Odd Ones Out: Why Third Parties Don’t Fit in the American Political System (Or, “A History of America’s Proudest Losers”)
Even constitutional purist icon Ron Paul has not endorsed a third party candidate this election season. That should tell you a little about the dire ineffectuality of third partyism at this fiscally and morally calamitous moment in America’s history.
To add insult to injury, what America is suffering from now is due to a century’s worth of policies, some of which took place because of a series of reckless lone ranger candidates attempting to show up “the lesser of two evils” with some mad hot principle.
I investigated this subject in a research paper for a political science class last year, and I have now uploaded it to Scribd for the purpose of embedding it here:
Here are some excerpts:
“…Two years before Washington made his farewell address, Senator John Taylor of Virginia observed that in time for the upcoming Fourth Congress (1795-1797), ideological polarization was already taking place:
‘The existence of two parties in Congress is apparent. The fact is disclosed almost upon every important question. Whether the subject be foreign or domestic – relative to war or peace – navigation or commerce – the magnetism of opposite views draws them wide as the poles asunder.’
…The primary reason why only two parties manage to hold power in America’s political system can be summed up in Duverger’s Law, which French sociologist Maurice Duverger hypothesized in 1951: ‘The single-ballot majority vote favors the dualism of parties.’
That is, in elections of single-member districts in which the winner takes all (which is the norm across the United States), competition will be tighter and likely come down to only two top contenders. This particularly complements the U.S. Constitution’s design for Congress, as well as the country’s expansiveness. If more than two parties held equal electoral clout in a country of now 50 states, potentially hundreds of parties could result. That might make for lots of entertaining debates, but not much could be accomplished…
…But ironically, trying to increase voters’ say in the matter with a third party actually weakens majority opinion instead of strengthening it. More than being a ‘wasted vote,’ a vote for a third party candidate is actually an indirect vote for one of the candidates from the two major parties, however fallacious it might sound to a principled third-partier.
Political scientist Leon P. Baradat explains in one of his college textbooks that in the two-party system, a hypothetical election might result in 41% of the vote for candidate A, 39% of the vote for candidate B, and 20% for candidate C. Because plurality is needed to win in a single-member district that is a fundamental aspect of the two-party system, candidate A will win a seat of government authority with just 41% of the vote, despite the fact that 59% of voters did not vote for that candidate.
This happened in the election of 1912, in which 50% of the vote was split between Bull Moose candidate Theodore Roosevelt and Republican incumbent William Howard Taft, allowing Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson to swoop by to the White House with just 41.8% plus a chance to score a whopping 435 electoral votes.
This happened again in 1992, when Democratic candidate Bill Clinton won the presidency with just 43% of the vote, thanks to 56.3% of the vote getting split between Reform Party candidate Ross Perot and Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush.
Thus, attempting to improve a two-party system by adding a third party is rather like trying to improve a bicycle by adding a third wheel. Such an addition will not be effective because it is contrary to the entire design of the structure. But there is nothing wrong with refilling or changing the tires periodically.
As I have observed in previous articles, a potential example of this sort of improvement can be found in the Tea Party movement, which played an influential role in the 2010 midterm elections, and has even gained official recognition in Congress through the Tea Party Caucus founded by Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN).”
Also of interest: The Tea Party: An independent third party in the works?