Thomas B. Edsall in the NYT:
The United States and Europe reveal the contrasting ways in which political systems in advanced democracies cope with factors as diverse as globalization, depressed wages, cultural tension, welfare policy, immigration and nontraditional family structures, along with racial, ethnic and religious division.
In the United States, the besieged two-party system has remained intact, protected by a 200-year-old tradition and an electoral system that cuts short any bid to create a viable third party.
There are two major costs to this stability: recurrent gridlock, which constricts legislative action, and a failure to provide full representation to the most aggrieved constituencies.
European democracies have taken a different path.
Parliamentary elections, often in conjunction with proportional representation, have allowed multiple parties — at both ends of the political spectrum — to flourish. In many cases, the European system has empowered anti-immigrant populist parties on the right. These parties have adopted a strategy that might seem strange on its face but actually makes sense, according to the logic of their grievances: exclusionary nationalism combined with generous support for safety-net programs available only to legal residents.
Here and abroad, there are striking similarities in the dynamic that is forcing major adjustments in the political system.
The working class on both sides of the Atlantic is struggling to adapt. “The separation, if not alienation, of the ‘working class’ from the traditional center-left parties” is a “global phenomenon shared by all post-industrial democracies,” Herbert Kitschelt, a professor of international relations at Duke, wrote in an email to me.