Originally printed in the Batesville Daily Guard
If there’s something that has become pretty obvious this election it’s that many, many Americans are not happy with their choices.
First, you have the major parties, the Republicans and Democrats, running two of the most unpopular candidates in history. According to RealClearPolitics.com, which averages several different polls, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is averaging 52.4 as far as unfavorability and Republican nominee Donald Trump averages 60.8 unfavorable. That isn’t a good sign for the winner of this election, as the 2018 midterm elections will probably see their party lose seats in both the House and Senate.
Sure, there are options that aren’t Democrat or Republican, the most prominent being Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party. The thing with them is that winning the presidency just isn’t that realistic.
Of course, a lot of that can be blamed on our electoral system. Unlike most modern democracies, the U.S. uses the electoral college, which means we don’t directly vote for president, instead we vote for electors to cast a vote for us on behalf of the winner, who takes all the electoral points in a given state. The winner doesn’t need to have a majority of the popular vote, which is 50 percent-plus one, they just need an 269 electoral votes, which means they’ll get all of the state’s electors whether they win with 90 percent of the vote or with 43 percent of the vote.
But the lack of success of third parties can’t be blamed solely on the electoral college. Instead, they can also be partially blamed on the nature of the parties themselves.
You see, many of the third-parties are ideologically based, like the Libertarians and Greens. That means that they don’t have as much room to wiggle around and stay true to their base at the same time, unlike big-tent parties like the Republicans and Democrats, which are each made up of a variety of different stripes but remain flexible enough to target the all-important moderate voter in the general election.
This is hard to do for parties based on ideological principles instead of vote-winning. Expanding the tent can mean bringing on new members but also alienating old members who demand a certain level of purity. It’s also a challenge to reach out to moderate voters who tend to be less-focused on ideology and more concerned with issues that require a certain flexibility that many parties can’t provide.
And of course, the presidential debates, or in reality joint press conferences, also shut out other voices. You can thank the Commission on Presidential Debates for that.
The most successful third-parties in the U.S. have had the “big tent” potential, like the Bull Moose Party of the 1910s and the Reform Party of the 1990s. But those parties, which had opportunity to grow, quickly fizzled out when the strong personalities, like Theodore Roosevelt and Ross Perot, that founded them were no longer the driving force.
Now it seems more people want to support a third party more than ever. Unfortunately, you also have a polarizing election where people are willing to go the “lesser of two evils” routes because they know who they don’t want in office. It’s an election where many people are voting against someone instead of for them.
The problem is then not people desiring a choice, but often a lack of what they see as viable choices. That’s not a good way to inspire faith in our democracy.
So what’s it take for a third party to get somewhere? Probably a big tent that won’t blow over after one election. But it’s also got to have resilience to fight the establishment, whether it be the two-party system, electoral college or lack of coverage from the national media.