Ever heard of Michael Badnarik? If you have, you are part of a minority of voters who knew who the Libertarian candidate for president was on Election Day. Due to the huge monopoly over the political world Republicans and Democrats have developed, minor party candidates remain relatively weak. There is a noble idea among many to give Americans the varied election choices that much of Western Europe has, in an attempt to remedy this problem.
But, our most recent election has shown a more helpful purpose of third parties as lobbying groups that use their membership to persuade major party candidates to take on their political dogma. Therefore, keeping third parties out of Congress and the White House, but not out of the election process, may be the best decision for American politics.
Minor parties remain host to mostly improbable candidates for major office for many reasons. Federal finance aid for campaigns is only offered to parties that consistently gain a percentage of the vote that is virtually impossible for third parties to regularly attain. Even getting a candidate’s name on ballots is a difficult task, involving the signatures of millions of voters which then must be verified.
Moreover, unlike other countries, American voters choose the candidate for their registered party, and this too weakens third parties.
Open primaries, because of their huge media attention, often funnel candidates that would otherwise run with third parties into the two major political groups.
An applicable example happened during the 2004 Democratic Primary. Dennis Kucinich (D-Oh.) ran as an unlikely nominee for the Democratic candidate for president. Because he was considered a far left liberal he was rejected by centrist Democrats, but because of the chance to run on the grand scale that the Democratic primary offered, he chose to campaign anyway.
Had the Democratic National Committee chosen its own candidate, likely someone other than Kucinich, he may have opted to run with a minor party, such as the Green Party, whose ideals better fit his own. Because of the open Democratic primary, the Green Party lost an experienced and far more legitimate candidate. This common event leaves third parties with less coveted candidates and reduces the chance of a minor party candidate gaining major office. However, keeping minor party candidates uncompetitive for major political offices may not be as bad as some might think.
Many supporters of two-party reform look to France as an example. In its last presidential election in 2002, including eventual victor Jacques Chirac who won with only 19 percent of the vote, 15 candidates received at least 1 percent of the population’s vote.
What many don’t realize, though, is that in France the presidential election has two parts. The first could be described as a national primary, open to many candidates, as outlined above. Then, the top two candidates are chosen for a run-off in the election’s second segment, where in the 2002 election Chirac received an overwhelming amount of the final vote.
The second part of the French election is absolutely necessary to foster an environment where a plurality of France is supporting the winning candidate.
Without the second stage of the election in 2002, using instead only the initial voting, Jacques Chirac would have won the presidency with less than 20 percent of the vote, rather than the 80 percent he won in the election’s second element.
Increased candidate choice may offer open discussion for people with different political beliefs, but it will inevitably leave a much larger portion of the population disenchanted and disappointed with the results on Election Day. And that will leave the victor with fewer supporters and a diminished chance of accomplishing anything.
Currently, in the U.S., third party candidates are more like specified demographics that Democrats and Republicans need to court. So, candidates of major third parties (like Greens and Libertarians) can use their supporters as ransom to help move a major candidate in their political direction.
After the 2000 election in which many Democrats felt that Ralph Nader’s Green Party ticket stole valuable support from the Democratic nominee Al Gore, the Democrats needed to attract Nader’s supporters in the 2004 election.
The modern function of minor parties is also their most useful purpose: to persuade major candidates rather than voters. Though Americans will continue to be unaware of the Michael Badnariks of the world, it may be for the best.
Christopher George Wink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.