How Elections and Political Parties Work in Other Countries

The United States is unique when it comes to political parties and our election process. Believe it or not, a two-party system is not the norm in other democracies or republics around the world.

This topic first fascinated me during an international politics course in college, particularly when we studied Germany. The German “congress” has two houses similar to America, the Bundestag and the Bundesrat. To gain seats in the Bundestag, which is most similar to the U.S. House of Representatives, a political party must receive at least 5 percent of the national vote.

So how many parties reached that threshold in the last election, which was in 2017? There were seven – Christian Democratic Union, Christian Social Union, Social Democratic, Left, Green, Alternative for Germany and Free Democratic Party.

You can see an election breakdown here.

What’s almost more interesting than the number of legitimate parties in Germany is the process for electing representatives. Individuals run to represent a district, but each party also presents a platform that is voted on by citizens. The party then chooses its members to fill the remaining number of seats it wins.

This gives citizens the ability to have a direct representative, but then also to support party/ideological stands. Having so many parties and representatives makes it difficult for a single party to get 50 percent and an outright majority. So this leads to ….. COMPROMISE in the form of coalitions.

Other countries that use or have used this system, called mixed-member proportional representation, include New Zealand, Bolivia and Romania.

The mixed-member system falls under a larger umbrella of proportional representation systems. The most common form of this system is where parties publish a platform and a list of candidates from which they’ll choose the representatives to fill their seats. Again, this tends to invite more parties to the table and lead to coalitions and compromise.

Countries that use some form of proportional representation include:

  • Australia
  • Argentina
  • Brazil
  • Israel
  • Netherlands
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

For a complete list, click here.

The United Kingdom also uses a version of the mixed-member representation. There were about six different parties that received seats in the last UK election, though two parties dominated more than usual – the Conservatives and the Labour party. Still, with neither of those reaching 50 percent a coalition had to be formed to effectively govern.

That’s a ton of data and systems overview to digest, but the main point being to show that America’s distinct two-party system is an anomaly in the global community. Not to say that’s inherently bad, but it has created a climate where compromise is fleeting and political division is pronounced.

Seeing some other legitimate political parties be represented in the U.S. system could prove beneficial.

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