What's a viable strategy for third parties?

madpol asked this question on 5/13/2000:

What do you see as the most viable strategy for a 3rd party in National elections?

JesseGordon gave this response on 5/13/2000:

I agree with my colleague that a 3rd party needs a "top-down" approach, i.e., a popular charismatic leader to represent the party and make it viable. But the "bottom-up" work has to be done first. The charismatic leader needs a grassroots base, support structures in every state, and so on, before HE can be viable.

I had big hopes for Jesse Ventura in 2004. Perot & Buchanan would have set up the groundwork of a serious political party structure, then Jesse could be the popular charismatic leader the next time around. But the party's in-fighting have dashed my hopes. Maybe they'll work it out, or maybe some other Big Name will unite them for 2004.

The difference with the Reform Party is that they started out entirely "top-down", with Perot in 1992. They had no grassroots structure at all prior to that. In 1996, the grassroots were a little better, but it was still all Perot-based. Buchanan may change that this year -- he's a real candidate, which means it has become a real party (maybe -- it depends what Perot does!).

There are numerous other third parties already in existence, of course. I'll discuss the Libertarian Party and the Green Party, which are likely to be the only other third parties which will get onto all 50 state ballots in November.

The most successful 3rd party in the past is the Libertarian Party, which has gotten onto the presidential ballot in all 50 states three or four times already. They've been focusing on building grassroots support, getting local officials elected, and making a case to be included in the presidential debates (unlikely!). Their candidate is Harry Browne (his stances on the issues are at )

The Green Party is following the outline I've made above. They have enormous grassroots support in Europe -- and indeed have a large number of elected officials there. Their support in the US is much thinner. But they're attempting to use the international grassroots support structure with a strong leader here -- that's Ralph Nader, who is certainly not the most charismatic guy in the world, but he has very high name recognition. He was on the ballot in 20-odd states in 1996, and promises to be on all 50 this time around and run a more serious campaign. (Nader's stances on the issues are at )

Three different parties; three different strategies -- that's politics!

No matter what, building a third party is a multi-decade process.

morrisonhimself gave this response on 5/14/2000:

Long-term viability is possible
* only* with a bottom-up strategy -- if I may disagree with the two previous answers.
Take the Reform Party -- please (thanks, Henny!).
* was* nothing but Ross Perot's vehicle. Then Jesse Ventura won election as the RP candidate for governor of Minnesota -- and soon left that party.
The Reform Party took much longer in 1996 to get on all the state ballots than did, for example, the Libertarian Party, simply because it did not and does not have any real precinct-level organization. (The LP does have, though, considerable ability and experience in ballot drives.)
The Green Party is
* not* -- in my judgment -- likely to be on 50 state ballots this year for exactly the same reason.
Yes, Ralph Nader and his populist/fascist platform got more votes in 1996 than any other alternative party except Ross Perot and his Reform Party, despite being on only about 20 state ballots; but, as was mentioned, he did and does have name recognition -- just no organization.
The Libertarian Party does, though, have at least 50 state organizations; it does not, however, have much real organization at the county and precinct levels where the actual and effective work of election campaigns is done.
The Natural Law and Constitution Parties are pretty much in the same boat: They have some degree of national organization, some degree of nationally recognized leadership (the Maharashni --and I hope I spelled that correctly -- and Howard Phillips respectively), but next to nothing at the local levels.
All the alternative parties have basic ideological premises, except the Reform Party which is basically just against the way things are -- not too unreasonable an attitude, I suppose -- but the way the old -- and corrupt -- parties got their strength was through patronage, not through philosophy.
What I recommend to an alternative party is this: Pool your resources, and make a concerted effort in selected districts, and concentrate your national resources on actually electing someone to county or state or Congressional office. And build from there; it is true that success breeds success. And nothing succeeds like success.
Since this is May, it may be too late for this year, but any alternative party that is serious about making changes can start now for making plans to win in, say, 2002.
By the way, the Green Party has elected people to a very few local offices; the Libertarian Party has elected the occasional state legislator, including in 1998 one in Vermont, and other offices.
Still, generally, neither has done the necessary job of organizing at the precinct level.
One final comment: Harry Browne is
* not* necessarily the LP presidential nominee for this year. He has some spirited competition from Don Gorman, a former member of the state legislature of New Hampshire.
Thank you.
Michael Morrison

madpol rated this answer:

That's pretty much my way of thinking, build from the grassroots and elect statewide and then national candidates on the coattails of Aldermen.

madpol rated this answer:

On the other hand, Buchanan's extreme views on social policy may turn off a lot of the Reform Party's base.

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