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Joel S. Hirschhorn: A new political party is needed

Submitted to IPR by Joel S. Hirschhorn via

Set aside any Obama euphoria you feel. The other important news is that third-party presidential candidates had a miserable showing this year, totaling just over one percent of the grand total with 1.5 million votes nationwide, compared to some 123 million votes for Barack Obama and John McCain.

It couldn’t be clearer that Americans are not willing to voice their political discontent by voting for third-party presidential candidates. The two-party duopoly and plutocracy is completely dominant. The US lacks the political competition that exists in other western democracies. Without real political competition there is insufficient political choice.

A key problem is that for many years, third parties have not offered presidential candidates that capture the attention and commitment of even a modest fraction of Americans, unlike Ross Perot (8.4 percent in 1996 and 18.9 percent in 1992), and John Anderson (6.6 percent in 1980).

This year, among the four most significant third-party presidential candidates, Ralph Nader without a national party did the best with 685,426 votes or 0.54 percent of the grand total (a little better than in 2004 with 0.4 percent but much worse than in 2000 running as a Green Party candidate with 2.7 percent). He was followed by Bob Barr the Libertarian Party candidate with 503,981 votes or 0.4 percent of the total (typical of all Libertarian candidates in recent elections, including Ron Paul in 1988), followed by Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party with just 181,266 votes or 0.1 percent, and then Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party with only 148,546 votes or 0.1 percent.

In the primaries Ron Paul had earned enormous public support and before the general election he urged his supporters to vote for one of the four main third-party presidential candidates. However, it does not appear that they did so in significant numbers. Recently, Paul commented about the Obama victory: “the candidate demanding ‘change’ won the election. It mattered not that the change offered was no change at all, only a change in the engineer of a runaway train.”

Showing the problem of ballot access, engineered by the two major parties, is that there were only 15 states where all four were on the ballot. In all but one, Nader received more votes than the other three third-party candidates. In four states only one of the four candidates was on the ballot; in one state none of them were (Oklahoma).

Nader’s best state was California with 81,434 votes, as it was for McKinney’s with 28,624 votes. Baldwin was not on the ballot there. Alan Keyes received 30,787 votes in California. Barr’s best state was Texas with 56,398 votes. None of the other three were on the ballot there. In his home state of Georgia where he had been a Representative Barr received 28,420 votes (and none of the other three were on the ballot). Baldwin’s best state was Michigan with 14, 973 votes. Nader was not on the ballot there.

In round numbers, Barack Obama raised $639 million or about $10 per vote, and John McCain raised $360 million or $6 per vote, compared to Ralph Nader with $4 million and $6 per vote, Bob Barr with about $1 million or $2 per vote, and Cynthia McKinney with only about $118,000 or less than $1 per vote. Money matters, but the ability of the two-party duopoly to keep third-party presidential candidates out of nationally televised debates matters more for media attention, money and votes.

It must also be noted that there were countless congressional races with third-party and independent candidates, but none were able to win office, with only a very few reaching the 20 percent level. That third-party candidates can win local government offices means little because political party affiliation at that level is overshadowed by personal qualifications.

I say that current third-party activists should admit defeat, shut down their unsuccessful parties, and move on. Unlike so much of American history, current third-parties no longer play a significant role in American politics or even in affecting public policies. They have shown their inability to matter.

We need a new, vibrant political party that could bring many millions of American dissidents, progressives and conservatives, and especially chronic non-voters, together behind a relatively simple party platform focused on structural, government system reforms (not merely political change). Examples include: replacing the Electoral College with the popular vote for president, restoring the balance between Congress and the presidency, eliminating the corrupting influence of special interest money from politics, preventing the president to use signing statements to nullify laws passed by Congress.

What would unite people is a shared priority for revitalizing American democracy. It should position itself as a populist alternative and opponent to the two-party plutocracy. It should define itself as against the corporate and other special interests on the left and right that use money to corrupt our political system. Possible names: Patriotic Party, United Party or National Party. With Thomas Jefferson as its spiritual founder it should seek the political revolution he said was needed periodically.

Here is what helps. Despite considerable enthusiasm for Barack Obama, there is widespread unhappiness with both the Democratic and Republican Parties. One indication is that so voters register as independents. Plus there has always been a chorus of negative views about the two-party system. In one pragmatic sense this is the ideal time to create a new party. Why? Because of the incredible loss of stature of the Republican Party. Why not envision a new party that could replace the Republican Party on the national stage and provide a sharp alternative to the Democratic Party? In other words, we don’t need a new third party as much as we need a new major party.

[Joel S. Hirschhorn can be reached through]


  1. richardwinger richardwinger November 18, 2008

    There were five states, not four, in which only 3 presidential candidates were on the ballot: Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, Connecticut.

