The Problems That Third Parties Face

The United States is two-party system, meaning that in an election, one of two parties will have the best chance of winning almost every time.  This has been true since the birth of this country’s political parties when the first two parties, the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists, vied for public support.  This does not mean that there aren’t other parties competing in the electoral arena.  Third parties have sprouted up from time to time and have influenced electoral outcomes at the federal, state, and local levels.

However, victories have been few and far between for many third parties in the United States.  This is due to in part to formal rules and informal practices that hinder the chances of a third party succeeding.  A formal rule deals with ballot access.  In order to gain access to a ballot, third parties must gather an inordinate amount of signatures on petitions in comparison to their major party counterparts.  These rules differ between states and have been created by members of the state legislature who, alas, belong to one of the two major parties.  An excellent website that describes how ballot access laws work in the United States can be found at Richard Winger’s Ballot Access News site.  Another example of a formal rule is one that is set up by the federal government during the Presidential elections.  In order for third party Presidential candidates to receive federal funding for their Presidential bid, the third party candidate from the previous Presidential election must have received 5% of the popular vote.  Five percent also ensures equal ballot access protections for third party candidates (i.e. automatic ballot access).  However, no third party candidate has received more than 5% since Ross Perot in 1996.  No third party candidate received 5% in 2012.  Libertarian Gary Johnson received 1% of the popular vote.  Therefore, third party candidates in 2016 already start their Presidential bids at a ballot and monetary disadvantage.

An informal practice that stunts the growth of third parties is that our nation’s history has always been a two-party system.  It is what the public is used to.  From the Democratic-Republicans vs. Federalists to Democrats vs. Whigs and Democrats vs. Republicans, the country’s pedigree eliminates the need for third party involvement in the political process.

What can third parties do to compete on a somewhat level playing field?

8 responses to “The Problems That Third Parties Face

  1. Sammia Shehayber

    I think that third parties should fight to be treated equal with the other two parties. They should not have to follow the formal rules for ballot access because it is meant to ruin their chance against the others. They must break the mold for third parties, and in order for them to do that, they have to get their campaigns out there. Since they usually do not get funding from the government because of the previous candidate’s 5% popular vote requirement, they should utilize the internet through social media to campaign.

  2. i do not see third parties ever becoming a major factor because they simply do not have the money to compete. it would take government stepping in to help third parties get an even shot. and i have a nagging suspicion that republicans and democrats arent going to vote in favor of helping their competition.

  3. To begin, laws will need to be changed in order for there to be more equality amongst the parties. The law stating that one needs 5% of the popular vote from elections before reminds me of the Grandfather Clause that was used to keep African Americans from the voting stations. This is clear discrimination against third parties and maybe it could be taken to court. If given enough publicity, would a court decision raise awareness of third party problems and thus allow them more access to money and public support? That’s difficult to say and whether or not people would be willing to release the notion of the 2 party supremacies is also difficult to predict. However, third parties might have a better chance when their plights are realized.

  4. I feel if a third party wants to become a serious threat they first need to have very good ideals. Like more American made products, more jobs, better health programs, less mass producing, and more clean energy through out America. Then they need a lot of support. Plus a lot of money will help. These three thinks are hard to obtain, but with these three things it makes it possible to become a new emerging party. Also maybe if the third party team up with a couple of other third parties that might make it more possible a third party could emerge.

  5. There is no way the third party will have a chance at leveling the playing field. For one, they don’t have enough money to compete with democrats and republicans. The money is so important because of ads in the newspaper and television. The third party also won’t have the money to hire people to help spread the word around about what they are running on. Money makes the world go around. Without it, you will have nothing.

  6. To level the playing field ,with the two dominant parties Democrat ,and Republicans thrird parties should fight to be treated the same and make an effort to educate the public on the issues of that particular party. Many people arent aware that third parties exsist. Educating the public on third per ties might be the benefactor that helps the candidates get on the ballot.

  7. Realistically third parties will forever be at a disadvantage, and unless something drastic happens than I don’t see the republican or democrat party ever losing to a third party anymore. History repeats itself, and the united states has a long history of voting between in two party system.

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