More Notes On Third Parties

by: Chris Bowers

Sun Jul 13, 2008 at 15:30

It appears that Dan and I were thinking alike today, as I have also typed up a post on third parties. Yesterday's Green Party convention, that nominated Cynthia McKinney over Ralph Nader, was the likely catalyst. Now, along with Bob Barr, we have two former members of Congress running for President on minor party tickets.

Let me first say that I'm not actually one of those Democrats who thinks that third party challenges need to be squashed, or that the people who vote for leftist third party candidates are somehow actually supporting Republicans. My feelings on the matter are as follows:

  1. A vote for a third party candidate is not the same as voting for a Republican. Instead, it is effectively the same as not voting at all. While no analogy is perfect (the truth is that voting for a third party candidate is the same as voting for a third party candidate), this one holds up much better to logical scrutiny. Other than the extremely rare situations where third-party candidates have a shot at winning, voting for a third party candidate ultimately impacts the outcome of the election in the same manner as not voting at all.

  2. No one is entitled to votes. If progressives or Independents or whoever end up voting for third-party candidates, then the Democratic nominee just didn't do a good enough job winning those votes. Period. It isn't the fault of the voters--it is the fault of the candidate.

  3. We shouldn't expect, or even desire, consensus. We would indeed live in a disturbing version of a republic if no one voted for third parties, if everyone voted, and if everyone was enthusiastic about one of the two major party nominees. Dissent via third parties, via not voting, and via "holding one's nose" is healthy for any republic. While third parties and not voting tend to be just about the least effective forms of dissent available, it would still be a shame if the 1-3% of the country that voted third party every two years went away.

Now, with all of that said, as I explain in the extended entry, I still don't want anything to do with third-parties. While they should not be existentially scorned, for anyone who actually wants to change the American political system, the ineptitude of third-parties is indeed worthy of scorn.

Chris Bowers :: More Notes On Third Parties
Third-parties in America are weak, inept, and ineffective. For example, third-parties are actually less effective in presidential elections than in congressional elections, but still idiotically run for President more than they run for Congress. In 2004, the total third party vote for President was 1.00%. In 2006, the total third party vote for the U.S. House was 3.16%. And yet, we are treated to the likes of Bob Barrs, Cynthia McKinney's and Ralph Naders's every year, while third parties rarely run for Congress at all:

Libertarians contested 73 particular U.S. House seats in both 2004 and 2006, and the competitive conditions for each of those 73 seats was the same. That is, in all 73 instances, there were the same number of major party candidates in the race both times (i.e., either both times there was both a Democrat and a Republican in the race, or else both times only one major party ran anyone).

In these 73 elections in which the conditions were roughly the same in both 2004 and 2006, Libertarian percentages increased in 42 districts and decreased in 31 districts.

The Constitution Party contested 12 such U.S. House elections in both 2004 and 2006. Constitution percentages were up in 8 of those districts, and down in 4 districts.

The Green Party contested 11 such districts in both 2004 and 2006. Green percentages were up in 4, and down in 7.

Despite only running a combined 96 candidates for the 435 seats of the U.S. House, these three parties will all run a candidate for President of the entire country this year. For a comparison, Democrats will run between 420 and 422 candidate for the U.S. House this year. Further, third party candidates actually perform much better in House elections than in Presidential elections, and yet these parties tend to focus on the Presidency than they do on the House. Quite frankly, that is childish, and demonstrative of a general lack of seriousness. If these parties don't take themselves seriously, and actually run candidates across the country and in the elections where they can make more of an impact, then why should anyone take these candidates seriously?

With rare exceptions, as forms of political engagement, third parties are extraordinarily ineffective. They don't push new messages or new ideas into mainstream discourse. They actually result in less respect and less influence within the major parties for both their ideas and their membership. If people don't like the nominees of the two major parties, there are many more effective ways to engage the system, from community groups, to media activism, to issue oriented work, to primaries.

In short, while I think existential attacks at third parties are both misplaced and misguided, I also don't hold a high opinion of third parties because I view them as the epitome of political ineptitude. If all the third-party candidates in the country this year combine for 1.51% or more of the Presidential vote, I will be shocked. The reason Cynthia McKinney isn't in Congress anymore is because isn't a very good politician, at least relative to the other members of Congress. Much the same can be said for Bob Barr. While Ralph Nader never held public office, he was excellent for a while at building infrastructure, pushing progressive issues into mainstream discourse, and even passing laws. He probably should have focused on those areas, because he doesn't seem very good at winning votes.

But, I'm not here to concern troll for Ralph Nader. As I said above, if there weren't Bob Barrs and Cynthia McKinneys and Ralph Naders, we would live ina  pretty disturbing version of a republic.  

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Yes (0.00 / 0)
And the funny thing is, they get a much larger chance to push policy from Congress.  Right now, the democratic "majority" is really a minority government that maintains it's "majority" at the behest of Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman.  Those two have pushed policy more effectively than 30 years of losing third party candidates.  

The Libs would be much better served by trying to replace the Republicans in NH.  

But that brings up another problem .. (0.00 / 0)
Lieberman isn't really a 3rd party candidate .. because he was running as the de-facto Republican in CT in '06 ... Sanders is the only 3rd party candidate with any success .. really ... as far as Libertarians ... most of them seem happy under the Republican banner(like McMegan mostly has) .. other than the Ron Paul crew ... I didn't see people like McMegan getting upset over FISA .. which if they were real Libertarians .. they should have been PO'ed

[ Parent ]
Sanders was as much of a defacto Democrat... (0.00 / 0)
as Lieberman was Republican.  

[ Parent ]
So how does ... (0.00 / 0)
idiotic groups like Unity '08 get so much publicity(and yet failed anyway) .. and 3rd parties getting no publicity whatsoever .. unless they run a Nader .. or former member of Congress

Unity '08 had a lot of connections... (0.00 / 0)
...with DC media/PR types and "opinion leaders" -- the so-called "villagers" the sort of people who have shrines to David Broder in thier expansive living rooms.

