Campaigns/Elections

Americans Elect: Maybe Americans Don't Want a Centrist Third Party

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Americans Elect, this year's very well-funded attempt to get a "centrist" presidential ticket on the ballot, is failing to generate much citizen interest (although it has already succeeded in winning ballot access in 26 states for whoever ends up winning its internet-voted nominating process.).

Time reports this week on their (lack of) progress so far:

When Americans Elect announced last July that it was pouring millions into placing a third-party presidential candidate on the ballot in all 50 states, the political world snapped to attention. Barack Obama's longtime political adviser David Axelrod revealed his concern by publicly criticizing the group, while pundits gushed. "Watch out," declared New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who wrote that Americans Elect might change politics the way the iPod changed music.   

So far, Americans Elect is looking more like the Zune than the iPod. The group canceled a May 8 online caucus after no candidate met the necessary criterion of 1,000 backers in each of 10 states….

Founded by a group of political centrists, including former investment banker Peter Ackerman, Americans Elect had a promising plan….The group had backing from well-known moderates, including former Senator David Boren of Oklahoma, a Democrat, and former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican. It also had money. Americans Elect's website alone cost $10 million, and another $15 million has gone toward its most valuable asset: ballot access….

Despite that feat, which has eluded many an independent party, an underwhelming 420,000 people have signed up with Americans Elect online…..

Still, you can't write off a well-funded outfit with national ballot access. Especially when the public is in an angry mood. Americans Elect's pollster, Doug Schoen, notes that the group's rules don't require a nomination until June. "If you can help us find a candidate," he says, "I'd be thrilled."

Whether if-nominated-he-would-serve (unlikely), the draftee with the most fans right now by many thousands at Americans Elect site is none other than current Republican candidate Ron Paul, subject of my out-very-soon book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

But lack of enthusiasm and awareness for this project is such that even Paul, who can draw 7,000 people in one city to show up to hear him, has only 9,129 people trying to draft him for this Americans Elect cause.

RealClearPolitics also has shaken its head at Americans Elect this week:

the reform group may wind up with the equivalent of a spiffy new car and no driver. Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer and progressive Salt Lake City ex-Mayor Rocky Anderson are the leading presidential candidates who signed up to run on an Americans Elect ticket [Ron Paul is a mere draftee, he's never deliberately signed up for the nomination], but they have not yet reached the requisite backing. Roemer has to attract 1,000 computer clicks from supporters in each of 10 states to progress to the online convention in June. Anderson has to capture 5,000 clicks in each of 10 states, which is the higher hurdle invented for candidates who are not big-city mayors, governors, members of Congress, big-time CEOs, or similar leaders of note….

The struggles of Americans Elect have not come as a huge surprise to the media or the political cognoscenti, even among those rooting for anything that might detox traditional party politics. In March, New York Times columnist Gail Collins described the group's concept as "delusional, in a deeply flattering way: We the people are good and pure, and if only we were allowed to just pick the best person, everything else would fall into place. And, of course, the best person cannot be the choice of one of the parties, since the parties are … the problem."

If Americans Elect could field a candidate who could attract 3 percent to 5 percent of the vote in November, which Wachtel termed "really pretty minor," the group's ballot line could be retained for independent races in many states in 2014 and 2016. 

I've blogged in March about Americans Elect using citizen donations to pay back their bigwig initial funders, and mocked a similar attempt to create a "centrist third party" last time around, Unity08.

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  1. The problem with all proposals for a “centrist third party” is that people define centrism separately. There’s a ton of people who don’t fit nicely into either of the two existing large coalitions, and who would like to take some from column A and some from column B. However, they disagree about what they would take from each.

    So this is the inevitable result. Coalition is inevitable; it’s easier to change the current party alignments and coalitions than form a centrist group.

    1. Don’t we already have two “centrist” parties?

      1. Exactly.

        The squishy/apathetic centrist/moderates are already courted obsequiously by the two majors. That market is fully penetrated.

        I always assumed this was a Dem black bag op anyway, to try to strip votes away from the Repubs.

        1. That market is fully penetrated.

          In more ways than one.

        2. squishy = practical
          apathetic = disguisted

        3. My thinking, too. Kill all Republicans!

        4. The narcissism of small differences allows people to pretend that the two parties are very different. They are different, but it’s a matter of degree on various issues, not nearly as large as people claim.

          Serves the purpose of keeping extremists voting for one team or the other.

          1. The most significant differences are rhetorical, though I will say that the Republicans seem slightly less eager to commit economic suicide than the Democrats. But that’s a quibble.

            1. Depends on what you mean by “economic suicide”.

              The Democrats make no secret of their desire to grow government, and to pay for it as well.

              The Republicans grow government just as much, but they don’t like to pay for it.

              I can’t decide which is worse.

              1. Why bother? They both hate freedom, limited government, fiscal responsibility, and accountability.

                1. The purpose of power is to hold and increase your power.

                  1. That’s why we need an anti-government.

              2. The Democrats make no secret of their desire to grow government,

                True.

                and to pay for it as well.

                Really? Then why don’t they ever do it? Why don’t they ever raise taxes enough to pay for everything, or even propose (with an actual bill) raising taxes that high?

                Sure, they like higher taxes, but tehy are keeping their desire to actually balance the budget, even with nothing but tax increases, under a bushel.

      2. That’s what I was thinking: there’s room to squeeze someone between Romney and Obama? Maybe a guy who only supports 52 drone strikes per year, and a 35.7% top tax bracket.

    2. Does your ability to determine that people will make political party decisions based on which party will help them most and hurt them least make you a polieconomist?

  2. Here is a cute thing:

    http://s3-ec.buzzfed.com/stati…..2866-0.jpg

  3. Americans Elect’s website alone cost $10 million

    Cool, they know how to waste huge sums of money, too.

