Third party (U.S. politics)

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Third party, or minor party, is a term used in the United States' two-party system for political parties other than the Republican and Democratic parties.

Third parties are most often encountered in presidential nominations. Third party vote splitting exceeded a president's margin of victory in three elections: 1844, 2000, and 2016. No third-party candidate has won the presidency since the Republican Party became the second major party in 1856. Since then a third-party candidate won states in five elections: 1892, 1912, 1924, 1948, and 1968. 1992 was the last time a third-party candidate won over 5% of the vote and placed second in any state.[1]

Competitiveness edit

With few exceptions,[2] the U.S. system has two major parties which have won, on average, 98% of all state and federal seats.[3] There have only been a few rare elections where a minor party was competitive with the major parties, occasionally replacing one of the major parties in the 19th century.[4][5] The winner take all system for presidential elections and the single-seat plurality voting system for Congressional elections have over time helped establish the two-party system (see Duverger's law). Although third-party candidates rarely win elections, they can have an effect on them through vote splitting and other impacts.

Notable exceptions edit

Greens, Libertarians, and others have elected state legislators and local officials. The Socialist Party elected hundreds of local officials in 169 cities in 33 states by 1912, including Milwaukee, Wisconsin; New Haven, Connecticut; Reading, Pennsylvania; and Schenectady, New York.[6] There have been governors elected as independents, and from such parties as Progressive, Reform, Farmer-Labor, Populist, and Prohibition. After losing a Republican primary in 2010, Bill Walker of Alaska won a single term in 2014 as an independent by joining forces with the democratic nominee. In 1998, wrestler Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota on the Reform Party ticket.[7]

Sometimes a national officeholder that is not a member of any party is elected. Previously, Senator Lisa Murkowski won re-election in 2010 as a write-in candidate after losing the Republican primary to a Tea party candidate, and Senator Joe Lieberman ran and won reelection to the Senate as an "Independent Democrat" in 2006 after losing the Democratic primary.[8][9] As of 2023, there are only three U.S. senators, Angus King, Bernie Sanders and Kyrsten Sinema, who identify as Independent and all caucus with the Democrats.[10] Sinema may have left the Democratic Party in 2022 because she thought she could not win a democratic primary race in 2024.[11]

The last time a third-party candidate carried any states in a presidential race was George Wallace in 1968, while the last third-party candidate to finish runner-up or greater was former president Teddy Roosevelt's 2nd-place finish on the Bull Moose Party ticket in 1912.[1] The only three U.S. presidents without a major party affiliation upon election were George Washington, John Tyler, and Andrew Johnson, and only Washington served his entire tenure as an independent. Neither of the other two were ever elected president in their own right, both being vice presidents who ascended to office upon the death of the president, and both became independents because they were unpopular with their parties. John Tyler was elected on the Whig ticket in 1840 with William Henry Harrison, but was expelled by his own party. Johnson was the running mate for Abraham Lincoln, who was reelected on the National Union ticket in 1864; it was a temporary name for the Republican Party.

Barriers to third party success edit

The presidential election results for all Libertarian Party candidates from 1972 to 2020.

Winner-take-all vs. proportional representation edit

In winner-take-all (or plurality voting), the candidate with the largest number of votes wins, even if the margin of victory is extremely narrow or the proportion of votes received is not a majority. Unlike in proportional representation, runners-up do not gain representation in a first-past-the-post system. In the United States, systems of proportional representation are uncommon, especially above the local level and are entirely absent at the national level (even though states like Maine have introduced systems like ranked-choice voting, which ensures that the voice of third party voters is heard in case none of the candidates receives a majority of preferences).[12] In Presidential elections, the majority requirement of the Electoral College, and the Constitutional provision for the House of Representatives to decide the election if no candidate receives a majority, serves as a further disincentive to third party candidacies.

In the United States, if an interest group is at odds with its traditional party, it has the option of running sympathetic candidates in primaries. Candidates failing in the primary may form or join a third party. Because of the difficulties third parties face in gaining any representation, third parties tend to exist to promote a specific issue or personality. Often, the intent is to force national public attention on such an issue. Then, one or both of the major parties may rise to commit for or against the matter at hand, or at least weigh in. H. Ross Perot eventually founded a third party, the Reform Party, to support his 1996 campaign. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt made a spirited run for the presidency on the Progressive Party ticket, but he never made any efforts to help Progressive congressional candidates in 1914, and in the 1916 election, he supported the Republicans.