[ Parent ]
some important points (4.00 / 3)
None of these are really viable parties and will never gain a significant enough portion of votes to win, only to occasionally throw tight races.  The Constitution and Libertarian Parties are too far out of the political mainstream to attract popular support (not to mention the splits within their small base; the fact that the Libs came down to Bob Barr vs. Mike Gravel shows that).  The Greens could potentially have wide support for their environmental policies but their platform beyond that is mushy.  It would be nice to see a progressive party displace the Democrats like the Lib Dems are doing to Labour in Britain, but I don't think there's enough of a difference for it to happen (plus the congressional vs. parliamentary system means no coalitions, so no transition period).

All that said, I wouldn't be surprised if Barr gets more than you predict.  He's more of a Republican than a hardcore libertarian, so I think that will take some of the Repubs who dislike McCain.  I still doubt it will have much impact unless we have another Florida-like situation though.

One question about the president vs. congress issue (0.00 / 0)
I know that in NC, third parties need to get a certain number of votes in the governor's race in order to qualify as a real party.

In other words, the Greens have to win about 0.2% (or is it 2%?) of the vote for governor in order for people to be able to register Green, and for people to have a G next to their name on the ballot for the next four years. Which means that if they were to collect enough signatures to make it onto the ballot, they'd have to run someone for governor.

Do other states require a certain number of votes for a party's presidential candidate in order to qualify that party as a bona fide party? If so, that would make a presidential run obligatory.

But of course, while North Carolina has some of the most restrictive ballot-access laws in the nation, as far as I can tell the local Greens mostly whine about that fact rather than either appealing to sympathetic Democrats to change the law or putting together the kind of grass-roots effort required to work with the existing laws. If they can't get organized enough to make it onto the ballot -- and if, since 2000, they haven't raised the $100,000 needed to pay someone to do it for them -- how is anyone supposed to trust them to govern?

Illinois does (4.00 / 1)
I'm not sure about other states but Illinois is similiar to North Carolina except its 5%. In the last govenor's election the Green Party candidate (Whitney) got over 10% of the vote. This makes the Green Party a real party in the state. There is now a half dozen candidates running for the US House and one Green Party candidate running for the US Senate (Durbin is up for reelection). I know it was easier to get McKinney on the ballot since the Green party is real it does not require that many signatures. What the Green Party in North Carolina should do is find someone who can meet the 2% threshold in the next govenor's election. Then they will find it easier to build the movement. Of course, the media will help too. Whitney practically doubled his percentage because he got invited to the debates.  

[ Parent ]
Didn't the Green Party candidate .. (0.00 / 0)
get so many votes .. because the Republican in the race was a joke .. and people hated Blago?

[ Parent ]
Yeah that was a big reason (4.00 / 2)
The republican brand has been going downhill in Illinois ever since George Ryan got in trouble. Blago and Topinka (the repub) were attacking each other over who was the next Ryan. People got so fed up that they voted for Whitney including myself. I can't stand Blago. But Whitney's percentage did go up after the debates. I'm sure a huge part of it was that he was the only one who looked saned. But what was amazing was that Whitney got most of his votes from people downstate including some very conservative areas. Whitney won the Rockford area (northern Illinois) and some counties in southern Illinois. But I think Whitney if he decides to run again can probaly increase his votes next time. The more democrats and repubs keep fighting in Springfield than more people will get fed up with both of them and look for an alternative. I'm sure in the next election the dem and repub will be fighting over who is not Blago and more people will get fed up and vote Green.

[ Parent ]
NY has something similar (4.00 / 1)
In NY state, the parties have to reach a certain threshold in the governors race. What that is I'm not sure (1%, 2%, 5% or # of votes, 20,000, 50,000, etc). I don't think it's terribly high, but I can't recall. The way our 3rd parties remain mildly viable is through our electoral fusion system where the minor parties will often put the major party candidate on their ballot line.

So the GOP candidate could be listed under the Republican, Conservative, Right-to-Life parties, while the Democrat could be listed under the Dem and Working Families parties. Like in the last election, Spitzer received 2.7 million votes on the Democratic line and 155K votes on the Working Families line, thus crossing the necessary threshold (whatever that may be) in order for the Working Families party to stay a registered party in NY.  

[ Parent ]
NY (0.00 / 0)
the threshold is 50,000 votes for governor, which is the only way to get ballot status.  In 2006, the Green Party had statewide candidates for Lt Gov, Comptroller and Att general, as Well as governor.  All of them got over 50,000 (Julia Willebrand got close to 3 times that running against Hevesi), yet Malachy McCourt failed to get 50,000 votes for governor (he got around 47,000), mainly I think because Dems in NY thought that Spitzer was the second coming - we all know how that turned out.

The WFP, IMHO, is not a real party yet.  They have ballot status, true, but they almost never run candidates independent of the Dems, so they are more like a political club that a real political party, and as such they have as little influence on public policy as the Greens do, who at least have some principles.  WFP endorses clowns like Marty Markowitz, simply because he's a dem, when a perfectly good Green (Gloria mattera) ran a great race against him for Brooklyn Boro Pres in 2005, garnering 19,000 votes and winning many election districts around the Atlantic Yards footprint.  If the WFP had endorsed Gloria, maybe we could have gotten rid of a corrupt machine dem.  Instead, the slimeballs's got a warchest ready to run for mayor.

[ Parent ]
Lower ticket elections (4.00 / 2)
That is a good point Chris.  I've often wondered why anyone is expected to vote for President for a party that cannot even get a member of congress, a governor or even members of state legislatures elected.

Returning to Canada's NDP, they came out of Provincial politics first.  A serious 3rd party that wanted to achieve regular viability with the Democrats or Republicans, or even replace one of them should start there.  

There are gaps (4.00 / 5)
I don't understand why the third parties don't target areas of the country where one of the major parties is essentially irrelevant, and run there, and try to build themselves up as a regional party first, before they try this nation party building.

[ Parent ]
A fine question (0.00 / 0)
In searching for an answer to this question, I always come to the conclusion that the people running these parties are just not good enough at politics to successfully execute that sort of strategy. Granted, it would be hard to pull off. Also, if you were that good at politics, then you probably just do something easier, like run as a Republican or Democrats.  

