for ten years, has an anthem (“Yellow Rose of Texas”) and a motto “Come and Take it”.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. And “Don’t Mess With Texas”, which went from being a slogan to try to get people to stop littering to a right-wing snarl.


      2. Every state (and territory) has a state song, or two, or four, or ten. Except New Jersey (make up your own joke here)

        John Denver wrote the 4th-named WV anthem, only recently named that; contrary to popular belief, “Rocky Mountain High” is only the second state song of Colorado, and also only recently. Stephen Foster wrote 2. So did Woody Guthrie.

        “Yellow Rose of Texas” is not an official anthem, but everyone uses it as one because it’s one peppy tune.


    2. When I was five, I lived for almost a year in Biloxi, Mississippi, and went to kindergarten there. And because my parents were eager to see as much as possible, we also went on a lot of road trips, from Texas to Georgia, from Tennessee to Florida. And yes, it’s definitely culturally distinct from the rest of the US.

      I also got some of that “Dixie pride” transmitted in kindergarten, e.g. the fact that they had pictures of all US presidents up to that point and made us learn their names by heart (which I can no longer do, though I once could) and that they treated Confederate president Jefferson Davis as equal to Lincoln. I even asked at one point why there were two presidents at the same time, though I’ve forgotten the exact answer I got. And I suspect they would have thrown Lincoln in the trash, if they could. The kindergarten teacher was a black woman BTW, Mrs. Walker.

      And of course, right there in Biloxi, within walking distance of our apartment, was Jefferson Davis’ retirement home Beauvoir, which was a tourist attraction and absolutely no one seemed to think anything wrong about that. Just as the whole area was littered with Civil War forts, confederate flags were commonplace, etc… And I saw a lot of that, because my parents were determined to see as much as they could, so we never passed a Civil War fort, creepy plantation house or weird and wonderful roadside attraction (Biblical scenes recreated from pottery shards by a monk, day-glo coloured Mother Goose rhyme characters, illuminated waterfalls, etc…) that we didn’t visit.

      Though I’d also say that there is no unified South or Dixie, because the different states are quite culturally distinct, too. Louisiana and the Gulf Coast in general are culturally very distinct from Texas, which is again different from Florida which is again different from Tennessee and Kentucky (though those two are similar). I’d even say that Louisiana and the Gulf Coast are quite different from northern Mississippi or Alabama, even though it’s one state. As for the rest of the US, New England feels culturally distinct as well. I’m pretty sure other regions are culturally distinct as well, though I don’t have the first hand experience.


      1. Picture if you will: the station wagon. Dad’s driving, Mom’s navigating, my brother and I are in the back with various guidebooks.

        The cry goes up: “Another hysterical marker!”

        Exeunt family to see what’s commemorated.

        There are so many historical markers in the US — federal, state, county, city, group — that there are tons of novelty faux markers available that read “On this site in 1897 nothing happened”.

        (Where I live in 1897, not much happened — it was a dairy farm.)

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Indeed, about 3/4 of my people were proud residents of Dixie. I’ve traveled there a bit and it’s still basically another country, as is seen in many national statistics. Note that Florida is NOT Dixie, except maybe the panhandle right next to Alabama. It’s, well… Florida.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. Hey! I just found out that TN has more state songs than anybody. 🙂

      From Wikipedia: ” Tennessee has the most state songs, with 9 official state songs and an official bicentennial rap. ”

      Woo hoo!

      Everyone knows that there are really only two TN state songs, though: “Rocky Top” and “Tennessee Waltz”.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I quite agree. I’ve never heard of most of them, though I might have heard the rap once. Agreed that “Tennessee Waltz” and “Rocky Top” are all you need. I’ve spent a total of about 4 days in Tennessee and I can sing both of those.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. The biggest reason we have devolved to a two-party system is the way the government is organized. In European countries many have a system where you actually can have many parties sharing power, in Parliament, horse trading, and the real entity that governs are the parties themselves. In the UK there’s no way to have the kind of gridlock we had when Obama, a Democrat, was president but the Congress was controlled by his opponents. In the UK when your party is in, it governs, and when it’s out, it’s out.