Micah Sifry argues that despite years of discontentment with the two major parties in the United States, third parties should try to arise organically at the local level in places where ranked-choice voting and other more democratic systems can build momentum, rather than starting with the presidency, a proposition incredibly unlikely to succeed.[13]

Spoiler effect edit

Strategic voting often leads to a third-party that underperforms its poll numbers with voters wanting to make sure their vote helps determine the winner. In response, some third-party candidates express ambivalence about which major party they prefer and their possible role as spoiler[14] or deny the possibility.[15] The US presidential elections most consistently cited as having been spoiled by third-party candidates are 1844, 2000, and 2016.[16][17][18][19][20][21] This phenomenon becomes more controversial when a third-party candidate receives help from supporters of another candidate hoping they play a spoiler role.[22][23][24]

Ballot access laws edit

Nationally, ballot access laws require candidates to pay registration fees and provide signatures if a party has not garnered a certain percentage of votes in previous elections.[25] In recent presidential elections, Ross Perot appeared on all 50 state ballots as an independent in 1992 and the candidate of the Reform Party in 1996. Perot, a billionaire, was able to provide significant funds for his campaigns. Patrick Buchanan appeared on all 50 state ballots in the 2000 election, largely on the basis of Perot's performance as the Reform Party's candidate four years prior. The Libertarian Party has appeared on the ballot in at least 46 states in every election since 1980, except for 1984 when David Bergland gained access in only 36 states. In 1980, 1992, 1996, 2016, and 2020 the party made the ballot in all 50 states and D.C. The Green Party gained access to 44 state ballots in 2000 but only 27 in 2004. The Constitution Party appeared on 42 state ballots in 2004. Ralph Nader, running as an independent in 2004, appeared on 34 state ballots. In 2008, Nader appeared on 45 state ballots and the D.C. ballot.

Debate rules edit

Presidential debates between the nominees of the two major parties first occurred in 1960, then after three cycles without debates, resumed in 1976. Third party or independent candidates have been in debates in only two cycles. Ronald Reagan and John Anderson debated in 1980, but incumbent President Carter refused to appear with Anderson, and Anderson was excluded from the subsequent debate between Reagan and Carter. Independent Ross Perot was included in all three of the debates with Republican George H. W. Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992, largely at the behest of the Bush campaign.[citation needed] His participation helped Perot climb from 7% before the debates to 19% on Election Day.[26]

Perot did not make the 1996 debates.[27] In 2000, revised debate access rules made it even harder for third-party candidates to gain access by stipulating that, besides being on enough state ballots to win an Electoral College majority, debate participants must clear 15% in pre-debate opinion polls. This rule has continued being in effect as of 2008.[28][29] The 15% criterion, had it been in place, would have prevented Anderson and Perot from participating in the debates in which they appeared. Debates in other state and federal elections often exclude independent and third-party candidates, and the Supreme Court has upheld this practice in several cases. The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is a private company.[30]

Major parties adopt third-party platforms edit

They can draw attention to issues that may be ignored by the majority parties. If such an issue finds acceptance with the voters, one or more of the major parties may adopt the issue into its own party platform. A third-party candidate will sometimes strike a chord with a section of voters in a particular election, bringing an issue to national prominence and amount a significant proportion of the popular vote. Major parties often respond to this by adopting this issue in a subsequent election. After 1968, under President Nixon the Republican Party adopted a "Southern Strategy" to win the support of conservative Democrats opposed to the Civil Rights Movement and resulting legislation and to combat local third parties. This can be seen as a response to the popularity of segregationist candidate George Wallace who gained 13.5% of the popular vote in the 1968 election for the American Independent Party. In 1996, both the Democrats and the Republicans agreed to deficit reduction on the back of Ross Perot's popularity in the 1992 election. This severely undermined Perot's campaign in the 1996 election.[citation needed]

However, changing positions can be costly for a major party. For example, in the US 2000 Presidential election Magee predicts that Gore shifted his positions to the left to account for Nader, which lost him some valuable centrist voters to Bush.[31] In cases with an extreme minor candidate, not changing positions can help to reframe the more competitive candidate as moderate, helping to attract the most valuable swing voters from their top competitor while losing some voters on the extreme to the less competitive minor candidate.[32]

Current U.S. third parties edit

Currently, the Libertarian and Green parties are the largest in the U.S. after the Republican and Democratic parties. Shown here are signs of their 2016 campaigns, respectively.

