In America over 34% of registered voters are registered as independents. While only 33% identify as Democrats and 29% identify as Republicans. Yet since 1853 either a Republican or a Democrat has been president. In addition no third party candidate has ever been elected to the office of the presidency, despite their best efforts. Third party candidates are a different type of candidate that has to employ different tactics to get over obstacles and make their opinions heard. Since the birth of America’s two party system third party candidates have tried to run without being a Republican and Democrat, and none have succeeded.
Some had little influence in the elections outcome and some have change the outcome. America’s two party system dates back to the very beginning of the country. The first two parties were the Federalist and the Democratic Republicans. They fought over the basic principles of America that we are now familiar with (Smith). These parties help power for a little while until their parties positions were no longer relevant. This is when the parties we know today started to emerge. In 1854 the Republican Party was founded and grew influential because of their position of anti-slavery (Smith).
This is how many new parties were born, they take a stance on one issue and grow their support. With these new parties rising and falling after a couple of years, it wasn’t until the early 1900s that the two party system finally stabilized and third parties started to challenge the Republicans and Democrats. The first person to challenge the third party system and did so successfully was President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1912 Roosevelt lost the Republican nomination, he founded the Progressive party (nicknamed the Bull Moose Party).
He challenged the Republican nominee William Howard Taft and Democratic nominee Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt received 28% of the popular vote and received 88 electoral votes (World Almanac). Roosevelt has been the only third party candidate to receive more votes and a major party. However, Woodrow Wilson easily won the election. Wilson won the election because Roosevelt’s new party was so similar to the Republican party that the Republican vote was split between Roosevelt and Taft. This left the Democratic vote whole and led to Wilson easily winning the election.
Associate Professor of Political Science at Texas Tech Seth Mckee explained it as “Roosevelt cut the Republican party vote so much that finished third”. This is a main reason why people don’t consider third parties. They believe that their vote is “wasted” and would be better used for a candidate that has a better choice of winning. A third party can be very regional and be supported by a certain voter. An example of this was third party candidate Strom Thurmond. Thurmond let the newly formed Dixiecrats.
The Dixiecrats formed because they upset with the Democratic Nominee’s (Harry S. Truman) support for civil rights. He received less than 6% of the popular vote but got 39 electoral votes, which were all southern states. His candidacy embodies the idea that third parties form in opposition to something that they disagree with. Thurmond only received support in the south because at that time many people in the south supported segregation. Another candidate that ran as a supported for segregation was George Wallace. Wallace lost the Democratic nomination in 1968 and ran as an independent he received 13. 5% of the popular vote and got 46 electoral votes.
Unlike Strom Thurmond he did not form a new party and instead ran as an independent. Again he received support from southern pro-segregation voters. Once anti-segregation laws were passed the segregation voice died out and no more third parties ran on the platform of pro-segregation. Third parties don’t just have to form around one idea. They don’t just have to appeal to one voter. One person can decide to run because they think they would do the best job at being president. An example of this is Ross Perot. Perot was a billionaire who ran in 1992.
Received 19% of the popular vote, but won no electoral votes (World Almanac). Ross Perot candidacy shows how the electoral college can squash third parties. He received more support than many third party candidate in history yet he was the farthest one from the White House because re received no electoral votes. Third parties face many obstacles in their quest for the presidency of the United States. These include such things as the lack of funds, american politics, ballot access laws, and the infamous Commission on Presidential Debates.
These obstacles are all put in place to discourage third parties from challenging the duopoly of the Republicans and Democrats. They place many roadblocks in their way to prevent them from “stealing” their votes. One of the reasons we don’t hear more from third parties is one simple reason: money. Money is needed to do everything in an election. It is needed to hire staff, buy office space, pay for filing fees and many more. Without the wealthy donors that the Republicans and Democrats have they have to rely on small donations from their supporters.
