Asking Larry Sabato: Is the two-party system coming to an end?

The noted political analyst also shares his views about moderate politics and much more in this second part of our discussion. Photo: Larry Sabato

FLORIDA, May 17, 2013 — Many Americans have opted to reside in politically homogenous areas over the last few decades. Is this a contributing factor to partisan extremism? Is there a decent chance that moderate politics might make a comeback during the years ahead?

Is the traditional two-party system failing? If so, which path can our country’s body politic be expected to follow in the next decade?

Larry Sabato is one of our country’s most respected political analysts. The director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, his “crystal ball” — a remarkably efficient method of monitoring election trends and predicting results — has become something of pop-culture.

In this second part of our discussion about the state of America’s body politic, Sabato answers the questions above, then tells us a bit about his upcoming book regarding John F. Kennedy’s legacy. 


SEE RELATED: Asking Larry Sabato: Whatever happened to political moderates?

Joseph F. Cotto: Many people have opted to reside in politically homogenous areas over the last few decades. Might this be a contributing factor to partisan extremism?

Dr. Larry Sabato: Bill Bishop’s book, “The Big Sort”, proved the point to me. Prof. Alan Abramowitz’s book, “The Disappearing Center”, is another must-read. Again, I hesitate to use the word “extremism”, but I think strong partisanship is reinforced when one lives and works in a community of like-minded people with similar politics and values. 

There’s nothing new about this. I can recall my dear mother watching TV returns in the 1960s, expressing genuine shock that her least liked candidate had won reelection to the U.S. Senate. “How can that be?” she asked my Dad. “Everybody we know votes against him and he always wins!”

Cotto: Some believe that the traditional two-party system is coming to an end. Do you share this view?

Dr. Sabato: I think that’s highly unlikely. Partisanship is deeply ingrained, even in most people who persist in calling themselves independents. I do think it is possible that if Republicans cannot find ways to broaden their appeal to minorities and the young ― who will dominate politics as we move further into the 21st century ― we could lapse into a less competitive party system. In American history we have had several periods when the two-party system was more of a party-and-a-half system. 

The GOP might continue to do well in off-year elections, but Democrats would win more than their fair share of presidential contests, if the current evolution persists.

Cotto: From your perspective, is there a good chance that moderate politics might make a comeback during the years ahead?

Dr. Sabato: There will always be a need for moderate leaders and voters who can arbitrate between the two partisan poles. The question is, can the two party bases support enough of them for public office so that a critical mass of moderates exists in both houses of Congress and elsewhere? That’s unclear.

Cotto: Over the next decade, which path do you expect our country’s body politic to follow?

Dr. Sabato: He who lives by the Crystal Ball ends up eating ground glass, sooner or later. I’ve already suggested the likely path of presidential elections, but I am also well aware that events are in the saddle, and many big events that scramble people’s alliances are completely unexpected.

Cotto: How did you become such a prominent political scientist? Tell us a bit about your life and career.

Dr. Sabato: Only your mother wants to hear your resume, and my Mom is deceased, so I’ll pass. For those interested in politics, I hope they will sign up for the Crystal Ball, a newsletter about elections. UVA’s Center for Politics publishes it every Thursday morning, and it’s free. 

As for me, my next book is “The Kennedy Half-Century”, on which I’ve been working for five years. It covers President Kennedy’s administration, assassination, and legacy through nine White House successors. It will have some news in it, and I hope people enjoy it. Bloomsbury is bringing it out this fall, in time for the 50th anniversary of November 22, 1963.

Far-left? Far-right? Get realRead more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto 


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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