At least 60% of Americans say a third is needed in the United States. Young citizens are increasingly reluctant to join the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. More and more Americans consider themselves independents and, like here in Colorado, are registering as unaffiliated voters.
Popular Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm, who died a year ago, was elected Democratic governor three times. Yet he defected to Ross Perot’s Reform Party in the 1990s, saying his former party – the Democratic Party – had become too influenced by special interest groups such as litigators, teachers’ unions and others. Lamm ran unsuccessfully for the Reform Party’s presidential nomination in 1996.
Lamm co-wrote a novel, titled “1988,” with a protagonist who was an equally disenchanted former Democratic governor of Texas. This fictitious governor defended a third “middle way”.
A “moderate party” has recently emerged in New Jersey. It is mostly made up of Republican Party dissidents who argue their former political party has been hijacked by right-wing conspiracy theories that deny Donald Trump was defeated in 2020 when he ran for re-election.
Republican Colorado State Senator Kevin Priola, who has two years left to serve, defected to the Democratic Party last month saying “I can’t continue to be part of a political party that is agreement with a violent attempt to overturn a free and fair election.” U.S. Representative from Wyoming, Liz Cheney, was defeated in her renomination bid for feeling the same way. There is talk of her as a potential one-third candidate for president in 2024. That’s unlikely. Cheney says my party is sick, but I’m still a Republican.
Andrew Yang, a businessman who rallied supporters two years ago when he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination and, to a lesser extent, when he later ran for mayor of New York is trying to organize a national third party.
For more than a decade, a well-meaning effort by mostly suburban moderates has organized a third-party initiative misnamed “No Labels.” They rightly believe that an imaginative and hard-hitting centrist third party could win in 2024. If the main contenders are Donald Trump against Bernie Sanders, they might be right.
Is a new third party, or even a multiparty system, needed to inject more common sense and reason into our current old two-party political system?
“We usually have two parties bankrupting the country,” says political scientist Larry Diamond. “Indeed, our two-party system is ossified, lacking integrity and creativity and any sense of courage or lofty aspiration to confront our problems.”
Others say we have been underserved by the existing bipartisan arrangement. We need, writes New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, a tough third party who would propose serious education reform without worrying about teachers’ unions; “Financial reform without worrying about losing Wall Street donations; corporate tax cuts to boost employment without worrying about offending the left; reform energy and climate without worrying about offending the right and the coal democrats; and appropriate health care reform without worrying about offending insurers and drug companies.
The problem, critics say, is that the two mainstream parties are so intertwined with well-organized, well-funded and invested stakeholders that a crippling stalemate has created a timid and virtually inactive government. It has also led to unreasonable and dangerous partisan drift.
Political scientist Lee Drutman writes that the two-party system may have served us well in the 1950s and 1960s, when the two main parties were relatively moderate and centrist. But in the 2020s, the parties turned more left and right, respectively. Impasse is more common than creative compromise.
Drutman advocates a multiparty system because he believes it provides more diversity and representation: “Multiparty democracy regularizes compromise and coalition building. Since parties must work together to govern, more points of view are likely to be taken into account. According to him, policies would be more broadly inclusive and legitimate.
Skeptics of the idea of a multiparty system for the United States point the finger at Italy and Israel. Both of these countries have multi-party systems and regularly experience major difficulties maintaining a coalition and maintaining a stable government. These skeptics often add that, unlike Italy or Israel, the United States is much larger and more diverse. Our two major parties have generally served to harmonize and moderate disparate factions into a politically viable governing coalition.
Drutman and other proponents of institutional reform also recommend adopting preferential voting procedures to go along with a multiparty system. Preferential voting allows voters to rank their choices. Voters list their first choice first, second choice second, and so on. The votes are counted. If a candidate has a majority of votes for first place, that candidate wins.
Yet, if no candidate has a majority, second-choice preferences kick in. The candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated, and voters who had ranked that candidate first have their vote transferred to their second-choice . This process is followed until one candidate wins an absolute majority.
Maine, Alaska and New York passed this electoral reform, as did several other cities. It’s a more complicated system, and it lengthens the time it takes to count the votes. Centrist pundits like New York Times columnist David Brooks and The Economist magazine favor it because they think it favors moderates. Others complain that there’s too much gambling involved and it’s rigged against Republicans.
Preferential voting procedures are unlikely to be widely adopted in the near future. We believe, however, that they should be experimented with in at least a few state and city labs and in party primaries. One of its attractions is that it allows voters to register their preferences without having to worry about losing their vote.
Third parties raise instructive questions and sometimes force the two major parties to explain their policies, but our two major entrenched parties and election laws have made it difficult for a third party to become a major party.
The last time a third party won the presidency was in 1860, when Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected. By then, the Republican Party had become one of the two main parties. At the time, the nation was sharply divided over the issue of slavery and the Civil War was about to begin.
State requirements for third-party candidates to be on the ballot are likely too restrictive. Additionally, our electoral college system, as currently implemented, means that while a new party may win millions of votes, it may still end up with few or none of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. the Presidency.
Americans may be frustrated with our existing political parties, but approximately 50% of Americans are registered or affiliated with these parties. Another 25% or more regularly vote with the party they lean towards.
Democrats and Republicans are generally joined by the media in predicting that a vote for one-third is a wasted vote. Or, as was the case with Ralph Nader in 2000, a one-third vote is a spoiler vote, costing one of the party’s two leading candidates the presidency. Nader no doubt siphoned off needed votes from Democrat Al Gore, who narrowly lost the White House to Republican George W. Bush.
The political reality is that third parties have limited short-term prospects. When third parties occasionally generate popular and constructive ideas, one of the main parties gradually modifies these ideas in its own platform, sometimes as soon as the next election. Richard Nixon did it with some of George Wallace’s ideas. In 1968, Wallace stole enough votes from Democrat Hubert Humphrey for Nixon to win a close race for president.
Both Republicans and Democrats embraced some of Ross Perot’s ideas. Texan businessman Perot won nearly 19% of the popular vote in 1992 as he attempted then, and again in 1996, to build a Reform Party dedicated to balanced budgets. The main result of Perot’s two presidential bids was to weaken Republican nominees George HW Bush and Bob Dole and make Democrat Bill Clinton a two-time presidential winner.
Third-party movements are nothing new. Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party transformed the 1912 election, although Roosevelt came second and helped Democrat Woodrow Wilson win the election against Republican Howard Taft.
Illinois Congressman John Anderson preached pragmatic centrist tax reform in 1980 when he challenged President Jimmy Carter (Democrat) and his challenger California Governor Ronald Reagan (Republican). Anderson is said to have “stolen” votes from Carter, contributing to a landslide victory for Reagan.
As more than one commentator has said, “Third parties are like bees. Once they sting, they die.
Our two-party system must be challenged. A vigorous multiparty system in America may well encourage people to participate more in the political process. If we place so much emphasis on market competition, wouldn’t that also be good for our seemingly ossified political system?
It is unlikely, in our view, that a magic third is the answer to our modern political problems. Still, the threat of possible third parties, and especially their creative proposals, is certainly a healthy situation. At the very least, the third parties remind the candidates of the main parties that they are not the only choices.
Our hope is that more good people in both political parties will try to recruit more moderate and sensible candidates. We also hope that good people will urge the two major political parties to devise practical policies to solve current national problems.
Politics is always contentious and progress is almost always incremental. We give three cheers to those willing to improve their political parties. We will never like our political parties, yet they are necessary vehicles for mobilizing voters, recruiting officials and formulating choices.