Reasons for Emergence of Third Parties in America
The term third party is used in America’s politics to refer to other political parties other than the two main/dominant parties- the Republican and Democratic parties. Third parties are formed in the USA for several reasons and the significant role they play in policy formulation and implementation in the USA. As observed by Tamas (73) third parties have played a considerable influence in policy formulation, political debate, and representation despite their minor presence in both houses-currently one in either of the houses. One of the reasons why third parties are formed in the USA is to champion alternative ideologies that the two main parties do not capture. In a pluralistic society such as America, individual residents are interested in several issues of concern. When such problems are not taken care of by the two big parties, then such individuals are motivated to form parities that shall exclusively deal with such issues. For instance, The Greenback Party was explicitly created to address the American fiscal system. The party sought to put in place a sound monetary system in America to deal with financial and economic disparities witnessed in the USA (Tamas, 78). Similarly, the Prohibition Party was founded on the premise of advocating against drug and substance abuse-particularly alcohol use. Thus the party was formed on the promotion of the ideology of banning the consumption of alcohol.
The emergence of third parties in the USA can also be attributed to dissatisfaction with the status quo in American politics and elections. Some individuals feel that since the two major parties have dominated the American political arena for far too long, they can bring minimal new concepts to the table. Consequently, such individuals feel that the only way to challenge the two parties’ status quo and political monopoly (duopoly) is to form other parties to question their existence. In such instances, individuals who break from the major parties in protest form splinter parties to challenge the existence and modus operandi of the main parties. For example, in 1912, the formation of the Progressive Party by Theodore Roosevelt s a splinter party from the Republican Party was informed by the need to challenge the status quo in the modes of operation of the Republican Party. Sometimes, third parties are also formed in response to geographical conditions. The U.S. is expansive in terms of geographical size. Therefore, individuals in various locations may desire autonomy and a sense of belonging to a political party that is responsive to their geographical issues and concerns. In this regard, third parties may be formed based on geographical locations (Tamas, 127). A good example is Chicago’s Harold Washington Party was created with the primary objective of carrying on the legacy of Harold Washington, who was the first Black mayor of the city.
Tamas (111) has argued that third parties are formed in America to help in the generation and introduction of new ideas and concepts. Third parties play a significant role in suggesting policies for the government of the day. American elections are based on guidelines, and every political party has its specific policies that form its blueprint. Citizens, activists, or prospective candidates who feel that the major parties do not capture critical approaches often start their political parties to bring forth their perceptions and views, thus helping to inject new ideas into the political arena. For instance, the Populist Party introduced new ideas in the field of economics. The ideas floated by the Populist Party played a significant role in economic reforms and policies of the new deal. In the same line, the Anti-Masonic Party brought in the idea of nomination through the convention. It went in the record that the convention nomination as a presidential nomination was born by Anti-Masonic Party in the mid-nineteenth century.
Third parties also exist to keep major parties honest and committed to their mandate to the electorates. For instance, a leftist party can put the Democratic Party to task on social justice issues. At the same time, the conservative party can challenge Republican Party on several agendas affecting the electorates. Blake (n.d.) because of the slim chances of winning for third-party candidates, they often speak more frankly and openly. They too present the actual image than their rivals in the major parties, who would ignore some issues or even conceal some sensitive issues from the electorates. Most third parties address pertinent issues of interest to the electorates, which sometimes the major parties ignore because of the conflict of interests that such matters may be presenting to these major parties. In this regard, third parties are often formed to put issues on the agenda by forcing the major parties to address the most challenging issues of conflict of interest. For instance, Ross Perot made emphasis on budget deficits during his campaigns when neither Bill Clinton nor George Bush talked about the budget deficits and economic challenges that faced Americans.
