Third Parties Can’t Win, Part 1

“Third-parties have no chance of winning!” -Way too many voters in Arkansas

Admittedly, this indubitably frustrating refrain echoes on the lips of thousands of Arkansas voters every election. Any time a third-party candidate asks for a vote, with a dreadful certainty, this rejoinder is ripped quickly from its sheath and enthusiastically deployed in parrying any thoughts of winning an election that may have been dancing in the minds of third-party candidates.

Epic and gut-wrenching! Especially when it reverberates in what seems like every campaign event and conversation. In my own race, I read or heard that phrase so many times I lost count. It takes a destructive toll on your psyche and chances of garnering support…literally!

If third-party candidates are ever going to have a realistic chance at winning anything in our State, we must dramatically alter this thought process.

So, how do we do it?

In our current, first-past-the-post, zero-sum election game we can’t, it’s impossible. Even given the right circumstances and the right candidate, this mindset is so effectively entrenched with the voters in our state that winning is a fairy tale if you’re a third-party candidate.

The only pragmatic approach is in changing the way our system operates.  This article is the first of two that are aimed at addressing systemic issues with the way our elections work. I’m going to address the first-past-the-post voting system today. I will tackle the zero-sum issue next column.

My suggestion is transitioning Arkansas into a ranked-choice voting system. First, I’ll talk about how it works. Then I’ll give a few reasons why it will help with the logjam that stifles third party movement in our state.

What is ranked-choice voting? Essentially it is a system of voting with an embedded run-off that allows voters to rank their choices instead of only choosing one. Need an example?

If you have three candidates, like we did with the Gubernatorial race, voters can rank their choices. We’ll use a round number (100) so that it’s easier to follow. We begin by counting first-place rankings. In Round 1, for argument’s sake, the Republican got 40, the Libertarian 31, and the Democrat 29. No candidate receives 51 votes, so we kick into the automatic runoff. The Democrat is out for having the fewest first-place rankings. We would then allocate the second-place rankings to the other two candidates. Let’s say the Democrat’s supporters are so adamantly opposed to a Republican winning, that most of their second rankings are given to the Libertarian. If that gave 20 second rankings to the Libertarian and only nine for the Republican, the final tally would see the Libertarian with 51 votes and the Republican with 49 votes.

A different result, a different winner, a genuine chance at winning for a third-party candidate.

Why would this be better for Arkansas?

First, let’s take the democratic reason. Voters’ voices would be more empowered. They could vote for a third-party candidate without the fear that the “greater evil” would win. One trip to the voting booth becomes vastly and immensely more powerful than it has been. Voters would also see more viable choices on the ballot.

Second, we’ll talk about the representative reason. Voters would be empowered with the knowledge that their government will better represent their views. Why? It is easier to vote the bums out in a ranked-choice system than in a big-money driven first-past-the-post system that belongs to the special interests.

Third, we have the pragmatic reason. Taxpayers will be saved the expense of costly run-off elections. According to Talk Business & Politics, Arkansas tax-payers will be paying for 100 run-off elections in 2018. None of these are necessary and they would be eliminated with a ranked-choice voting system.

We have plenty of reason to at least look at how to do our elections differently, not just to save taxpayer dollars, but also to empower We The People against special interests that tend to have more financial resources. My next column will look at a more representative means for choosing our elected representatives in government and how it, combined with ranked-choice voting, could impact our future.

