There are three things that stand out when looking at the third party issue. The first is the obstacles preventing progress are so overwhelming they seem insurmountable. The second is they have no chance without campaign finance reform and election rule changes. The third is the time is more ripe for a viable third party since they were effectively throttled in the mid nineteenth century.
I checked out a book written by Micah Sifry, titled, “Spoiling for a Fight, Third Party Politics in America” (copyright 2002), which presents and excellent overview of third party history, efforts by Ross Perot, John Anderson, Ralph Nadar, and the problems and possible solutions for third party success.
“Public opinion surveys since the 1990s consistently have shown a high level of popular support for the concept of a third party. But in spite of such support for a third party, these parties face many obstacles. The most significant is the fear among voters that if they vote for a third-party candidate, they, in effect, will be “wasting” their votes. Voters have been shown to engage in strategic voting by casting ballots for their second choice when they sense that a third-party candidate has no chance of winning.
There is evidence that third parties can have a major impact on election outcomes. For example, a third-party candidate might draw votes more votes away from the candidate of the party more closely aligned with to the position of the third-party candidate, thus enabling the other party to win the election – often without receiving a majority of the vote.”
Part of the problem is the inability of third parties to secure the experienced, prestigious candidates necessary for public attention.
“There is a striking difference between the political backgrounds of major and minor party candidates. Nearly all (97.2 percent) of the 72 major party presidential nominees between 1840 and 1980 had held the post of president, vice-president, U.S. senator, congressman, governor, military general, or cabinet secretary. Less than 20 percent of the minor party candidates had attained these positions. By now the reason for this disparity should be clear. The biases against third parties created by the single-member-district plurality system and ballot access restrictions, as well as their disadvantages in organization, resources, and media coverage, all effectively discourage qualified candidates from running under a third party label. Well-known, prestigious candidates know that a third party effort will be hopeless and can end their political careers. Only extraordinary circumstances will push established politicians (and voters) into a third party camp.”
Can you imagine if Obama had run as an independent, with enough money to present the same messages he did during his democratic campaign. Can a third party get enough quality candidates and support that could counter the two party duopoly?
“All of these constraints, of course, are interrelated. The single-member-district plurality system discourages high caliber candidates from running outside a major party; if a weak candidate runs, he will attract few campaign resources, ensuring that most citizens will learn very little about him. This in turn reinforces the belief that the third party candidate cannot win, so citizens will not waste their votes on him. The weak electoral performance is self-perpetuating. People expect third parties to do poorly because they have always done poorly, so only weak candidates run-and the cycle continues.
Together these barriers, handicaps, and major party strategies raise the level of effort required for a voter to cast his ballot for an independent candidate. A citizen can vote for a major party candidate with scarcely a moment’s thought or energy. But to support a third party challenger, a voter must awaken from the political slumber in which he ordinarily lies, actively seek out information on a contest whose outcome he cannot affect, reject the socialization of his political system, ignore the ridicule and abuse of his friends and neighbors, and accept the fact that when the ballots are counted, his vote will never be in the winner’s column. Such levels of energy are witnessed only rarely in American politics.”
The plutocratic two party system forced on the American people is a machine that may be too large to seriously challenge. As Sifry stated in his conclusion, “There are no shortcuts”. Creating a third party that can compete on the national stage and have influence on the key issues we face will take serious, long term efforts at the local and state levels resulting in elected candidates at all levels. Without that, the corporate owned duopoly won’t be particularly concerned.