Third Parties: Always on the Horizon


The Hill gathers an august panel of politics watchers to muse on whether election 2009 shows there's gas in the ol' rusty Third Party tank. Some observations, from the realistic to the conspiratorial to a practical suggestion for change:

David Boaz: "…the two parties have pretty well locked up the political system. The noted political scientist Theodore Lowi wrote back in 1992, "One of the best-kept secrets in American politics is that the two-party system has long been brain dead -- kept alive by support systems such as state electoral laws that protect the established parties from rivals and by federal subsidies and so-called campaign reform. The two-party system would collapse in an instant if the tubes were pulled and the IVs were cut." But those tubes are firmly locked in place. Ballot access rules, campaign finance regulations, the ban on party cross-endorsements, direct government subsidies to the major parties, and other election rules make it very difficult to launch an independent candidacy or a third party."

John F. McManus, president of the The John Birch Society: "In 1966, Georgetown University Professor Carroll Quigley….wrote: "Instead, the two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can 'throw the rascals out' at any election without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy."  This is surely what has occurred at the top of the two major political parties. It would be helpful to America if voters would seek alternatives to the Dems and Reps at all levels.  But public awareness of political realities, while steadily increasing, is still far from where it ought to be to effect a needed return to the principles that made our nation great."

Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote: "It's time for policymakers to acknowledge Americans' growing restlessness with the major parties. That's why in the long-term, elections in Minnesota's twin cities may have more influence on our politics than this week's higher-profile races. In Minneapolis, instant runoff voting (IRV) earned high praise in its first use for elections for mayor and city council, while neighboring St. Paul became the latest city to adopt IRV, joining Memphis, Oakland and San Francisco…

We should expect rising totals for third parties and independents -- and without IRV, more frustrated voters and distorted outcomes. In New Jersey, support for independent Chris Daggett plunged primarily because of voter fears that a vote for him would be "wasted" and "spoil" the election, as indeed Jon Corzine's campaign apparently was counting on. In such multi-candidate races, IRV upholds majority rule by allowing voters to rank candidates in order of choice and using those rankings to simulate a traditional two-round runoff if no candidate wins a majority."

Past Reason magazine pieces by me on third parties as consumption expenditure and on the promise of ballot fusion.