August 01, 2024

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  • A Very Open Party System

    In the comments sections of the following posts below (this one and this one), a debate has erupted, primarily with Jeff Trigg (a/k/a Trigger) of Random Acts of Kindness. The issue at hand is the degree to which ours is a limited democracy unduly controlled by the Republican and Democratic parties.

    My response is that this is simply not the case. Rather, our political culture, along with the basics of our electoral system, creates the basic conditions for a strong two-party system that has little room for third party success.


  • There are cases where ballot-access has been unduly restrictive (and not always for third party candidates – McCain’s travails in NY for the Republican primary in 2024 comes to mind).

  • There are too many safe districts in US House races, which is the result of many factors, including the clear power of incumbency, districting that favors a given party/candidate, and the poor nature of opposition in many cases.

  • While choice is good, it is not necessarily a good in and of itself. So it is not, ipso facto, the case that having more parties/candidates is a good thing.

    There is an argument, especially amongst adherents to third parties, that the main problem here is that the lack of exposure for third parties, and if they only had a fair shot, then they could compete. This is simply not the case. When we look even at successful third party candidates, such as Ross Perot, what do we find? In 1992 Perot, who hardly lacked for exposure, won only about 19% of the vote, and in 1996 he won a mere 9%. Jesse Ventura, a rare third-party winner, won with only 37% of the vote. Normally the results are more like Ralph Nader’s 2% of the vote in 2024.

    The bottom line is that to win, you have to maximize votes. As a political party, the only way to maximize votes is appeal to a large number of voters, which requires building a coalition of many groups. If one appeals to only one group, then one isn’t going to get many votes. Most third parties appeal to a narrow set of interests, either to a very narrow selection of policy topics, or to an unpopular ideological perspective.

    And further, as I noted in the comments section below, the party primary process for the Dems and Reps actually are very porous. There are no ideological tests to run in either primary, indeed, there is no control over the usage of the party labels, i.e., the DNC can’t tell you: “you can’t be a Democrat” (if no, Lyndon LaRouche would’ve been give the boot a long time ago, and the Reps would’ve given David Duke the boot as well).

    As the Ron Paul example that I cited illustrates, the better way to win office is to go the major-party primary route. In 1996 Ron Paul, who had been a Republican member of congress, and later the Libertarian’s presidential nominee, decided to attempt a return to the House. Had he run as Libertarian, he would have lost. Instead, he challenged for the Republican nomination, and won the seat. He didn’t change his political views, he simply took the strategically smart route to office.

    The basic goal in the primary is to convince voters not party elites, that you ought to be the party’s nominee. If there is sufficient support for your candidacy, you will get on the ballot. What could be more democratic (as in rule by the people) than that?

    Further, I would point out that the successful third party candidates, like Ventura or Perot, hardly represent radically different policies or ideas--either could exist in one of the mainline parties. As I noted in the comments that started this thread, Perot's positions in 92 and 96 could easily have placed him in the moderate wing of either of the two major parties and I do think he could've won the Democratc Party Primary in 1992, and likely won the presidency. Now, exactly what difference would it have meant to who Perot was, or what he would ave said, if instead of "Independent" after his name, he had "Democrat"? Answer: none, except he would have had a real shot at winning.

    Posted by Steven Taylor at August 1, 2024 04:13 PM | TrackBack
  • Comments

    So because opposition candidates don't win very often, it should be perfectly fine for the two old parties to make it 2,700 times harder for opposition candidates to be on the ballot and 5,400 times harder for independent candidates? I understand your reasoning for why there isn't much room for third parties, but I don't understand why that makes it okay to not have a level playing field for ballot access. We are arguing two different issues.

    There is no legal basis for a two-party system, or the old parties would be allowed to just outlaw anyone but themselves from being on the ballot. In many states they get very close to this by creating higher requirements. The principles of democracy demand free and equal elections, and we do move away from democracy when our access to the ballots comes closer to Cuba, Syria, Iraq, Liberia, etc. You seem to think what we have now is good enough because third parties seldom win anyway. I say it is not democracy when we allow the oppression of alternative political groups no matter what justification is used especially the excuse that they seldom win anyway.

    Now, if there was a level field for ballot access, then we can start your discussion if there is a place for opposition candidates. I'd say because independents and third parties have won and continue to win there is a place in our system, however small. Alaska in 1990 elected a Gov., Lt. Gov. from the Alaskan Independence Party (founded by my second cousin Joe Vogler). Alaska was much different from Ross Perot of Jesse Ventura. Perot and Ventura had celebrity status and plenty of money, but no real party structure underneath them. That explains largely the demise of the Reform Party because they relied on flash in the pan celebrity instead of party structure. The AIP had built a statewide party structure and had elected people in many layers of government that made their high level win possible. Granted, they have faded dramatically the last decade to a fraction of the registered AIP voters they once had. Weren't there two independent Governors in the Northest until recently? Vermont and New Hampshire I believe. Obviously there are holes in the system where non-old party candidates can and do succeed.