30 thoughts on “Third Parties Can’t Win, Part 1

  1. Melinda Pillsbury-Foster

    You are wrong. A third part or independent candidate can win be because, as you saw admitted by the GOP and Dem. Parties in 1993, party affiliate with one or the other of them can be negated by a candidate who gains enough name recognition. This is why together, the Democratic and Republican Parties started the Commission on Presidential Debates in ’93. This allowed them to exclude the third parties and Independents.
    Today, this does not have to matter. Loyalty to one of the major parties has been dying. There are multiple reasons for this but it is easy to see for yourself; just look for yourself.
    But that is not the whole story. Two things were demonstrated to Bush Co. and the Clintons during the 1992 Campaign.
    First, in 1992 Ross Perot reached 39%. He party affiliation did not matter. The reason he shot up in the polls was because he gained name recognition and a following who were following the impact of the media releases and feedback from people who were participating via Capitol Calling Cards PhoneVoting going on. People who bought the cards, $20 each, could respond to questions they heard over their phones with an AGREE/DISAGREE PhoneVote. The results, compiled by Congressional District, went to the sitting Congressperson and to the media. The political consultant who wrote the questions was then running PhoneVoter TV Network. (phonevoter.us) The website tells the story and shows that two of their other clients achieved similar rises in the polls through their Unedited Presidential Candidate Speeches. (https://phonevoter.us/1992-candidates-unedited-speeches)

    The two candidates who surged in the polls because they used PhoneVoter’s programs were Jerry Brown and Pat Buchanan. These provided them with satellite access, as a lost leader from PhoneVoter partner Keystone Satellite Communications. If Brown had started a few days earlier he would have taken Clinton and been the Dem. Nominee. Pat was not interested in running for president, he was just using the opportunity to push HW Bush on the Line Item Veto.

    There was a fourth candidate who received consulting services that year, Bill Clinton. He contacted Brock d’Avignon, founder of PhoneVoter, for advice on how to raise his name identification (he understood the problem he was facing) with about $50,000 left in his campaign account in mid-March 1992. But he could not use the free satellite provided through PhoneVoter because this would have required him to debate, revealing his ‘campaign platform’ was designed to let people fool themselves as to his intentions through hearing his “I feel your pain” message.

    Brock explained he needed satellite (he had never heard of this, nor had Frank Greer, his Media Consultant). Since he could not afford to buy satellite time he needed his own satellite uplink truck. There was only one left in the country. Brock sent him the rental agreement and through his other contacts he found a way to rent it out from under Brock and Keystone. So you heard the fuzzy feel-good lies with no real debates and Clinton took the nomination.

    HW Bush was also offered participation in the PhoneVoter Program, but as a sitting president he ignored the need for Interaction, instead continuing his Whistle-Stop RR Campaign.

    After the election Bushco figured out what happened. Clinton, then elected, already knew.

    Now this is the unexpected story. The Commission, as you know limited debate to the two major parties.

    And in 1996 GOP candidates for president were forbidden by Haley Barbour, then GOP National Committee Chairman, placed by Bush in 1993, from using either satellite of the services of PhoneVoter TV Networks. Every one of them complied while Clinton had the DNC rent satellite time 24/7/365 for the entire year of 1996. A deal had been cut to ensure when Bush W ran in 2000 he would not be running against a sitting GOP President. That year the likely nominee with the profile to win was Lamar Alexander. Lamar’s media consultant, Mike Murphy, stopped the PhoneVoter Proposals from reaching his candidate six times. You can see the notes taken by Brock on the site. Mike Murphy did the same in 2000. This time the campaign to be stopped was John McCain’s. Murphy stopped the PhoneVoter Proposals 12 times. McCain learned of this on Primary Night in California and was outraged. His wife read the proposal, which Brock had handed them standing by the Straight Talk Bus, waiting to concede. Murphy was about ten feet away. McCain confronted him to be told, “you got a conventional campaign.”

    Brock’s background was entertainment and electronics. He ran an electronics company while going to college.

    One more note: After the 1992 election was over Etienne d’Avignon, a Bilderberger who had organized their conferences for years, had France Telecom buy Keystone for 10xs its value of $10M. They paid $100M and were outraged to find out there was no contract with PhoneVoter so they had no direct control over Brock.

    The new incarnation of PhoneVoter is Freedom TV Networks Association. FreedomTVNetworks.com

    Think of this as hidden history. Our first 2-Way Interactive shows will be online in the first quarter of 2019.

    PS. The Bush Co operative who hit the McCain Campaign in 2000 with the entirely bogus story about the Black Love child was John Fund. Read about his career as a disinformation agent at HowTheNeoConsStoleFreedom.com

  2. Anthony Dlugos

    I never understood the argument that explicitly or implicitly asserts the LP must stay a third party forever and ever, amen.

