The Hill: Will we see the rise of a viable third party?

Thanks to Ballot Access News for the tip.

(excerpt from) The Hill‘s Congress Blog
The Big Question: Will we see the rise of a viable third party? by Mary Ann Dreas, Sydelle Moore and Tony Romm
November 5, 2009

Some of the nation’s top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer some insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.

Today’s question:

Independents and third parties have been playing a bigger role in recent elections. With poll numbers for both parties on the decline, is there a real opening for independent/third party candidates?

Some of the people who answered the question include: Pollster John Zogby; Congressman Ron Paul; The Executive Director of FairVote; and The Executive Vice President of the Cato Institute.

Congressman Steve Lynch is quoted as answering,  “…If you just look at the recent elections, you see that wherever the independent vote shifts, the balance of victory shifts–that’s the critical difference. I think it will be a challenge for Democrats to be in a leadership position yet retain support of independent voters that really gave us the huge majority in the Presidential election of 2008.”

26 thoughts on “The Hill: Will we see the rise of a viable third party?

  1. Mik Robertson

    Of course there is an opening for alternative candidates, because the two old parties are so welcoming of input into the political process!

    Now that the old parties have renounced their exclusive use of public funds for conventions and nominations, have agreed to remedy the gerrymandered election districts, enacted fair ballot access laws, and reformed campaign finance laws to not favor large campaigns, the chances have never been better!

    Wait a minute… did I just dream that?

  2. robert capozzi

    The institutional obstacles are substantial, but Perot and Ventura made a good case they are not insurmountable.

    For the LP to fill the void of a large percentage of the pop. that wants less govt and more integrity, adoption of the St Louis Accord is indicated. Our self-imposed obstacle of internal squabbling over esoteric theory makes it difficult for lessarchists of all stripes to rally under the LP banner.

  3. Gary

    In the 19th Century America politicians moved with ease from party to party. An elected Whig, Federalist, Know Northing or Free Soiler simply woke up one morning and said they were now something else. Current incumbent politicians are hooked up to the life giving Money Machine of centralized power in Washington. Disconnected they die a swift death.

    The only real hope is to follow the example of the Moderate Party of Rhode Island and concentrate on state legislative districts with small voting populations where it is inexpensive to run. Then campaign like mad men to that small voting group. Once an “independent” party picks up 10 seats in a state lagislature the public and press will take notice.

  4. Kimberly Wilder

    Mike Robertson…


    You had me. I was thinking, “Did the Dems and Reps really get pressured into not taking corporate contributions for their conventions?” For a minute, I thought you were serious, and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! won one battle.


    Okay…back to reality…back to electoral activism and helping underdog parties and candidates.

  5. Dale Sheldon

    To answer the question–depending on what you mean by “rise” and “viable”–either “probably not” or “no”.

    What’s most likely (and still not what I would call “probable”, but the odds keep improving), is that a different set of interest will assume leadership of one of the existing major parties. This has happened several times to the Democrats and Republicans in the recent past when they were faced with “unprecedented” third-party activism.

    Next least-likely is that one of the existing major parties collapses, and one of the current third parties rises to take its place. This has happened twice in our 200-odd years of democracy, but not since almost 150 years ago. (The lack of recent examples is probably because of the previously-mentioned legal tricks the current parties have enacted which make the “new leadership” pathway much easier than the “collapse/rise” pathway.)

    What is entirely unlikely is that a stable, national, more-than-two-major-parties dynamic would arise. Not only has that never happened here in America, but it has never happened in any democracy ever in history whose electoral methods were susceptible to Duverger’s law:

    And to debunk Rob Richie’s answer in the piece: *no*, IRV is *not* immune to Duverger’s law, and so would *not* be helpful in bringing about the third case. And although he exalts over Minneapolis’ recent implementation of his system, he fails to mention that, last Tuesday, both Aspen, CO, and Pierce County, WA, voted against the continued use of IRV, and a petition is currently circulating in Burlington, VT to put IRVs removal on the ballot there as well.