[ Parent ]
Yeah (4.00 / 1)
I had this argument with a Libertarian friend of mine in college--I would ask him why they don't pull their resources toward electing a libertarian senator from Wyoming or something, rather than throw everything down this Presidential sinkhole.  

And the answers I got never made any sense.  I've come to the conclusion that it's largely about getting attention for a lot of these people, and you don't get enough attention (or the right type of attention?) unless you have your name on the Presidential ballot.

[ Parent ]
Have you ever looked at the Libertarian Party? (4.00 / 2)
George W. Bush is more competent that your average LP wannabe.  I've come to the conclusion that Libertarians are Libertarians mostly because they are too socially dysfunctional to be part of a larger organization.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
In some (0.00 / 0)
ways, this is how the progressives won at least some power in Vermont.

It all started with a Burlington Mayoral election in '81, where there was no real Republican candidate and the mayor (Raymond Pauquette) had arguably become too distant and isolated.  Once Bernie won the mayoral race in Burlington, the progressives in Vermont were able to win city council seats and eventually some VT House seats.

It is important to note, though, that Bernie has supported every Domcratic nominee since 1984, and his ads in the '90's included a picture with him and Clinton. (I moved from Vermont '98, so I can't comment on his races since then).

Vermont is the only real example where a third party has come close to tasting power, and they have done so by mostly supporting the Democratics in Federal Elections.  

[ Parent ]
The Populists in the late nineteenth century (0.00 / 0)
followed a similar type of approach--building state and local infrastructure to build themselves into a relevant regional party, before the Democrats took the mantle of free silver.  But the only real approach is to start small and regional, preferably in places where one of the major parties is pretty irrelevant.

[ Parent ]
The Populists did this in the 1890's (4.00 / 1)
Led by Georgia Governor Tom Watson, they targeted the South, where Republicans basically didn't exist, and the Midwest, where Democrats were extremely weak.  It was an excellent strategy and resulted in their 1892 Presidential candidate, Greenbacker retread James B. Weaver, getting over 8% of the vote.  Given Weaver's percentage of the vote in his previous run, that's like building a third party today, running Ralph Nader, and having him do as well as Perot 1996.

The Populists then used their regional strength to turn the traditionally-conservative Democrats into a progressive party.  Of course, the Populist Party collapsed because of this, which may not have been a problem in the Midwest but which destroyed their efforts in the South.  But no one can say they didn't have a massive impact on the political landscape; they made the modern Democratic Party what it is today.

Unfortunately for third-party advocates like myself, none of the three main third parties active today is in a position to capitalize on Congressional runs even if they made them.  What would be needed to create a strong third party would be a combination of antiwar views, fiscal responsibility, social moderateness, and some form of social welfare such as antipoverty programs.  The two forces we've seen recently that come closest to this are the Reform Party and Ron Paul's presidential run, but each is missing the essential populist component.

I'd add one more thing: if third parties are so inept, then why don't we drop ballot access requirements and let anyone who wants to run for office do so?

The Crolian Progressive: as great an adventure as ever I heard of...

[ Parent ]
I'm fine with lowering ballot access bars (0.00 / 0)
but the Libertarians, if they cared to, would be in a great position to do this.  They could run in those parts of the west, like Wyoming and Idaho, where the Democrats are very weak and sort of irrelevant, and in the Northeast, in particular, in New Hampshire and Maine, where the Republicans are increasingly isolated and embattled.  Both of these areas share a lot of the values espoused by the Libertarians, and their messages would have a chance of resonating.  

If they targeted and recruited a few decent candidates, and diverted resources toward electing these Congresspeople, rather than wasting such a large chunk of their resources on quixotic Presidential races, they would be much better off.  Choosing to do what they are doing is inept.

[ Parent ]
Did you watch (0.00 / 0)
The California gubernatorial recall election?

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
Yep (0.00 / 0)
And despite the circus-like atmosphere, I saw democracy well-served.  The most popular candidate won, while the downticket candidates received the votes to which they were entitled.

The Crolian Progressive: as great an adventure as ever I heard of...

[ Parent ]
they do (0.00 / 0)
The Greens are doing that.  Look at Northern California, which has more than 40 elected greens, from SF city council to environmental control boards to small town mayors.  

[ Parent ]
- (0.00 / 0)
A vote for a third party candidate is not the same as voting for a Republican. Instead, it is effectively the same as not voting at all. While no analogy is perfect (the truth is that voting for a third party candidate is the same as voting for a third party candidate), this one holds up much better to logical scrutiny. Other than the extremely rare situations where third-party candidates have a shot at winning, voting for a third party candidate ultimately impacts the outcome of the election in the same manner as not voting at all.

The difference is that this type of vote can actually be counted and understood in a particular context.   I will NEVER vote for a Democratic Presidential candidate in New York unless a) it actually matters in terms of the general election (extraordinarily unlikely) or b) they actually agree broadly with how I think (slightly but not much less unlikely).

And yet the 3rd party option encourages me to vote and when I do, what downticket candidates do you think I'm voting for?  Republicans?


Best case made, ever! (4.00 / 1)
And yet the 3rd party option encourages me to vote and when I do, what downticket candidates do you think I'm voting for?  Republicans?

I've never heard this suggested before and got to admit voting Green in the general is better than not voting at all.  

I still blame Nader and his 2000 supporters like Michael Moore for our current mess, but I can't argue against the logic above.

[ Parent ]
Why not blame the Socialist Workers party? (4.00 / 3)
they covered the margin in Florida, too.  Or Kathleen Harris?  Or Butterfly ballots?  Or Gore's mediocre, uneven campaigning that didn't even win his home state?  Or black disenfranchisement?  Or Florida's stupid anti-felon voting law?

Nader was a causal factor.  He was certainly relevant.  But his effect was arguably smaller than a lot of these other things.  If Gore had just cut off the argument that Bush and him were the same, he would have won by ten points.  Instead, he let Bush push his blurring message.