    I’d like to hear ideas on how we stop being a third party.

  3. dL

    I never understood the argument that explicitly or implicitly asserts the LP must stay a third party forever and ever, amen.

    It’s not an assertion. It’s a rock solid political science tenet backed by overwhelming empirical evidence that single-member district plurality voting(first-past-the-post, zero-sum election game) only accommodates two major parties. That’s why the author of the post recommends changing the rules of the voting system.

  4. Anthony Dlugos

    “It’s a rock solid political science tenet backed by overwhelming empirical evidence that single-member district plurality voting(first-past-the-post, zero-sum election game) only accommodates two major parties.”

    me: I agree.

    “That’s why the author of the post recommends changing the rules of the voting system.”

    me: Fair enough. I’d say its easier to just become one of the two major parties.

    We know for a fact it hasn’t been the same two parties throughout the history of this country. On the the other hand, there is doesn’t appear to be any evidence voters en masse in this country would consider changing the voting system.

    It seems to me once you’ve convinced them to vote for/support some version of the Libertarian message, you know longer need (nor even want) a system that allows 3 or more voices.

    Not sure how you could implore voters to support a system that allows for more the two major parties without presenting them a third voice they are actually interested in.

  5. paulie

    We know for a fact it hasn’t been the same two parties throughout the history of this country.

    The last time it wasn’t 1) There were no government printed ballots and thus by definition no ballot access barriers 2) One of the existing two major parties collapsed first 3) Elections did not cost billions or probably even millions of FRN “dollars”, even adjusted for inflation 4) The US political system was a lot newer – there were still people alive who had lived in colonial America 5) The population of the country was a small fraction of what it is now 6) The US was headed for a civil war (or whatever you want to call it) after decades of sectional strife. That’s just a few minor differences off the top of my head.

    On the the other hand, there is doesn’t appear to be any evidence voters en masse in this country would consider changing the voting system.

    It’s already starting to pass in some cities and now states.

    Not sure how you could implore voters to support a system that allows for more the two major parties without presenting them a third voice they are actually interested in.

    How do you account for Maine, for example?

  6. Anthony Dlugos

    paulie,

    You make some good points, and I’ll bet your not surprised I took the position I took,

    One thing you and I can agree on is that there are (and is) much, much worse things a Libertarian Party member could be advocating for, so I say more power to those in the party who want to advocate for ranked-choice voting.

    Any success such folks would have couldn’t hurt, and would probably help.

  7. dL

    We know for a fact it hasn’t been the same two parties throughout the history of this country.

    Well, I wrote “accommodates two major parties,” not irrevocably locks in the same 2 parties forever. Nonetheless, it’s been the same two parties since 1860, and there has only been two major party realignments in American history. The Whigs replaced the Federalists ~ 1812, and the Republicans killed off the Whigs ~ 1860. And that’s it. In each instance, it was a major policy issue of the day that triggered the realignment. In the case of the Federalists, it was the war of 1812 and US-British alliance. In the case of the Whigs, the issue obviously was chattel slavery. So, if you looking a similar realignment possibility today, target a major contentious issue. The #1 candidate would be immigration. However, as Paulie points out, the sheer amount of money in politics and the magnitude of the rent transfers makes major-shift realignment less plausible. In effect, a lot of bribery money available to stave off realignment. That kind of bribe money wasn’t around in 1812 or 1860. Immigration, however, might be that one issue where irreconcilable opponents cannot be bought off.

  8. paulie

    Immigration doesn’t divide either of the current existing establishment parties in the way that slavery did the whigs. Republicans are clearly more on the restrictionist side and while Democrats are not by any means for open borders fear of Republicans is good enough to coral most of those who are into voting for Democrats if they vote at all. To parallel the realignment of the 1850s, one of those two would have to collapse over immigration. I don’t see why they would but suppose they did:

    Option 1 – Republicans collapse. This would not be good for the LP because we would be flooded with migrant bashing “libertarians” even more than now (far more). But even if we were OK with that they would also be bringing their other extremely nonlibertarian baggage on many other issues.