This in turn leads to a huge difference in the amount of money third parties have versus one of the two major parties. In 2016 Hillary Clinton (Democrat) Raised $315. 4 million. Donald Trump (Republican) raised $125. 2 million. Gary Johnson (Libertarian Candidate) raised $3. 0 million. Jill Stein (Green Party Candidate) raised $1. 9 million (Smith). The combined amount of money of the third parties is only 1. 1% of the combined fund of Republicans and Democrats. Another reason we don’t know a lot about third parties in the election cycle is the polarization of American political parties.
What this means is that the Republican and Democratic Parties have such wide platform of beliefs that it is hard for a third party to even create a platform on issues that is unique (Hindman). Consider this, is it easier for a major party to fight with a third party over votes? Or is it easier for the major party to incorporate the third party beliefs into it’s own platform. Of course it would be easier to incorporate their beliefs into their platform. This in turn, would “swallow up” the third party candidates support because most Americans believe that a third party cannot win.
Therefore they would vote for someone form a major party because they believe they have a better chance of winning an election. The obstacles put in the path of third party candidates have been put in place by the duopoly of the Republicans and Democrats. If a third party candidate is “stealing” votes from them, it is easy for them to change the laws and make it more difficult for the third party to be present in the election. The biggest bureaucratic hurdle put in place by this duopoly is the ballot access laws.
If you declare your intentions to run for president, you don’t automatically appear on the ballot in all fifty states. You instead have to petition in every state to appear on the ballot in that state. There are no federal ballot access laws. They are decided upon individually by each state. In Oklahoma, for example, you need 36,202 signature just to appear on the ballot (Nadar). This is over 1. 08% of the entire state population. While this doesn’t seem like a lot, you have to remember that third parties don’t have tons of money to spend.
The collection of these signatures usually entails volunteers going around door to door. , and that is just to appear on the ballot. If you don’t receive enough signatures, then you are out of luck, because Oklahoma doesn’t allow write-in votes (Nadar). So if you don’t get 36,202 signatures they you can’t receive any votes in that state. In Virginia you have to collect 10,000 signatures, you need 400 from each congressional district. Also, the petitioners can only petition in the country they live in or one adjacent county (Nadar).
This means that third parties need o find volunteers willing to go door to door in every county. In order to appear on the ballot in Texas you need 37,713 signatures in only a seventy-five day period. Also, those who sign the petition could not have votes in the state primary (Nadar). The primaries aren’t even organized by the government they are organized by the political party and have nothing to do with the national government. These kind of ballot access laws put in place by the state government serve no purpose other than to halt third party movements and keep their votes secure for any upcoming elections.
These language of these petitions are also a obstacle to overcome. In North Carolina you need to receive 51,324 signatures by May 15th of that election year. The petition has to say “the signers of this petition agree to organize a new political party” (Nadar). Most Americans won’t be comfortable signing a petition that ties them to a newly established party. This would discourage people from signing the petition and third parties would even be included in the ballot in that state. The major parties even get perks in ballot access laws.
In Illinois a “new party’ needs 25,000 signatures to appear on a ballot, while an “established party” only need 5,000 signatures (Nadar). A party that has less supporters needs five times the signatures that that of a party that has more supporters. This is an example yet again of the hold the duopoly has on the ballot access. Sometimes it’s not even number of signatures needed that is an obstacles to third parties. Sometimes it’s just ridiculous criteria that needs to be met. In Pennsylvania, the state requires the petition to be printed on a special colored paper (Nadar).
In Michigan the petition formed has to be on 8 12 by 13 inch paper (Nadar). These are just a few of the laws set in place that make no sense and serve no purpose. They are only there to make it harder for non-Republicans and non-Democrats to run for the highest office in the world. The last and biggest obstacle to a third party candidate is the debates. The debates are the only time that the presidential candidates get together, in front of a national audience and really talk and argue about the issues facing our country.
The debates would be a perfect platform for third parties to spread their message to the nation. The only problem is they have to get past one thing: The Commission on Presidential Debates. The Commission is an unelected body that decides who is in, and who is out of the presidential debate (Diamond). The Commission sets an impossible threshold of 15 percent of the vote in five national polls of the commission’s choosing (Hindman). No third party candidate in history has ever met the threshold of 15 percent before a debate. Ross Perot (the only third party candidate seen in a debate)