[ Parent ]
Nader crossed the line (4.00 / 1)
in 2000 when he allowed the GOP to run ads in the upper midwest featuring him.  He also ran hardest in places where his presence forced Gore to spend resources where he would not otherwise have had to invest. One of the reasons that Gore pulled out of Ohio in 2000 was because he had to defend states that were in play largely because of his presence (see, eg Washington).

There were about 10 reasons why Gore lost, and one of them was Nader.  But he was a factor.  I have little patience for those who voted for Nader and then go on to argue that Gore ran a bad campaign (a subjective argument which is disputable) or didn't win his home state (which is a Republican one).  Some the other factors you cte (the anti-felon law eg) were not within Gore's control.

[ Parent ]
I voted for Gore,, for the record (0.00 / 0)
But a lot of these other factors are still very relevant today, yet we are far more often revisiting this stupid Nader thing, which just is no longer relevant.  Our time, energy, and anger would be far better directed toward fixing the fucked up state that our current voting rights landscape is in than it would be trying to keep a future Nader from running.

Yes, as I acknowledge above, Nader was a factor.  Possibly even a determining factor.  But only after all of the other things were in play.  In virtually any other election, the Nader vote, even in 2000, would have been background noise.  

And I don't see how I'm blaming all of that on Gore.  I'm trying to explain the election, and some of the reason that the election was as close as it was was due to Gore's horrible messaging.  But of course there were other factors.

[ Parent ]
we agree (4.00 / 1)
in the end.

I don't think Nader is really relevant in 2008 either.

There is good news on election rights in Florida - the computers are gone and the felon law has been changed somewhat.  

[ Parent ]
Learn our lessons -- very relevant (0.00 / 0)
How to push the Democrats leftward is the central debate among us today.  The lessons of Nader are extremely relevant in that debate.

[ Parent ]
Known problem going in (0.00 / 0)
I lost track of this yesterday, sorry for the late reply (you'll probably never see).

Why not blame the Socialist Workers party?

.. or... or... or...

Obviously, in a race that close you can blame many things, most all of which are true.  But there was only one known problem going in that was easily recognized by all: voting for Nader.  Every Nader voter should have known better -- did know better, as the risk was well stated by Nader's supporters themselves -- but they choose to ignore the obvious.  They gambled and lost.  Thus, blood on their hands.

[ Parent ]
Blame Where Blame Is Due (4.00 / 5)
If Al Gore had put together a decent legal case he would have won, but he didn't. His case was shoddily organized and poorly  presented.

It was Al Gore's job to win. It was not Ralph Nader's job to let Al Gore win. And there's no proof that Nader voters would have voted for Gore anyway. If Nader voters were itching to make a protest vote, in the absence of Nader, they very well might have voted Socialist or Constitutionalist or written in Raoul Duke.

Al Gore won the voting but lost the election. If he had his act together he would be the President right now. Ralph Nader is just a convenient scapegoat.

[ Parent ]
Had Nader not run (4.00 / 1)
the exit polling clearly shows that they would have made the difference for Gore in two states: New Hampshire and Florida.  

There are many things subject to debate about 2000.  One is not: Nader supporters would have provided the margin for Gore in two states, either of which would have made him the winner.  

[ Parent ]
exit polls are evidence, not proof (0.00 / 0)
We can't re-run the election.  It's likely that removing Nader from the election would have swung it for Gore, but it's also possible, though unlikely, that it wouldn't have done enough.  The act of having already cast a ballot changes the way that someone will answer the question upon leaving.

However, it is definitive that the actions of Kathleen Harris and the Supreme court, and the lack of pushback from Gore/Liberman 2000 did swing the election, since we know today that Gore actually got the most votes in Florida.

[ Parent ]
All available evidence (0.00 / 0)
overwhelmingly shows one thing: Had Nader not run, Gore would have won Florida and New Hampshire.

You last comment is a bit of folklore which is easily answered with one question:  what legal strategy did Gore fail to pursue?

I am a lawyer, and I don't see what he could have done.  

The lack of Gore pushback is a myth.

[ Parent ]
Where were they on TV? (4.00 / 1)
Particularly, where was Liberman?  Where were the House Dems when the electoral votes were certified?  Nowhere.  The Republicans paid almost no political price in stealing the election.  Gore/Lieberman made correct legal motions, but they sucked in organizing a political resistance to what was surely going to happen.  

Considering that Kerry/Edwards made the same mistake in a more egregious way four years later, and that there has been no movement to fix our voting laws (and in fact, a significant movement to make our voting laws even worse), aren't these more relevant factors to be angry about today than the Nader thing.  Especially since the legal stealing of the election has been definitively proven by the press recounts.  

I've seen twice as much complaining about Nader over the past few months than I have regarding the Indiana voter ID law, and it's proposed CA and MO counterparts, which are going to have a far larger effect in 2008.  

[ Parent ]
As usual (0.00 / 0)
I sense anger, but in point of fact Gore did everything that could have been done in Florida after the vote.

They did far more than file the correct legal motions.  They pushed the recount over enourmous objections from a GOP dominated State Government.  But for one vote on the US Supreme Court, Gore would have won.

It was always destined for the Supreme Court, and it was always destined to end the way that it did.

[ Parent ]
you can't talk about nader without talking about buchanan (0.00 / 0)
particularly in the context of assessing the impact of 3rd parties.  The real significance of the Nader and Buchanan campaigns, in my opinion, was a small but growing number of people were so fed up with corporate politics that they were willing to stay politically active and at the same time buck the system (at least party politics).  Which of course ended quite badly for pretty much everyone in the world besides Dick Cheney, which is why a lot of the work that's being done today is inside the Democratic Party instead of outside.  Which in my opinion is really too bad, but a lot of people apparently disagree :)

[ Parent ]
Had Gore run a better, more effective campaign (0.00 / 0)
he would have won.

"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."

[ Parent ]
Gore's case (4.00 / 1)
was created and presented by  Lawrence Tribe, the single best constitutional mind in this country and David Boes, the highest price litigator in the country.

What argument didn't they make that they should have?  And how would it have made a difference at the Supreme Court?