    Option 2 – Democrats collapse. This would not be good for the LP either because even if we were able to make the case to all those ex-Democrats that we should be their new party of choice on the basis of the immigration issue they would still want to change our positions on many economic issues, gun rights, etc (and have the numbers to do it).

    So there’s no short term scenario for the LP to become a major party. It has to do a lot of tedious, laborious step by step building in tandem with a libertarian movement that swings public opinion gradually over time, build many single issue coalitions, elect people to local office, master nuts and bolts politics. Only after a long process of managing these things effectively could the LP become a major party and remain even remotely directionally true to its intended purpose.

    Sorry, there are still no shortcuts. Not even if we get a billionaire celebrity presidential candidate. Relentless incrementalism and hard work are the only way we ever move forward in reality. Fantasies about manna from heaven and magic overnight transformation into major party don’t move us a nanometer closer to progress. We ain’t gonna win the political megalottery and if we did we wouldn’t know how to manage the winnings.

  9. Richard Winger

    The LP doesn’t need to become a major party in order to influence policy.

    The Prohibition Party costs the Republicans the presidency in 1884 and again in 1916. The first time it happened, the Prohibition Party presidential nominee, John P. St. John, was burned or hung in effigy in Republican towns across the nation, after the election results were known. But the second time it happened, in 1916, the Republicans in Congress decided to end the threat posed by the Prohibition Party for good. They did that by passing the 18th amendment in Congress early in 1917. It had been sitting in every session of congress since 1875 and had never made any headway until 1917.

  10. Jared

    paulie: “Option 1”

    I expect the Republicans to be in disarray when Trump’s presidency comes to an end, much as the Democrats were, and to some extent still are, in the wake of the Obama presidency and Hillary’s traumatic loss. That’s the problem with personality cults. Once the charismatic leader is out of the picture, without a clear line of succession, the herd experiences an crisis of identity. This administration has redefined what it means to be a Republican in good standing. While I don’t anticipate the dissolution of the GOP in 2020 (or 2024), some disgruntled right-wing populists may seek a new platform if the Republican Party, out of self-preservation, starts to distance itself from Trump-era policies and priorities as it senses this one-man show coming to an end.

  11. dL

    Immigration doesn’t divide either of the current existing establishment parties in the way that slavery did the whigs.

    Technically, the issue that ended the Whigs was the legislative expansion of slavery, not outright abolition vs the status quo. The radical abolitionists were a regional northern party, the original republicans.

    In the same vein, the issue with immigration would not be open borders vs the status quo but rather would entail the continued expansion of immigration restrictionism to the point of triggering a seismic contentious backlash. In particular, I’m referring to the GOP jihad against “birthright citizenship.” The GOP is on record that they can overturn the 14th amendment by simple legislative majority vote. If that threat becomes realistic, that’s the kind of stuff that can potentially rival the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 in terms of political realignment . In 1860, that realignment triggered a series of events that led to abolition and the rise to major party status by a formerly minor, radical party. Conceivably, a political realignment around immigration could likewise break towards open borders, despite open borders not being the dominant position(just as outright abolition wasn’t the dominant position in 1860). Rest assured, though, if the LP were to become a major party over open borders, it would nonetheless lose that SoP and quite a bit of that Non Aggression Principle language.

  12. Anthony Dlugos

    Richard,

    The LP might not need to BECOME a major party in order to influence policy, but it has to WANT to. Down to its core.

    The LP doesn’t want success bad enough.

  13. Anthony Dlugos

    “Rest assured, though, if the LP were to become a major party over open borders, it would nonetheless lose that SoP and quite a bit of that Non Aggression Principle language.”

    Would such a transaction…trading the SoP and a chunk of the NAP language in exchange for major party status…possibly result in the release of even one detained asylum seeker?

    If so, then I pay the price gladly.

