For the last several years, there have been many people across the country who have loudly proclaimed their desire to see a so-called “third party” candidate win a presidential election. When that third party fails to clinch the presidency, there have regularly been accusations of voter fraud, voter suppression, unfair county division, and a host of other charges. These complaints of unfair advantage are generally leveled at the two major parties in these United States: The Democrats and the Republicans. However, what many do not realize is why a third party cannot clinch the presidency.
To begin with, it ought to be noted that there are more than one or two third parties. Most have heard of the Green Party, still more have heard of the Libertarian Party, and fewer know of the Constitution Party. These are only three third party options; there are between forty and fifty third parties in the United States at any given time. For instance, there is the Working Families Party of New York, which was founded in 1998 and actually holds a state level Upper House seat. There is also the Black Riders Liberation Party of California, founded in 1996, which currently holds no political office. There’s also the Christian Liberty Party, the Legal Marijuana Now Party, the Socialist Equality Party, and even the United States Pirate Party to name but a few.
One reason that third parties have trouble winning offices of any kind is mainly due to how many third parties nominate candidates. In 2016, there were over twenty-four third party nominees running for office; in 2012, there were twenty-five. Voters were overwhelmed by the options: In one state alone, there were twenty-seven presidential candidates on the ballot. This is a one hundred forty character society, and not many voters have the time or patience to do their own research. This brings up another reason third parties have difficulties.
Compared to the two major parties, few people knew anything of these other options in either election. The reason that the Democrats and Republicans have as much support as they do is far less due to underhanded tactics and far more the result of their continued push for support through the off season. Because the two major parties remain in the public eye during the years there are no elections taking place, they continually cultivate and foster support amongst the voting population. For a third party to be successful, it must do much the same thing.
Finally, for a third party to be a serious contender in a presidential race, it needs three key things: Lower political offices, a stable image (reputation), and unshakable support.
For a third party to see any measurable success at a presidential level, it must first have proven itself at the State, House and Senate levels. These offices give the third party a good reputation among its supporters and prospective supporters, as well as a stable image; that is, there is past performance to look back upon for voter reassurance and attraction. The voting record and the achievements of third party office holders help to attract voting citizens, and will also cement the party’s preexisting support.
In closing, while there may be a problem with ballot representation, voter suppression, fraud or some other underhanded tactic in various states, the biggest reason third parties see so little success is directly related to the work put in outside of election seasons. A third party must focus upon voter attraction and retention in the off years, and start small in elections. Only after developing an image of stability and a reputation for excellence will a third party have a legitimate shot at taking the Presidency.