Third parties are sometimes formed as tools for political success to the major parties. In other words, leaders of major political parties sometimes use smaller parties to spoil elections in areas where their rivals have the popularity to give one major party over the other. It is believed that sometimes some third parties are sponsored by politicians in the major parties to help them divide votes and win elections. When a third party garners many votes in a particular area, it reduces the chances of a significant party that would have otherwise won elections using majority votes for that specific region to suffer a loss to the competitor. Such a scenario was witnessed in the 2000 presidential elections. Political pundits believe that the presidential bid of Ralph Nader squandered the golden chance for winning the presidential election for Al Gore by siphoning away votes in crucial states where Al Gore would have otherwise beaten his rival to clinch the presidency. So political analysts believe that other than the general goodwill, third parties may sometimes be sponsored by the politicians vying in the major political parties as their secret weapons to challenge and hinder their opponents (Blake, n.d.).
Sometimes third parties are also formed due to the disintegration of other parties. One of the qualities of good politicians is charisma. Some individuals join third parties because of the charismatic qualities of the leadership in such parties. However, when such a charismatic leader leaves the party, the party’s popularity is likely to decline to lead to the disintegration of the party and a high possibility of defections. When the charismatic leader of such third parties leaves the party, the party disintegrates, leading to the formation of other smaller parties. Such a scenario occurred in the mid-1990s when Ross Perot withdrew from his Reform Party after his first presidential bid in 1992 (Blake, n.d.). The decline in the political clout of the Reform Party following the withdrawal of Perot in 1996 led to a drastic reduction party’s e popularity of the party and its disintegration.
It is imperative to note that most third parties are also formed to challenge the winner takes it all narrative. The current arrangement of the American political landscape is that the winner takes all the seats. This arrangement, however, denies some good leaders the opportunity to represent their people. When such leaders are not associated with the major political parties, they are likely to miss the chance and opportunity to express their people and practice their exemplary leadership skills, development goals, and social issues of public interest. Such leaders often take a bold step to create third parties as avenues to provide those who are against the winner takes it all narrative with a platform to express their views and present a different political model to the electorates (Blake, n.d.).
Factors Contributing to the Perpetuation of Two-Party System in America
A two-party system has been a traditional trademark of U.S politics. It commenced with the rivalry between Federalists and Anti-Federalists before transforming to Democrats versus Republicans. The dominance of the American political landscape by two major parties is premised on several factors such as the size of the nation, historical basis, tradition, electoral system, and ideological basis of the America and the Americans. To begin with, the United States of America is a large country such that organizing a national election requires consolidation of parties together to have fewer large political parties as opposed to many small parties. Given the size of America, they are having several political parties taking part in the final ballot for the electoral process would make it tedious to coordinate the process. From an economic perspective, pundits agree that it can raise the financial expenditure on the electoral process far too high. There will be many candidates with many parties, which will eventually lead to demand for additional electoral materials. Therefore, it is believed that consolidating political parties to reduce the number of potential candidates for various positions makes it a beat cheaper and more accessible in managing the national elections (Blake, n.d.).
Again the two-party system has remained in existence in the USA because of the historical basis. The founding fathers of the United States of America founded the nation on two political parties that represented two divergent views of Americans. The first political parties in the USA were the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. As a sign of allegiance to the foundation formed by the founding fathers of the great nations, Americans have resolved to maintain the tradition set by their predecessors (Blake, n.d.). Americans are reluctant to change the tradition that the patriarchs and the founding fathers had already developed. Moreover, most Americans are not willing to support the emerging parties by considering them additional burdens to the nation. The contemporary population of the USA is not taking any keen cognizance of parties and thus makes the tradition remain in place.