  14. dL

    Would such a transaction…trading the SoP and a chunk of the NAP language in exchange for major party status…

    Chucking the SoP would be a post event to attaining major party status, not a prerequisite. I agree that in the (unlikely) event that the LP was able to attain major party status, it would then largely abandon the NonAggression principle. However, that’s different than saying it must first abandon the SoP in order to achieve major party status. Trying to be all things to many people is what in part killed off the last major party, the Whigs. And that would absolutely doom a minor party to a quick extinction a la the Reform Party.

  15. Chuck Moulton

    Anthony Dlugos wrote:

    The LP might not need to BECOME a major party in order to influence policy, but it has to WANT to. Down to its core.

    Your political strategy seems to amount to closing your eyes, holding your breath, and wishing over and over again — in that the “reforms” you propose are just as likely to obtain your stated result as closing your eyes, holding your breath, and wishing over and over again (even if they could pass in convention, which they can’t). Thanks, but I’ll pass on your Kool-Aid… I’m just fine here in reality.

    In contrast, I’ll continue to do the actual work of the party which has been shown to improve our results over time (vote totals and other indicators): running candidates, growing membership, expanding donations, and building party infrastructure.

  16. Jim

    In addition to a major internally divisive issue, a major party has to be thoroughly demoralized because they are badly losing elections. Internal division alone isn’t enough if they keep winning.

    The LP would have to be a Modern Liberal party, rather than a Classically Liberal party, in order to become a major party.

    By Modern Liberal, I mean the embrace of certain universally available government provided benefits like public education, some level of environmental protection to provide clean air and water, indigent and elderly safety nets, worker safety regulations, and, possibly, universal healthcare. It could keep other aspects of liberalism like support for gay rights, gun rights, a small, defensive military, opposition to a draft, permissive immigration, free trade and mostly free markets, opposition to victimless ‘crime’ laws, and opposition to restrictions on speech.

    All of those surveys out there that report 15% – 30% of the public is Libertarian are including Modern Liberals as Libertarians. There are enough of them to form the core of a major party.

  17. dL

    In addition to a major internally divisive issue, a major party has to be thoroughly demoralized because they are badly losing elections. Internal division alone isn’t enough if they keep winning.

    Not necessarily. The dixiecrats didn’t break from the Dems(over the civil rights act) b/c the Democratic party was losing elections or in danger of becoming a minor party. That certainly counts as a major political realignment, although it didn’t end up disbanding either of the two major parties. But it certainly changed them.

  18. paulie

    It’s possible the Republicans could become a permanent minority. The popular vote for Democrats was overwhelming for congress. Around 61 vs 51 million for US House and 51 vs 33 million for US Senate (11 million for 2 Democrats in CA, but even if a Republican had been in there it probably would have been lopsidedly Democrat).

    If economy and scandals manage to bring Trump down and Democrats get a wave in 2020 they could undo the Republican gerrymandering of 2010-2012. Suppose they then pass something even remotely close to this https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/11/30/18118158/house-democrats-anti-corruption-bill-hr-1-pelosi In addition to getting the lion’s share of redistricting in 2020. That plus demographic shifts would combine to lock Republicans into a jam that could be hard to get back out of.

    At this point the modern liberals as Jim defines them and country club Republicans would be more free to form a new coalition aside from the Trumpified Republicans and the more big government Democratic base. I don’t think any of those three groups would particularly want or need the LP though.

  19. paulie

    National popular vote alone would be enough to put Republicans at a big disadvantage. The last two times they took the presidency from D to R were both electoral college only victories. The time before that was 1980. All their other wins since then have been status quo wins essentially.

  20. Jim

    dL “Not necessarily. The dixiecrats didn’t break from the Dems(over the civil rights act) b/c the Democratic party was losing elections or in danger of becoming a minor party. That certainly counts as a major political realignment, although it didn’t end up disbanding either of the two major parties. But it certainly changed them.”

    As far as I can tell, there have been 4 realignments without breaking up the 2 majors.