    Score voting — — however *is* immune to Duverger’s law, and could create an environment where more than two parties could be “major” parties.

  6. Dave Schwab

    Ron Paul, Fairvote and the Cato institute have some good contributions on there.

    Isn’t it a little fishy that they don’t include any actual third party representatives in the discussion?

  7. Green Party Fan

    The Green Party, Green Independent Party, Independent Green Party and so forth, continue to have a record number of candidates on the ballot.

    The more Greens on the ballot, the more that will be elected.

    It’s simply a matter of recruiting more Green Party candidates, allowing, and helping those Greens, or Green Independents, or Independent Greens to make it on the ballot.

    They’ll learn by running again, and again.

    Good story.

  8. Erik Geib

    RC @2:

    Don’t forget that Perot and Ventura had debate access, which few third-party/independent candidates are ever granted (Perot because he’s loaded, Ventura because he was already a well-known celebrity and the DFL and Republicans thought it would hurt more than help him). Ventura himself has credited this fact more tha anything, and has always said he would only run for offices he was granted debate access to (side note: ‘I Aint Got Time to Bleed’ is a run read).

    Debate access is huge, and can (in larger races) help a candidate overcome the money or credibility gap. Unfortunately, the media (knowingly?) and the public are suckers for the classic catch-22 that keeps third voices from debates: Candidate X must poll Y% to be seen as ‘credible’ enough t debate… Even though Candidate X can likely only get such credibility from BEING IN THE DEBATE!

    How many people would have heard of Ron Paul were he not in the debates? How many would have taken Perot or Ventura seriously?

    Debate access is huge, and often underlooked compared to the other issues (campaign finance, ballot access, plurality voting, single-member districts, and gerrymandering).

  9. Don Lake, late at night

    Nicholas Hensley // Nov 9, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    Yes there will be a viable party, and I would bet it would be the Modern Whig Party…….

    “Whoa Nick, are you aware that the Whigs do not even send in completed, postage page voting forms ????? Like the various [so called] reformers and Unity 08, these folks are not worth working with. A complete waste of time!”

  10. robert capozzi

    eg, sure, getting in the debates is a gating item for serious showing. Perot got in the debates because he was polling very well. He was polling well because he was resonating with large numbers of voters. He was resonating with large numbers of voters because he was well known and had a program many found reasonable and refreshing.

    Did Ventura run KNOWING he’d be in the debates, or did he earn his way onto the debates? Big difference.

  11. Erik Geib

    Ventura said he would not run without debate access. It’s also why he’s refused to run for higher office – he doesn’t believe they’d allow him in the debates again.

    Both men were high profile figures and neither could have done what they did without being in the debates. Blocking debate access is the biggest sham of our ‘democratic’ (republican, whatever) process.

    Perot was polling well because he had the money and profile to raise the public’s awareness of his campaign well before the debates. Also, the debate access threshold % was much lower back then.

    To suggest a lower profile, less-funded candidate could do the same is an insult to third party and independent activists everywhere. As if Ventura or Perot had some magic trick to their success out of money or notoriety that others fail to capitalize on. Ugh.

  12. robert capozzi

    eg, I’ve not suggested that other 3rd party candidates had done things differently that theywould have gotten in debates. But if Barr, say, had been polling higher in August, he might have gotten in.

    My point with Ventura is simply that there was no AGREEMENT when he announced for guv the first time that he WOULD get in the debates. He had to earn it.

    Had either Perot or Ventura been abolitionist anarchists and had RUN on such a platform, it’s my assessment that neither would have gotten in his respective debate.

    Maybe that’s OK for some. Perhaps in the long run it’s better to hold high the abolitionist banner to build a cadre of intensely committed abolitionists. Perhaps because I’m not an abolitionist, I’m not seeing that as an effective path.