[ Parent ]
Nader in 2000 (0.00 / 0)
The Nader vote in 2000 was close to or greater than the margin of error in a couple of key senate races than year (WA, MI, MO).  One can make an argument that without Nader on the ballot bringing people to the polls, the dems might have lost one or two of those races.

[ Parent ]
Great (4.00 / 1)
But your own words make it clear that the only value in voting for a third party is how it leads to voting for Democrats in other campaigns.

And would you really, really not vote if there were no progressive third-party candidates for President? Really? Because, if so, then I imagine you only vote once every four years, skipping mid-terms, primaries, and off-year elections. Is that really true? Really?  

[ Parent ]
Adding (4.00 / 2)
That there probably is a very small, limited, but also real number of people who only come out to vote for a third-party presidential candidate, and then end up voting for Democrats downticket. Maybe one out of every 500 voters is like that during presidential elections. However, I just don't believe you are one of those people. After all, you are dedicated enough to politics that you even post about it on blogs that are not very easy to find.  

[ Parent ]
well it's a bit hard to argue counterfactuals (4.00 / 1)
but in this election, I'm not sure if I would vote if there were no 3rd party candidates for President.  

there probably is a very small, limited, but also real number of people who only come out to vote for a third-party presidential candidate, and then end up voting for Democrats downticket. Maybe one out of every 500 voters is like that during presidential elections. However, I just don't believe you are one of those people.

You sound annoyed.  This is a pretty profound question of how we relate to a system that has made me feel thoroughly disenfranchised, made me feel like most of what I was told about American history and the American political system was a bunch of lies, for lack of a better word, and made me feel like not very many people pay attention to this, including progressives.  I doubt I'm the only one.  Our government routinely kills people in the United States and abroad, just as an example, and people go along with it.  And there's no structural accountability for that at all - Iraqis and Guatemalans don't get to vote.

So for me personally, really it's a question of whether I stay invested at all or not - it's pretty easy to end up finding a blog if you have an interest - even 538 :)  Less easy to give money, take positions on policies on particular issues if/when you disagree with the entire discourse of the debate (e.g. I do on migration), and more generally actually believe what anyone tells me.

But your own words make it clear that the only value in voting for a third party is how it leads to voting for Democrats in other campaigns.

No, I think there's more value to it in general terms, though not necessarily right now.  I agree with your analysis that 3rd parties today are largely ineffectual and that because of the Nader-Gore fiasco that created a huge split, they're right now a no-go for progressives/radicals.  But a truly effective, progressive or radical third party and having a more progressive Democratic party and a more progressive debate in the United States are not mutually exclusive things.  In fact, they go hand in hand, which is why instant run-off voting, fusion voting, etc., are win-wins for progressives.  In the past, major parties have coopted large parts of the agenda of potentially viable 3rd parties, probably in fear of themselves becoming "the 3rd party".

But having an outside force (whether a party or a non-electoral group like the Federalist Society) opens up the space to create a consensus much further from the center of power, try to make it viable to the extent possible, and thereby push the discourse as a whole to something more palatable.  It's really about where you're positioning yourself and why.

Imagine if all the energy and time and focus that people put into nuts and bolts activities like electing more progressive democrats were put into electing more progressive politicians, whether or not they're democrats and building a 3rd party alternative instead of constantly having to negotiate with DLC types.  That this doesn't happen is probably reason why progressive 3rd parties today are largely ineffectual (e.g. take a look at Working Families Party in New York - at minimum they are effective and have a long term strategy--whether I agree with it or not).

A progressive third party won't inherently lead to systemic change as deep as I would like to see it, but it might be a start.  Those 1 in 500 people could bring a lot more people into the political system who are currently disgusted by the routinely crass and corrupt behavior of the political elites.  Or it might be better if those 1 in 500 people reject the political system as a whole - I'm honestly not sure - whereas a 3rd party is 'independence' in electoral terms, it might be 'cooption' in social movement terms if it's not done right :)

[ Parent ]
Check out fusion voting in NY before you dismiss third parties (4.00 / 5)
Fusion voting in New York allows thirs parties to have a separate line on the ballot and to cross-endorse candidates from major parties.  Working Families Party has been endorsing progressive Democrats since 1998 and has real power to influence state legislators because they use fusion voting effectively.

By doing so as a separate entity, they are in a much more powerful position to hold progressive positions than as a less-organized entity within the Democratic Party.  And if they get double-crossed too many times, they endorse somebody else in the next election.

In the 19th Century, before the two main parties consolidated power and locked out third parties, they wielded much more power than they do now.  One of the ways they did that was through fusion voting.  The Populists are a good example of that.  

For more information about Working Families Party, see this article in The Nation:
The Working Families Party website:

Excellent point (0.00 / 0)
Fusion voting can give 3rd parties real bases at the state level, which could then lead to more effective runs for congressional seats, governorships, etc.. I still think the presidency will never really be available to them, but healthy 3rd parties at the state level seem to have few downsides.

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

[ Parent ]
Fusion voting for President could strengthen progressives. (0.00 / 0)
Imagine a Green line for President that has the same name as a Democrat.  Then Greens and progressive democrats, who are in similar places on most issues, could work together.  

[ Parent ]
What the point of this? (0.00 / 0)
Imagine a Green line for President that has the same name as a Democrat.  Then Greens and progressive democrats, who are in similar places on most issues, could work together.

We've had some discussions on implementing fusion voting here in Oregon and this argument gets bandied about with depressing regularity.  In the end, you're still voting for a Democrat.  This is real choice?  I think not...

Only some form of instant-runoff voting will ever enable third parties to gain a foothold and exert real influence over policy debates and decisions.

A major point in favor of fusion voting seems to be that it "sends a message" to the Democratic party.  This is not a selling point to me; we are already polled to death and both parties know exactly what we're thinking.

[ Parent ]
The Populists actually ended up undercutting themselves through fusion voting (0.00 / 0)
The endorsement of Bryan in 1896 pretty much ended their national relevance, as the Democrats were able to swoop in and take up all of the substantiative positions of the Populists, and then edge them out of the party.  

The third parties in NY are much more politically savvy, and have been able to use their organization to greater effect.

