My dad once told me that any boy can grow up to be president. Actually an unspoken truth to this might be that, in America, any boy or girl can grow up to run for president. If you have a desire to change politics, then there is a place in the political world for you to help make a change. Whether it is on a small scale in the local level or the large scale, as in a run for president, you can make a difference. If you desire for large-scale change then a third party might be the place for you.
Since the mid 1850’s, the Democrats and Republicans have had control of the government. The state and local levels is the only place where opposition is felt. However, in the early days of our country, third and fourth party candidates played important roles in politics. A few of these parties from our history are: Democrat-Republicans, Jefferson Republicans, Whigs and Federalists. Many other lesser known or hardly known at all were the parties of the: Socialists, Unionists, Farmer-Laborists, Progressives, Communists, States’ Rights, American Independents, Libertarians, New Alliance, Populists, Consumers, National Economic Recovery, Right to Life, Workers league, Socialist Workers, Peace and Freedom, Prohibitionists, Workers World, American, Grassroots, Independent and Third World Assembly. This immense list goes to show that not all American history has been two party. Today the list of parties is as extensive with parties like: Reform, Green, Constitution, Grassroots, Socialist, Socialist Workers, Workers World, Libertarians, Natural Law, Prohibitionist, American Republican Party and many more.
What we know today as Democrats and Republicans derived from some of the early parties. The emergence of the parties has come mainly as a reaction to history where most of the rulers have been dictators or kings. The people do not favor dictatorship and therefore created political parties to better represent the feelings of the voters (Madron, 1974). This is not a time of a dictatorship and we have achieved representative democracy. We have evolved as a nation and have grown out of the need for political parties for information on issues and candidates. The 1992 Presidential election was a definite sign that the usefulness of political parties is crumbling. The Democrats came out on top, followed by the Republicans, however, a third party candidate, Ross Perot, emerged and ended the race with nearly 10,000,000 popular votes. Perot made himself out to be the only one who could clean up the mess in Washington, and came through with an impressive finish (Wolfson, 1994). From this example, it is obvious that the way we know political parties, or perhaps political parties as a whole, are being phased out by the people. This is also evident in the percentage of voters that vote for third party candidates in the past few decades. The world in which we live is constantly changing and getting faster and more efficient at making news readily available to the people. Back in the times before radio, TV, the Internet and e-mail, people had to find out somehow about politics. The main source of their information came from political parties to educate them as to who was running and what they stood for and believed in (Carlin, 1992). Now, if someone needs information on some kind of politics, they can simply turn on C-Span, surf the ever-expanding net, or write an e-mail to a congressman or legislator. Another strike against political parties is evident. Lately, politicians have had their way in separating themselves from the voters whom they are supposed to represent. A greater gap is growing between the two. Voters do not like being just a number. One Democratic voter was quoted as saying, “We didn’t choose to abandon the Democratic Party in its hour of need; the party chose to abandon us”. (Ehrenreich, 2000) The basis of democracy, in case some have forgotten, is equal representation for all people. By separating themselves from the voters, politicians are only creating a stronger case for third parties and their candidates.
How voters choose who to vote for depends on the candidates and the unique situations that exist during the year of the election. Voter loyalty is only as strong as the situation. If voters think that the parties are failing them, there is a high degree of probability that a third party candidate will emerge and voters will support them. There were vital issues during the election year of 1992. The country was in an economic downturn and the national debt was at an all time high. The amount of votes cast for the third party candidate (H. Ross Perot) was almost 19 percent. These kinds of situations are not geared toward doctrine or ideology. Instead, they tend to be organized around a dissenting movement or around a powerful leader. This sort of third party situation is best exemplified by the most successful third party presidential campaign of the last century. It was Theodore Roosevelt, ex-president who ran as the candidate for the “Bull Moose” Progressive Party. Four years after he left the White House he believed that he was cheated out of the Republican nomination. He united reformers and Republicans to a second place finish with over 27 percent of the popular vote. However, four years later Roosevelt, for his own political reasons, chose to endorse Charles Evans Hughes, the 1916 GOP nominee. Without the dynamic presence of Theodore Roosevelt, the Bull Moose effort died.
Most look at politics as left side or right side of the issues. This is not the same point of view of the third party candidates. The third party candidates that have been successful usually talk about trying to purify the system in some way. They talk about the system as hopelessly corrupt. They promote that you need to clean it up one way or another. It is no coincidence that H. Ross Perot during the 1992 presidential election vowed to “clean out the stables”, if the American people elected him to the White House. Portraying images of corruption were a part of the Perot’s agenda. Then again, in 1996, when he went to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania to launch his second run for the presidency, he denounced the two-party system and vowed to “kill that little snake this time”. Issues then should not be looked so much as left verses right, but clean verses dirty.
Third parties in America and their candidates do two major things for the public. First, they take the ideas that the major parties will not address and give citizens a vehicle to make the issues popular. Almost always the major party candidates will them have to address them and they sometimes will even adopt the as their own. Second, they give citizens a vehicle to express their feelings of dissatisfaction with the major parties.
The constraints against third parties are such that the way in which a third party can be successful is maybe not to try to win the presidential election. I believe that the way to win is by systematically becoming viable for the long term. This would include a goal to start small. First, set a goal to get members into congress and start to develop a voting record. Next would be a goal that for each presidential election to maintain at least 5 percent of the votes to qualify for federal funding in the next presidential election. Lastly, By staying close to those who elected you and not vote against their desires. Building is the key to grow and become a viable party in the future.
Carlin, David R. Commonwealth. “Lessons From November: Fraying The Bonds”. December 18, 1992
Ehrenreich, Barbara. Not Getting By in Boom-Time America, New York Times, October 26, 2000.
Madron, Thomas W. and Chelf, Carl P. Political Parties in the United States. Boston: Holbrook Press, Inc., 1974
Rosenstone, Steven J. et al. Third Parties in America. Princeton University Press, 1996