I covered this topic once upon a time. In fact it was the 4th blog post that I wrote way back when I started. I covered the topic OK then, but I think I can do better this time around. More importantly, the last time I covered it I only had about 3 readers, lol. I got 3 responses other than my own, one was Revolution, whom some of you have become acquainted with, and another was my wife. I would say we have grown a bit with a couple thousand page hits a day. It is hard for me to tell how many people actually come to the site, but I am sure that the number is significantly larger than it was the last time I talked about this. When I started writing this blog, I was disgusted with the outcome of the elections and disgusted with the Republican party. Those two factors in the equation have not changed. I was also in the firm belief that moving to a third party, possibly the Libertarians, was the absolute best move for me. So let’s talk about a third party and whether that is a viable move in today’s political climate…
What we need on the ballot is a none of the above box. I think that is clear. Remember the Richard Pryor movie where he ran as none of the above… and won. We all laughed. But sadly, I think none of the above might have won some of the most recent elections. Not this last one. The Obama love-fest was a bit too strong. But Bush/Kerry? None of the above might have won that one. I hear all too often that the Presidential election is really a decision between the lesser of two evils. Since I think most of the stuff said on the campaign trail is bullshit (lying to get your vote!), I tend to say the election is a choice between the less smelly of two “manure” piles. But since the big boys refuse to give America that “None of the Above” box, a third party is our only other option. But can that really happen?
Quick quiz… Who can name the last President to be elected from a party other than the two big parties of today? How many of you said Zachary Taylor of the US Whig Party in 1848? And to be fair, leading up to this point the Whig party was the precursor to the Republican party. The Whig party was the 2nd major party at the time and after Taylor’s election the party began to split up over the issue of slavery expansion. The voter base of the Whig party then went to the Republican party, and the rest is a twisted history of the Democrats vs. Republicans that shows the American voters to be masochists. Third parties didn’t just go away. Teddy Roosevelt ran under the Bull Moose Party flag in the 1912 elections, and finished second with 27.8% of the popular vote and 88 electoral votes. Since that time only 3 third party candidates have received a double digit percentage of the popular vote:
- 1924 – Robert M. La Follette (Progressive Party). 4,831,706 votes for 16.6% of the popular vote.
- 1968 – George Wallace (American Independent Party). 9,901,118 votes for 13.5% of the popular vote.
- 1992 – Ross Perot (Independent). 19,741,065 vote for 18.9% of the popular vote
So why is the two party system so impenetrable in today’s political arena? There are lots of reasons. Let’s start with the basics. Why is the two-party system the norm in American politics in the first place? It is the natural outcome of our particular voting system. Duverger’s Law is a principle which asserts that a single member district plurality rule election (SMDP) (the way we roll here in the US of A) system tends to favor a two-party system. Why you ask? Because in the SMDP system there are no points for second place, meaning a third party that finishes in third consistently in an election gets zero representation, and thus cannot build from election to election. The two big boys have a split of 1st and 2nd places and get representation.
The second unique problem is both statistical and tactical. Duverger proposed an example of an election in which there were 100,000 moderate voters and 80,000 radical voters who are voting to fill a single seat. There are three candidates: two moderates (a Democrat and a Republican, for example) and a radical (Green Party’s Cynthia McKinney). The radical would win because of the splitting of the two moderate camps. The only way to stop the radical from winning is to ensure that one of the moderates gets more than 80,001 votes. Observing this, moderate voters would be more likely to vote for the moderate candidate most likely to gain more votes, with the goal being to ensure the radical candidate is defeated. Either the two moderate parties must merge, or one moderate party must completely fail, as the voters gravitate to the two strongest parties.
So there you have the “technical” answer for why the two party system continues to blight the American landscape. So does a third party have a shot of ever reaching the Presidency? The short answer is YES, but not for a long time and a lot of things would have to happen first. I could write an entire blog that addresses the electoral college and how the Constitution set up elections in a way that keeps a third party from gaining the White House unless that third party has significant representation in the House of Representatives. If someone would like an explanation let me know, but the reality today is that if a third party took a third of the electoral college votes in the 2012 election, the next President of the United States would be….. Nancy Pelosi. How scary is that?!?