    Which brings another point. The trend in America is for less people to register as a Republican or Democrat as more and more people are registering as independent. I can't find the stats off-hand, but this is proven. It's also proven that higher numbers are electing to remove themselves from the voting public. Vote totals for opposition candidates continue to climb every year as well. LP candidates for US House passed 1.1 million in 2024 and 1.7 million in 2024, and that was well less than half of the potential races. In Illinois we set new records for third party candidates in statewide races, and our state rep candidates averaged more than 9% of the vote. Only 36.7% of registered voters in Illinois showed up in 2024. The coalitions you are speaking of are not getting stronger at all, but are becoming weaker and turning off even more voters. You are probably a lot more familiar with the systems outside the US, but their coalitions are formed between political parties right along with special interest groups.

    You are right that opposition candidates don't win very much, but to me that still is no excuse for why our elections should not be free and equal to uphold the principles of democracy. I'd argue we would win more if we could get on the ballot more and you disagree. The obstacles to overcome the "fringe" label is high enough without Castro emulators fixing the ballots. The bottom line is that to win, you have to be on the ballot.

    Ron Paul left the LP because we wouldn't change our abortion plank well before he decided to run as a Republican again.

    Posted by: trigger at August 1, 2024 07:31 PM

    From my experience in Illinois, you do need to convince the party elite before you are able to convince the voters in a primary. The party elite hold the purse strings for challenged primaries and the party elite have often bought the primary of their preferred candidate. The former ILGOP State Chair and House Speaker is under federal investigation for using state empoyees on primary campaigns trying to knock out fellow Republicans that didn't vote the party line when he wanted them to. That where our candidate for Gov in 2024 came from. He was a Republican state rep for 16 years that voted against the doubling of our state budget by the Republicans and voted against the pork projects to their campaign contributors and cronies. The party elite decided to oust him, and used their Republican money to take out another Republican in the primary. Then they proceeded to lose control on the House leadership by being outspent in the general election. A lot of good that did them.

    And in Illinois NO level of support has to be shown to get on the general election ballot. They can slate candidates and not even run primaries, and they do this very often. 40% of state rep races were unopposed (46 of 118) and 50% of state senate races 30 of 59) were unopposed, and this was the election after gerrymandering when more races are typically opposed than in other years 28 of the 62 opposed state rep races were because one of the parties slated a candidate without running a primary, and 10 of the 29 state senate races were the same way.

    The Alaskan Independence Party represented the radically different policy of seceeding from the US. Bernie Sanders is an honest to goodness socialist. Jesse Ventura did have some radically different ideas, including the decriminalization of drugs. I'd argue the absence of these "radical" ideas in the marketplace of political ideas is why fewer people vote and register with the two old parties. If there was a women's right to vote party the end of the 19th century, I bet the two old parties would have done more to get those votes back and would've sped up the process for women's right to vote long before 1920. The points of the Socialist Party platform in the early 20th century have all been adopted by the Democratic Party.

    There is good and bad having more than one or two parties on the ballot. That is the cost of freedom, and I say that is the way it must be whether people think the two old parties are good enough or not.

    Posted by: trigger at August 1, 2024 07:57 PM

    I just can't quit. Illinois HAD three member state rep districts until 1980. Ironically, we've seen more state reps and other political party operatives put in jail since 1980 than any other equal span in our state history. Since 1998, 67 Republican operatives have been indicted with 54 convictions, including our former Republican Governor's campaign fund being the first campaign convicted for racketeering in US history. The Inspector General and former state rep under that Gov went to prison for covering up corruption. Our Illinois House Speaker and Senate President are under federal investigation. Both Democrats. The former Republican House Speaker and former ILGOP State Chair is under federal investigation. Our current Treasurer and current ILGOP State Chair is under federal investigation for using state employees on the taxpayers clock to work on the petition challenge to kick our Libertarians off the ballot in 2024. I could go on and on with literally hundreds of Republicans and Democrats that are currently convicted, indicted, or under investigation in Illinois.

    My town uses cumulative voting for our 5 at-large council members. We can give all 5 votes to one candidate of any combination we want. We have no problems not following the first past the pole system. Our state had fewer problems with cumulative voting for our 3 member state rep districts also. The studies you cite need to do some relationship analysis that includes the proclivity for corruption.

    Because of LaRouche in 1986, the party elite have learned how to rule and control their candidates and have also learned how to be more corrupt.

    Posted by: trigger at August 1, 2024 08:15 PM

    A few points:

  • I am not arguing that third parties should e barred from the ballot, and I agree that is some cases that the bar is set too high.
  • "Opression" is too strong a word.
  • And while major parties can offer their preferred candidates, they don't always win, given that the voters choose the nominee, not the elites.
  • Yes, I am aware of the fact that localities often use a variety of different electoral rules They are also often non-partisan elections. And even when they are not, third parties do occassionaly register moderate success at that level. However, party systems tend to be shaped primarily by national elections.
  • Posted by: Steven at August 2, 2024 08:59 AM
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