    The US system was designed to elect people, not parties, and the parties were an afterthought. Also we have a kludged together system that retained the Electoral College yet tacked a primary election system on top of it while still preserving the illusion that the party conventions choose candidates. It’s kind of a mess. When the country is less polarized it works pretty well, but not so much in the last 20 years. I have no idea how to make it better.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. One other issue is that it isn’t always clear what the regions might be. I’m in Colorado. Part of the West region? Sure, but Los Angeles is over a thousand miles away. Part of the Rocky Mountain region? My preferred label, but it’s not clear what political purposes would unite Idaho, New Mexico, Wyoming and the other Rocky Mountain states. Part of the Great Plains region? Wheat farmers on Colorado’s eastern plains certainly feel more kinship with Nebraska or Kansas than California. And there is a significant rural/urban divide in Colorado which would complicate any effort to create a regional party. In 2013, five small, rural counties voted to leave Colorado and form their own state. Purely symbolic, of course. Hard to envision any regional party appealing to a majority in Colorado

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  12. In the U.S., the national parties were much more like coalitions of smaller regional parties until recently. Republicans from the New England area were very different from Republicans from California, and Democrats from Alabama were very different from Democrats from Illinois, and so on. Regional variations were pretty much a fact of life for U.S. political parties for most of the twentieth century, and many of the fights for nominations were more or less over which regional faction would get its candidate onto the ticket.

    For the most part, that has been eliminated due to the rise of national media, which has served to homogenize the parties. There have also been some shifts related mostly to racism in which the Democrats mostly shed their southern “Blue Dog” wing, first to the “Dixecrats”, then to the “American Independent Party” headed by George Wallace, and then to the GOP.

    Historically, there have been a few regional parties – such as the Populist Party, which pushed William Jennings Bryan into the 1896 race as their Presidential nominee (with his famous “Cross of Gold” speech), and was mostly a Western-based party built on disaffected farmers. Those sorts of regional parties have historically been subsumed into one of the two major parties pretty quickly, which is what happened with the Populist Party, which basically merged with the Democratic Party for all intents and purposes within a few election cycles.

    The biggest moment for “regional” parties was immediately prior to the U.S. Civil War, when the Democratic Party split into a northern wing and a southern wing, the Republican Party was basically a regional party based in the non-slave states, and the “Constitutional-Union” party stood in the middle of everything trying to bridge the gap between north and south (and was strongest in the “border states”). To put things in perspective for how much of a regional party the Republicans were in 1860: Lincoln wasn’t even on the ballot in many southern states.

    This splintering into a collection of regional political factions didn’t end well.

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  13. Many people think that Bush would not have won in 2000 if Ralph Nader hadn’t siphoned votes off from Al Gore, and many people also think that trump would not have won in 2016 if not for Jill Stein. Stein and Nader’s parties weren’t regional, of course, but the choice for president has lately been presented in such stark terms — culminating this year in a choice between civilization and chaos — that it becomes impossible to form any party that takes away from the main two. I always end up voting straight Democratic, even though I’m attracted to some of the policies in other parties.

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  14. Might population mobility and internal migration suppress development of regional political parties? This article in the Atlantic argues that the the US has more internal movement than most of Europe:

    My wife and I are part of a fairly large movement of northerners into the cities and suburbs of what was Dixie, so we certainly don’t have any southern regional identity (or at least she’s part of that movement; I’m an immigrant from outside the US, so I probably don’t count for measuring internal migration).

    On the other hand, my in-laws still live in the same Pennsylvania county their ancestors settled in the 1720s, so you’d think that would be enough time for regional political identity to develop…but maybe political identity was trumped by sectarian religious identity)

    So I dunno. Maybe internal migration has nothing to do with it…


    1. People do move around a lot more, and don’t always accept the norms of their new home. They might be somewhere else entirely in a couple of years if they get a new job or job transfer or just think life looks better elsewhere or is better for their health.


  15. @Greg

    Nice summary of the South. One side of my family hails from Tennessee. While I was born in the north, I lived for a couple years in the Memphis area as well as a couple years on east coast of North Carolina. And having served in the military I have a lot of friends from southern states.

    I don’t have the numbers close at hand, but the percentage of southerners that volunteered for the US military and ended up serving in Vietnam was disproportionately high. If the US is ever in a fight, we can count on the south to show up.


    Separately, another factor that suppresses “third” parties is that the two major parties write the ballot access rules. It isn’t hard for the major parties to come up with 10,000 valid petition signatures to get a candidate on the ballot. That is a tough nut to crack for a small/regional party.

