Why is it so difficult for third party candidates to gain support in our predominantly two-party, winner-take-all political system?
Your vote for a third party candidate is not wasted and contributes a lot toward shaping the major party candidates’ platforms.
Our hyper-partisan era of politics is furthering the divide among the American people, creating a need for a multiparty system with proportional representation.
America’s political system needs a reboot and more accessible path for third-party candidate inclusion, which could lessen our hyper-partisan divisions and lead to national healing.
Broccoli or cauliflower? Skateboard or SUV? Hot pink or purple? Fortunately, when it comes to food, transportation, and colors, we have more than two choices. Even gender identity is no longer limited to two options, yet we predominantly continue to settle for Republican or Democrat when it comes to United States political parties.
Sure, there are a wide-range of views within those two parties (fewer now than there used to be), but what if you don’t fully align with either party? Should there be better options that more fully represent your views and priorities?
In one of the most divisive times in recent history, when Americans are often pigeonholed into one box or another and assumptions automatically made about one’s character based on their political alignment, the time has come to give people more choices other than Elephant or Donkey.
Roadblocks for the Third-Party Candidate
Historically, third-party candidates struggle to be taken seriously and are rarely contenders for prominent political positions, let alone the presidency. This could be due to a lack of knowledge by the voting public, party loyalty, and limited exposure for political candidates that fall outside of the Red or Blue.
The U.S. does not have a strong third-party representation. For a multiparty system to exist in this country, electoral reforms would be needed, which many voters don’t understand or support. Despite that nearly 70% of voters polled believe we need a third party, only 23% of partisans feel underrepresented. This means it is unlikely there would be enough support to make a multiparty system work.
For a party to qualify for ballot placement, they must meet specific state requirements, making it difficult for a third-party to gain national awareness and representation. Of course, the existing state election laws to appear on the presidential ballot have been adopted by one or both major parties, helping them maintain control over national politics.
Why Your Vote For A Third-Party Isn’t “Wasted”
During election season, we often hear phrases like, “The lesser of two evils,” tossed around, or such comments directed at third-party supporters, “Don’t waste your vote, don’t spoil the election, a vote for your third-party candidate is a vote taken from my candidate!” or other such nonsense. I prefer phrases like, “Vote your conscience” and “Voting is your voice!”
If you vote for a third-party candidate, your vote is NOT wasted! This is mainly due to third-party candidates’ historical success. In the past, there have been presidential elections in which the winner did not receive more than 50% of the vote nationally.
Ross Perot, the most successful third-party candidate in modern American history. He received 18.9% of the popular vote in the 1992 election and 9.2% in 1996. However, due to the winner-take-all system in each of the states, he didn’t earn a single electoral vote.
Despite Perot’s loss, political scientists credit his campaign with pushing the issue of balancing the federal budget. This speaks to an important role third-party candidates can make by adding their ideas to the agenda. These candidates may not get elected, but the “protest vote” is often heard and can shape the national narrative to force major party candidates to address specific issues and adopt reforms of third-parties.
Support for third-party candidates in the polls makes a difference. Under the Commission’s rules on Presidential Debates, presidential candidates must earn the support of at least 15% of voters in national polls to take part in the televised debates. This is another example of how third-party candidates aren’t given widespread exposure.
Lara Brown, director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, describes the plight of the third-party candidate well, arguing, “It’s a vicious cycle because they don’t poll well, they don’t have access to the debate, so they have trouble attracting support.”
Why this Matters
Two-thirds of Americans think there should be a third political party, and much needs to be done if we are going to see it to fruition in our lifetime. Nothing changes if nothing changes, and America deserves more than just “the lesser of two evils” when it comes to our country’s leadership.
Until recent years, Republicans and Democrats weren’t cleanly split. It wasn’t uncommon for liberals to inhabit the GOP or see conservative democrats, allowing for more of a multiparty democracy within the two parties as they contained many overlapping multitudes. Now, they are more polarized than ever, and we are in the midst of a hyper-partisanship era, something George Washington and John Adams warned against in the infancy of our Great Republic.
When enough people stand together with a united voice for a just cause throughout American history; change happens. We need to educate ourselves on minor parties and their candidates, the merits of a multiparty system, and understand the necessary reforms to make it happen. We can instigate these needed changes for our generation’s government and begin a path toward healing our divisive political climate and society, but we must start now.
Samantha DeTurk is a health and science writer for ThinkCivics. Sam graduated cum laude from BSU with a major in Theatre and a minor in Telecommunications and spent her first 5 years post-grad working in the radio industry before joining corporate America as a business consultant for a Fortune 300 HCM leader. When she’s not writing or cooking delicious WFPB cuisine, Sam loves singing, acting, spending time at the lake with her husband and ornery kitty Jasper, and (badly) learning to play her ukulele, The UkuBaby.