14 Dec 2010

No Labels Speakers Discuss Likelihood of a Viable Third Party in Coming Years

I’m sure many of you wont be watching the entire livecast of the No Labels launch, but the issue of a third major party forming between the current two came up several times. A National Journal article summed up some of the comment on the subject, and related things, by Joe Scarborough, David Gergen and a few others.

A sample:

MSNBC host and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough said it’s “inevitable” that third-party candidates will start winning — if the major parties continue to fail to tackle the national debt and energy independence.

“The practical barriers to a national third party are so substantial,” disagreed outgoing Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh (Ind.). “More likely, one of the two existing parties will get it.”

Asked to rate the partisanship in Washington on a scale of 1 to 10, Republican political analyst David Gergen pegged it at 15. He said the spirit of the World War II generation, that we are Americans first and partisans second, has been eroded.

I used to agree more with Evan Bayh, but as the years wear on, and the parties come even more under the influence of their more ideologically pure elements, Scarborough’s prediction looks more and more likely.

Definitely worth a look… and make sure to read the last two sentences for an amusing quote by yours truly (I had the pleasure of sitting in the press section, right next to this particular reporter).

(link no longer active)

Author Details
After a few years of blogging on other sites, Solomon launched ‘Rise of the Center’ – the precursor to Uniters.org, leading to a number of interviews and freelance opportunities, most notably covering the 2012 election cycle on WNYC.org – the website for the largest NPR station in the country, in New York City – and reported from the floor of the 2012 Democratic & Republican National Conventions. After a hiatus from politics, the horrific circus of the 2016 election, and more generally increasing extremism and corruption, brought him back to this project.
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After a few years of blogging on other sites, Solomon launched ‘Rise of the Center’ – the precursor to Uniters.org, leading to a number of interviews and freelance opportunities, most notably covering the 2012 election cycle on WNYC.org – the website for the largest NPR station in the country, in New York City – and reported from the floor of the 2012 Democratic & Republican National Conventions. After a hiatus from politics, the horrific circus of the 2016 election, and more generally increasing extremism and corruption, brought him back to this project.
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8 thoughts on “No Labels Speakers Discuss Likelihood of a Viable Third Party in Coming Years”

  1. Anyone who wants to make the case for the emergence of a viable 3rd Party will have one heck of a job trying to explain how it is going to happen this time in the face of enormous historical evidence that it cannot. I suppose it also depends on how you want to define "success" for a 3rd Party.

    While there are examples in our history of one of the two major parties self-destructing and being replaced by a splinter from that party (Ex: Republicans replacing the Whigs) – the end result is still two major parties. There are simply no examples in our history of a viable 3rd Party standing side by side with the two major parties, except for one-shot 3rd Party efforts that coalesced around a cult of personality (Roosevelt, Perot, Wallace, Nader). In each of these cases the 3rd Party "success" is measured only by the movement's effectiveness as a spoiler.

    Third party believers have to explain why even well established 3rd parties that are representative of significant minority segments in the electorate (Libertarians and Greens) fail to elect a commensurate percentage federal representation. If you want to define 3rd Party success as a few more 3rd Party Representatives making it to Congress – fine – that might happen. But the historical reality is that electing an independent President is flat-out impossible, unless they run under the imprimatur of one of the two major parties.

    The "success" of every 3rd party independent presidential candidate in our history is measured only by their effectiveness as a spoiler. If the election is between the two major party candidates is very close, then even a small percentage of the vote for a 3rd party candidate can be a "success" if success is measured simply by having an election changing impact then even a candidate like Nader can be considered to be successful, as he was an effective spoiler in 2000 with less than 3% of the vote.

    Teddy Roosevelt is instructive in this regard. Here was a third party candidate who served as a Republican governor of NY, VP of the US, and two terms as a moderate Republican President while winning reelection for the second term in a landslide. He was an intellectual, a published academic, a medal of honor war hero, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, was wildly popular among the electorate, and launched his 3rd Party campaign riding the crest of a huge populist tidal wave.

