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Third-party presidential candidate? Not happening [Most commented]

August 10, 2011 |  5:14 pm

Poll clerks set up apolling station.
Who wouldn’t want an independent president, who is free from party ideologies and interest groups and able to do what’s right for the country? We can dream, but it won’t happen and we probably don’t want it to, wrote Seth Masket, an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver, and Hans Noel, an assistant professor at Georgetown University, in an Op-Ed piece Wednesday. Independent candidates have a huge disadvantage in the face of the two established parties -– most states use the winner-take-all system for their electoral college, making winning just one state a huge challenge, let alone the nation. And even if an independent candidate was elected president, the debt-ceiling deal, for example, would have been catastrophic without a party already on the president’s side. If you don’t like the way our system works, Masket and Noel wrote, the best way to change things is to get involved and fight for the issues you care about. Here's an excerpt from their piece:

All of this seems unfair. Why should these two parties have such an advantage? That's the wrong way to look at it. The Democrats and the Republicans are not our overlords. They are us. They are the natural creations of politically concerned citizens who want to make a difference. And because in a democracy, the more people you have, the more chance you have of making a difference, parties organize together to have strength in numbers.

That is democracy: people joining together, compromising among themselves to arrive at policies, and trying to get those policies enacted.

Most readers on the discussion board are slightly more optimistic about independents, and are stuck on the dream of such a candidate.

The authors aren’t necessarily wrong, but their argument has flaws

[…] Not to say that either of the authors are necessarily wrong, but there are a few flaws in their argument. 

First, the authors state that "about 40% of the country votes Republican and about 40% votes Democratic in a presidential election no matter who the candidates are."  This statement fails to consider the vast swaths of people who don't currently vote (37% of potential voters in 2008).  Add this to the 20% of independent voters and you'd easily have a plurality and potential for a majority. 

Second, the authors note Duverger's law and its effect on voters but fail to note effects repeated elections have on voting.  Voters on the fringes of the political spectrum lose if they vote for the lesser of two evils over and over again and will have desire to turn to a third party "loser" if their non major party vote can gain the attention of a major parties.

Third, the authors site some of the difficulties third party candidates face, but fail to cite what is by far the biggest obstacle facing third party candidates, which is their inability to get on televised presidential debates (at least since Perot), which are controlled by the two major parties. This is the real reason that third party candidates are at least close to un-viable, as without access to these debates millions of voters have no way of coming across their message and thus seeing them as viable candidates.

--staybailey

That’s why Perot, Nader and Wallace weren’t president

Problems with electing a third party candidate:

If a "moderate" (whatever that is, probably a defacto appeaser or mealy mouth) has a message that could get him elected, both parties would immediately triangulate their message to co-opt his platform, until after the election at least.

A third party candidate that tries a regional approach, as they do in other countries, would also fail. Any tribalism in the US is national, not local.

A third party candidate that tries to go to the right of the Republicans or to the left of Democrats is dead meat.   

This is why we never have had a president Perot, Nader, or Wallace.  

--edwardskizer

The party system should be eliminated so people can run on their own merits

[…] Seth Masket and Hans Noel,

Wow... really - how out of touch are you. If there was a real chance for democracy in this country it would mean the elimination of the "party" system all together, and have people run on their own merits. Any other way (such as the current system), it really becomes a false sense of choice...  designed more to keep people content by making them think that their voice is being heard / counted and that they are supposedly a nation "of the people" than anything else - we are not naive... neither the dem's or rep's really care about the plight of the American people, and rather are more focused on their own interests... 

Sure fielding a "third party" candidate is difficult, and its made to be that way... You say yourself..

"It's not going to happen because the major party candidates have three huge advantages. They are already organized. They have built-in supporters. And our electoral institutions favor the largest two parties."

Yes your right any 'party' will have a great benefit over an independent, both parties are:

1) not accountable to the people...

2) paid for by corporate (and or special) interests...

3) as you say have "build-in supporters", albeit of brain dead people who think that their party actually represents them, and that they actually have any real choice in the matter (other than A or B).

--steve_77

If you disagree, the best thing to do is vote for the third party

Boycotting the election sends the very simple message that you're fine with whichever one of the state parties wins.  If you hate the major parties, the best thing you can do with your vote is to reliably vote third party in every election - this sends a message of genuine discontent, while abstaining sends a resounding 'meh.' [...]

--Deekoo

The best way for a third party to gain strength is on the local level

The authors use some truly flawed logic here, using very broad assumptions.

The number of Americans who identify themselves as "middle of the road" are higher & growing...Of course most have voted either Rep. or Dem. -- those have been the only choices, especially on a national level.   The major parties are themselves creating a perfect storm now to give rise to a third party rising from the center... How could it not, with each being hijacked by their extremist wings?   What group really represents the political hybrids among us?

The key is to first establish a centrist-based party to take local & state level offices; given the current climate, that could be relatively easy.  A tangible run for the White House would then be possible, once the duopoly in Congress is broken up.  The parties are now ripe to be diluted and challenged by the middle -- they'd be incredibly naive not to see it coming. If someone with the right momentum and backing were ready now, and the election were next month, Obama AND a GOP rival would both be eating their dust.

Unless Obama or whoever wins 2012 is wildly successful in the next 4 years, and at the same time, the GOP & DNC stop being held ideological prisoners by the fringes, then a centrist/non-traditional party line Presidency is probably only 2 or 3 election cycles away.  The major parties should prepare, or be shell shocked when it happens.

--Samfour

*Spelling errors in the above comments were corrected.

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-- Samantha Schaefer

Photo: Poll clerks Charles Greene and Paula Knight place the U.S. flag and polling signs before the 7 a.m. opening of polls for voters to see at the Baldwin Hills polling place. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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