Saturday, May 14, 2016

2016 could be a good year for minor party candidates

Monday at Kunstler's blog, I linked to CNN's Gary Johnson: GOP Trump Alternative?

Smerconish talks to Libertarian Candidate Gary Johnson, who will probably be on all 50 state ballots and is polling at 11% but is usually left off of polls.
It was in response to another reader touting Jill Stein.  I agreed with him, but thought that Johnson would make a bigger splash.  I concluded my comment by wrting "I can already tell this will be a good year for minor parties."

I'm not alone in thinking this.  Within the past few months, several articles have expressed the same hope.  March saw the Washington Post opine that Americans should make room for third-party candidates.  That article touted Bloomberg, who later declined to run.  He figured that Clinton would win the Democratic nomination and he would have acted as a spoiler.  He didn't want that.  On the other hand, if he thought Sanders was going to win the nomination, he'd probably have run.

The pace picked up in April with three articles, beginning with The Huffington Post declaring Why 2016 Could Be A Record Year For Third-Party Candidates, And What Pollsters Can Do About It.  The answer is include Gary Johnson and Jill Stein in those states where they are on the ballot.  The same month NBC News wondered Third Time's the Charm?: Minor Parties Hope for 2016 Wins.  Also in April, The Atlantic wrote There's Still Time for a Serious Third-Party Presidential Run.  Yes, if it's the Libertarians or Greens, who will have ballot access in a majority of states; the Libertarians might have ballot access in all of them.  No, if it's William Kristol's quixotic crusade to draft someone like Romney as an Establishment alternative to Trump; the deadline to get a true independent on the ballot in Texas has already passed.  Besides, any idea Kristol favors is likely to be a bad one.

The speculation continued this month, as FiveThirtyEight asked Could An Independent Candidate Succeed In 2016?  Of all the answers to the question, I agreed most with Harry Enten, who said "this year pretty much meets all the criteria for at least a moderately successful third-party candidacy."  For me, that means that the Libertarians and possibly the Greens could reach the threshold of five percent of the popular vote to qualify for public financing in 2020.  The Constitution Party does not have ballot access in enough states to meet that criterion.  It's very unlikely that even one of the minor parties will qualify for the debates with the major party candidates.  As Gary Johnson pointed out, that requires fifteen percent in several polls before the debates.   While minor parties have earned Electoral College votes before, that happened when they had concentrated regional strength, such as the Dixiecrats and the American Independent Party, and could win pluralities in three-party contests.  Neither the Libertarians nor the Greens meet that criterion; their support is more diffuse.  Consequently, none of the minor parties will win the presidency, but they'll certainly overperform compared to any election since 2000 and possibly even 1996, but not 1992.  None of these candidates is Ross Perot.  Even he didn't win any Electoral College votes.

Finally, USA Today reported Presidential transition could include third-party candidates under new law.  Don't make too much of it.  That just reflects a change in the language of the law extending transition services to any qualified candidate, not just the Democratic and Republican ones.  Still, it is a sign of the times.


  1. The two-party system naturally reinforces itself because every vote cast for a third party effectively improves the electoral prospects of whichever of the two major parties that voter is less aligned with. Every vote that goes to the Greens instead of the Democrats has the practical effect of strengthening the Republicans; every vote that goes to the Libertarians instead of the Republicans has the practical effect of strengthening the Democrats. The best example of this was Nader in 2000. Nobody remembers or cares what Nader voters thought they were doing or what message they were trying to send. Only the practical effect -- Bush becoming President instead of Gore -- mattered.

    This is normally a positive feature of the system because it means radicals and people who can't compromise are frozen out of power. A group that wants to gain real influence joins one of the big parties (as, say, fundamentalists joined the Republicans and gays, blacks, and Latinos have mostly joined the Democrats). That means working within a party coalition. Those who can't compromise enough to do that, and go the third-party route, lose any chance at power; and if they win any significant number of votes, all they do is hurt the big party closest to their own position. That's why third parties never get anywhere, except temporarily.

    In this case, the extremist (Trump) has actually won a major-party nomination, and non-crazy (or less-crazy) Republicans are looking for an alternative. Some will indeed settle on the Libertarians; others will choose other options. So the Libertarians probably will do better than they usually do. But they won't win any states -- at most they'll divide the right-wing vote in a few purplish red states so Hillary wins them with a plurality. And it will be a one-time thing, unless the Republicans remain bitterly divided (which is possible).