Now the one way that a third party could realistically take the White House would be if that third party replaced one of the two major parties today. This happened in the mid-1800’s. The third party was the Republican party, and they lost the 1856 election, but replaced the Whig party and Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860. So a third party is not a viable alternative to the two big boys in terms of the Presidency unless that third party can replace one of them. Obviously, the word on the street is that the Republican Party is dead. I don’t know if that is true or not. They are certainly flailing, but I don’t think they are flailing any more than the Democrats were after Kerry lost in 2004. So I expect that the Republican party is going to rebound and do so strongly. As I have said before the best thing that can happen to the Republican party is a period of hardcore Democratic rule. It reminds people, and the party leaders, how bad an idea the Democrats are in terms of liberty and capitalism (two things that most Americans still like, despite the claims of the statists in power).
But the reality is that many people who traditionally vote for Republicans are very unhappy with their party. They are walking away from the party in droves and declaring themselves “Independent”. Some even go as far as to declare themselves Libertarians (which for many of them means that they are Republicans who are just afraid to admit so anymore). But here is the reality of that fact: They are still going to vote for the Republican candidate for President. Know why? Because they are smart enough to know that it is the right strategic move. They know only the Democrats and Republicans can win, and they are not going to vote for a third party if it means that the Democrat will win. That would be total failure rather than partial failure. It sucks, but that is the reality. And as a side note, until a third party puts up a REAL candidate, they are destined for failure. Bob Barr? WTF? Crazy ass race card player Cynthia McKinney? Really? Santa Clause had a better shot than McKinney. Ralph Nader? He just seemed creepy.
So if a third party is going to begin to rise, it is going to have to start in state level elections. This is where it actually can happen. Jesse Ventura became Governor of Minnesota as a third party candidate. A third party candidate completely messed up the Minnesota Senate race last year, which will allow Stuart Smalley to actually become a United States Senator (I can’t wait for the press conferences with him. He will make the a mockery of our political system)(OK, he will make more of a mockery of our political system). But if a third party is, in fact, going to make any moves what-so-ever in today’s political environment, what is it going to take?
I would submit that the first thing it is going to take is a realistic platform that mainstream Americans can get behind. The Libertarian platform, for example, is one that we covered extensively here. So many good things that people can get behind: individual liberty, government getting out of our private lives, purely defensive military. But then they go and add something like legalizing all drugs and they alienate the majority of the people out there. A viable third party has to be what the people are looking for if it wants to make an impact. Unfortunately that means that they are not going to be able to make a 100% principled stand. Neither the Democrats or the Republicans are making that kind of principled stand on many issues. And they are established.
So the first order of business is for third parties to put together a platform that the average American can rally around. I think there is room for a party in the middle of the two big ones now, that would eventually force one of them out of the picture. America is not happy with our Congressional representation (or lack thereof). Despite the claims of a “mandate” from the left, the Democratically controlled Congress has approval ratings below the approval ratings for George Bush. Can you find anyone outside of her District that likes Nancy Pelosi?
And begin targeting America’s youth. America’s youth is different than their parents. They aren’t tied to a political party. They are tied only to ideas. And let’s be honest, the democrats and republicans are quickly running out of those. Reach the young voters NOW and a third party has the ability to gain party loyalty that is largely determined by the age of 30. Choose not to act now and these young voters will go with one of the two options currently available. We all lose if that happens.
But it isn’t just the youth. All of America is looking for something different. I am not talking about the 20% of Americans on each side who will live and die for the two big parties. I am talking about the 60% in the middle that find themselves disenchanted with the big boys. They find that neither party really fits with what they believe. More important, they find that neither party has delivered on any of the promises they made in the last 25 years worth of elections. All of these people are looking for an option.
But they aren’t looking hard. It could be argued that apathetic American voters aren’t willing to do any of the legwork necessary to understand a party and what it stands for. Too many vote on a single issue or based on what the media tells them. So they aren’t going to do the work to seek out a party that is more in line with their beliefs. The message will have to be taken to the people. But Americans are disenchanted with the two big parties, and that means there is an opportunity. It wasn’t a third party that showed this opportunity this time. It was the Democratic party that ran a campaign based on ideals rather than a platform… and won. Has there ever been a stronger message that the American voter is ready to listen to the ideals that a third party can offer?
Long live the Very Damn Little Government Party. Oh.. And God Bless America.