    In the 1870s and 1880s Radical Republicans jumped to the Classical Liberal faction of the Democratic Party, partially because of corrupt Republican candidates and partially to support Cleveland.

    Between 1896 and 1936 Classical Liberal Democrats jumped to the Republicans (where they later became known as the Old Right) because of the William Jennings Bryan hijacking of the Democratic Party and FDR’s New Deal. The same happened in reverse: as Gold Democrats went to the Republicans, Silver Republicans and other progressive Republicans migrated over to the Democrats.

    Between the late 1960s and the mid 1980s Cold War Progressive Democrats got disgusted with the New Left culturally progressive Democrats and migrated over to the Republicans, where they became known as NeoConservatives.

    And then, as you said, between 1964 and roughly 1995 the Dixiecrat Democrats migrated over to the Republicans.

    But those issues were only enough to cause a decades long realignment, not a break up of a major party. When the Radical Republicans started moving to the Democratic party, the Republicans were winning everything at the federal level, so there was demoralization crisis.

    The 1896 – 1936 realignment was a wash, as it was happening in both directions.

    The Dixiecrat and Cold War Democrat-to-NeoConservative realignment was close. In 1968 the Democrats saw LBJ so massively unpopular that he declined to run, MLK and RFK assassinated, a notoriously tumultuous Democratic Convention, and George Wallace splitting off the Dixiecrats. And then by 1972 the New Left’s chosen candidate got the nomination (alienating the Cold War Dems and Dixiecrats) and Nixon won the entire country except DC and Massachusetts. Watergate may have saved the Democratic Party by making the Republican Party an unattractive alternative. If the Cold War Dems and Dixiecrats had all abandoned the Democratic party right then, the Dems would have been left with nothing but the New Left, which couldn’t win elections. And that could have led to the demise of the Democratic party as almost everyone would briefly be in the Republican party, followed by a new major party as the Republicans split up over irreconcilable differences.

  21. Jim

    the Republicans were winning everything at the federal level, so there was *no* demoralization crisis.

  22. paulie

    Black voters moved from the Republicans to the Democrats – I think in the 1930s? Maybe a little later down south because the Dixiecrats were still Democrats then, but a lot of blacks in the south were kept from voting at all around that time.

    There were lots of times when one party or another seemed doomed. After watergate there was a lot of talk the Republicans would never come back, for instance. And George Wallace could have plausibly won the Democratic nomination in 1972. That would have certainly sent a lot of Democrats looking elsewhere. He was winning primaries before being shot. He survived, but was never the same.

  23. Jim

    Yes, I forgot that one – 1930s – 1960s.

    Lots of people talk about one party or the other being doomed. I heard Republicans saying it about Democrats around 2005 and Democrats said it about Republicans around 2009. It was just noise, though. The only time I think any party came dangerously close was the Dems in 1968 – 1973.

  24. paulie

    Maybe in presidential elections? They were still the dominant party in local elections almost everywhere in the south, in urban areas of the northeast and midwest etc. Republicans may have seemed down and out after watergate but even so, Ford almost won in 1976 and Reagan did win in 1980. But the US House was solidly in a Democratic majority from 1954 to 1994 and before that almost the whole time back to the early 1930s, and the same held true of most Governors, legislators, mayors, etc.

  25. Anthony Dlugos

    “In contrast, I’ll continue to do the actual work of the party which has been shown to improve our results over time (vote totals and other indicators): running candidates, growing membership, expanding donations, and building party infrastructure.”

    Sisyphus was a hard worker too.

  26. paulie

    He never showed results. Look at Jim’s charts, what Chuck and I and others are doing is. They may not be fast enough for you (they’re certainly not for me) but anything else is just putting down your paycheck on lottery tickets at best.

  27. dL

    Sisyphus was a hard worker too.

    Only in the afterlife. That was his punishment by the gods for being a crafty, principle-violating politician while alive. In particular, he violated Zeus’ SoP w/ respect to to the treatment of travelers. Oh, what Greek underworld punishment awaits Bob Barr and William Weld!

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