    When I was a member of the Libertarian Party, that was a frequent topic of discussion at meetings and in the various party newsletters.

    You’ve got to vote for someone. It’s a shame, but it’s got to be done. – Whoopi Goldberg


    1. And ‘the existing parties write the ballot access rules’ is one of those things that utterly confuses a lot of people about U.S. politics. In the sense of ‘whoever thought this could possibly a good idea?’

      Here in Canada, we have Elections Canada, which has been around since 1920, and which is entirely non-partisan, the core of it composed of civil servants. This is the group that is responsible for deciding which parties get on the ballots (you have to register with them and supply funding information so they can enforce campaign finance laws), drawing the electoral district maps, counting ballots (which requires hiring a couple hundred thousand temporary workers, and all counting is done with representatives of the parties present, but not by them), and reporting all the results. It’s generally staffed by people who take their independence from the rest of the political machinery pretty seriously. Considering they get access to financial information on all the parties, my understanding is that they don’t even accept people who are active members of any political party (and probably not even immediate family thereof) due to the potential conflict of interest involved.

      It looks like the main reason the U.S. doesn’t have something like this is that it wasn’t created a hundred years ago when it was still possible to create it, and nowadays neither of the two main parties is willing to give up their stranglehold on the process.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Unfortunately, this means that the military is disproportionately from one region (thus not representative of the whole country), and from the region that’s more-reactionary, less-healthy, and less-educated. All of which is NOT what you want in people who have access to all the deadly weapons.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The last part (less-educated) is not surprising, sadly, given that for many people joining the military may be the only way they can afford post-secondary education and a chance to get out of their family’s generations of poverty.

        And the military is less restrictive than professional sports, which has been the other traditional method for poor people to sell their bodies for a chance at a future.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. The biggest difference between American parties and non-American parties is primaries.

    There is no (legal) political position you can hold that would prevent you from running in a Democratic or Republican primary. Famously, David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the KKK, was elected to the Louisiana House for the Republican party in 1989, and won the Republican primary for Governor of the state in 1991 (he lost the general election).

    In any country without the American-style primary system, the Republican party as an entity would have excluded Duke from the party, and never let him run in the primary in the first place.

    The result is that if there is a strong regionalist tendency, then it’s easy for people from that tendency to take over / be absorbed by one of the two major parties in that region. Alaska has a strong regionalist/nationalist tendency, but all but the most extreme members of it are in the Republican Party rather than the Alaska Independence Party. There’s nothing to stop people switching back and forth between the two (cf Todd Palin, husband of Sarah).

    In Scotland, by comparison, Labour people who flirted too much with nationalism got expelled, or were never allowed to join in the first place – for instance, Alex Salmond was pushed out of Labour in 1973 and joined the (then tiny and right-wing) SNP. He (with other people who were either ex-Labour or were never allowed into Labour) managed to pull the SNP to the left in the 1970s and 1980s, resulting in the more left-wing SNP of today.

    There were a lot more third parties and third party candidates before the 1970s – there were two Dixiecrat runs for the Presidency (Thurmond in 1948 and Wallace in 1968), and three Populist/Progressive runs (1892, 1912 and 1924). All five of these got electoral votes, which is a sign of real regional strength.

    If you go back to the Progressive and Populist periods, there were lots of “third party” congressmen (there was never a third party congresswoman), elected from various places where there were strong regional parties – the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party before its merger with the Democratic Party in 1944 is just the most successful example.

    Bernie Sanders is technically an Independent Socialist, but he usually runs in the (state) Democratic primary, wins it, and then declines to stand, thus ensuring that there isn’t a Democratic candidate. That’s not a third party in the normal sense, and he’s the only person elected to the House since WWII who never ran under either major party ticket (there are some who have resigned from a party, e.g. Justin Amash, and others who ran as an independent or thrid party and then joined one and got re-elected). The only cases other than Sanders in the Senate are Lieberman in 2006 (when he lost the Democratic primary, got elected as an independent and promptly rejoined the Democrats in the Senate), Lisa Murkowski in 2010 (same as Lieberman, but Republican), and Angus King (who has won Maine twice as an independent in actual three-way races, though with overwhelming support from the Democrats – he caucuses with the Democrats and appears to mostly run as an Independent because he’s centre-left and doesn’t want to deal with a primary challenge from the left).