Largest edit

Top 5 U.S. political parties by registration (2022)
Party No. registrations[33] % registered voters[33]
Democratic Party 47,130,651 38.73%
Republican Party 36,019,694 29.60%
Libertarian Party 732,865 0.6%
Green Party 234,120 0.19%
Constitution Party 128,914 0.11%

Smaller parties (listed by ideology) edit

This section includes only parties that have actually run candidates under their name in recent years.

Right-wing edit

This section includes any party that advocates positions associated with American conservatism, including both Old Right and New Right ideologies.

State-only right-wing parties edit

Centrist edit

This section includes any party that is independent, populist, or any other that either rejects left–right politics or does not have a party platform.

State-only centrist parties edit

Left-wing edit

This section includes any party that has a left-liberal, progressive, social democratic, democratic socialist, or Marxist platform.

State-only left-wing parties edit

Ethnic nationalism edit

This section includes parties that primarily advocate for granting special privileges or consideration to members of a certain race, ethnic group, religion etc.

Also included in this category are various parties found in and confined to Native American reservations, almost all of which are solely devoted to the furthering of the tribes to which the reservations were assigned. An example of a particularly powerful tribal nationalist party is the Seneca Party that operates on the Seneca Nation of New York's reservations.[34]

Secessionist parties edit

This section includes parties that primarily advocate for Independence from the United States. (Specific party platforms may range from left wing to right wing).

Single-issue/protest-oriented edit

This section includes parties that primarily advocate single-issue politics (though they may have a more detailed platform) or may seek to attract protest votes rather than to mount serious political campaigns or advocacy.

State-only parties edit

Third-party presidential election results (1992–present) edit

Only the top 3 third-party candidates by popular vote are listed.

1992 edit

Candidate Party Votes Percentage Best state percentage
Ross Perot Independent 19,743,821
Maine: 30.44%
Andre Verne Marrou Libertarian 290,087
Bo Gritz Populist 106,152
Utah: 3.84%

1996 edit

Candidate Party Votes Percentage Best state percentage
Ross Perot Reform 8,085,294
Maine: 14.19%
Ralph Nader Green 684,871
Oregon: 3.59%
Harry Browne Libertarian 485,759
Arizona: 1.02%

2000 edit

Candidate Party Votes Percentage Best state percentage
Ralph Nader Green 2,882,955
Alaska: 10.07%
Pat Buchanan Reform 448,895
Harry Browne Libertarian 384,431
Georgia: 1.40%

2004 edit

Candidate Party Votes Percentage Best state percentage
Ralph Nader Independent 465,650
Alaska: 1.62%
Michael Badnarik Libertarian 397,265
Indiana: 0.73%
Michael Peroutka Constitution 143,630
Utah: 0.74%

2008 edit

Candidate Party Votes Percentage Best state percentage
Ralph Nader Independent 739,034
Maine: 1.45%
Bob Barr Libertarian 523,715
Indiana: 1.06%
Chuck Baldwin Constitution 199,750
Utah: 1.26%

2012 edit

Candidate Party Votes Percentage Best state percentage
Gary Johnson Libertarian 1,275,971
New Mexico: 3.60%
Jill Stein Green 469,627
Oregon/Maine: 1.10%
Virgil Goode Constitution 122,389
Wyoming: 0.58%

2016 edit

Candidate Party Votes Percentage Best state percentage
Gary Johnson Libertarian 4,489,341
New Mexico: 9.34%
Jill Stein Green 1,457,218
Hawaii: 2.97%
Evan McMullin Independent 731,991
Utah: 21.54%

2020 edit

Candidate Party Votes Percentage Best state percentage
Jo Jorgensen Libertarian 1,865,535
Howie Hawkins Green 407,068
Maine: 1.00%
Rocky De La Fuente Alliance 88,241
California: 0.34%

2024 edit

In 2023 and 2024, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has polled higher than any third-party presidential candidate since Ross Perot[35] in the 1992 and 1996 elections.[36][37][38]

