With partisan politics to blame for a political battle that has resulted in the shutdown of the federal government, Americans are thinking outside of the box, considering third parties as viable options for political, societal and economic reform.
A recent Gallup poll indicated those considering joining third-party movements have tipped the scale, with 60 percent favoring a split from the two-party system. According to the poll, only 26 percent of Americans were pleased with the Republican or Democratic parties, representing an all-time low in Gallup’s 10 years of polling.
In terms of Republicans and Democrats, voters of each party declared an overwhelming need for a third party to break from the two-party system and create one that aligns with American voters. However, Tea Party members came out on top in their fervor for a third party.
The question now is what side of the political spectrum will be the first to make the move and break through the obstacles that hold third parties back from taking the mainstage in American politics.
Breaking down barriers
With barriers to competing in presidential debates and appearing on state ballots, there’s still plenty of challenges before America will welcome a third party. Ohio’s Senate just passed a bill that would limit the ability of third parties to appear on the ballot, requiring a party to provide 56,000 signatures of support, repeatedly, in order to be recognized.
This isn’t too far off from other states’ rules, particularly regarding presidential races. In order for a third party to appear on a state ballot, it must qualify in each state. For presidential campaigns that lack the manpower of the major parties, that’s a big hoop to jump through. Prominent Libertarian Party 2012 presidential candidate Gary Johnson appeared on just 47 states’ ballots.
Johnson also was denied entry into the major televised presidential debates, as he did not meet eligibility requirements, drafted by Republicans and Democrats, that indicate a candidate must receive at least 15 percent support in a major poll to receive a podium in the debate.
While members of both parties are willing now more than ever to make the move, polls indicate Tea Party Republicans could have the edge, not only with support among those who identify with the political right wing, but also the financial means to break through.
Charles and David Koch, known as the Koch Brothers, are the owners of Koch Industries and together form an influential player in the political game. They’re also owners of Americans for Prosperity, a social welfare organization dedication to the promotion of Tea Party principles.
In the 2012 election cycle, Koch Industries and its affiliates donated more than $2.2 million to candidates, 95 percent of whom were Republicans.
Gallup gaging political opinion
The Gallup poll was administered in correlation with the government shutdown as a way to gauge the public’s perception of congressional leaders and political parties. Rather than discovering a deepened partisan divide among voters, the poll suggests constituents have had enough with the two-option system.
This change in public opinion isn’t too far off from how Americans felt in the lead-up to the 2012 elections, however, with partisan gridlock shutting down national parks and leaving more than 500,000 federal workers without a paycheck, the time for a major third party to emerge could be now.
The question now is which side will move first.
Polls indicate the Tea Party movement, which many are blaming for the government shutdown itself, will be the first to make the split. A recent Gallup poll indicated that of those who identify with the Tea Party, 62 percent were in favor of forming a third party — just 30 percent were happy with the GOP.
Opponents of the Tea Party still felt a need for a third party to enter the ring, although only 52 percent held that view — 44 percent of whom fell into that category felt the two party system was working.
For those considered neutral to the Tea Party, 59 percent felt a third party was needed, with just 34 percent satisfied with the way things now are.
Crashing the Tea Party
Aside from breaking through physical barriers holding third parties back, there’s also a perception held among voters that a vote for a third party is a vote against the major party it most closely aligns with.
Even if the Tea Party did emerge, the likelihood of it gaining victory in a presidential election is extremely unlikely — and with the Tea Party closely associated with the GOP, it would likely separate the block of votes conservatives would need to win a return to the White House.
Santa Anna Tea Party founder Ann Coll isn’t one who believes the Tea Party should forge its own way. Instead, she holds the perspective that change within the existing Republican Party is the best method for success.
“There’s a broad spectrum within the tea party from moderate conservatives to libertarians … we would rather work within the party and move it a little more to the right,” she told the Sacramento Bee. “We realize the danger in a third party movement: It would give any election to the Democrats.”
Coll doesn’t represent all of her fellow Tea Partiers, though. Ted Cruz, considered one of the most vocal members of the movement, has indicated the Tea Party’s influence on the Republican party, particularly the shutdown, has gone over well with Americans.
This despite polls indicating that support for the Tea Party is at an all-time low. A Sept. 26 Gallup poll, issued in the lead-up to the government shutdown, indicated just 22 percent support across the board for the Tea Party.
Those within the Tea Party claim across-the-board polls aren’t a true indication, and instead look to polls among their base to gauge popularity.
However, a recent Gallup poll indicated that Tea Party support was waning, even among Republicans. Just 11 percent of Americans consider themselves “strong supporters” of the party.
“The poll suggests that the partnership between the Tea Party and the Republican Party may be waning. Although some of the Tea Party’s most visible representatives in politics today are associated with the Republican Party, and while rank-and-file Republicans are more likely to call themselves supporters than opponents of the Tea Party movement — a far greater number identify as neither,” the Gallup analysis said.
For Tea Party members like Cruz, who aren’t backing down from their positions and are failing to move toward compromise, leaving the party to form their own could be the option left for survival — by default, they could become the first third-party to break the barriers.
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