Why Hasn't a Third Political Party Caught On?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

In Great Britain this week, a center-left political party — the Liberal Democrats — played the power broker in recent elections, teaming up with new PM David Cameron's Conservative Party to create the first coalition government in Britain in 70 years. Could a third party ever play kingmaker here, in the United States?

A new NBC/WSJ poll suggests that many people wouldn't object: More than 80 percent see problems with America's two-party system, and nearly one third of the country believes that America needs a third party.

Micah Sifry, author of "Spoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America," and editor of the Personal Democracy Forum, looks at why third parties have mostly failed in the American political landscape, whether that's likely to change, and if there's a single type of third party on which Americans could ever agree.


Micah Sifry

Produced by:

Marine Olivesi

Comments [13]

The reason a 3rd party had not caught on is because the establishment has manipulated rules via the FEC and Electoral College to prohibit any upset in the balance of power. Let me give you the scenario. If you have two people, of two different opinions, voting on an issue; how can anything ever be decided? This is the situation we are in today. We need at least a 3rd vote to tip the balance. Major issues are never decided in the congress, and that is the way they plan to keep it. Andre Barnett is a unifying agent. Having more international affairs experience, having studied various economies, and having dealt with governments and militaries of multiple countries makes him an ideal candidate. America deserves someone that is willing to fight for them, not someone trying to lay different lines of division to render American citizens manageable. Take a look at our nation. How can we stand unified and leverage the power we have as a people when we are so divided? The financial leaders of the international community and America's FED are holding our nation captive. They need to be exposed and Andre Barnett is going to do just that.

Sep. 03 2012 03:01 PM
North from Canada

America really does need a third party. There is different views within the major parties themselves.

Thankfully Canada has a three party system (at one point 4 party system until the Bloc was decimated recently - think of them like America's Tea Party). The three party system seems to work. They all have bad things to say about each other and all have different ideas. Helps keep them all in check.

We still do encounter gridlock while passing legislation but by having 3 parties - the strongest of the three can possibly face the smaller 2 if they band together. Definitely an interesting environment but not as entertaining as the American political system. Our speeches lack in comparison :P

Aug. 30 2012 07:05 PM
Michael Thomas from Bethlehem

I don't think we need third parties to win; I think we need third parties start to do well proposing previously-un-thought-of solutions that can be adopted by the major parties to co-opt them---so long as these are ideas with which I completely agree, of course.

May. 13 2010 11:03 AM
Charles Koelsch from Providence, RI

If a 3rd party could exist, I would call it the Pedestrian Party, for those of us who each and every day walk the streets, sidewalks and halls of this nation. Some days we slowly walk and others we hurry, but always with our feet touching the ground that is our reality. And the Pedestrian Party would always remember the reality of that daily walk in their intent and decisions.

At the least, any mayor, governor or presidential candidate should renounce their party affiliation when running for office and take an oath that they will run for the People and not a party.

May. 13 2010 10:30 AM
Zach from Tarrytown, NY

We already have many third parties, but we need a change in our voting system to make them viable. A change to an instant-runoff system, where voters could specify a second choice, could achieve this. Nader supporters would have been able to vote their consciences while specifying Gore as the backup in the event that Nader did not come into the top two spots, and current tea party members would be able to field their own candidates without splitting the conservative vote and electing liberals who would be their last choice candidates.

Third party candidates are desperately needed and may be able to force the political establishment to operate more honestly and openly, but they can't be viable as long as most potential third party voters see a vote for their first choice candidate to ultimately help the candidate that they like least.

May. 13 2010 10:07 AM
Gerald from Pasadena, CA

The people who want a 'middle' party are off-beam: that would be fine if the Democrats weren't a centrist, corporatist, party with a light left tinge, and the Republicans far-right corporatists in league with theocrats.

What we really need is a Communist Party, to move the Democrats leftward again and to destroy the false impression many Americans seem to have that the Democrats are in any substantive way like the Communists. (In physics terms, this is called establishing a 'length-scale'.)

It is only the threat of complete expropriation of their property and punishment for their crimes that persuaded the corporations and their politicians of the advisability of letting peoples' lives get much better---their usual incentive is to make us as unhappy as possible, as unhappy people are much easier to control and sell-to (see: the Koch Brothers' selling oligarchy to white pluggers).

Please note: I am not a Bolschewik; I just think that America's voters, and more importantly its owners, know what Bolschewism really is like, so they can tell the difference between it and merely trying for a decent society. (Similarly, I think it would be cool is there were a well-known Falangist [Fascist Theocrat] Party, so that more Americans could see how the dominant tendencies in the G.O.P. are approaching one in tone and substance.)

May. 13 2010 09:51 AM
Mendel Hecht from Boca Raton, FL

3rd parties only work when one of the 2 major parties is dying and fading away or where you have a parliamentary style democracy where each party gets representation according to there percentage of the vote.

May. 13 2010 09:37 AM
John Hamilton from Yonkers NY

Conservatives with Integrity (CWI)

We would hold truly conservative values reflective of the spiritual tradition of Western civilization such as "greed is a moral failing", "those who have wealth have a responsibility to those in need", "study, education, and deep thought are a moral obligation", "we seek the truth not always to be right", "every member of society is important and has a role", "education is not enought to make a person choose the right thing" "compromise is an important part of teamwork". You get the idea. I think a large number of current republicans and democrats would sign on.

May. 13 2010 09:36 AM
Nathan Paxton from Cambridge, MA

I'm a professional political scientist. One of the things we've found out is that third parties have a VERY hard time existing in what's called a "first past the post" system (that is, when the candidate who gets a majority or plurality gets the seat or whatever the goal is). So if Americans want third parties to be real and viable, they will have to decide to accept proportional representation systems or "instant runoff" voting. But Americans tend to be conservative about these sorts of changes, so I don't see it happening any time soon, and so we won't have third parties any time soon.

May. 13 2010 09:33 AM

The Redemocans. A bit of both parties, and the suggestion of redemption.

May. 13 2010 09:29 AM
Leila Ferioli from Brooklyn, New YOrk

I would join the "I'm mad as hell and I'm not taking it anymore" party!

May. 13 2010 09:29 AM
Randall Phillips from Charleston SC

I believe there is room in the US for a 3rd party that advocates a smaller role for government, currently the Republican view, without the religious and social agenda of that party, putting the new party closer to the Democrats on social issues.

May. 13 2010 09:11 AM
George J. Robinson from New York, New York

Ralph Nader, a brilliant, civic-minded national treasure who has contributed so much to American Society in terms of life-saving safety regulations, consumer protection, and justice (via the organizations e.g. PUBLIC CITIZEN - he and his acolytes have spawned has thrice(?) given us an opportunity to empower a third party to either supplant or coalesce with one of the two dominant parties, however the American People - I believe due to ignorance and civic laziness (i.e., failure to take the time and make the effort to explore alternatives) - have forfeited those opportunities.

While I am well satisfied with the election of Barack Obama, the rejection of Ralph Nader strikes me as a tragic missed opportunity to better our political system and our nation's well-being.

Thank you for "listening."

George J. Robinson

May. 13 2010 07:34 AM

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