Voters Need the Input and Impact of a Third Party

By Peter B. Gemma

66921681James Madison wisely observed, “When the variety and number of political parties increases, the chance for oppression, factionalism, and non-skeptical acceptance of ideas decreases.”

Marginalized policy initiatives can often bubble up into the mainstream because of independent candidates and third parties. In his book Declaring Independence: The Beginning of the End of the Two-Party System, political strategist Douglas Schoen noted, “While third party movements and candidates have periodically emerged to challenge the status quo … none have ever come close to winning, though they did end up having a significant impact on policy formation as a result of their campaigns.”

Although the success of the Prohibition Party was fleeting, it is a good model of how an issue can come from a single constituency, evolve into a formidable political force, and flex muscle on Capitol Hill.

The Prohibition Party has run candidates for President in every election since 1872, but none received more than 300,000 votes or about two percent of the ballots cast. However, its candidates for state and federal office often siphoned off votes that cost the major party nominees their winning margins. That proved to be powerful political leverage. In the 1918 contest for US Senate in Colorado, incumbent Democrat John Shafroth polled 48 percent of the vote, but Prohibition Party candidate P. A. Richardson, who nabbed just 2.58 percent, gave the Republican nominee the edge – one of the two seats the GOP needed for majority status on Capitol Hill.

The Prohibition Party applied anti-establishment political pressure while bi-partisan grass roots organizations such as the Anti-Saloon League worked within the apparatus of the two major parties. The chemical reaction resulted in a Constitutional Amendment establishing prohibition as public policy.

The Libertarian Party has been a deciding factor in many elections in the past 45 years. In 1998, Majority Leader Harry Reid was re-elected by only 428 votes while the Libertarian candidate pulled in 8,000 supporters. In 2002, the country’s most hard-fought Senate race was in South Dakota. Republican John Thune lost to the Democrat incumbent Senator Tim Johnson by 524 votes, much less than the 3,000 votes for the Libertarian candidate.

4c6535461424d439030515161c29baebThe movement in favor of the legalization of marijuana consists of non-partisan operations including the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which has a network of 135 chapters. The marijuana issue is a well-known plank of the Libertarian Party’s platform since its formation in 1971.

Libertarian Party political operatives had an impact on the passage of the 2012 Colorado referendum to decriminalize the use of marijuana – it had already elected two city councilmen and a sheriff on their party line in the state. In addition, the Marijuana Policy Project spent one million dollars advocating the Colorado initiative. Just like the movement for prohibition, non-partisan grassroots operations combined with a political punch, yielded results.

The Reform Party nominated Texas billionaire Ross Perot as its presidential candidate in 1992. Perot hammered away on the issues of reducing the deficit and the importance of a balanced budget, issues almost ignored in previous elections. They now are a standard part of every national campaign. The winner of the election, Bill Clinton, coordinated a bi-partisan coalition that created several balanced-budget deals to put the government in the black.

History is on the side of third party movements because they are willing to touch third rail issues. The Prohibition and Socialist parties promoted women’s suffrage during the late 1800s, and by 1916 both Republicans and Democrats supported it. In the 1850’s, a new party, the Republicans, buried the traditional Whig Party as they rallied around a major social justice issue, the abolition of slavery.

Third parties can represent regional interests as well. In 1968, American Independent Party candidate George Wallace earned 45 electoral votes. The way he split the Democratic base led to the Republican Southern strategy that produced another sea change in American politics.

According to the latest ABC News/Washington Post survey, 48 percent of voters say they would prefer a third-party candidate to run. A recent Associated Press/University of Chicago poll revealed that 71 percent of millennials want an alternative to the Republican and Democrat nominees. Still, many voters view third parties as irrelevant, perhaps even worse than useless. The general assumption is if a third party candidate has no chance of winning, then it is foolish to lower the chances of the next-best, big-party candidate. Voting for a lesser-of-two-evils candidate who can win would be better than voting for an ideal candidate who will lose. However, “winnability” doesn’t matter as much as one might think. If a third party candidate can influence, even bully, the political power elites they score goals.

Permit me to channel Teddy Roosevelt: “The old parties are husks, with no real soul within either, divided on artificial lines, boss-ridden and privilege-controlled, each a jumble of incongruous elements, and neither daring to speak out wisely and fearlessly on what should be said on the vital issues of the day.” He’s so right: America needs a third party – actually, a fourth, fifth and tenth party.


This article appeared on the website, September 1, 2016


6 thoughts on “Voters Need the Input and Impact of a Third Party

  1. Luchorpan

    Egghead McMuffin seems intent on pushing Trump towards the Neocons.

    And the Left, outside the Green Party, doesn’t seem to even care that Hillary has embraced the Neocons. The Left also fully believes Hillary’s change on trade, just as it believed Obama on trade. My conclusion from this is the US Left doesn’t really care about anything, has no principles, with the tiny exception of the Greens.

    Anyway, the current system is a two party system. We need a new system for third parties. Jill Stein has the right focus there.

    What we need is for multiple third parties, left, right and libertarian, to embrace an Amendment that enables a third party system in the US. I assume an Amendment is necessary; how else could things be changed?

    Currently the populist Democrats tend to agree as much with the populist Republicans as either with their own party. It’s the extreme centre, the “moderates” who rule us all. Those with money define themselves as “moderate” and centre.

    Our Constitution is version 1.0. Europe has improved upon it. We should adopt the improvement by moving to a multiparty system. If Ron Paul, Baldwin, Castle, Nader, Stein, etc. all got together to promote this, it might gain acceptance.

    Unreported here: Homeland Security will be “monitoring” our voting (to protect us from those Russians), which has me wondering who will guard us from our newfound guardians? I mean to ask: Who will ensure Homeland Security doesn’t alter voting? It seems rather significant to me:

  2. Darcy G Richardson

    This is an excellent article by Peter Gemma. He’s always been one of my favorite writers — and, refreshingly rejecting the prevailing conventional wisdom with regularity, one of the country’s most astute and insightful political observers.

    Given the immense unpopularity of the major-party nominees and the fact that the country’s largest third-party has nominated a ticket arguably more Establishment-oriented than the GOP’s Donald Trump-led insurgency, if there was ever a time for a fourth, fifth and sixth party — the kind of candidacies being waged by the colorful Rocky De La Fuente, a candidate not looking left or right but forward in the tradition of John F. Kennedy’s presidency, the Green Party’s Jill Stein and Darrell Castle of the Constitution Party — this is certainly the year.

  3. Krzysztof Lesiak

    Speaking of JFK’s legacy, here is what Darrell Castle said when asked about who his favorite president was a few days ago during his Facebook livestream:

    “Well, probably you disagree with me about that, but I like to say who is my favorite president post World War II, and that would be John Kennedy because he tried to dismantle the CIA, he tried to do something about the Federal Reserve, he tried to bring troops home from Vietnam. I know the other things he was, but those things are meaningful to me.”

    That was an awesome answer. I likewise really appreciated Castle’s answer regarding mandatory vaccination.

    As far as De La Fuente goes, I’m wondering if maybe he would have earned 50 state access had he not announced his candidacy for the Democratic nominations for Senate and President and instead just run a general election campaign. It seems he could have afforded it, and he clearly isn’t reluctant to invest his own money into his political endeavors.

  4. langa

    It’s the extreme centre, the “moderates” who rule us all. Those with money define themselves as “moderate” and centre.

    Absolutely correct. Militarism and plutocracy are the guiding principles of both major parties. The only significant disagreements between them are on a few cultural issues, and even there, the differences are largely rhetorical, designed to foster the hatred that keeps the serfs distracted and divided.

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