    I don't think the Greens will see a similar gain, because most of the left realizes that the crucial thing is to defeat the Republicans, and that every vote that doesn't go to a Democrat is a vote that fails to serve that purpose.

    In the long run the two-party system will re-stabilize. Even if the Republican party collapses and disappears, eventually the Democrats' centrist Obama/Clinton wing and its leftist Sanders Warren wing will split apart (no longer having a common enemy to keep them together) into two separate parties, and the same two-party pattern will continue.

    1. I agree with all you wrote. The United States follows Duverger's Law, which “asserts that plurality rule elections structured within single-member districts tend to favor a two-party system,” according to Wikipedia. Since parties first arose in the Republic, the United States has almost always had a two-party system of one kind or another.

      As you noted, only people incapable of compromise vote for minor parties in our system. Since there are only two combinations of policies on offer, those who want either other combinations or policy choices not being offered have to go to a minor party to get them. This year will be a good year for minor parties because of that, combined with the issues voters have with the personalities associated with each of the parties nominees.

      By the way, the platform that prompted me to write On American political parties held captive by their interest groups and ideologies, "reining in the banks, restricting offshoring and immigration, and ceasing involvement in foreign wars," might just be Trump's. Looks like the person who suggested that might just be getting his wish. The response to that is "be careful what you wish for."

    2. There should be hundred political parties. In a parliamentary way of doing it, you vote for the local representative and they put a leader forward. The smaller parties actually do gain an influence because they actually have elected seats and their votes are needed. Sort of like having the House of Representatives select the President by the will of the people and everyone is up for election at the same time country wide.Voting should be a right.

    3. A "hundred political parties" is the case in Italy, which is notorious for unstable national governments. I'm not sure that would be an improvement. Israel is better with between ten and twelve parties in its Knesset, but the coalitions have to appease their extreme partners more than American parties historically do (the Republican Party of the past 20+ years is something of an outlier in this respect). I'm not a fan of the results.

      Even in a parliamentary system with first-past-the-post winners in single-member districts, there can be room for multiple parties, but my experience has been no more than three national parties (Tories, Labor, and Liberal Democrats in the UK; Liberals, Tories, and New Democrats in Canada), one or more regional parties (Scottish Nationalists in the UK, Bloc Quebecois in Canada), and straggler or two among national parties that can't normally get pluralities (UKIP in the UK, Greens in Canada). That's about the best we could hope for here unless we change over to multi-member districts with proportional representation.

    4. Pinku is correct in that the multi-party system gets to be a disaster when spread out so wide as it does in Italy.

      The problem with the United States is that we have a federalist system where there are three clear branches of government - legislative, executive, and judicial - where they attempted to set up separation of powers to provide checks and balances. So that no one office can claim all the power. There is a logic to that, which worked - for the most part - for the American government for over 200 years.

      In a parliamentary system, that would be next to impossible: nearly all power is held by the Prime Minister and his/her party, with not enough oversight power from the courts and no true Executive as a counterpoint. The only thing stopping the UK prime minister from outright tyranny is - ironically - the traditional role of the royal family as Executive power for the nation and the Crown as head of state, and even then the Crown cannot directly involve herself in many matters, if any (if she did, or if Charles or William did as kings in their own right, it would create a political crisis).

      The problem isn't that our federalist system is broken: it's that one of our parties - Hi, Republicans - is batshit crazy and stuck in a dogmatic mindset that *wants* a dysfunctional government to prove itself correct. We don't need to change the rules (much), we just need to boot the Republicans out of power.

    5. "The Crown cannot directly involve herself in many matters, if any (if she did, or if Charles or William did as kings in their own right, it would create a political crisis)."

      That might even be enough to end the monarchy and have Britain become a Republic, although that would be extreme. I'd expect Australia to become a Republic first.

      "We don't need to change the rules (much), we just need to boot the Republicans out of power."

      And keep them out of power long enough that they go the way of the Whigs and Federalists. That way, a new and sane opposition party of the center-right can arise, most likely by the route that Infidel753 outlined in the conclusion to his comment above.