References edit

  1. ^ a b O'Neill, Aaron (June 21, 2022). "U.S. presidential elections: third-party performance 1892-2020". Statista. Retrieved May 25, 2023.
  2. ^ Arthur Meier Schlesinger, ed. History of US political parties (5 vol. Chelsea House Pub, 2002).
  3. ^ Masket, Seth (Fall 2023). "Giving Minor Parties a Chance". Democracy. 70.
  4. ^ Blake, Aaron (November 25, 2021). "Why are there only two parties in American politics?". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved September 25, 2023.
  5. ^ Riker, William H. (December 1982). "The Two-party System and Duverger's Law: An Essay on the History of Political Science". American Political Science Review. 76 (4): 753–766. doi:10.1017/s0003055400189580. JSTOR 1962968. Retrieved April 12, 2020.
  6. ^ Nichols, John (2011). The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition. Verso. p. 104. ISBN 9781844676798.
  7. ^ Kettle, Martin (February 12, 2000). "Ventura quits Perot's Reform party". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on December 16, 2017. Retrieved December 31, 2018.
  8. ^ "Senator Lisa Murkowski wins Alaska write-in campaign". Reuters. November 18, 2010. Archived from the original on November 16, 2018. Retrieved December 31, 2018.
  9. ^ Zeller, Shawn. "Crashing the Lieberman Party - New York Times". Archived from the original on September 21, 2018. Retrieved December 31, 2018.
  10. ^ "Justin Amash Becomes the First Libertarian Member of Congress". April 29, 2020. Archived from the original on October 10, 2021. Retrieved May 13, 2020.
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  12. ^ Naylor, Brian (October 7, 2020). "How Maine's Ranked-Choice Voting System Works". National Public Radio. Archived from the original on November 26, 2020. Retrieved December 4, 2020.
  13. ^ Sifry, Micah L. (February 2, 2018). "Why America Is Stuck With Only Two Parties". The New Republic. ISSN 0028-6583. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  14. ^ Selk, Avi (November 25, 2021). "Analysis | Green Party candidate says he might be part alien, doesn't care if he's a spoiler in Ohio election". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  15. ^ Means, Marianne (February 4, 2001). "Opinion: Goodbye, Ralph". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Archived from the original on May 26, 2002.
  16. ^ Green, Donald J. (2010). Third-party matters: politics, presidents, and third parties in American history. Santa Barbara, Calif: Praeger. pp. 153–154. ISBN 978-0-313-36591-1.
  17. ^ Devine, Christopher J.; Kopko, Kyle C. (September 1, 2021). "Did Gary Johnson and Jill Stein Cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency? A Counterfactual Analysis of Minor Party Voting in the 2016 US Presidential Election". The Forum. 19 (2): 173–201. doi:10.1515/for-2021-0011. ISSN 1540-8884. S2CID 237457376.
  18. ^ Herron, Michael C.; Lewis, Jeffrey B. (April 24, 2006). "Did Ralph Nader spoil Al Gore's Presidential bid? A ballot-level study of Green and Reform Party voters in the 2000 Presidential election". Quarterly Journal of Political Science. 2 (3). Now Publishing Inc.: 205–226. doi:10.1561/100.00005039. Pdf.
  19. ^ Burden, Barry C. (September 2005). "Ralph Nader's Campaign Strategy in the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election". American Politics Research. 33 (5): 672–699. doi:10.1177/1532673x04272431. ISSN 1532-673X. S2CID 43919948.
  20. ^ Roberts, Joel (July 27, 2004). "Nader to crash Dems' party?". CBS News.
  21. ^ Haberman, Maggie et al (September 22, 2020) "How Republicans Are Trying to Use the Green Party to Their Advantage." New York Times. (Retrieved September 24, 2020.)
  22. ^ Haberman, Maggie; Hakim, Danny; Corasaniti, Nick (September 22, 2020). "How Republicans Are Trying to Use the Green Party to Their Advantage". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 21, 2023.
  23. ^ Schreckinger, Ben (June 20, 2017). "Jill Stein Isn't Sorry". POLITICO Magazine. Retrieved June 7, 2023.
  24. ^ "Russians launched pro-Jill Stein social media blitz to help Trump, reports say". NBC News. December 22, 2018. Retrieved May 11, 2023.
