Example Of Third Parties Memo Essay
The American election system has always been based on the assumption two parties will be competing against each other. The constitution mandates that the Electoral College govern the way a candidate is selected, and because of this, there are many hardship for candidates outside of the two-party system. Because of this, running in the 2016 election as a third party candidate will be difficult and will most likely not produce a win. While there may be some legitimate ideology reasons for running in as a third party candidate, the success is unlikely due to the election system, costs, voting laws, and historical trends.
The first reason why it is do difficult to get elected as a third party candidate is the Electoral College and the system it puts in place to select candidates. In order to win the presidential election, a certain number of electoral votes are needed. Currently, the number needed to win in 270 votes. The problem is obtaining these votes is in order to gain electoral votes, the candidate must win a state. The only way to secure a state’s electoral votes is to be the outright winner, and gain every electoral vote from that state. The Electoral College does not do proportional representation, and only two states within America divide up their votes per district winner. If every state would divide their electoral votes up based on the winner of a district and not the overall state, third parties would have a better chance at winning. However, because of the system employed by 48 states, the winner-take-all system best serves two parties covering a large ideological umbrella. It best serves the Electoral College if two major parties compete against each other and promote a very broad set of ideological principles. They may not perfectly represent everyone’s beliefs, but certain issues are highlighted in party platforms above others in an attempt to appeal to a large amount of voters. This does not happen in proportional representation systems, like many in Europe, but in America the electoral votes discourage third parties.
Electoral votes are a unique way of deciding an election, and this means that the popular vote is not the overall determining factor in who becomes president. It has happened several times throughout American history where the winner of the popular vote failed to become president, as they lost the Electoral College. This last happened in 2000, where Al Gore when the popular vote and George Bush won the electoral votes. As long as this flawed system is in place, there is very little change that third parties will be effective in a national election. There have been calls for change to the system, however. Because the Electoral College overemphasizes emphasizes battleground states, and some votes carry more weight than others in small states, there are movements out for a reform to the system and a new constitutional amendment. However, this will not happen by 2016, so the outlook of winning the election for third parties is almost non-existent. Only with a popular vote and more proportional representation would a third party candidate be able to win a national presidential election.
However, should the system be changed, and third parties be allowed to compete on the grounds of popular vote, or a more proportional representational system, they still more financial roadblocks to overcome. The Republican and Democratic parties have established a large financial donor base, which makes it extremely difficult for third parties to compete. In 2008, estimates by the Federal Election Commission showed that candidates spent $1.7 billion between the two major parties. This set spending records, and will only lead to an increase in more spending in future elections. 2008 marked the first time that Presidential candidates spent over $1 billion, which is not good news for third party candidates. While Obama spent considerably more money than any candidate had ever done before, the projected amount of money needed to run a relevant campaign starts at around $200 million. Since third party candidates rarely, if ever, have this kind of money to spend on a campaign, they struggle in the national election. However, if a candidate were to have a net worth of over $1 billion, and be willing to self-finance their campaign, it would be possible to be a financially viable candidate. As long as a billionaire candidate could have around $500 million to campaign on, there would be a better chance at getting the message out. There will still be more hurdles, but a super-wealthy third party candidate would at least be able to overcome one major obstacle to the third party system.
Unfortunately, the electoral system and financial difficulties are still not the only obstacles for third parties. They still face challenges of getting on the ballot and having publicity within the media. Unlike the Republicans or Democrats, third parties have to fight every election cycle to get their candidate on the ballot for presidential elections. Many states have tough rules to get onto the ballot, which all but ensures only Republicans and Democrats make it. For example, in Illinois, a third party candidate had to raise 25,000 signatures to get onto the ballot, while this was not required for the two major parties. This is because the two major parties have the funding available to file lawsuits against third party candidates to get them to prove their validity and support.
Furthermore, even if on the ballot, third parties tend to be ignored by the media. Media attention is crucial to winning an election, as this is how candidates can promote themselves and get their message out. This is especially true of the major presidential debates, which third party candidates are not invited to. There are strict rules to be able to participate in a national debate. A candidate must get 15 percent of support in national polls. Even though five percent is needed to obtain public funding for a campaign, 15 percent is needed to actually debate the major parties. This is a large obstacle to overcome because third parties often start with a disadvantage anyway, and then would need to generate enough support in time, without media focus, to get to a national debate.The deck is effectively stacked against third party candidates in America.
Despite all these hardships, there is still value to value to running as a third party candidate, as long as expectations are tempered and the focus is to promote issues. There has only been one actual third party candidate to win a presidential election, that being Abraham Lincoln. He defeated the Democrats and Whigs, as a member of the Republican Party. Of course, this is somewhat deceiving as the Whigs were dying as party in 1860, and the Republicans were essentially the second most popular party due to their message against slavery. Nevertheless, it was technically a win for a third party. However, since then no third party has won a presidential election, and it was Lincoln’s election that actually set in place the Republican/Democrat dynamics that still exist to this day. There have been third party candidates that have come somewhat close, such as Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, wining 29 percent of the popular vote. Ross Perot received 18.6 percent of the vote in 1992, and George Wallace got 13.5 percent in 1968.
The major contribution of third parties are that they promote certain issues that represent the concerns of the people more effectively than the two major parties. Lincoln, and the early Republicans, did this with slavery, Ross Perot highlighted a balanced budget and no deficit spending. Roosevelt ran as a better established progressive candidate than Taft. Even Ralph Nader in 2000, despite winning only 2 percent of the vote, managed to highlight universal health care and environmental protectionism, which have since become staples to the Democratic and liberal platform.
Therefore, third parties have played a role in the American political system. Given a collapse of a major party, adequate funding, and a grassroots inspired message, a third party candidate may have a chance. However, this situation is unlikely in 2016 given the strength of the Republican and Democrats. Since there is also no end in sight to the Electoral College and ballot laws, there is almost no chance of a third party candidate winning a presidential election in 2016. Yet, if the goal is to highlight certain ideological issues, or swing an election to one party or another, a third party campaign would be well worth the investment.
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