Mainstream Nonsense About Third Parties

A Facebook fan sent us this link, claiming it showed why third parties are a “wasted vote.”

NetPlaces: Why a Two-Party System?

In a winner-takes-all system, there is a strong tendency toward two parties because voters act strategically, preferring to vote for legitimate contenders than cast a “spoiler” vote for a third-party candidate. As a consequence, most voters eventually gravitate toward either the Republican or Democratic candidate.

This seems a charitable view of voters. While some might say they’re acting strategically, it’s part of a false concept that your voter matters more when you vote for candidates who have the best chance of winning.

Mathematically the odds of an individual voter casting the deciding vote in most elections is so small as to be effectively zero. If the strategic goal is for your vote to carry weight, voting for a third party candidate is more powerful. It sends a message that is more meaningful than choosing between Tweedle Red and Tweedle Blue.

Another reason the two-party system thrives in American government is the duality of political issues. For the most part, there are only two sides to a given conflict. From the time of our founding (Federalism versus anti-federalism), to the present (pro-choice versus pro-life), most of our political debates have been two-sided affairs. It’s difficult for a third point of view — and consequently a third party — to gain political traction in a two-sided debate.

This is also garbage. Most issues are multifaceted. It may be true that the major parties, their candidates, and the mainstream media work to define everything as two-sided. But it is not really true. Spending is not A vs. B but rather a question of how much as well as where to spend. Same with taxes. They are not yes or no, but what to tax and how much.

Please post comments with your thoughts.

26 thoughts on “Mainstream Nonsense About Third Parties

  1. Dale Sheldon-Hess

    In college, I asked my faculty adviser about taking a class in judo, and he told me that the department encourages all students to take physical education courses. Just that they don’t count toward graduation.

    Suffice to say, I didn’t take the course.

    Point is, it’s very difficult to convince people to do anything, regardless of how appealing it sounds to them, when all the actual incentives codified in the rules point them in the opposite direction. People look at polls like “MajorParty1: 40%, MajorParty2: 40%, MinorParty: 10%, undecided 10%” and they make a *rational* choice to vote for their preferred major-party candidate, even if they prefer the minor party. (The minor party is not going to win, so even a small preference between the other two is worth voting on. Of course that means the minor party is never going to grow in support and they’ll do the same thing next election…)

    You can’t change people’s actions by telling them what their incentives *should* be. You change them by changing the actual incentives. And the easiest way to do that is approval voting. http://www.electology.org/approval-voting

  2. Steve Scheetz

    Regarding taxes.. I would love an answer to the question: Why do we need taxes?

    Is it to support a government monopoly for services that would be better handled by the private sector?

    Is it because the government given its size, could not survive on a fee for services basis?

    Given that the government has failed at maintaining roads, failed at delivering mail, failed in education, it is safe to assume that these areas of domestic policy would be much better handled by private firms in a free competitive market.

    This being the case, if government services were of higher quality, it should be able to survive on a fee for service basis. RIGHT or WRONG?

    The R’s and D’s argue over how much to raise taxes, I ask why do we need taxes in the first place. I believe this is a better place to start a discussion.

    Sincerely,

    Steve Scheetz

  3. Jed Ziggler (@JedZiggler)

    My view is entirely different: people just don’t like to support a loser. We see it in sports; if ones team is a losing team, you may not go to games or support them to “punish” them, you may be hesitant to admit to being a fan of said team. Why? Why not support your team if you believe in them?

    The same is true in politics. It’s viewed as a game. People (primarily low-information people) want to support a winning team. Even if they’re not winners in their state (i.e. a Republican voter in a blue state or D.C.), they’re still a winning team because they may win the presidency or a majority in Congress. And then they’ll be able to say that they’re on a winning team!

    Bottom line, people don’t really believe that a “wasted vote” means your vote didn’t get counted, or was counted for someone else, or even that policies they like won’t get enacted. They don’t care, they just don’t want to be on the loser team.

    GOD FORBID! I stopped caring a long time ago when I realized that all the winners don’t deserve to win. If we could get more people to that place mentally, we’d be better off

  4. Jill Pyeatt

    “For the most part, there are only two sides to a given conflict.”

