At Poli-Tea, d.eris present an interesting thesis: without certain ballot access laws, the so-called “spoiler effect” wouldn’t be nearly as dramatic as it is today.
The highly restrictive ballot access regime that has been constructed in virtually every state of the union is one of the primary means by which the Democratic and Republican Parties maintain their duopoly system of government. But ballot access law not only functions as an immediate objective hurdle to third party and independent political campaigns, it also has secondary effects that condition Democratic-Republican politics and warp third party and independent strategy. Consider the following hypothetical scenario. A relatively new state-level third party political organization has the choice between funding a number of candidates for local and state offices, in races which they have a significant chance of winning, or the organization can run a smaller number of candidates for higher level state and federal offices, in races they are much less likely to win. However, in certain of the latter races, even if their candidate does not win but still surpasses a certain threshold of support (say 5%), the group retains state-wide ballot access and recognition as an official party in the next election cycle. In such a scenario, the ballot access regime designed to maintain Democratic-Republican hegemony also effectively provides incentives for third party organizations to “spoil” elections by waging political campaigns that can be considered a success if they garner the support of only 5% of voters. However, the fear of the spoiler effect often leads voters to spurn third party candidates in favor of the lesser evil among the major party candidates, and so the third party organization may not retain ballot access even as it funnels resources away from contests it has the best chance of winning.