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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Is Polarized America Ready for a Breakout Third Party?

According to political scientist Bernard Tamas, the removal of Republican Liz Cheney from her leadership position in the House of Representatives could provide fertile ground for the rise of an alternative party.

“I would say the time is basically ripe for a third-party challenge, and this is largely because of the level of polarization in American politics, particularly the movement on the right by the Republican Party,” Tamas says. Associate Professor at Valdosta State University in Georgia and author of The Demis and Rebirth of American Third Parties.

But even if a third party emerges, Tamas says, the history of American politics shows that it may be short-lived and enjoy limited success in elections.

Independent Ross Perot (C), seen here with Democratic presidential nominee Governor Bill Clinton (L) and President George Bush at the 1992 presidential debate in Michigan, won 19% of the popular vote in the November 1992 election.

Dismissing his unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud in the November 2020 presidential election, House Republicans removed Cheney from Wyoming after publicly breaking up with former President Donald Trump, whom he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Had gone.

“If you look at the two parties now, what Democrats do with the opposition is kind of integrating them. … It’s a big net strategy,” says Tamas. “But Republicans are moving more and more toward excluding moderates and anyone who challenges former President Trump.”

And those circumstances, he says, are historically consistent with other times when third parties have emerged in the United States.

third party blocker

A populist party supporting the poor peasantry emerged in the 1890s and lasted until 1900. However, during its brief run, it posed great danger to the Democrats that the party eventually adopted some of the populist party ideals.

In 1912, the more progressive wing of the Republican Party, led by former President Teddy Roosevelt, broke away from the Republican Party to form the Progressive Party. Roosevelt garnered a larger share of the popular vote than Republican candidate William Taft, but both lost to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. While the division hurt Republicans in the elections, the move ultimately pushed the Republican Party more into the center.

National Progressive Convention, Chicago, August 6, 1912.
National Progressive Conference, Chicago, August 6, 1912.

It is the fear of vote-sharing that may work against third-party candidates, which helps the two major parties maintain their dominance in politics.

Alexander Cohen, an assistant, says, “When a voter enters a polling station, they have to do a count, and they may like someone they don’t think is going to win, and your vote.” There’s no point in throwing it away.” Professor of Political Science at Clarkson University in New York. “And those who donate money to campaigns, people who work in politics, they, in turn, tend to believe that this is a pattern and so they rarely give their support behind a third party’s candidacy. , because it’s not going to succeed.”

Deep Roots

Cohen says it is difficult to move away from a two-party system without fundamentally changing the structure of government, as well as the rules for campaigns and campaign finance.

“In the US, both parties have spent a lot of time and energy, and written laws that support their continuation and make it very difficult for third parties to emerge,” Cohen says. “In some states, there are laws that mean third parties are required to sign a ballot more than the major parties, for which it is automated. Therefore, the two major parties do not want competitors, and they devised a system. of which makes it more difficult.”

Voters sign to cast their vote at a polling place on April 26, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Voters sign in to cast their vote at a polling place on April 26, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

It’s possible that a third-party candidate could prove victorious in smaller local elections, according to Cohen, but he says the two-party system is here to stay in more significant contests.

“You’ll notice that Liz Cheney isn’t leaving the Republican Party. As soon as she does, she gets into politics,” he says. “The players you’d expect the most from, ‘I’m going away, we’re building a new movement,’ aren’t doing it because they know that’s not the way to represent their policies.”

Tamas agrees that it is unlikely that third parties will ever win a consistently important election. He says his main influence has always been through disruption which leads to more slackness among the major parties.

“Compared to most other countries, third parties (in the US) are vulnerable, so this leaves them with a specific strategy, which is to attack one of the parties, disrupt politics, temporarily and hopefully. With that it is not going to be a permanent position in politics,” says Tamas. “It’s just going to create a course correction.”

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