[ Parent ]
Grew up in New York (0.00 / 0)
I'm well aware of fusion voting. I voted in New York from 1992-1998, and virtualyl my entire family still votes there.

I tried to make the qualification that it doesn't make sense in virtually every case, not every case. This was actually an example I had in mind when I wrote that qualifier. The reason I didn't include it is becasue I imagine there are many local elections that I don't know about where it isn't the case.

[ Parent ]
Good point (0.00 / 0)
As a voter here I can say that knowing that Working Families is behind a candidate gives me more confidence about what type of Democrat is running.  

[ Parent ]
Two types. (0.00 / 0)
I saw the guy who wrote Three's a Crowd (
speak, and he had pretty interesting thing to say. Stone said that when he started researching the book, he basically made a graph of most or all of the third party movements in American history. He compared the length of their existence with the peak number of votes they got, and found an extremely strong inverse correlation (Republican party excepted, obviously).

Voting for 3rd party's like the greens or libertarians who run fringe candidates every year, as you say, is basically like not voting. I doubt very much that it has any effect in pulling the major parties one way or the other, because those parties simply don't attract enough votes to be worth it. Any move towards Nader voters means losing swing voters, and probably more of them than you gain.

But guys like Perot who build actual support (even when they have no shot of winning) can have a huge impact on national politics  because they do pull the major parties towards them extremely effectively. The contract for America was a huge appeal to Perot voters (it deemphasized social issues, and instead emphasized various types of "reform" that they supported) and those voters propelled Republicans to their massive victory in '94.

I see Ron Paul as someone who could have had a Perot effect with civil libertarian/anti-imperialism. If he had run and taken a few percent of the vote, likely from both parties, he would have created an opening for one or the other parties to adjust its platform and suck up those voters. Honestly, I think that would have been a really good thing.

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

"weak, inept, and ineffective"? (4.00 / 1)
Unlike the Democrats? Please.

rephrase (0.00 / 0)
Vastly weaker, vastly more inept, and vastly more ineffective.

[ Parent ]
Chris, well spoken and I agree. (4.00 / 1)
Although I've typed that subject line many, many times before I am compelled to do so again.

I find it disturbing this myopic attitude on "our side" that votes don't need to be earned, they just snap back to Democrats by default.

It's dangerous and arrogant.

I'm not interested in 3rd parties, but really... why does everybody feel like they have to go for the giant brass ring?
Coalition governing is possible, it is.

Although, I will say that when Matt Gonzalez ran against Gavin Newsom in San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi got everybody that she could in Democratic politics, even Bill Clinton and Al Gore to stump for Newsom. Even though Matt was clearly the better candidate for progressive values. He is, of course, dead to me now since he's shacked up Nader for an '08 run.

Way to go dude, especially since you could have challenged Diane Feinstein in 2006.


Bernie Sanders is just the exception that proves the rule somehow.

As an aside, from a tactician standpoint, if a Democratic President really wanted to get cagy, they could appoint a likable Libertarian to a cabinet post, give them some exposure and a respectful national platform. Perhaps with the understanding of becoming their standard bearer and forging a working relationship with the (big L) Libertarians, and even having the Libertarian in question run tactically strong in a congressional or Senate race.

Bernie Sanders became the good big frog in the small pond (4.00 / 1)
...with great local action over a long career of not being a weasel, growing respect every term. Then he ran for the House, and that means he already ran as the single statewide member in the House eight times.

The Progressive Party of Vermont, has six state seats and the Mayor of Burlington which was Bernie's start. The seat held by Mr. Sanders before he ran for Senate, is now held by a Democrat. Bernie, to finish off, won 65% of the vote in his race for the Senate.

This is how to run a progressive party if you cant form a real coalition with the members of the Democratic Party.

But again their is no protest vote in this, they run to win. They organize to win. More lunch programs is a reward.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
And rather than copying Sanders, (4.00 / 2)
the libs and greens run around in circles, and ineptly run these national campaigns that go nowhere.

[ Parent ]
Taking funding from the republicans for the sole purpose of taking votes away from the Democratic Party Candidate (0.00 / 0)
If there is one set of political actions that causes such anger, I don't know of it. It reminds me of nothing more than a frowning sad kid kicking over sand castles.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Bullsh*t on one meme: Voters aren't children or shoppers (4.00 / 2)
The voters aren't children and they aren't shoppers.

They either know or should know damn well what the actual, real-world results of their votes are.

Turning it into some bullsh*t consumerism analogy that if, hey, a candidate failed to 'win' your vote, then somehow you're now magically able to live in some other dimension which is not subject to the actual consequences of who gets elected?  Nonsense and cowardice.

If it happens to be the case that in some area a vote for a 3rd party candidate causes the Republican to win, and you don't like that other people get mad at the real world nastiness of having to live under more Republican direct assault, too f***ing bad -- voting is not polling.

I don't hold this view exclusively for 3rd party candidates either -- if you're some a**hole who thought Kerry would have been the better President but his campaign just didn't 'do it' for you, likewise, dry up & die.

Finally, to erstwhile 3rd party candidates -- if I want to vote my conscience, I will write myself in, because I am 100% in line with my preferences and I am far more progressive than you.

Two questions: (0.00 / 0)
When Ray Moore threatened to run on a third party ticket, why was the universal response that the Republicans needed to move to the right and shore up their base?

But then, when anyone threatens to challenge the Dems from the left, the din is an order to shut the fuck up and get in line and support the DLCer of the day?

[ Parent ]
really? (4.00 / 1)
You don't think Republicans tell each to fall in line?  Really?

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

[ Parent ]
carrots and sticks (0.00 / 0)
They tell them to fall in line, they threaten them, and then they move to the right and let the wayward souls back into the coalition.

And they let them have their stupid protest votes on flag burning and constitutional amendments against gay marriage and abortion.

[ Parent ]
The difference (0.00 / 0)
and it really comes down to this is simple: Over the last 30 years the repugs have won and the Democrats have lost.  Moreover, the founder of the GOP majority, Reagan, won according to this narrative because he stayed to true his conservative principles.  