  25. ^ Amato, Theresa (December 4, 2009). "The two party ballot suppresses third party change". The Record. Harvard Law. Archived from the original on June 23, 2012. Retrieved April 16, 2012. Today, as in 1958, ballot access for minor parties and Independents remains convoluted and discriminatory. Though certain state ballot access statutes are better, and a few Supreme Court decisions (Williams v. Rhodes, 393 U.S. 23 (1968), Anderson v. Celebrezze, 460 U.S. 780 (1983)) have been generally favorable, on the whole, the process—and the cumulative burden it places on these federal candidates—may be best described as antagonistic. The jurisprudence of the Court remains hostile to minor party and Independent candidates, and this antipathy can be seen in at least a half dozen cases decided since Nader's article, including Jenness v. Fortson, 403 U.S. 431 (1971), American Party of Tex. v. White, 415 U.S. 767 (1974), Munro v. Socialist Workers Party, 479 U.S. 189 (1986), Burdick v. Takushi, 504 U.S. 428 (1992), and Arkansas Ed. Television Comm'n v. Forbes, 523 U.S. 666 (1998). Justice Rehnquist, for example, writing for a 6–3 divided Court in Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, 520 U.S. 351 (1997), spells out the Court's bias for the "two-party system," even though the word "party" is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. He wrote that "The Constitution permits the Minnesota Legislature to decide that political stability is best served through a healthy two-party system. And while an interest in securing the perceived benefits of a stable two-party system will not justify unreasonably exclusionary restrictions, States need not remove all the many hurdles third parties face in the American political arena today." 520 U.S. 351, 366–67.
  26. ^ "What Happened in 1992?", Open Debates, archived from the original on April 15, 2013, retrieved December 20, 2007
  27. ^ "What Happened in 1996?", Open Debates, archived from the original on April 15, 2013, retrieved December 20, 2007
  28. ^ "The 15 Percent Barrier", Open Debates, archived from the original on April 15, 2013, retrieved December 20, 2007
  29. ^ Commission on Presidential Debates Announces Sites, Dates, Formats and Candidate Selection Criteria for 2008 General Election, Commission on Presidential Debates, November 19, 2007, archived from the original on November 19, 2008, retrieved December 20, 2007
  30. ^ Lister, J (September 1980), "1980 Debates", The New England Journal of Medicine, 303 (13), Commission on Presidential Debates: 741–44, doi:10.1056/NEJM198009253031307, PMID 6157090, archived from the original on January 1, 2008, retrieved December 20, 2007
  31. ^ Magee, Christopher S. P. (2003). "Third-Party Candidates and the 2000 Presidential Election". Social Science Quarterly. 84 (3): 574–595. doi:10.1111/1540-6237.8403006. ISSN 0038-4941. JSTOR 42955889.
  32. ^ Wang, Austin Horng-En; Chen, Fang-Yu (2019). "Extreme Candidates as the Beneficent Spoiler? Range Effect in the Plurality Voting System". Political Research Quarterly. 72 (2): 278–292. doi:10.1177/1065912918781049. ISSN 1065-9129. JSTOR 45276909. S2CID 54056894.
  33. ^ a b Winger, Richard (December 27, 2022). "December 2022 Ballot Access News Print Edition". Ballot Access News. Retrieved March 19, 2023.
  34. ^ Herbeck, Dan (November 15, 2011). Resentments abound in Seneca power struggle Archived November 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. The Buffalo News. Retrieved November 16, 2011.
  35. ^ Nuzzi, Olivia (November 22, 2023). "The Mind-Bending Politics of RFK Jr". Intelligencer. Archived from the original on March 6, 2024. Retrieved March 6, 2024. The general election is now projected to be a three-way race between Biden, Trump, and their mutual, Kennedy, with a cluster of less popular third-party candidates filling out the constellation.
  36. ^ Benson, Samuel (November 2, 2023). "RFK Jr.'s big gamble". Deseret News. Archived from the original on November 21, 2023. Retrieved November 21, 2023. Early polls show Kennedy polling in the teens or low 20s
  37. ^ Enten, Harry (November 11, 2023). "How RFK Jr. could change the outcome of the 2024 election". CNN. Archived from the original on November 20, 2023. Retrieved November 21, 2023.
  38. ^ Collins, Eliza (March 26, 2024). "RFK Jr. to Name Nicole Shanahan as Running Mate for Presidential Bid". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on March 26, 2024. Retrieved March 26, 2024.

Further reading edit