There are four candidates running for Congress in 2014. One candidate is a Democrat. One is a Republican. A third is a member of the Libertarian Party. A fourth candidate represents the Green Party. All four candidates have petitioned to be candidates and have received the required number of signatures needed to be candidates on a ballot.
The United States, politically, is considered to be a two-party country where one of two parties usually wins an election. Those two who usually win are the Democratic and Republican parties. During the fictional campaign, both the Democrat and Republican campaigns ask that they debate each other without the other two candidates. Media organizations and other political groups oblige and only invite the Democratic and Republican candidates to their sponsored debates. Some groups even go as far to say that the other two candidates, the Libertarian and Green, have no shot at winning, and since they little chance of being elected, they won’t be invited.
My question: Should all candidates who are ballot qualified be invited to debates regardless of their chances of winning an election?
Democratic Party candidates – 59,626,252 votes Republican Party candidates – 58,212,650 votes Libertarian Party candidates – 1,365,721 votes Independent candidates – 486,887 votes Green Party candidates – 369,221 votes Others – 2,285,289 votes
Yet, even with the Democratic candidates receiving more votes than Republican candidates on a nationwide basis, the Republicans still held the House of Representatives by a 234 to 201seat count. What matters more: The number of votes on a nationwide basis or the number of seats won by a party?
Recently, C-Span, the cable channel devoted to covering federal government affairs, began covering the 2016 Presidential race for its Sunday evening series entitled, “Road to the White House.” For political junkies, this could not have started soon enough. To casual political observers, the race for the White House does not begin in 2013, but in 2016. However, imagine yourself as a political insider for either the Democratic or Republican Parties (or for that matter, the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, or other third parties/Independents). What would you be looking for in a candidate at this time in 2013?
Would it be fair to call the Democratic Party, a “liberal party”? Would it also be fair to call the Republican Party, a “conservative party”? Probably not, because not all members of the Democratic Party are liberal and not all Republicans in their party are conservative. In the United States, the major parties are “indistinct” in their makeup. This means that the party’s label does not necessarily equate to a party’s ideology. For instance, the Republican Party is made up of conservatives, libertarians, and liberals, while the Democratic Party is made up of liberals, socialists, and conservatives. Many ideological perspectives fit under each party’s label. Contrast that with the major parties in Canada or in the United Kingdom. Each country has a Conservative Party, a variation of a Liberal Party (in the UK, it is called the Liberal Democratic Party), and a Labour Party, which leans in the direction of socialism. You know where each party stands in regards to their ideology. Parties that have definitive ideologies are called “distinct” parties. There are those parties in the United States that are distinct in their ideology. Among those include the Libertarian Party and the Socialist Party USA.
Why aren’t more political parties in the United States “distinct” in their makeup?
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? At the state level, third party candidates have turned to humor and unconventional ads to promote their political messages. Here are two examples:
In this 2009 ad, two actors portraying then-New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine (D) and Chris Christie (R) find themselves trapped on an escalator. Only Chris Daggett, Independent for Governor, can save the day. The ad won award in 2010 for its creativity. Daggett, who won the endorsement of the largest newspaper, the Newark Star-Ledger, finished with 5.8% of the vote. Christie won the election.
Musician/Actor/Entertainer/Businessman Kinky Friedman ran a spirited campaign for Governor of Texas in 2006. Friedman’s Independent campaign, modeled after Jesse Ventura’s successful 1998 bid for Governor of Minnesota, was as colorful as his professional and personal background. Friedman finished fourth with 12.43% of the vote, behind Rick Perry (R), Chris Bell (D), and another Independent, Carole Keeton Strayhorn. A candidate from the Libertarian Party finished fifth.
What from these commercials would appeal to an undecided voter who may be considering a vote for a third party candidate? These commercials may be unconventional, but are they too unconventional, in that they may turn voters off because of their style? Should more commercials like these be produced by third party candidates to help gain interest in their campaigns?
After all, the two-party system is tough to crack. Third party candidates need any advantage that they can create for themselves.
With all the talk surrounding the “fiscal cliff” negotiations and our nation’s economy, it is hard to make sense as to where each political party stands on solving this country’s economic woes. Democrats sound like Republicans; Republicans sound like Democrats. It can make your head spin. This nation was founded on a two-party system, where each party differentiated itself from the other on the issues. When the country began, Federalists who believed in a strong, centralized government battled with Democratic-Republicans (Anti-Federalists) who believed that more power should reside in the hands of the states. There was a clear delineation as to where each of these parties stood on the issues. Today, many argue that there isn’t a dime’s worth of difference between the Democratic and Republican parties. Some from that group will argue even further that the parties are not ideological enough. Those who aruge this position believe that the Democrats should be more liberal and Republicans should be more conservative. Do we have two moderate parties in the United States or are they more ideological then we make them out to be? Is this the time for a third party to emerge in the United States? If so, then what should that party look and sound like?
Here are the 2012 Presidential Election Results (Popular Vote) as of 12:09pm on Wednesday, November 7. Included in the data are the popular vote totals from the 2008 Presidential Election. The 2008 results are listed in parentheses.
2012 Presidential Election
Barack Obama (D) 59,725,608 (69,498,215)
Mitt Romney (R) 57,098,650 (59,948,240)
Gary Johnson (Libertarian) 1,139,562 (523,713)
Jill Stein (Green) 396,684 (161,680)
Virgil Goode (Constitution) 108,195 (199,437)
Roseanne Barr (Peace and Freedom) 48,797 (116,385)*
Rocky Anderson (Justice) 34,521 (N/A)**
Others 177,996 (323,984)
Vote totals for both the Democrats and Republicans were down from 2008. Libertarian and Green Party candidates saw an increase in their respective party’s vote totals from 2008. The Constitution Party also saw a decrease from 2008.
*Ralph Nader ran as the Peace and Freedom Party candidate in 2008 in California and Iowa. However, his status on many ballots was listed as “Independent”.
**The Justice Party did not run a candidate in 2008.