Is there a place for a third party in American politics?

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“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the major stories and debates of the day.

What is happening

Dozens of former Republicans and Democrats announced last week that they had formed a new centrist political party aimed at winning support from disgruntled voters in both major US political parties.

The party, called Forward, is led by former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang alongside former Republican New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and former GOP Congressman David Jolly. In an editorial for the washington post Describing their vision, the trio described Forward as a “unifying political party for the majority of Americans who want to transcend divisions and reject extremism.”

Attempts to establish a viable third party that can meaningfully compete with Democrats and Republicans are not new, but none of these efforts have been able to break the dominance of the two parties. It was over 50 years old since a third-party presidential candidate won no electoral votes. The most successful modern candidate outside the two major parties was Ross Perot, who won almost 19% of the vote while running as an independent in 1992.

The two major parties also hold near-unanimous command over Congress. Each of the current 431 members of the House of Representatives comes from one of the two parties. There are two independents in the Senate, although both consistently vote with Democrats, and one, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, has run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Forward leaders are aware of this history, but say a large swath of Americans ‘feel they are unrepresented’ by the two main parties – which they say leaves room for a moderate third party to step in. and make a difference.

Why there is debate

Although they recognize that it is a very steep climb, some experts believe that the current environment may be ripe for a third party – even if it is not Forward – to have a substantial impact on American politics. A Gallup poll early last year found a record 62% of voters think the two main parties are doing such a bad job that a an alternative party is needed. While they admit it may be a stretch to imagine a third party candidate legitimately challenging for the presidency in 2024, optimists argue that it is possible for outside groups to be competitive in local races and build a strong base that allows them to gradually increase their influence over time.

But skeptics say the challenges are simply too steep for a third party to overcome. Beyond the enormous financial and infrastructural advantages enjoyed by the main parties, the American “win-win” system of government can prevent third parties from having real power of government. Critics also say polls suggesting a widespread desire for a third party can be misleading. They say that while there are plenty of disgruntled voters, they are so patchily spread across the entire ideological spectrum that no single party could represent all of their differing views. There’s also the ‘spoiler’ problem, in which third parties tend to siphon off votes from the main party they most align with, which can ultimately help the party they most oppose win races. tight. For example, voters who backed Green Party candidates Ralph Nader in 2000 and Jill Stein in 2016 have been accused — rightly or not — by some Democrats of helping the GOP win the presidency in those two elections. .

Some political analysts, however, argue that the impact of third parties should not be judged solely by their election victory. They argue that there are many examples in history where a third party gained enough support that one of the major parties was forced to make a substantial policy change in response. A centrist third party could have a similar effect today, some say, by forcing Democrats or Republicans to moderate their approach if they fear too many voters are abandoning them.

And after

Forward plans to hold its first party convention next summer and aims to have candidates on the ballot in local and state races across the country in 2024. Party leaders say it is not currently no plans to present a presidential candidate during this election cycle.

Perspectives

There is an untapped moderate majority waiting for a party to represent them

“Regardless of the exact percentage of disaffected moderates, it seems certain that if a centrist political coalition or vehicle were to arise in the service of ‘bipartisan’ political goals, it would shift the political center of gravity and end up constituting a majority, or at least be substantial enough to deny one to political extremes (or the legacy of political parties driven by them).—Richard J. Shinder, The hill

US elections leave no room for upstart political parties

“Our two-party system doesn’t exist because Americans only want two parties. They definitely want more. But our archaic “first-past-the-post” voting system, where the candidate with the most votes wins, makes third parties spoilers and thus directs all political ambition to the two main parties, entrenching the two-party system. —Lee Drutman boston globe

Third parties should be judged by their influence, not their electoral victories

“In the United States, a third party who succeeds is not necessarily the one who wins the national office. Instead, a successful third party is one that integrates or integrates its program into one of the two main parties, either by forcing key issues on the agenda or by revealing the existence of a powerful new electorate. — Jamelle Bouie, New York Times

Supposed Moderate Third Party Constituency Isn’t Real

“At the end of the day, so-called centrist third-party voters are not as large a group as is often imagined and are not really centrist either. And their alienation from both parties may be more alienation from politics or, to put it another way, from the prospect of doing anything about their grievances. This fantasy will never die, but it will not come to fruition in the foreseeable future. —Ed Kilgore, New York

Third parties can achieve real victories at the local level

“Americans consistently express growing distrust of the federal government, greater faith in local government, and a growing preference for states to take the lead over DC in policymaking. … The revival of federalism and localism might be more appealing to voters than yet another empty assertion that, deep down, we’re all in favor of “common sense solutions” that strike many people as nothing like it. —JD Tuccille, Raison

A third, a fourth and a fifth party must rise together to really weaken the big parties

“Any new party tends to split the ranks of one of the existing parties – the one that is closest to its political philosophy. … On the other hand, if two or even three new parties were trying to form at the same time , the result could be unpredictable and fluid.—Quin Hillyer, Washington Examiner

The spoiler problem may be insurmountable

“Patronage for party candidates is a difficult mountain to climb. Even voters who might consider independent or third-party candidates often decide they don’t want to waste their vote, and they will choose a candidate from one of the two main parties as the lesser of two evils. Americans prefer to vote for a candidate they think they can win. – Kevin Wagner palm beach post

Biden’s low approval ratings allow a third candidate in 2024 to make an impact

“The presidential election of 2024 can be a good opportunity for an independent campaign. It is unlikely that such a candidate would win the presidency, but making enough noise to get noticed is not uncommon. … If President Joe Biden remains unpopular and continues to run for another term through 2023, that would create the same situation. —Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg

Even disgruntled voters are extremely reluctant to abandon major parties

“In this climate – where large factions of party members view the other party not just as bad, but as evil – the idea of ​​a new entity attracting disgruntled voters from the center of both parties seems like a heavy reach.” —Jeff Greenfield, Policy

A moderate conservative party could force the GOP to abandon Trumpism

“A non-Trumpy candidate could act as a spoiler by garnering enough Conservative votes in the general election to throw the election to the Democrat. … The goal is to make the GOP suffer for its descent into absurdity. … It would also serve to remind the GOP that if you abandon conservative principles, conservatives might abandon you. — Jonah Goldberg Los Angeles Times

Big parties have too much money and power

“It would take tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars to establish an organization capable of challenging the Big Two, they learned – think of a mom-and-pop startup challenging Coke and Pepsi – and existing political donors are usually locked in one side of the hallway or the other. The same goes for the vast majority of political professionals who would risk their careers to help create a new great national party. Like it or not, in American politics, you are on one side or the other. There is no middle ground.” —William FB O’Reilly, press day

Third parties are attractive only in the abstract

“Real politics demands that you don’t just say ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be great if everything was better?’ but to make hard choices, choices that will drive some people crazy. That means risky positions of principle and compromises and imperfect solutions and fights. If you’re not ready to take on all of this, you’re not not serious about politics.—Paul Waldman, Washington Post

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

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