Further, most American people (57%) believe that there is the minimal impact of political parties on the lives of ordinary citizens. Therefore, adding a third party or a host of other parties does not contribute to any economic, political, or social change. Considering the allegiance to democracy and the rule of law, those in support of political parties as being instrumental are minor, and their say cannot change the status quo. Historically no third-party candidate has ever won presidential elections. This makes Americans feel that voting in favor of a candidate who is vying on a ticket outside the two major political parties is a waste of personal votes
. The perpetual nature of the two-party system in the U.S is supported by the electoral system in place in place the USA. Schlozma (175) suggests that the structure of the U.S. Elections favored the two-party method. In the USA, one seat is tied to a geographical area called a district. Each district would wish to be associated with the winning party for economic goodwill and support from the government of the day. Consequently, no district intends to waste its votes in parties whose candidates have near-to-none chances of winning presidential elections. As a result of the need to consolidate votes and side with the winning party, Americans vote in blocks for the two major political parties even when other minority parties field candidates for various positions in different elections. The electoral process has thus made it easy for the two major parties to have control and dominance over the minor parties. For instance, in the previous election, two candidates went into the Senate and House without endorsing either the Democratic or the Republican parties. Furthermore, the election laws are designed so that they stifle and discourage the existence of minor parties and favor the presence of the two major political parties. Therefore, the bottlenecks posed by the election laws provide the two major parties with a fairground to enjoy dominance and duopoly over the emerging third parties (Schlozman, 94).
The winner takes it all for each legislative seat in America is another reason perpetuating the existence of a two-party system. The plurality voting system is premised on the understanding the candidate with the majority votes takes the day. Under such a system, the electorates evaluate the performance of the various political parties in their respective districts to establish the likelihood of the parties winning elective positions. In this arrangement, the party that is often coming third cannot have an opportunity to win an elective position in the said district. When this narrative governs electorates, they prefer to lect candidates from the political party that emerged either the first or the second party in the past elections in the district (Schlozman, 94).
Consequently, the winner rakes all arrangement favors large organized parties with a higher appeal to voters in many districts, hence assuring them of winning many seats and discouraging the presence of minor political parties that have their popularities restricted to specific regions. Moreover, the solid political orientation in most Americans favors the existence of a two-party system (Blake, n.d.). Most Americans are either Democrats or Republicans. Cush political orientation promotes loyalty to the parties. Politically oriented people believe that the best way to win elections is by running under the auspice of the two dominant parties. Considering that 48 states in America favor the winner takes all arrangement, there is no doubt that as long as the winner takes it all is still the order of the day, then the supremacy of the two-party system will prevail.
Again, the perpetual existence of a two-party system in the united states of America is embedded in the ideological consensus of the U.S. Americans have a common understanding on most contentious issues, making it easier for Americans to build agreement and understanding. Political analysts see political parties as platforms, vehicles, or avenues to express their interests, ideologies, and political views/perspectives. When politicians and their supporters cannot reach a consensus on pertinent issues, they are not likely to stay in the same party (Schlozman, 123). Consequently, such divisions based on ideological differences can lead to the formation of several political parties by candidates who feel that their ideologies are not taken care of by the other candidates or leaders of the political parties they are affiliated to. In the United States of America, the doctrine of understanding and fairness helps create understanding, tolerance, and consensus. Because Americans can agree on fundamental issues of interest to the nation and the general public, the conditions that can lead to multiparty democracy and demand for many parties are reduced since the cutthroat competition and rivalry do not exist (Blake, n.d.).
Historically the United States of America has operated on a two-party system where two main political parties dominate the electoral positions and play a leading role in contesting for and creating the government of the day. Despite the dominance by the two large parties, there have always been small political parties that operate in specific regions or advocate for particular issues of concern not addressed by the two main political parties. The third parties play significant roles in ensuring that the main political parties are checked. They also assist in advancing and expanding political space for more candidates to vie for political seats. More importantly, they also help in creating regional voices since they operate within specific regions. However, the arrangement of the Amerian political and electoral landscape coupled with the historical basis, tradition, and ideological consensus among Americans makes it difficult for the third parties to thrive and instead favor the two-party system’s dominance to continue. Strong political affiliation and winner takes all arrangements to make the American political landscape more favorable to the two-party system than a multiparty system with many political parties.
Schlozman, D. When Movements Anchor Parties: Electoral Alignments in American History Princeton University Press 2015, Print.
Tamas, Bernard. The demise and rebirth of American third parties: poised for political revival? Routledge, 2018, Print.
Blake, Aaron. Why are there only two parties in American politics? The Washington Post, April 27, 2016.
Blake, Aaron. The ten most loyal demographic groups for Republicans and Democrats. The Washington Post, April 8, 2015