    This is very different from the many successful regional parties of the pre-WWII era, and the effectively independent/regionalist “Dixiecrat” Democratic parties of the South from the 1940s until well into the 1970s.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. My favorite discussion of USA regionalism is the 2011 book American Nations by Colin Woodard. A search on “Colin Woodard yankeedom” will turn up multiple articles and maps outlining the regions he defined. Woodard’s regions are composed of counties, not states; he divides many populous states across two or three of his regions.

    An earlier popular book on the same theme was The Nine Nations of North America by Joel Garreau (1981, conveniently published in my formative college years).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No surprise on the ‘counties, not states’ division. As I noted above, Washington State is pretty infamously divided between the more progressive western state built around the Seattle area, and the eastern state parts of which politically would fit in quite well with the militia groups in Idaho

      California is, if anything, even worse in its divisions.


  18. I’m amused at the notion of the USA lacking regional parties. For one thing, my California ballot for the recent General Election (one of 51 distinct ballots, including DC’s) included, in addition to the Rep/Dem pairings, these four parties whose Pres/VP pairings are always listed (although you’d actually be voting for a slate of 55 Electors pledged to that pairing):

    Libertarian Party, nominating for Pres. Jo Jorgensen, M.D., and for VP Jeremy “Spike” Cohen
    Green Party, nominating for Pres. Howie Hawkins, and for VP Angela Nicole Walker
    Peace and Freedom Party, nominating for Pres. Gloria Estela La Riva, and for VP Sunil Freeman
    American Independent Party, nominating for Pres. Roque “Rocky” de la Fuente, and for VP Kanye Omari West.

    But wait, there’s more! Even if your minor party or non-party candidacy doesn’t clear California’s “hurdles” to be listed on the ballot, you can still solicit write-in votes for qualified Pres/VP candidate pairs, if you go through certain procedures including providing a list of 55 Electors willing to be pledged to vote for your pair. This year in California, fivewrite-in slates of 55 California electors for each of five particular President/VP candidate pairs qualified.

    Those candidate pairings were four with named parties:

    Brian Carroll and VP candidate Amar Patel (American Solidarity Party).
    Joseph Kishore and VP candidate Norissa Santa Cruz (Socialist Equality Party)
    Brock Pierce and VP candidate Karla Ballard (Independence Party of New York).
    Jesse Ventura and VP candidate Cynthia McKinney (Green Party of Alaska).

    And, without a claimed party: Mark Charles and VP candidate Adrian Wallace (independent).

    A few history buffs reading this are thinking “American Independent Party? Isn’t that George Wallace’s segregationist party?” Well, it was in 1968. Not many years after that, the party ceased to exist, and what’s on California’s ballot is a weird mirage, courtesy of low “hurdles” to remain on the ballot once there, plus the name functioning as an idiot trap, which weirdness I explain on my ballot analysis page.

    Other minor parties running candidates for Pres/VP (1, 2</a) (but with no noticeable presence in California):

    Socialist Workers Party (Texas, yay Trotsky)
    Alliance Party (endorsed Roque "Rocky" de la Fuente and Kanye West)
    Constitution Party (West Virginia)
    Birthday Party (Wyoming, endorsed Kanye West and Michelle Tidball)
    Unity Party of America (Texas)
    Prohibition Party (Nevada)
    Progressive Party (Ohio)
    Party for Socialism and Liberation

    It helps to realise that USA political parties are a rather different sort of thing from parties in a Westminster-style system. A USA political party is basically just a self-appointed private committee (in each state where there's a presence, plus one nationwide committee) that has zero power except via fundraising and through suibsidising candidates it likes. Unlike in the Westminster system, the Example Party leadership has no authority to deny candidates to say "I'm running as an Example Party candidate", no matter how loathsome the candidate is. There is no fee for a voter to "join" Example Party and Example Party cannot expel a voter, as a consequence of the concept of membership not really existing (unless you're a committee member). Last, US parties have no recognition (well, at most grudging recognition) and no official status (ditto) in the US Federal and state political system — because they were not planned features of the country's design, but rather emergent effects of the Founding Fathers' half-assed ideas about how to design a government. The Founders were rather annoyed at their emergence, actually, and referred derisively to them as the problem of "faction".

    Duverger’s Law ended up largely creating what ensued.


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