    I agree that’s total nonsense. I wish the world were so easy, but it most certainly isn’t.

  5. Thomas L. Knapp

    JZ,

    “My view is entirely different: people just don’t like to support a loser. We see it in sports; if ones team is a losing team, you may not go to games or support them to ‘punish’ them, you may be hesitant to admit to being a fan of said team.”

    In my experience, you are describing the exact opposite of sports fans’ behavior.

    Name the American League and National League baseball teams with, hands-down, the most devoted followings of the 20th century. They were: The Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs.

  6. Jared King

    Even if there were only two sides to a issue, the Republicrats generally represent one side anyways.

  7. Jared King

    Now how did you miss this one?

    *on the LP* “Their organizing principle is that government should perform only two functions: protect our borders and keep civil order.”

    “…protect our borders…”

    Why say that? I thought the LP was for unrestricted migration? The platform says “Economic freedom demands the unrestricted movement of human(s)…across national borders.”

  8. Rick Adams

    Here’s some more nonsense about third parties, this time from David Harsanyi, senior editor at The Federalist:

    “A new Gallup poll finds that 60 percent of Americans believe that the major political parties have done such an appalling job representing their constituents that the system is in dire need of a third party. A meager 26 percent believe the two major parties are adequately representing America. That’s the highest/lowest showing of this kind in the 10-years since Gallup started posing the question.

    The thing is, we already have third parties — and fourth, fifth and sixth – and very few people give them even the slightest consideration. Why? Probably because the major parties already represent consensus on both the right and left. Now, many of you might believe that the consensus has pulled too far to the right or left, but, in the end, it mostly pulls the party to the middle. Dissatisfaction with the two-party system doesn’t mean voters are willing to throw their vote to a third-party candidate no matter what they tell a pollster.

    Take last month’s Quinnipiac poll of the Virginia gubernatorial race that showed Democrat Terry McAuliffe with 44 percent, Republican Ken Cuccinelli with 41 percent and Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian candidate, with 7 percent. If history is any clue, Sarvis will pull in 2 percent, if he’s lucky, and fail to make much of a difference even though the libertarian “spoiler” is a perennial story in the media. Much of his poll support is probably a reflection of the general dissatisfaction with Washington.

    Throwing inconsequential moral support behind a third-party makes people feel virtuous (even though, in the end, it would mean less representation for those voters, not more) but few voters believe in the idea in practice. We know this because of an extensive, 200-year test case on the subject.”

    READ MORE: http://thefederalist.com/2013/10/14/stop-lying-us-america/

  9. paulie

    Another reason the two-party system thrives in American government is the duality of political issues. For the most part, there are only two sides to a given conflict. From the time of our founding (Federalism versus anti-federalism), to the present (pro-choice versus pro-life), most of our political debates have been two-sided affairs.

    Even if this was true (of course, as others have pointed out it is not), there are a lot of issues out there. Thus, there’s certainly room for those who agree with some issues from one party and some issues from another party to have a separate party, especially if they view the other two as equally bad.

  10. paulie

    Why say that? I thought the LP was for unrestricted migration? The platform says “Economic freedom demands the unrestricted movement of human(s)…across national borders.”

    Unfortunately, it also does currently say that “However, we support control over the entry into our country of foreign nationals who pose a credible threat to security, health or property.” There’s also a substantial minority in the LP who want to make the plank worse than it is now.

  11. paulie

    “It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see….”
    “You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
    “No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
    “Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
    “I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
    “So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”
    “It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
    “You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
    “Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
    “But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
    “Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.”
    Douglas Adams, in So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish (1984) Ch. 36.

  12. Robert Capozzi

    p: Thus, there’s certainly room for those who agree with some issues from one party and some issues from another party to have a separate party,

    me: Yes, well stated. There is also “room” for fetishists who not only do NOT agree with any party on anything, but are in the stratosphere on all issues. Immigration? Smash the state. Debt ceiling? Smash the state. Tax reform? Taxation is theft, smash the state.

    Nothing “wrong” with fetishes. A few thousand might be moved by just about anything…..

