Third Party Politics

It was reported earlier today that Jill Stein, the assumed presidential candidate of the Green Party, offered to step aside if Bernie Sanders wanted to run on the party’s ticket. This is an interesting proposal, especially since just yesterday it was leaked that Sanders will supposedly endorse Clinton at an upcoming rally next week. The idea isn’t completely ludicrous, after all Sanders served as an independent in Congress and his ideas match up more smoothly with the Green Party. In fact, as a sign of support, during the California primary Jill Stein actually urged voters to vote for Sanders if they were registered as Democrat or independent, saying that “The more the Sanders team can raise the bar for the people not the billionaires, the stronger we will all be for it.”

This raises more crucial questions about the function of third parties in the U.S. First off I’d like to mention the abuse of the term ‘third party’ when every organization that isn’t the Democrats or Republicans is merely called the ‘third party’, in a way hinting at it’s own failure. But it turns out that the Green Party is the second largest alternative party with ballot access in 20 states in the country, right behind the Libertarian Party with access in 34 states.

The issue is, which would really be the most beneficial solution? Suppose that Sanders does endorse Clinton, that doesn’t automatically mean that all of his supporters will vote for her. In fact it seems the only reason the Democrats want the endorsement from Sanders is really just as an admission of defeat. Only that way will the party begin to pacify many of its more outraged members. But imagine if Sanders turned around and endorsed Stein? That seems much more likely than Sanders running on the Green Party ticket, and it would mean an unprecedented amount of people would suddenly very seriously consider the party. Sanders began endorsing and fundraising for progressives running for local elections, the most impressive feat being the fundraising of $250,000 for Tim Canova, an opponent of DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

Jill Stein
Jill Stein is currently running for President as a member of the Green Party, and previously ran in 2012.

I don’t expect this to ever happen. Sanders is already poised to have a great deal of influence in the Democratic party and will likely continue to influence generations of voters. But a move like this would grant him the same status as Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate often accused of taking votes from the Democrats clearing the way for the 2000 Bush election. In an election season without Donald Trump I would fully support this, but for now the best thing might be for Sanders to continue to build the new labor movement, regardless if it is within or outside the Democratic Party.

However the future of any alternative party does not depend solely on Bernie Sanders. The biggest issue at the moment is exposure, the fact is that the majority of Americans couldn’t identify an alternative party to vote for. This is being remedied in some ways. For instance in late 2015 the Green Party and the Libertarian party filed a lawsuit against the Commission on Presidential Debates in hopes to gain access to the national debates. The lawsuit was filed on the grounds that the exclusion of alternative candidates violated antitrust laws, and in many ways actually does. The ideal for the new system would be any candidate would be featured in the debates if they had secured their place on enough state ballots to potentially win a majority in the electoral college. This seems to be a reasonable way for candidates to actually earn their place on the debate stage rather than having it handed to them.

Despite this being a reasonable solution it is unlikely to succeed. Prior to 1988 the debates were sponsored by the League of Women Voters, however after the group chose to pull out of the debates the Democrats and Republicans put together a joint effort to create the CPD. Although technically the CPD is a non-profit organization you can imagine the amount of influence the two major parties have over their operations. As a result in 2000 the rule was created that for a candidate to be featured in the debates that candidate would need to garner at least 15% of national support across five polls. Of course it’s extremely difficult to poll that high without any sort of national recognition such as a debate would bring. This is exactly what the Green’s and Libertarian’s lawsuit would seek to end.

There is a great deal more that needs to be done to see the growth of an alternative party. Although an endorsement from Bernie Sanders would seem like a quick fix there is still other issues inherent to these parties. The biggest example is the mentality of the “Lesser of two evils.” The idea is that you vote for the least despicable of the two major candidates simply to deny the worst candidate from winning. It doesn’t matter if you actually agree with the person you voted for, the mentality just states you vote for the person you disagree with least. This is such a silly idea you could hardly find anyone that seriously supports it.

There are a number of problems with this argument. While it is largely utilitarian, your vote would be much better spent going towards a candidate you actually agree with. Not only would you be putting your effort towards ideals you believe in but you wouldn’t have to compromise yourself into this trap of “lesser evils.” Think of it this way: if Hitler and Stalin were campaigning on the Republican and Democratic tickets, respectively, would you vote for the lesser of two evils? You wouldn’t vote for Stalin simply because you believe he is the less despicable, you would simply revolt. And that is all there is to do.

