America Will Never* Have a Viable Third Party


American third-parties… has any group tried so hard, sacrificed so much, and accomplished so little?

There’s been, throughout American history, a number of third parties. You had the Free-Soil Party, the Know-Nothings, the Progressive Party (by the far the most sucessful on the basis of electoral votes), the Populist Party, the Anti-Masonic (?!) Party. Heck, even the Republicans were once a third party. Even now, we have three small third party groups with registration of over 100,000 voters. The two most famous are the Green Party (whicih could become somewhat viable if they could ever focus), the Libertarian Party, along with the lesser-known Constitution Party.

None of those parties listed above, either modern or historical, have really ammounted to much. Oh, occasionally someone from one of the parties will play spoiler in a Presidential election (like Ralph Nader in 2000 and Theodore Roosevelt in 1912), but really they never accomplish anything notable. Why?

Part of the reason is the way our system is structured. It’s a lot easier to have a third party come into some sort of power if you live in a country with, say, a parliamentary system. There, the parties each get a bit of power depending on what portion of the vote they got. In this country, it’s winner-take-all, so that makes it hard. Third party advocates will also talk about ballot access, raisining campaign funds and the difficulty of getting into the debates, which are all certainly issues.

This overlooks, however, the biggest problem with a third party in this country.

Most Americans don’t want one.

And, indeed, why should we? People bitch about the Democrats and Republicans, but much as we complain, they do generally serve the needs of 90% of the electorate. Most people are fairly middle-of-the-road; neither particularly conservative nor particularly liberal. They do, however, usually have one or two issues they feel very strongly about, and those issues will usually sway them towards one party or another. But otherwise?

About the only hope for a third party in this country would be one that is made of moderates, like Joe Lieberman, Rudy Guiliani, or Arnold Schwarzenegger. If they banded together as a group of fiscal conservatives but social liberals (though less conservative than the Libertarians and less liberal than the Greens), perhaps they could have something. Perhaps.

But the simple fact is, the current system suits most people, and why not? Between them the Democrats and Republicans cover virtually every aspect of American life. There’s not much room for a third party to fit in. That may be sad, but that’s just the way of things

* Well, probably never. If, as I said, some moderates got together, well, maybe… but I won’t hold my breath.

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