  13. Arthur DiBianca

    “In a winner-takes-all system, there is a strong tendency toward two parties”

    There’s a serious problem with that premise: it doesn’t seem to apply in the UK, Canada, or Australia.

    Those governments use “winner-take-all” systems (single-member districts with plurality elections) just like the US. But in those countries, third parties get substantial support.

    Why are things so different in the US? It might be a cultural difference, or it might be ballot access obstacles, but it’s NOT because of a different election method.

    Or it might have to do with the “culture” of the press — in those countries, I bet journalists treat third parties with respect. In America, they treat us like garbage.

  14. paulie

    It’s all of those things and more, but to some extent it is also the fault of the particular parties and specific circumstances. I would not rule out the possibility of a three-party system in the US at some point just because it hasn’t happened in any sustainable fashion yet. More than three seems less likely, unless the electoral system changes.

  15. Robert Capozzi

    P, yes, when there is a pink elephant in the room and a few do not SEE the pink elephant, it seems kind and helpful to point out the pink elephant. It is not a tangent to point out the obvious. IMO.

  16. paulie

    I’m not feeling that on this end. But then again, we are just some blind guys trying to describe an elephant from touch, aren’t we?

    One day five blind men, who knew nothing of elephants, went to examine one to find out what it
    was. Reaching out randomly, each touched it in a different spot. One man touched the side, one an
    ear, one a leg, one a tusk, and one the trunk. Each satisfied that he now knew the true nature of
    the beast, they all sat down to discuss it.

    “We now know that the elephant is like a wall,” said the one who touched the side. “The evidence
    is conclusive.”

    “I believe you are mistaken, sir,” said the one who touched an ear. “The elephant is more like a large
    fan.”

    “You are both wrong,” said the leg man. “The creature is obviously like a tree.”

    “A tree?” questioned the tusk toucher. “How can you mistake a spear for a tree?”

    “What?” said the trunk feeler. “A spear is long and round, but anyone knows it doesn’t move.
    Couldn’t you feel the muscles? It’s definitely a type of snake! A blind man could see that!” said the
    fifth blind man.

    More: http://discordia.loveshade.org/apocrypha/elephant.html

  17. Robert Capozzi

    P, yes, a GREAT story, thanks for sharing it. And, yes, it may be that NAPsolutism is just as valid as another other thought system. In some ways, I think so, too. Maybe the trunk is actually a space alien, but I’d think that the trunk feeler would not take that as a definitive position in public when he runs for office, though!

  18. paulie

    From the original article referenced in the story

    Libertarian candidates tend to draw votes from disenchanted Republican voters, much the same way that Green candidates appeal to Democratic constituencies.

    This is an oft-repeated falsehood, much like the story about Nader costing the Democrats Florida which this article also repeats. Actually, Libertarians draw just as many votes from disenchanted Democrats as from disenchanted Republicans, and many votes from people who would never vote for either of two. And a little known part of the Florida story is that Nader got a big chunk of his vote there from Arab-Americans who voted for him along ethnic lines, but usually vote Republican. Also, he motivated some people to register to vote who likely would not have otherwise, some of whom switched to Gore as the election got close at the end. The article also incorrectly states that Perot ran as a Reform Party candidate in 1992, when the Reform Party did not yet exist.

    Although it has been around the longest, the Libertarian Party is not as well organized or funded as the other third parties. At this point, it represents a philosophical movement more than a political party.

    This is completely false. The LP is, and was, better organized and funded than the Greens or Reform Party. The Greens and Reform Party did have some better vote results for president in 2000 and 1996, but the LP had more structure, more candidates, more members, etc. Nader was an independent who allowed his first two runs to be endorsed by the Greens, but that did not translate into much organization down ticket; the Reform Party was mostly an ego vehicle for Perot, and for a little while Ventura, Buchanan and a few lesser known people and faded quickly without establishing much long term infrastructure.

    The article appears to have been written before 2004, judging by what it claims the major third parties are, and the elections it references, but its information was incorrect then and is incorrect now.

  19. poorlando

    Arthur, Australia does not have a plurality voting system for either house. The systems used are instant runoff voting and single transferable vote.

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