The thing about the lesser of two evils is that they are both still evil, which in my mind means that we can do better. However, I’ll be honest. I would much rather see a comprehensive labor movement in the U.S. than a new party, but I’ll take what I can get.

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14 thoughts on “Third Party Politics

  1. Politics in the USA suffers from the same problem as in the UK – an electoral system that does not leave space for third parties. A combination of demographics and the traditional appeal of each of the two established parties to different economic classes ensures the survival of a sterile adversarial debate. Fortunately you have the advantage of mid-term elections which ensure that some kind of balance is maintained within the system.

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  2. A well worded post, that sums up the thoughts of many. Voting for the lesser of two evils is how it is being portrayed, and it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth at the ballot box. Another approach is to cast a vote in accordance with “protesting” but we only have to look at the UK Brexit debacle to see what discord voting can do, and that story is still unfolding…

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  3. “The biggest example is the mentality of the “Lesser of two evils.” The idea is that you vote for the least despicable of the two major candidates simply to deny the worst candidate from winning. It doesn’t matter if you actually agree with the person you voted for, the mentality just states you vote for the person you disagree with least. This is such a silly idea you could hardly find anyone that seriously supports it.

    There are a number of problems with this argument. While it is largely utilitarian, your vote would be much better spent going towards a candidate you actually agree with. Not only would you be putting your effort towards ideals you believe in but you wouldn’t have to compromise yourself into this trap of “lesser evils.” Think of it this way: if Hitler and Stalin were campaigning on the Republican and Democratic tickets, respectively, would you vote for the lesser of two evils? You wouldn’t vote for Stalin simply because you believe he is the less despicable, you would simply revolt. And that is all there is to do.”

    Huh? I can find serious people who seriously support it, all right. Of course, it depends on the relative “greatness of the evils”. The paradigmatic situation would be something like “Stalin vs. someone you merely disagree with.” Then by voting you (a collective you, anyway) could vote to stop Stalin from gaining power, or you could vote for someone with no chance of winning to feel good about yourself.

    If it’s merely about someone disagreeable vs. someone you have reason to think will do somewhat greater harm, then it can be seen as a dilemma: follow principles or try to do something that actually helps. (Of course, a single person voting is really following a principle anyway, since a single vote is never going to make a difference at such a scale, but it’s a principle on another level that I’m ignoring here.) But even so, it’s a dilemma, not an obvious choice.

    There is a sense in which you are *already* in this trap of lesser evils when the situation comes to you. By accepting it, yes, do you kind of put yourself in it, but denying it doesn’t necessarily get you out.

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  4. This is much the same in France where I live, there has been an underlying tone of dissatisfaction with the parties and most definitely the feeling of picking the ‘lesser of two evils’. I don’t know if this happens in other countries but a lot of citizens where I live have been choosing ‘le vote blanc’: putting a blank piece of paper into the envelop rather than the paper of a preferred party candidate whilst in the voting booth. It implies the desire to participate but how unimpressed he or she is about the candidates presented. With hope, other forms of voting, notably the alternative vote, can be popularized in the future and then eventually used.

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  5. Democracy is about winner take all. If there are two competing candidates then one wins and the other loses. If there are more than two candidates, the the one who wins the majority, whether it be popular vote or electoral vote, wins. But what if no one wins a majority? In this country the Congress will decide. The political party with the most congressional votes will choose the winner. But what if no political has a majority of congressional members? Then we would see a coalition of parties to decide the outcome.

    But the question is whether or not this country can sustain three or more parties that do not have anything close to a majority. It is possible that such a condition may come to pass. You might remember that the old Whig party split into two factions and eventually the birth of the republican party came into being at the expense of both the Whig and Democrat parties. We do not, as Spain does, deep histories of former regional kingdoms overlaid with social and political developments. Our memories are rather short, politically.

    Does voting for a minority party candidate do any good? Yes. One can vote one’s conscience, so to speak. It may be preferable to withhold one’s vote completely, but voting for a third party at least allows the vote to be felt even if in a very minor manner. It is something rather than nothing. It is visible rather than invisible. It is not about expecting a third party win but expecting notice of displeasure with politics as usual.

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  6. My humble view is that voting merely endorses the existing system. When you vote, you are saying that you accept the mechanism that empowers the establishment. If voting had any chance of turning out the establishment, they would never allow it.

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