I have long wished for a third US political party. Although I mostly agree with the Democratic Party on issues, in my view, the party’s unelected leadership is largely incompetent and strategically clueless. On the other hand, I believe the Republican Party is just flat-out crazy!
With a third party in Congress, it’s unlikely that a single party could hold a majority. That means that, in order to govern, the majority party would have to rely on votes from the other parties. It could permanently end ideological stand-offs. Congressional representatives might have to actually do what they were elected to do…to represent their constituents.
Unfortunately, I believe the chances of a viable third party are slim and none.
It’s not enough for a third party to field candidates for president and Congress. To be truly viable, a third party would need to field candidates for governors, legislators, county commissioners, sheriffs and even school boards. Even more important, it would take organization at every level. It would take volunteers to help get the candidates’ names on the ballots and volunteers to help turn out the votes. It would take extensive, and expensive, media campaigns. And it would take donations – not just from activists – from lobbyists, organizations, corporations, PACs, and billionaires.
It’s impossible to imagine that a third party can accomplish all of that over one or two voting cycles. Or even over a period of one or two decades.
Until a third party can claw its way up to an equal footing with the two major parties, votes for third party presidential candidates tend to benefit those candidates who are most ideologically opposed to the beliefs of third-party voters.
For example, the votes recorded for the Green Party (environmental) candidate in 2016, Jill Stein, likely came from voters more aligned with the beliefs of Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. In reality, by withholding their votes from Clinton, the Stein voters helped elect an administration that is methodically destroying environmental protections of all kinds.
Another obstacle for a third party is the difficulty in creating a policy platform broad enough to appeal to a large group of voters. Too many voters are focused on a single issue – the environment, education, immigration, taxes, abortion, limited government, etc. Even the two major parties have struggled with that.
For many years, the GOP was merely the opposition party until the billionaires and multinational corporations who benefit from the party’s economic policies were able to coalesce voters (primarily Southern and rural voters) around social issues such as abortion and fear of the “other” (blacks, immigrants, and Muslims).
Likewise, the Democrats have struggled to maintain and inspire their diverse base of voters fighting for civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, abortion rights, education, health care, and economic fairness. Depending upon the candidate, the party has a difficult time turning out its supporters for many elections – in effect, handing those elections to Republicans.
In reality, it is more likely that we can enact real change by dropping the dream of a third party and work to change the existing parties from within. That means getting involved and making our voices heard. It means speaking up for the issues that are important to you. It means donating to a party and its candidates. It means holding the party accountable. It means voting – not just in the general elections, but in the primary elections, too. And, most of all, it means a willingness to compromise – to not make the perfect the enemy of the good.
Without the involvement of a large majority of eligible voters, it’s all too likely that we’ll continue to be governed by oligarchs, ideologues, the unqualified and the unprepared.