    With that kind of a third party candidate, the third party presidential candidate still loses, splits the Republican vote, finishes 2nd but still succeeds only in being a spoiler. Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party succeeded only in getting Democrat Woodrow Wilson elected. If Teddy couldn’t pull it off – no 3rd party presidential candidate ever will.

    1. These questions are actually pretty easy to answer.

      The situation is drastically different than other times in the past when third parties came about, and actually has similarities with the times surrounding the rise of Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressive/Bull Moose folks… and the rise of the republican party. Both times the notable difference with other times was both major parties had left a large portion of the populace unrepresented. Past that its simple supply and demand… eventually politicians and groups will form to fill a demand – IF (and I stress IF) neither major party shifts towards them, as both did to coop progressive ideas after Teddy Roosevelt, making it unnecessary… but the opposite of what the Whigs did, leading to their eventual dissolution.

      I’m not sure how you could say that libertarians and greens represent a significant minority. I’ve never seen them poll with more than a few points nationally. In winner take all elections its near impossible to win when your base comes from… the only place on the spectrum where there is enough voters who aren’t being represented well by the two major parties is between them ideologically, where 35ish to 45ish % of people think they are UNrepresented by them, and more think they are UNDERrepresented by them.

      I don’t think a third party presidential is impossible in general, although I agree with Bloomberg that is is PROBABLY near impossible in 2012. If there were a network of centrists and moderates across the country, and a handful of independents in congress (enough to keep either party from an outright majority), then that equation changes.

      Using the E word (ever) is rarely smart. Its happened before, both here and in other countries. Just a lot of work that needs to be done to make it so its at all likely.

      1. I don't actually know what percentage the Greens represent, but even if only 2%, that represents enough to swing a Presidential election and did in 2000. That makes it significant in my book, but I'll grant you that "measurable" might have been a better choice of words. Again, at that 2% – proportional representation means there would be 10 Greens in Congress. Similarly with the Libertarian Party. The point I was making is the one you reinforced in your comment (and in contrast to your agreement with Joe Scarborough in the post). These are well established 3rd Parties that are unable to achieve anything close to proportional representation, and in fact – can apparently only be represented at a Federal level is if one who represents their views runs as an R or a D. Ron Paul being a notable example. I just don't see anything in that dynamic that is different today or in the foreseeable future that would permit 3rd party candidates to be elected with greater frequency as Scarborough represents.

        The 35-45% Independent Center is a canard. Yes it exists in poll results when people are asked to self-identify their political label. However, Political Scientists have known for years and demonstrated over and over again, that the majority of those self-identifying as Independent lean to one party or the other. Moreover, these "leaners" vote on a federal level exactly as reliably the party they lean toward as does the most rabid extreme partisan for that party. No difference. [LINK</>] [LINK</>]. If you base a strategy on an independent swing vote of 35-45% you building a strategy on a fallacy. The Partisan vote is at least 70% and more likely 80% of the electorate. The actual
        Centrist / Moderate / Socially Liberal / Fiscally Conservative / libertarianish / truly independent swing vote is closer to 12%-15% of the electorate, as documented by Cato. If you want to build a winning strategy for the Rise of the Center – you better build it based on that 12%-15% reality that exists there.

        I have no problem using the E word when the probability of a contra-event is vanishingly small. I'll take 100 to 1 odds every time. Look Sol, I don't mean to be overly contrarian. On policy issues I think we are perfectly aligned. I just have no longer have any patience with political strategies to achieve those policies which have zero chance (ok -1 in a hundred) of succeeding. Third Party efforts are in that class. They are a complete waste of time and energy, unless the objective is to act as spoiler.

        Lets finish again with our Presidential examples. I cannot imagine a better 3rd Party Presidential Candidate than Theodore Roosevelt. and he still succeeded only in acting only as a spoiler and having no greater effect on the election than Ralph Nader did in 2000. Thats the point of his race, he had a perfect storm of everything going in his favor, and he still lost because he ran 3rd Party.

        We'll finish with the Whigs/Republicans and the only historical ray of hope for a 3rd Party. What that example teaches us, is that it is not enough for a 3rd Party to win. One of the two dominant Parties must also be destroyed. So if you want to imagine a path for a 3rd Party to emerge triumphant, you must also identify whether it will be the Republican or Democratic Party that must also be destroyed to make room for it. Still a tough row to hoe, but at least there is an historical precedent for that possibility.

