If anything’s constant in American political life, it’s the stable two-party system, jostled occasionally by third-party presidential challengers such as Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 or Theodore Roosevelt in 1912.
Yet, more rarely, at times of extreme political flux, this society has broken up into four parties.
In 1948, the first post-World War II presidential election year, Republicans ran against three Democratic party factions: Harry Truman’s pro-New Deal, anti-Communist majority wing (which won in November), a Southern-based segregationist offshoot led by Strom Thurmond, and pro-Communist bolters headed by former vice president Henry Wallace. The latter two polled more than 1.1 million votes each out of 48 million cast; Thurmond got 39 electoral votes.
Might we be headed toward another four-party moment? There are two reasons to say “yes.”