Thursday, September 15, 2011

Problems For Third-Party Candidates

Two-Party Rule. Independent or third-party candidates face huge obstacles in order to achieve elective office. Democrats and Republicans ensure that these obstacles remain great enough to discourage all but the most dedicated outside candidates from ever mounting a serious threat to their duopoly. In most cases, it is the duopoly, and not the people, who have instituted these barriers,and they have been part of the mechanics used to hijack our democracy. As long as our two-party duopoly dominates and controls elections at the state and federal levels (and sometimes even local levels), we cannot have a truly democratic process to elect candidates who will serve the people as envisioned in our Constitution. Let's take as some of the factors that contribute to this dominance.

Special Interests. One major reason for this has to do with the wealth that the two major parties can attract from special interests who, by their contributions and other resources are able to influence public opinion on behalf of their selected candidates as well as policy and legislation if their candidates get elected. The greater the contributions, the greater the influence.
Ballot Access Restrictions. This is a problem primarily for candidates running for president, Ballot access laws in the various states can be a major barrier to third-party success. States may set their own requirements, including registration fees and petition requirements. This is a relatively small hurdle for the two major parties who dominate the elections, but it can be an insurmountable obstacle for an independent or third-party candidate when one considers that the process has to be repeated in each of the fifty states plus Washington D.C.
Redistricting. This is usually done to favor one of the two major parties, which creates a major barrier for third-party candidates to surmount.
Who Do You Trust? A candidate of an established party that has a history of performance and an established platform which has endured over time makes the candidates of the two major parties seem like less of a risk. Even if little is known about particular candidates, the parties that back them are known entities, but much less is likely to be known about minor parties, so people may be considered somewhat of a gamble to vote for them.
Incumbent Bias. It is generally much easier for a candidate to get re-elected to a position than for an outsider to succeed. Even if voters aren't overwhelmingly in favor of a particular candidate, at least that person is a known entity, and voters have doubts or at least a lack of knowledge about how the challenger might perform. Since most offices are already held by either Democrats or Republicans, this bias perpetuates their hold on the duopoly.
Wasted Votes. Because of the two-party dominance in our country and voters recognize that third party candidates have only the slimmest of chances of winning an election. People don't like to vote for them, because they feel as though their votes are wasted.
Voting The Party Line. A sixth reason has to do with party loyalty. Many people will vote a straight party line, without even considering the qualifications of other candidates. This also impacts the chances of third-party candidates.
Voting For The Lesser Of Two Evils. Voters may not favor either of the two major party candidates, but feel strongly negative about one of the. They may vote for the other candidate to ensure that the one they feel negative about won't win. A seventh reason involves voting for “the lesser of two evils.”
Majority Rule? While we generally subscribe to what is referred to as “majority rule,” But we don't actually practice that when it comes to elections. Instead, we go with a plurality. If a Democrat receives 41% of the vote and the runner-up third-party member gets 39%, the person with the 41% is declared the winner. That means the majority of the voters (59%) did not prefer that candidate who is declared the winner. So much for majority rule. If the remaining 20% of the votes could be recast in some form, there is a chance that the third-party candidate could prevail over the Democratic candidate. There are forms of voting (sometimes called Ranked Choice Voting or Instant Runoff Voting that resolve this situation and guarantee that the winning candidate does indeed get a majority of the votes.
Proportional Representation. In this country, most states have “winner-take-all” elections. In a presidential election, that means that the person who finishes highest gets all the Electoral votes from that state. In our example above, the Democratic candidate got 41% of the vote, but got 100% of the electoral votes. The candidates that placed second and third and the candidates who voted for them get nothing. They are disenfranchised, and their votes are indeed wasted.
Exclusion from Debates. The presidential debates are run by a non-profit organization made up of democrats and republicans only. They set the rules. In 1992, Ross Perot met the guidelines to participate in the debate and, as a result, he got 18.9% of the vote. When he ran again in 1996, he was excluded from the debates, despite his strong showing four years prior. The debate rules were changed to require being on enough state ballots to win an Electoral College majority if that candidate were to win those states and they must also achieve at least 15% preference in pre-debate opinon polls. This virtually assures that only the two major parties will ever be in those debates, and likewise almost guarantees that only a Republican or a Democrat can get elected president.
Co-Opting Third-Party Candidates' Issues.
Conclusion.  While it is extremely difficult for an independent or third-party candidate to get elected, it is not impossible. Polls in August of 2011 indicate that 84% of the Americans polled were dissatisfied with Congress.  Politicians obviously don't pay a whole lot of attention to polls. Even with their rating languishing dangerously near a digit digit, they continue to play partisan games of brinkmanship, with the future of our country at stake.  Obviously, letters, e-mail, phone calls, petitions, and tweets have little or not effect either.  They tend to agree only with that feedback that is favorable and turn a blind eye to all the negative comments.  They refuse to get the message.

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