(MintPress) — “Don’t throw away your vote.” It’s a line uttered time and time again by those who see emerging third parties as threats to the mainstream partisan climate. While simple arithmetic may validate the claim, is it healthy for the future of American democracy? “The main detriment of all of this are the rules […]
(MintPress) — “Don’t throw away your vote.” It’s a line uttered time and time again by those who see emerging third parties as threats to the mainstream partisan climate. While simple arithmetic may validate the claim, is it healthy for the future of American democracy?
“The main detriment of all of this are the rules of which we conduct our elections,” Cary Covington, associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa, told MintPress. “In a winner takes all election system, finishing second does you no good, there is no reward for second place.”
The longheld belief is that a vote for an Independent candidate on either the right or left side of the aisle would take a vote away from the mainstream candidate, whether Republican or Democrat. A vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein in the November election, critics argue, would take the vote from President Barack Obama, a move many aren’t willing to take, for fear of a Romney victory.
“If you have two parties in the race, if there’s a third party, it’s going to be closer to one than the other. Whichever party that third party is closer to is going to cause the other party to lose,” Covington said.
But what would happen if people bucked the trend, and voted on hope and principle, rather than fear?
What do the numbers show?
A Washington Post-ABC poll released this year showed that, ideologically, voters favor Independent political parties. Yet elections show that Americans have failed to put their vote where their heart is.
The poll, which randomly questioned 1,000 American voters, asked the question: “Say an Independent, third party candidate with whom you agree on most issues entered the 2012 race for president. Would you definitely vote for that candidate, consider it, or would you definitely not vote for an Independent, third-party candidate for president?”
The response? Forty-six percent of respondents said they would at least consider voting for that person, although only 22 percent said they would definitely cast the vote. It raises the question, if the 46 percent turned their backs on mainstream candidates, would there be a chance to give the third party a shot?
It could be, but voters are still held back by the same fear: that a vote will be thrown away.
Did the tea party have the right idea?
According to Covington, perhaps the best way for a third party to change the political game is to infiltrate the mainstream party most closely aligned with its beliefs.
Ron Paul, who identifies himself as a libertarian, did just that with the Republican Party this year through a movement intent on changing the party from the inside out. The strategic movement was one built not only on the 2012 election, but on the future of the party and the libertarian’s likelihood of creating change within the country.
While others were focused on Romney as the unofficial Republican Party candidate, Paul supporters were hard at work, electing delegates at Republican conventions throughout the United States.
While it may not have been enough to spring Paul to the top, it did add a large delegation voice of Paul supporters, who were, in some way, able to attend the Republican National Convention and cast their votes. In all, 190 Paul delegates were voted in, compared to Romney’s 2,061.
Yet not everyone likes change, as even that move was controversial, with Paul supporters vocally opposing the adoption of party platform rules they didn’t agree with. In response, Paul supporters broke out in chants, repeating, “Shame on you.”
The adoption of controversial party rules wasn’t the only thing that riled up Paul supporters. Some delegates from Maine were also frustrated with the establishment party, after having been denied their floor seats. Others were upset that Paul had been denied a speaking spot at the convention after he would not agree to give a full endorsement to Mitt Romney.
While there is strife among Paul and Romney supporters, the libertarian stronghold within the Republican Party doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. While Paul began moving away from the Republican Party some time ago, Covington sees his movement within the Republican Party as a strategic move to make the changes he and his supporters want to make.
“It’s too hard to oust a third party at this point,” Covington argues.
If Paul were to be moving only within the libertarian party, it could be argued that his message would be cast aside by Republicans, who wouldn’t be confronted within their own party.
It’s about the image
Covington identifies the obstacle for third-party candidates as one that doesn’t necessarily center around money or principle, but rather on the image a third-party candidate depicts.
“It’s all about the person. The third-party movement in the United States is not a third party movement, it’s a candidate movement,” he said.
Rather than growing from the ground up, third-party candidates have the task of grabbing national attention, typically without the funding of their Republican and Democrat challengers. In order to make a splash, they have to make an impression.
By 2010, Ralph Nader, who previously ran with the Green Party and switched to the Independent ticket for 2004 and 2008, was somewhat of a household name, but he by no means rose into the spotlight. He didn’t have the star power.
“In the United States, we do it backward,” Covington said. “The only way to create a third party is to start on the ground and work up.”
And if a third party is successful at doing that, it could inadvertently change mainstream politics, infusing their own beliefs into the two-party system. If Jill Stein, the Green Party’s candidate for 2012, ends up with 10 percent of the vote — which would be seen as large for the Greens — the Democrats, next time around, would have to pander to the Greens, perhaps changing their policies to win third-party voters over.
Following the 2008 elections, this became part of the conversation. A press release issued by the Green Party celebrated the fact that, across the board, the amount of votes cast for Green Party candidates doubled since 2006. They may not have won the presidential bid, but they made progress. They sent the message to President Barack Obama that they are growing, and that if he wants their votes, he’ll have to change his policies to reflect their beliefs.
In that sense, a third-party vote is never wasted. It may take decades before the vote takes hold in mainstream politics, but it is at least changing the two-party political climate.