For the last 30 years the Reagan example has been the answer to every argument within the GOP that they need to move to the center.

We have no similiar example within the Democratic Party.  

[ Parent ]
It's not a similar example (4.00 / 1)
but it is a parallel example.  The people who have been losing over and over for the past 30 years on the Democratic side have learned how to do one thing: cite McGovern over and over whenever anyone dared to make a move to the left.

[ Parent ]
A balanced response (0.00 / 0)
Evenhanded and comprehensible. Great stuff.  

[ Parent ]
I occasionally have (4.00 / 1)
this same argument with Greens here in Chicagoland and use the example of Christine Cegelis.  She was a super-progressive who, in the space of a little over a year (from September of 2003 to November of 2004), with no electoral experience and a campaign staff of amateurs, was able to gain regional prominence and get 44% of the vote against a Republican icon while running on what at the time was considered a toxically progressive platform.  How many years of infrastructure and brand building would it take for a Green party congressional candidate to get 44% of the vote in that same situation?  And though Green candidates do get a certain amount of obligatory press simply by running, the insignificant electoral results mean that after the election they immediately fade out of view. Christine, on the other hand, suddenly became the talk of the town and was able to go on and gain even more prominence with her second run.  While it is true the conservative elite in the Dem party eventually squashed her, the fact that they felt they even had to try shows the effectiveness of what she was doing.  

Another anecdote -- I was a panelist at a local progressive conference recently and one of my fellow speakers was representing the Democratic Socialist Party.  He told an impassioned story about how he had spent two years struggling to get a local high school to host a forum on the history of labor, but that they fought him every step of the way because of that one little word in his group's name -- "Socialist."  I remember thinking at the time that if that one little word was causing that big of a problem, why did they continue to cling to it? What was more important -- a chance to talk about the history of labor and maybe give the students some knowledge and perspective they would otherwise never get, or getting the school to recognize his political party? Obviously to him it was the latter, which is too bad.  Plus there is the fact that you can pretty much bet that if the event was marketed as a presentation by the Democratic Socialist Party it got way less attendance than if that "one little word" had been removed.  And again, what is the ultimate objective, to educate or to prove a point?  

The Only Way 3rd Parties Don't Hurt.... (0.00 / 0)
If, in the absence of a third party, you would have otherwise voted for a mainstream party candidate, the presence of a third party on the ballot obviously hurts one of the mainstream parties.  The only way a third party won't hurt a mainstream party is when it pulls in voters who otherwise would have stayed home.

Third parties will force themselves to be taken seriously as political, rather than moral or protest, forces, when they build an infrastructure of elected politicians in local and state elections and when they run national candidates who can pass the "Are You Serious?" test.

We have a right to vote for anyone we choose. But, we also need to acknowledge that following our moral compass and voting for someone who has no chance of winning will have an impact on the lives and welfare of everyone else. To be specific, can one trade the alleged moral correctness of voting for a third party candidate for the damage done by a McCain presidency?  Does anyone have a right to bring harm to many others in order to assert a futile moral and political stance?

What if you live in Massachussets? Utah? Rhode Island? (4.00 / 2)
If you're in an area where your Presidential vote is irrelevant, I would argue that you are accomplishing far more with your protest vote than you would be by falling in line and voting for who you are supposed to.  There is a zero percent chance that a vote for McKinney in Utah is going to alter the result if it were shifted to Obama.  So why not try to inflate your protest candidate's national total?

[ Parent ]
My Vote Is Not a Moral Statement (4.00 / 1)
I consider my vote a political, not a moral, statement. I want to see this year's election result in a disastrous loss for the GOP because I think the future of the nation as we know it depends on that.  I want to see Democrats take as many seats as possible, from school boards to the White House. Voting for a third party will not help accomplish that. Every vote for a third party candidate is a vote that might have tipped a Democrat over the top.

With rare exceptions, protest votes are invisible to anyone but that voter.  Given what is at stake, it seems both petty and selfish for someone to vote for a third party merely because his or her sensibilities have been offended once or twice by Obama's perceived ideological sins. Will Moral Merit Badges comfort people when McCain is in the White House putting judges on the Court and the Dems remain without 60 Senate seats?

Frankly, the last time something like this sort of thing thing happened was in 1968 and 1972, and look where that got us:  Nixon.

[ Parent ]
Dammit! Read the post! (4.00 / 1)
Votes for President in non-swing states don't matter.  Sometimes, national popular vote performances do.  If you're a DC voter, your vote for Obama is a pointless piece of show.  It has zero political effect.  Federal funding for third parties is tied to the national popular vote.  A DC voter sympathetic to McKinney and disillusioned with Obama has zero reason to vote for Obama.

And congratulations for being the first to start screaming McGovern!  McGovern!

Why does Wallace never get blamed for any of this?

[ Parent ]
I Read, But I Don't Agree (0.00 / 0)
Of course, I read your comment.  I just don't agree with it. My interest is in seeing the Democrats -- not just Obama -- win with as large a margin as possible in every contest.  I want the story after election day to be about a once-in-a-generation crushing defeat of the GOP across the board.

And, yes, Wallace is a fine example.  However, his only interest in a third party was as a prop for his own candidacy. McCarthy and McGovern had zero interest in a third party, but both are examples of letting a desire for ideological rectitude take precedence over political reality.  Hence, 1968 and 1972 are examples of elections the Dems lost, rather than the GOP winning. If the Dems had been somewhat less insistent on their own moral purity, we'd have been spared Nixon.  

[ Parent ]
There are actually two ways... (0.00 / 0)
The second way is to have an electoral system that doesn't ensure a stranglehold by the two major parties over who gets elected to office (with few exceptions).

It's not Nader's fault, nor Buchanan's, that our winner-take-all system forces people to choose the lesser of two evils.  Most of Europe, and parts of the rest of the world, have some combination of proportional representation and instant-runoff voting.  Not surprisingly, these countries, especially in Europe, are much more progressive than is the U.S. I believe that this is definitely due to the fact that multiple viable parties ensures a more robust debate about the issues and a more informed electorate.  In addition, with real competition, the parties actually have to walk their talk or they lose votes.  This is totally unlike the U.S., where both major parties take their bases for granted.

