The two-party system in the United States has become in fact institutionalized. Now, with all due respect to the Republicans and Democrats, those two parties encompass a broad range of opinions and perspectives in each case. However, we should remember that political parties are essentially alliances that provide a framework to fund candidates so that they might run for public office. In other words, there's an element of pragmatism involved primarily, not philosophy.
The philosophy that the parties present in their platforms is basically window dressing; for people that need a reason to vote for a candidate, whether it's because he has a nice name or she is nicely botoxed or she's the member of my civic group or he has attractive kids.
And since we have two major parties, we basically have two shots that one of the parties will produce an acceptable candidate for governance. Obviously, the ideal is when the Democrats and Republicans both nominate excellent candidates. Then the choosing, while more effortful, will be with a happy outcome regardless of who wins. Usually, though, only one of the parties manages to do the job of nominating a suitable person.
But what if both parties manage to nominate dolts? Well, although there's the consolation that you have your choice of doltishness to choose from, your choices reek and the result is not so good whoever wins. [This has happened more than once: remember 2004, anyone? Both major parties managed to nominate useless wankers.]
Of course, you could simply refrain from voting; but then you would be seen as apathetic, and as a bad citizen. Now I know that's unfair; there's a difference between a principled refusal to vote and a lazy failure to do so. But that's how it gets presented. Let's say there's only a 52% turnout. The nonvoting 48% is portrayed as shiftless, uncaring, uninvolved, and so forth.
Remember SGA elections in college? Those are typically voted in by only a small percentage of possible voting students. And the SGA hacks and the school administration reflexively declared the nonvoters as 'apathetic.' I confess to apathy; and I was proud as punch when more people voted for Miss Campus Chest than for SGA President for my graduate institution. Now that showed that we understood what was important and what was not!
But getting back to alternative to not voting, what about voting for a third party? Now, rarely, this might be a starter; but third parties often are populated with cranks and nimrods. While a vote invested there does not go to either the Democrats or Republicans, effectively punishing those parties, it might be construed as support for the opinions of the nimrods and cranks. And there's something else: larger minor parties sometimes have their agendas subsumed by a major party. Remember the Prohibitionists? Or the Progressives? Oh crap!
No, I see only one solution. Let all ballots for public office offer an option. All would allow a vote for "none of the above." Who knows, Mr. None of the Above may be sworn in to state or federal office. At the very least it would give the Republicans, Democrats, and third or fourth party de jour a definite word: