It is commonly argued that political parties are becoming weaker and interest groups are becoming more powerful in America.  Keeping these changes in mind, is it possible that the United States will ever move away from the two-party system and have three or more strong parties? In 1992, Texan billionaire Ross Perot won more votes than any `third party` candidate for President ever had before. Coincidence, or will a smaller party ever become a strong enough force to rule the United States, or indeed have an influential presence in Parliament?

            Statistics suggest that Americans are in favor of a third major force in their political scenario.  According to a poll conducted by Angus Reid Global Monitor:

“Many adults in the United States believe there should be a viable alternative to Republicans and Democrats, according to a poll by Princeton Survey Research Associates for the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. 53 per cent of respondents believe there should be a third major political party in the country, up three points since June 2004.” (Angus Reid Global Monitor, 2003).

And according to VoteBuddy.com, 2006, more than two thirds of Americans want a third party because of the following reasons:  Most people are simply aware that government of, by, and for the Democrats and Republicans has not been working; they have little idea why. Part of the reason is that neither party really stands for what it used to. Instead, both of them have moved to the center in hopes of capturing the many “moderate” voters out there. A lot of people really miss having a party that represents the principles they believe in. Others have specific concerns that they believe have been abandoned by the one major party that ever showed any interest in them. (VoteBuddy.com, 2006).

Indeed the voting trends of the past decade or two have perhaps been indicative of this new trend towards a third, independent party.  In recent years, Ross Perot and Ralph Nader, both representatives of independent parties, have gained a fairly large part of the vote over their Democratic and Republican competitors, not enough to cause worry to leaders of the two major parties yet, but certainly more than in previous years.

Also worth noting is the low percentage of voter turnout at American polls.  Are those who don’t turn out to vote independent supporters who are just thinking that their vote will be wasted?  Or are they so happy with the system as it is that they don’t feel they need to vote?  Today, American voters give all kinds of reasons for not voting. The “cost” of being involved in the voting process is among them. On the one hand, many find it difficult to register and stay registered (moving means having to reregister), despite efforts like the federal motor-voter bill, which allows Americans to register while renewing driver’s licenses, and popular pushes like MTV’s “Rock the Vote” campaign.  (Hough, 2006)

Others get turned off by the enormous time commitment needed to follow the race. This year’s presidential election, for example, saw candidates jockeying for position nearly two years before the actual election. Unfortunately, instead of giving Americans more time to absorb the issues, according to results from the Vanishing Voter Project, the long campaign has them tuning out.  (Hough, 2006)

“You can make an argument for a long campaign,” acknowledged Patterson, “but our data show it’s a disincentive.” During the second week of the project’s polling — a full year before the election — only 5 percent of Americans said they were paying “a great deal of attention” to the campaign. Roughly 60 percent said they were paying “little” or “no” attention. By week three, despite heavy news coverage, Americans’ interest in the campaign actually declined.  (Hough, 2006)

Whatever the case is, a true representation of political feeling in America will only be obtained once voter turnout is higher.

Another aspect which would make it hard for a third party to gain strength is congressional opposition to third parties.  Traditionally, according to Wikipedia, a two party system works as follows: A two-party system is a form of party system where two major political parties dominate the voting in nearly all elections. As a result, all, or nearly all, elected offices end up being held by candidates endorsed by the two major parties. Coalition governments occur only rarely in two-party systems, though each party may internally look like a coalition. Under a two-party system, one of two major parties typically holds a majority in the legislature (or a legislative house in a bicameral system), and is referred to as the Majority Party.

The other major party is referred to as the Minority Party. The leader of the majority party may be referred to as the Majority Leader, assisted by the Majority Whip, and the leader of the major opposition party may be referred to as the Minority Leader, assisted by the Minority Whip. Two-party systems often develop spontaneously when the voting system used for elections discriminates against third or smaller parties, because the number of votes received for a party in a whole country is not directly related to the proportion of seats it receives in the country’s assembly/assemblies. (Wikipedia, 2006). We can see how a system structured in a way like this would make it very difficult for a third party to prosper.

In addition, some reports state that Congress itself shows opposition to third parties, which, at least for the current time, would make it very hard for a third party to achieve any sort of effectiveness in Congress. In BC Politics, Kevin Surbaugh (2006), reports that he has read in a Green Party document. He states:

“This article is about the Democrats trying to pass a bill (HR 4694) that effectively seeks to ban any and all third parties, basically making it so only the Republicans and Democrats will have access to power. It’s already difficult for an independent or third party candidate to gain ballot access, but this new bill would make it almost impossible.

HR 4694 (“Let the People Decide Clean Campaign Act”) would mean that the official nominees of parties (i.e., Democrats and Republicans) that had averaged 25% of the vote for House races in a given district in the last two elections would get full public funding.

All others (i.e., third party and independent candidates) would be required to submit petitions signed by 10% of the number of people who voted in the last election to get partial funding, and 20% petitions to get full funding. The press release gives an example of the 2nd district in Missouri, where 10% of that district would be some 35,000 signatures, just to spend anything at all, including your/his/her own money.

This is a bill that people of all parties should be concerned about.: (Surbaugh, 2006).

Surbaugh calls for actions from Americans to prevent this bill from occurring. Perhaps the best form of action they can take would be to present themselves at the polls and vote for the people that they want to vote for. Again, statistics show that Americans don’t vote for independents because they are afraid that they will be “wasting” their vote.  Terry Mitchell commented on this in July 2006 in an article called “Voters are to Blame for Bad Politics”, as follows:

“One of our biggest problems is our unwillingness to vote for independent or third party candidates. These candidates generally do not have obligations to party bosses or quid pro quo relationships with lobbyists like the major party candidates do. Very often, we will vote for the lesser of two evils, rather than an independent or third party candidate who might be much better.

Of course, when you vote for the lesser of two evils, you’re still voting for an evil. Many people feel like they would be wasting their vote by voting for any of those other candidates. This is simply not true. A voter only wastes his/her vote when he/she votes for someone he/she does not really like. Instead, we create a voting catch-22 for ourselves, i.e., no one will vote for Mr. Independent because he has no chance; Mr. Independent has no chance because no one will vote for him. If enough people decided to start voting their conscience, we could break that vicious cycle.” (Mitchell, 2006)

When Americans go to the poll on 7 November 2006, there will not only be two parties on the ballot paper. Democrats and Republicans will be joined by the likes of the Constitution Party, the Liberation Party, interest groups such as the Green Party, and even the Peace and Freedom Party.  How will the 45% of Americans who want a third party in Government vote?  Indeed, will they vote at all?  Once before we have seen how powerful an effective third party vote can be.  Some have said that Perot cost George Bush the 1992 election.

During the spring primaries in the big industrial states like New York and Pennsylvania, when attention might have been paid to Clinton and former California Governor Jerry Brown as they fought each other and debated a domestic agenda for the new administration, all the media covered was the “undeclared” candidacy of Ross Perot (Ieinsdorf.com, 2006).

And did Nader cost Gore the election in 2000? A closer look shows if Nader wasn’t a choice, the 2.7% who supported Nader would have split so Gore would have picked up about 2% more support and Bush would have picked up an additional 1%. In a non-Nader race, Gore would have prevailed over Bush 50% to 49%. (Mike Hersh, 2003). This is indicative of exactly how much impact the third party vote can have, and the fact that these two events occurred in close succession are indicative that the public is slowly beginning to vote for who they actually want to.  This suggests that while there is still huge opposition, in the end a third party will prevail.

In conclusion, we can see that while it may be that Americans are in favor of a third major political party in their country (the votes for Ralph Nader and Ross Perot in recent years are indicative of this, and not purely mirage), some reform is needed before this can happen. Is this trend to continue?  The results of the upcoming election will be interesting. Americans themselves must actually go to the polls, and once there, they must vote for the candidates they actually believe the most in.  Congressional opposition to new parties also needs to be overcome and traditional two party system beliefs changed.

While I believe that a third party will be prevalent in American politics in the future, I do not believe that it will occur very soon.  The three determining factors – Congressional opposition, low voter turnout, and voters not voting for who they really want, need to be overcome first.

Works Cited

Angus Reid Global Monitor, “Americans Want Third Major Political Party” (2003), retrieved 6 Nov 2006 from the website http://www.angus-reid.com/polls/index.cfm?fuseaction=viewItem&itemID=11673

Hersh, Mike, (2003) “Did Nader Help Al Gore in 2000”, retrieved 6 Nov 2006 from the website http://www.mikehersh.com/Did_Nader_Help_or_Hurt_Al_Gore.shtml

Hough, Lory, (2006) “The American Voter” retrieved 6 Nov 2006 from the website http://www.ksg.harvard.edu/ksgpress/bulletin/spring2000/american_vote.html

Iensdorf, (2006) “Perot Did not Cost George Bush the 1992 Election” retrieved 6 Nov 2006 from the website http://www.leinsdorf.com/perot.htm

Mitchell, Terry, (2006), “Voters are To Blame for Bad Politics” retrieved 6 Nov 2006 from the website http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?articleID=11264

Surbaugh, Kevin, (2006) “Congress Planning to Shut down Third Parties”, retrieved 6 Nov 2006 from the website http://blogcritics.org/archives/2006/02/11/034246.php

VoteBuddy.com, “Our Vote is Held Hostage”,  2006 retrieved 6 Nov 2006 from the website http://votebuddy.com/

Wikipedia, (2006), “Two Party System”, retrieved 6 Nov 2006 from the website http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two-party_system