[ Parent ]
A few things (4.00 / 3)
As someone who just recently left the Democratic Party for the Green Party because I can't deal with Democratic capitulation on wiretapping and Obama's shameless pandering to the right, I thought I'd point out a couple of things.

1. Third parties don't have the money to run congressional candidates in every congressional district, or even most of them. This is because these parties either don't receive special interest and corporate money or, as is the case with the Green Party, wouldn't accept such money if it was offered.

2. The Green Party has around 200 elected officials nationwide, so the idea that Greens are not competing for offices at a lower level than the presidency is misleading.

3. Competing for the presidency brings benefits, even if the candidate doesn't win. If Cynthia McKinney is able to win 5% of the vote - which is perhaps unlikely, but that's what we're working toward - then the Green Party will be given major party status and will be able to receive federal matching funds. This will also expand ballot access in several states.

4. Just because third party politicians don't do politics the way Democrats and Republicans do doesn't mean they're not good politicians. I would also point out that their losses are not based solely on whether they are good politicians. There are many obstacles to success for third party candidates, and these obstacles aren't there by accident; they've been deliberately put in place by the two major parties. A major obstacle is the lack of national exposure for third party presidential candidates who aren't permitted to participate in debates. Another is obscenely burdensome ballot access requirements in some of the states. I could go on.

ballot access and press coverage (0.00 / 0)
also, running national candidates have other benefits for 3rd parties.  

- They gain some (although not much) press attention, which amplifies the local candidates own media efforts.  

- several states base their ballot status on votes in the presidential race.  If 3rd parties don't run candidates for president, they will never get ballot access for local candidates.  

If dems really don't want 3rd parties to run for pres, they need to seriously dismantle the draconian ballot access laws put in place by the two major parties to keep their monopoly alive, not to mention IRV and other voting methods that give voters the option to vote for their 2nd and 3rd choices.

But from what I can see, dems are more interested in spedning millions of dollars on lawyers to kick nader and greens off ballots.  Imagine what Kerry could have done with an extra $5 or $10 million that was thrown away on dem lawyers trying to kick Nader off ballots?

[ Parent ]
Isn't there much more to the McKinney story, Chris? (0.00 / 0)
I thought she was supposed to be a pretty good congress critter, Chris?

Isn't there a back story along the lines of her pissing off some influintial people in the press who then unfairly attacked her for many years afterward?

I don't know the full story, but expect you to research more before you diss somebody like this. Atrios recently discussed this without giving the full background, and I would appreciate knowing more of the full story. I know she is just a side note to the 3rd party thing, but if the press has played this story, please get the facts before you pile on as well.

My 2 cents.  

McKinney (0.00 / 0)
McKinney was one of the most consistently progressive congresscritters out there, with votes against the patriot act, NAFTA, CAFTA, Iraq war funding, the first gulf war, etc, not to mention being the first to file impeachment against Bush, Cheney & Rice.  She has been a champion of the environment, 9/11 victims and ground zero workers, and Katrina/Rita survivors.

P.S. - she's got a heck of alot more experience than Obama, with 4 yrs in the GA state house and 12 years in congress, including the armed services committee.

[ Parent ]
the interesting thing in this conversation is who "third parties" are (4.00 / 2)
Whereas some people focus on the third parties aspiring to be national- the greens or the libertarians- other people are focusing on local or state efforts.  I think this and whatever rage you have and at whom from the 2000 election probably explains differences in attitude towards progressive "third parties."

3rd party political machines need to be built from the ground up, apparently, given all the structural impediments in the way like ballot access, media coverage, etc.  Which is why Sanders has been successful, Working Families Party has been successful, Anarchist Cara Jennings has been successful.  And I'm sure there are countless other examples.  Democratizing the political system is something that's going to take time, commitment, work, etc., and simply dismissing it as ineffectual is not useful.  Of course there are many ineffectual strategies being pursued - as in all politics - and then there are those that actually are useful.  So why not add a few non-Democrats into Act Blue?  More and better progressives, not more and better Democrats.

McKinney - not really a Green (0.00 / 0)
Cynthia McKinney, is, in fact, not a very good politician... having ridden on her father's coattails all the way to the house... Having been elected for over 10 years in a very favorably-drawn house district... she's had it good since she moved from Jamaica and had her seat (figuratively) given to her. Despite the fact that she's not a very "good" politician, she has made her entire living from being in politics. She is THE prototype "career politician".

And what do I mean by that? She literally has made her entire past and current living sucking off the taxpayers' / speaker inviters' / campaign funders' teats.

When campaigning, she can write off her living expenses to the campaign. When speaking, she gives a canned "civil rights" anti-Iraq-war, anti-Democrat speech that niche markets will pay her (well) for. (As of late, given that most people fit this mold... these speaking engagements have largely dried up). When in Congress... she got a paycheck.

She left the Democratic party not out of any political "ideals" that shifted... but it was purely a personal-finance decision on her part. Being the jilted "crazy" Democrat was no longer making her any money. She saw a cash cow for the next 2+ years (living off of her old friends' fundraising networks and unsuspecting young hippies who love her for slapping a cop). Her Green-party run is nothing more than a continuance of her ridiculous means of making a living... Even a pitiful 3rd party can provide her with enough spending cash to live well (and travel!)...

Fucking ridiculous... absolutely fucking ridiculous... But as a once-upon-a-time graduate student myself, I urge everyone to donate to the Green campaign. McKinney needs the cash (she's an underpaid PhD student at U.C. Berkeley... apparently trying to kick-start an actual career once this final source of campaign cash leaves her in 6 months... maybe a few more speeches... and she's (hopefully... hope hope hope) done...)

And yet... (4.00 / 1)
She gave a better, more inspiring acceptance speech than Obama could ever hope to give, and her views are more closely aligned to progressive views than his are. Especially now that he's flip-flopping all over the place on things like warrantless wiretapping.

But of course, we couldn't let her views get in the way. It's only whether she had a -D after her name that matters.

[ Parent ]

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