    1. What… the fuck… website of this type costs $10 million? Hardware plus design and implementation plus maintenance plus staffing? Some kind of licensing thrown in there?

      The stimulus spending tracker website, as I recall, was costing in that ballpark, but that was a government operation. It was expected to be ridiculous.

      1. The consultants. The consultants cost $10 million.

    2. I smell money laundering.

      Meanwhile…you mean to say the only people interested in jobs for moderate politicians are…moderate politicians? Who’d’ve guessed?

  4. Does anyone know what nonpartisan independent voters do want?

    You’d think someone would write a book about that.

    1. Didn’t a sentient leather jacket write a book about this very topic along with Matt Welch? I seem to recall them telling us about it once or twice.

  5. Wow, a political party without ideas, a platform, or a reason to exist? Where do I sign up?

    1. Fry: Now here’s a party I can get excited about. Sign me up!

      Voter Apathy Party Man: Sorry, not with that attitude.

      Fry: Okay then, screw it.

      Voter Apathy Party Man: Welcome aboard, brother!

      Fry: All right!

      Voter Apathy Party Man: You’re out.

      1. Fry: What do you plan to do for the working man if you get elected?

        Brain Slug Party Woman (with brain slug): Put brain slugs on them.

        Fry: Sure, you say that now

  6. This sounds like a job for John Jackson. Or Jack Johnson.

    1. I say your three cent titanium tax goes to far!

      1. And I say your three cent titanium tax doesn’t go far enough!

        1. damn, beat me by a minute.

        2. It’s time someone has the courage to stand up and say, “I’m against those things that everybody hates.”

          1. I agree with Mad Scientist, I think he’s a good man, but frankly, “I agree with everything he just said!”

      2. I say your three cent titanium tax doesn’t go far enough!

  7. I signed up for AE last year, and I’ve been monitoring it for months, wondering how they expected anyone to meet their support goals. I’m guessing they’ll have to just cut the numbers down by, oh, about an order of magnitude, for anyone to qualify. I mean, look at Paul’s numbers. He’s leading, and his #10 state still needs ~700 more people to sign up. There’s no way in hell that’s happening in a month, when the first 300 took six months.

    Meanwhile, the 5,000 supporters per state amount is purest fantasy. I think most people are either rabidly partisan, miserable outsiders (i.e. us), or just don’t give a shit. You’re never going to find 50,000 people motivated enough who aren’t already partisans of one kind or another.

  8. The two majors have such a stranglehold over the process that even a cabal of extremely well-financed and connected plutocrats can’t make a third option work.

  9. From what I read, I thought Roemer was the likely frontrunner (if only because Ron Paul is unlikely to run), indicating that this would be a moderate populist ticket.

    One would think there could logically be a four-party system with moderate liberal, conservative, populist and libertarian parties, plus more radical versions of each. At least that covers the spectrum and forces coalition building based upon the issues.

    1. I keep nursing that fantasy, as it seems the only way to defeat the mentality that “a vote for *insert third party here* is a vote for *insert name of major party candidate I don’t like here*”. If both sides have an alternative, it would seem to balance. I mean that in terms of Republican/Constitution and Democrat/Green. The LP, well, I don’t know how we fit into it.

    2. It covers the “spectrum” according to the way you classify things. Have a look via cluster analysis (as in the Times-Mirror-Whoever survey of the American electorate) and you’ll see things shake out according to criteria you might never have considered were criteria. No reason to think that exhausted the field either, because I’m suere there were plenty of things they didn’t consider in their questions either.

      Heh…”the issues”…heh.

  10. Founders of the U.S. set up a republic which was supposed to be an improvement over parliamentary systems. As the U.S. has evolved more toward a democracy, we now have the worse of both systems. A parliamentary system would be better because it more or less allows a majority to “throw all the bums out.”

  11. Defining your party as “centrist” is like hanging out a sign that reads “will compromise for votes.”

  12. What kind of website costs $10,000,000 to make?

    1. The kind that you can post words of 50 characters or more on.

  13. “But lack of enthusiasm and awareness for this project is such that even Paul, who can draw 7,000 people in one city to show up to hear him, has only 9,129 people trying to draft him for this Americans Elect cause.”

    Why would there be more trying to draft Paul? Exactly how would Ron Paul in any way fit this group’s idea of what a moderate is? Paul is an extremist (in the best sense of the word). He knows what he believes and fights for it. How could Paul be the front man of a group who get the vapors about standing for principles?

    1. Because the one principle they do believe in is letting any sufficiently large mass dictate principles to them.

  14. AE’s principal value lies in getting us to think about the “how” of political change. The appeal of the two major parties is waning because their ideologies are stale. But how can the electorate be reorganized around new sets of ideas? This is a major problem now that the two parties in existence have become such behemoths, so powerful as national bureaucratic institutions. Citizens who are discontent must either create a new party or change the ideology of one of the existing parties from inside.

    AE is appealing because it makes this difficult process seem unnecessary. It suggests that our leaders are better than our parties, which probably isn’t true. And it suggests that putting our faith in individual talent is all we need to do, whereas something far more wide-ranging, intellectual, and demanding needs to occur.

    You can’t have a president without a party, and anyone meeting AE’s conditions will be a creature of one of the existing parties, anyway. Very little would change even if AE’s initiative were to succeed! We would see a further decline in the government’s functionality.

    In the past, ideological change has typically been accomplished by outstandingly insightful party leaders who have created something new while working within the mainstream (e.g. Andrew Jackson, Ronald Reagan, FDR, Lincoln). Their efforts both rejuvenated existing parties and created new ones.

    Susan Barsy
    OUR POLITY

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