  13. Erik Geib

    RC, I don’t seem to recall even bringing the ‘abolitionist’ argument into this debate, and fail to understand why you do so now. I’ve been speaking of general third-party/independent political access issues, not specific Libertarian ones.

    There was also never a question of Ventura’s debate access – he was even in the pre-convention primaries against 6 DFL candidates (while Coleman sat out ’til the DFL candidate was settled). Again, Ventura did not run and would not run without debate access.

  14. Erik Geib

    Also, according to CPD regulations, Barr would have had to been polling at least 15% in multiple polls for access, a threshold he never would have met. Nader in 2000 was infinitely more successful and well-run than Barr ’08, but I don’t recall him approaching anything near this ridiculous standard either. Don’t forget, the CPD changed the threshold (up from 5%) after Perot’s flirtation with success, which scared the bejesus out of the duopolÝ.

  15. robert capozzi

    eg, sure, the institutional barriers to success for 3rd parties is high, and in some ways getting higher.

    But some Ls use the institutional barriers as excuses. IMO the biggest barrier is self imposed.

  16. Steven R Linnabary

    But some Ls use the institutional barriers as excuses. IMO the biggest barrier is self imposed.

    Robert is correct. Except for the POTUS race, few voters pay any attention to debates or even to LWV or other voter information services.

    All other races come down to the candidate getting his message out, and that takes money. And raising money is a thankless task that can leave a candidate feeling dirty.

    I was in a debate that was televised on a cable network. My performance was less than stellar, and thankfully more people watch WWE RAW than all the news channels combined. But the debate was covered by the local daily paper, which made my performance look far better:

    Again, few people read the daily paper anymore. The ONLY reason I polled as poorly as I did was because I failed to raise sufficient funding. Voters will not vote for a candidate they have never heard from.


  17. Erik Geib


    Do you not find it possible/likely that the rigging of debates higher up the ticket (POTUS, Governor) hurts the credibility of down-ticket candidates? Not only does this hurt lower candidates when it comes to down-ticket voting, but it also aids the idea that there are only 2 credible parties. There are numerous down-tickets Dems and Republicans who raise cash poorly, but still fare better than Libertarians and others.

    To put this mostly on the candidate, as y’all have done, I find unfair.

  18. Steven R Linnabary

    To put this mostly on the candidate, as y’all have done, I find unfair.

    I DID NOT say it was fair. You have to understand that democrats and republicans have both had a century and a half of taking taxpayers money to provide “services” and patronage.

    So when a follower of Lyndon LaRouche gets 30% of the vote, it has absolutely NOTHING to do with voters agreeing with that candidates message. Most voters do not follow campaigns as we would like.

    Most voters vote for the candidate they have heard of. That means the candidate that went to the bother of raising the necessary funds to advertise on Maury and WWE RAW.

    Most democrat and republican candidates know this and don’t bother to fill out questionnaires (except for brief vital statistics) as these questionnaires can easily be used against a candidate.

    These questionnaires ARE great for any opposition party candidate, they DO provide an idea of where a Libertarian or Green might stand on any given issue, for the voter that is so inclined to seek out the candidate that suits their outlook. They are free advertising for the low dollar campaign.

    But you are right, it isn’t fair.


  19. Jerry Coon

    It is the People who are empowered to make a vote count. I think if we take the battle to the people by a campaign armed with volunteers. Independents and third parties can win. We must have the will to win. If we can unite, even if we have differences, we can chip away at the two parties and gain access for all viable candidates. We need Paul Reveres.

  20. Don Lake, Prove Me Wrong ...........

    “Jerry Coon // Nov 14, 2009

    …. we can chip away at the two parties and gain access for ….. candidates.”

    Sir, then out side of some temporary ‘warm fuzzies’ for Republican Ron Paul, why did nothing of substance happen in 2008 ?????

    You will agree that it was a MAJOR disappointment for non Democans and non Republicrats and that Obama, my Yokohamo Mamma, has produced little change except for some coins in the sofa cushions ?????

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