Twice today I watched discussions mushroom on Facebbook surrounding the general topic of third party candidates in the US political system. Like clockwork, you can count on the topic erupting right before a presidential election with the same illogical rhetoric thrown out as if it meant something. The two threads today had separate main points, but share somethings in common and prompted this  post.

Let me start by saying, I am neither opposed to third parties nor do I believe the current two party system works as well as it could. I do however feel:

  • The discussion is ill-timed directly before a presidential election;
  • The discussion is ill-placed within the context of a presidential election;
  • Void of any of the real work it would take to make a third party impact meaningful.

I am actually very much in favor of third party efforts, at least in theory. But those who push this discussion always fail to see what it would take to be viable in reality.  I also believe that there are tremendous reasons to see an opening for some third parties to develop and thrive if folks are willing to do the hard work it would take to make them meaningful in our current political climate.

I’d encourage anyone who believes in a third party success to get involved in a real political campaign from start to finish. Get to know in practical terms how politics works and what it takes to win elections. Then use thT knowledge along with your passion for a third party to help change the system.  Just expect the change to be hard going every step of the way.

The biggest issue for the fallacy of a third party candidate during a presidential election is the failure to remember, that we the people don’t really elect our president. The Electoral College does that, and for a third party candidate to get enoug votes to win the college is, well… Impossible. If anyone wants to argue with that, feel free. I’ll happily read your rationale. And I’ll admit I’m wrong, if I am. But I’m not.

All political wins are about the voter’s knowledge of the candidate and their stance on the issues.  This is informed by both fact, fiction and fear, and in all cases it starts with the voting public aware of who the candidates are. Few third party candidates have the name recognition, let alone the ability to disperse their message enough to win an election at the national level, partly because they lack the funds and resources, and they don’t get enough media attention. To get the media attention, they have to begin working well in advance of the political cycle, and start strong enough early enough that the media can’t ignore them.  That is a very hard job! Or they ned enoug resources to flood the public with enough advertising that the public forces the media to may attention.

But what we haves a binary system, because the person with 51% wins. The ability to get a third party candidate to get 51% is fairly impossible, especially within a few months of an election. And while you may see a similar sentiment on a Right Wing site, the reality is that their rhetoric can not be so easily backed up with actual examples of how Dem policies will be so damaging. IT IS possible to see facts and numbers to support the idea that the GOP’s policies will be disastrous for many. I’m all for supporting a third party (like the Green Party is one I personally can support) but their ability to affect our political system has to start at the local and regional level first. At the State level, a third party candidate can also possibly do well, though the party machinery at that level is pretty strong. At the National level? There is so little chance of a third party candidate getting 51% that the third party candidates are fairly irrelevant at the national level. And, it is a fallacy that either of the two main parties will look at votes that go to a third party and think that it means anything. For the two main parties Independent voters are the only other block that counts aside from their own party members. This is not to say that they aren’t good third party candidates. There are (and have been at times). Just that the ability for them to really make any difference is close to impossible at the Presidential level.

I believe however that the American People are ripe for a shift away from the existing two parties. We saw this in a big way, where the vote demonstrated that in general, the American People demand that Washington work differently. The GOP had an opportunity to captive on that sentiment because there were more Dem incumbents, but they have failed and merely repeated the same stalling and obstructionary practices with which the voting public is fed up. People want to see a more fiscally conservative but socially progressive agenda. They want to see a government which only grows when it has to in response to real and needed government. They want a government more interested in fixing problem or less effective policies and processes than in merely winning elections. They want politicians to be accountable and use more fact and less spin. They want politicians to actually govern which requires compromise instead of trying to bully the American people.

Neither party is poised to meet these ideas. The GOP has been so focused on winning at any cost, they have sold their party soul to social conservatives who do not seek fairness and justice for all. These individuals seek to use Government (and BIG government) to force their moral views on all. This is fundamentally at odds with a premise of the GOP which was about stopping government intervention in our fairly lives. I believe the Dems are closer to meeting the voting public’s demands, but fail over and over to message their goals and agendas in ways that people can understand. They also fail to place fiscal accountability as a high priority and always fail to explain their actions in those terms. So if a third party could adequately position itself, disperse its message, and get well enough known, it could have traction.

If a third party is going to make headway, supporters ought to focus on local and regional elections first. The success of the Green Party has been because of the ability to get candidates elected in smaller elections first.  That will allow a third party’s name to begin to become familiar. The issue then becomes, is it worth all of the hard work, to start another party, or is it more efficient to try and change a impact a party from within. But that’s a topic for another post.


Image: Some rights reserved by pjchmiel

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