Only one U.S. president has won his election without being aligned with one of the two major political parties. His name was George Washington. All presidents after him, whether they were Federalist, Whig, or, as they’ve been recently, Democrat or Republican aligned themselves with one of these strong ideological groups. Throughout American history, the vast majority of both the electoral and popular vote went to candidates from these parties. This blog post, however, isn’t about them. This is about the other candidates. The third and fourth place finishers. This is about the oft forgotten third party challengers.
If you listen to Democrats and Republicans talk, it’s easy to fall into the trap and think that every member of their parties are a monolith of voters who all think the same about every issue in their respective platforms. It’s easy to assume that all Democrats fiercely defend their positions from completely opposite Republican enemies, but in reality, most of us are somewhere in the middle. We think that a woman’s right to bodily autonomy should be balanced with a fetus’s right to life. We see that the ACA has the potential to provide care to thousands of people that couldn’t access it before, but sets a dangerous precedent for government involvement in the economy. We see that racial prejudice still exists in our society and should be addressed, but we aren’t going to abolish our police departments. These issues are complicated, and it’s easy for voters to fall into a trap where they support all of a party’s viewpoints without question. For the voters who find themselves enthusiastically supporting some of a party’s beliefs while finding others completely abhorrent, 2020’s third parties provide a useful alternative with platforms that are, simultaneously, a hybrid mix of Republican and Democratic ideals and a departure from both altogether.
The third parties with the most support for the 2020 election are the Libertarian Party and the Green Party whose nominees are Jo Jorgensen and Howie Hawkins respectively.
Libertarians like Jorgensen present this interesting hybrid mixture where they share many of their social views with Democrats and their economic views with Republicans. Above all, the Libertarian Party is all about elevating the importance of individual rights. For supporters of a freer market and a more tolerant social platform, keep your eye on her.
Howie Hawkins is the Green Party’s candidate for the presidency. Hawkins and the Green party pursue a strong, progressive social agenda while also trying to reform environmental policy to more renewable sources with a main goal to completely eliminate carbon emissions by 2030.
Say what you will about whether or not you agree with their policies. However, it’s undeniable that these interests aren’t fully captured by the Democratic or the Republican Parties. A healthy democracy functions best when the interests of its people are represented in government. The two main parties seem to represent the majority of the views that Americans hold, but there exists a substantial minority of Americans whose views aren’t shared in mainstream politics. Third parties are vital to the health of the democracy because diversity of ideas allows political discourse to be vibrant and representative of the will of the people. The struggle between Democrats and Republicans have resulted in the two parties adopting opposite views from each other. They are fiercely opposed and bipartisan compromise seems more and more infrequent. The ideological distance between the parties seems to grow ever larger, but more support for third parties could counteract this change. Third party representatives with moderate ideologies take the space between the two extremes and could foster compromise between them. With polarization getting worse and worse every year, it’s more important than ever that we listen to what these third party candidates have to say and think for ourselves on which candidate truly represents what we think is the right direction for our government.
We have two strong, third party candidates in the running this cycle. If these candidates and their platforms appeal to you more than the others, you should vote for them right? Isn’t that how voting is supposed to work? Well…
Voters want their candidate to win. However, for third party candidates it’s almost impossible for this to happen. Like I said, the only time a candidate won without joining a major party was the only time there was an election without parties. On top of that, you have graphs like this:
Third party candidates are almost guaranteed to lose, but that’s not the worst of it. By voting third party, you’re also giving up the opportunity to vote for your second-choice candidate who might have a higher chance of winning. It’s an easy decision to make if you despise both major party candidates, but for the majority of voters who have second or third choices, voting third party increases the chances that the candidate that you MOST disagree with will end up winning. For many people, a vote for a third party candidate is a vote wasted, and I’m not going to argue that these candidates will have a sudden turnaround and get elected. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t vote for who you most support.
It’s all about sending a message. By voting for who you most support, whether it’s third party or not, you are sending two main messages.
First, you’re sending a message to political parties about the positions you support. It lets third parties know that there’s a reason to keep campaigning. Maybe it won’t lead to a third party president, but it’s certainly happened before for other offices. The biggest effect that it will have, however, is on the two main parties. If Republicans see Libertarian support, they’ll try to incorporate some Libertarian beliefs into their platform to secure votes. The same applies to Democrats and the Green Party. Long term, this will lead to candidates better representing the policy preferences of the wide range of beliefs in the American electorate.
Second, you’re sending a message to voters. No one wants their last choice candidate to win the election, but, for many, they simply vote for the one they hate the least. Voting for a third party candidate informs other voters that an alternative exists to the two main parties that have ruled American politics for as long as can be remembered. The more visible third parties are in mainstream political discourse, the higher the likelihood that people will check out the platforms and may align themselves with a third party.
I’m not saying that everyone should vote third party “just because”. If you truly believe that a major party candidate is best (as the majority probably do), vote for them. All I’m saying is that our votes mean so much more than who we want as our leaders. It lets politicians, the media, and our fellow voters know exactly what values we think should govern our country, and it is ultimately those values that we want represented. Get to know Jo and Howie. And above all, Make your voice heard.
I really enjoyed reading your blog post about third party candidates this cycle! Maybe I am biased because a lot of my friends really like Howie and are voting for him (I can’t vote in the US), but I agree with a lot of what you said. And I think that these conversations need to happen more often and the vote shaming needs to stop. I don’t think it is fair to shame or blame third-party voters while more than half of the country does not vote all because at least third party voters vote.
But we also have to ask ourselves, why people don’t vote and why last election there were so many “undervotes”? A lot of people are quick to blame Bernie supporters for not rallying around Joe Biden. But what reason has he given them to vote for him? He doesn’t support any issues they care about. And people often say “let’s elect Biden and then we can push him to the left”; but when was the last time this worked?
Additionally, the Green Party has a lot of people in state and local governments. Just because they have not won any presidential elections, does not mean they are not serious. Speaking of winning presidential elections, what are your thoughts on the Duverger’s law?
Duverger’s law holds true! It makes sense and is the natural order of things for a first past the post system. I recognize that it spells doom for any third party candidate that sets their sights on winning any major office. It is at this moment, though, that I am inspired by Jo Jorgensen’s campaign slogan for the 2020 election: Let Her Speak. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with her platform, I think that this slogan strikes at the heart of what makes third parties so great. As I mentioned in my post, the third party gives a voice to jaded voters who are tired of voting for what they may see as two bad choices.
Regarding your question on undervoting and refrains from voting altogether, it should be noted that it often gets a bad rap. It is difficult for us, as enthusiastic participants in our democratic system to easily relate to those who don’t feel strongly about it at all or, perhaps, only feel strongly about a few candidates. There are a few of us who become passionate to the point of indignance when we see just how many people choose not to vote in our elections. There is something to be admired in this. A well-functioning democracy cannot survive on apathy. At the same time, however, we all have something to learn from nonvoters. For the ones that don’t really care what happens, it may be wise simply to tell them why it may matter to you. The last thing that we should do is try to make them passionate about something they just don’t feel passionate about. Such a display will only push them further away from getting into a political system they already might not feel equipped to engage in. May main message here is that it’s not healthy to look at the large amount of people who didn’t vote as a problem that needs to be solved. Rather, they are simply a group of people whose interests may not align with the political science or international affairs majors that we come in contact with on a daily basis. It would be prudent to try to understand their motives for not acting as we would any average voter.