      2. I don't actually know what percentage the Greens represent, but even if only 2%, that represents enough to swing a Presidential election and did in 2000. That makes it significant in my book, but I'll grant you that "measurable" might have been a better choice of words. Again, at that 2% – proportional representation means there would be 10 Greens in Congress. Similarly with the Libertarian Party. The point I was making is the one you reinforced in your comment (and in contrast to your agreement with Joe Scarborough in the post). These are well established 3rd Parties that are unable to achieve anything close to proportional representation, and in fact – can apparently only be represented at a Federal level is if one who represents their views runs as an R or a D. Ron Paul being a notable example. I just don't see anything in that dynamic that is different today or in the foreseeable future that would permit 3rd party candidates to be elected with greater frequency as Scarborough represents.

        The 35-45% Independent Center is a canard. Yes it exists in poll results when people are asked to self-identify their political label. However, Political Scientists have known for years and demonstrated over and over again, that the majority of those self-identifying as Independent lean to one party or the other. Moreover, these "leaners" vote on a federal level exactly as reliably the party they lean toward as does the most rabid extreme partisan for that party. No difference. [LINK] [LINK]. If you base a strategy on an independent swing vote of 35-45% you building a strategy on a fallacy. The Partisan vote is at least 70% and more likely 80% of the electorate. The actual
        Centrist / Moderate / Socially Liberal / Fiscally Conservative / libertarianish / truly independent swing vote is closer to 12%-15% of the electorate, as documented by Cato. If you want to build a winning strategy for the Rise of the Center – you better build it based on that 12%-15% reality that exists there.

        I have no problem using the E word when the probability of a contra-event is vanishingly small. I'll take 100 to 1 odds every time. Look Sol, I don't mean to be overly contrarian. On policy issues I think we are perfectly aligned. I just have no longer have any patience with political strategies to achieve those policies which have zero chance (ok -1 in a hundred) of succeeding. Third Party efforts are in that class. They are a complete waste of time and energy, unless the objective is to act as spoiler.

        Lets finish again with our Presidential examples. I cannot imagine a better 3rd Party Presidential Candidate than Theodore Roosevelt. and he still succeeded only in acting only as a spoiler and having no greater effect on the election than Ralph Nader did in 2000. That's the point of his race, he had a perfect storm of everything going in his favor, and he still lost because he ran 3rd Party.

        We'll finish with the Whigs/Republicans and the only historical ray of hope for a 3rd Party. What that example teaches us, is that it is not enough for a 3rd Party to win. One of the two dominant Parties must also be destroyed. So if you want to imagine a path for a 3rd Party to emerge triumphant, you must also identify whether it will be the Republican or Democratic Party that must also be destroyed to make room for it. Still a tough row to hoe, but at least there is an historical precedent for that possibility.

        (Sol – fixed bad link – please delete prior comment]

  2. I'm going to have to agree with Bayh on this one. Third-party candidates only just started making major inroads into local and state elections, so it's premature to organize for a federal one. For the next few general elections at least, we'll have to focus our energies on winning the GOP and Democratic nominations for centrist candidates. If No Labels doesn't already have a political action component, it should get on that now.

    Also, I eat chocolate chip granola bars in my living room. 😉

  3. A third party doesn't necessarily have to be completely independent to get started. It could be an offshoot of one of the major parties. Look at the influence that the Tea Party has on the GOP. Given the time and right circumstances, it could spin off on its own. Of course, they would have to broaden their base and get more organized for that to have a chance. The Democrats need a similar challenge to their entrenched leaders. Much of their base is disappointed in their lack of leadership. But, I don't see any movement comparable to the Tea Party to challenge the Right. Without a counterbalance from the Left, the Center, where most of us live will be pulled further to the Right, and the Center will become the new Left.

    1. It doesn't, but if you want to tap into the biggest group of dissaffected voters, you'd want to shoot for the base of a new party being somewhere around dead center. Not enough voters anywhere else to form a party with any kind of chance of having enough supporters to form an opposition.

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