A political party, loosely defined, is an organization that works to get candidates on a ballot with the hope of getting those candidates elected. The end result for a political party is to transform its platform or agenda into public policy. In the United States, we have a two-party system. In a two-party system, the candidates from one of two political parties usually win in an election. Those two parties are the Democrats and the Republicans. Within each political party, party members represent a variety of ideologies, geographic regions, or interests.
Let’s assume for a moment, though, that a political party is like a party that is thrown at someone’s house. You have been invited to one of the two political “parties”. One house is a Democratic house. The other is a Republican house. Choose one of the two “house parties” and then explain what you might see at the party if you attended it. For instance, if I attended a Democratic house party, then I might see a Union boss open the door for me. At the party itself, the attendees might be more female than male or more minority than white. I might I make this assumption because the Democratic Party gets its support from unions, women, and minorities.
This is a pretty exercise to do. Think of the geographic areas or the ideologies that also might fall in line with the two parties. For assistance on ideologies, you might want to search Politics Matters for posts that I have made about political ideologies in the United States.
The United States is a two-party country. This means that one of two parties typically wins an election. Those two parties are the Democrats and Republicans. However, before there were Democrats and Republicans, the country had a two-party system involving Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. The Federalists disappeared by the 1820s and the Democratic-Republicans would later become the Democratic Party. They soon faced an adversary for a short in the 1830s-1850s in the Whig Party. The Whigs slowly faded away and factions from their party formed what we know as the Republican Party. Third parties consistently find little success in elections at the national, state, and local levels.
Why did you choose the answer that you did in the poll?
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?