    When people write about minor party presidential vote totals, they should say that these are incomplete figures. There are still millions of uncounted ballots. Nader will be above 100,000 in California, yet the post says he got 81,434 in California.

  2. paulie cannoli paulie cannoli November 18, 2008

    “The other important news is that third-party presidential candidates had a miserable showing this year”

    They did better than in 2004.

  3. paulie cannoli paulie cannoli November 18, 2008

    In the primaries Ron Paul had earned enormous public support

    If all we are counting is votes, he did not do better than the sum total of Nader, Barr, McKinney and Baldwin.

  4. paulie cannoli paulie cannoli November 18, 2008

    I say that current third-party activists should admit defeat, shut down their unsuccessful parties, and move on. Unlike so much of American history, current third-parties no longer play a significant role in American politics or even in affecting public policies. They have shown their inability to matter.

    Unsupported conclusion.

  5. Ross Levin Ross Levin Post author | November 18, 2008

    Joe Tauke – that’s a great website. Thanks for putting it together and letting us know about it.

  6. Catholic Trotskyist Catholic Trotskyist November 18, 2008

    Yes Joe, good idea.

  7. George Dance George Dance November 18, 2008

    Joe: wouldn’t IRV accomplish the same thing, without eliminating responsible government?

  8. Morgan Wick Morgan Wick November 19, 2008

    What’s the difference between IRV or RCV?

  9. Morgan Wick Morgan Wick November 19, 2008

    Also, to my knowledge Canada doesn’t use proportional representation, but it does have three viable parties. Ditto England, for that matter.

  10. Steven R Linnabary Steven R Linnabary November 19, 2008

    Isn’t this the idea that was proposed by Robert Milnes? A “Progressive Alliance” or a merely populist anything goes non ideological third party?

    Somehow, I fail to see the attraction to being simply a third voice calling for the same actions as the majors.


  11. JimDavidson JimDavidson November 19, 2008

    Steven, I think Mr. Milnes has proposed to fuse the ideas he thinks are important, with a libertarian and a green, or himself and a woman, or some set of combinations and permutations. I’ve never understood why he’s so dedicated to the idea that it “must be time” and “this thing has to work,” given how little evidence he’s produced that dozens of people would follow his lead.

    The idea of a coalition of opposition parties makes some sense, and I think the really thoughtful work in this area that shows some signs of success is being done by Ron Paul and his Campaign for Liberty team. I think it speaks well of the four points of his pro-liberty program that so many candidates – Nader, McKinney, Baldwin, Barr, Paul, and Jay – were on board. In addition, a number of parties, including the Boston Tea Party, adopted the four points as our program.

    I think the world would be a much better place if we were to succeed at getting the four points implemented, even though there is much other work to be done. There is probably something to a unified opposition where the policy positions are clearly defined.

    I don’t like Nader. Every time my car tells me with an audible signal that I have lights on, belt off, key in the ignition, I refer to the sound as “Nader bells” and think about how much I hate that man. But if it ended the wars, brought the troops home, ended the Federal Reserve, stopped domestic espionage as a starting point for an end to all espionage, restored habeas corpus, brought fiscal policy under control, and did the other things in the four points, I’d be willing to work with Nader. Not for him, and not for all his socialist programs, but with him and on these specific things.

    That is the genius of the Campaign for Liberty. We don’t all agree on everything. But we should agree on those four things, and get them done. We should bring this country to a standstill until we get those four program points accomplished, if that’s what it takes.

    Stop the wars.

  12. Carl M Carl M November 19, 2008

    The existing third parties can win in unbalanced districts if they muster the resources and display a wee bit of moderation.

    That is, in a very conservative district, a Bob Barr libertarian or a Constitutionalist could give the Republican incumbent a run for the money — if no Democrat enters the race. Similarly, for a very lefty district, a Green or a left-Libertarian could have a chance against the Democratic incumbent.

    The existing parties have zero chance at the presidential level. They should not even go for votes, and simply use their presidential campaigns to promote their ideas.

    A new political party built on the ideas found in my manual for a new political party might be able to compete at the presidential level eventually. But many of today’s third party partisans won’t like what I’m brewing up, as it is moderate by the standards of the LP, GP, CP, etc.

  13. SEXYJC SEXYJC November 19, 2008

    It was actually a good year for Third Partys.
    It sure was better than 2004 .
    Nader had his 2nd best showing in 5 tries
    Barr is only 2nd Libertarian to surpass 500,000 votes.
    Baldwin was the highest vote getter in Constitution Party history for Prez.
    In Florida, where I live there were numerous Libertarian victories, more than ever.
    Please read my UPDATED Third Party election results article:

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