Why vote for third parties?

chopper4 asked this question on 10/17/2000:

I am frequently caught in political crossfires because of my views on the issues. While I am for the second amendment, I am also against capital punishment, pro-choice, concerned with environmental issues, and believe in Universal health coverage for all citizens.

Do you think that other political parties will ever have the ability to support a presidential candidate?
Why aren't alternative party candidates allowed to participate in the debates?
And, finally, are you in favor of dropping the two party system in favor of a more representative means of choosing our elected officials?



JesseGordon gave this response on 10/17/2000:

I'd call you a "liberal-leaning libertarian", a group that is often "caught in the political crossfires." You can get a better label for yourself by doing the political quiz at

Yes, of course I want to see third parties in the debates. And no, of course they will not be allowed to debate. The Commission on Presidential Debates is a BI-partisan entity, not NON-partisan -- as long as that's the case, forget it for third parties.

The Dems and Reps do NOT want third parties, and they will work hard to keep it that way. The only way to beat them is to get real support for a third party. There are two ways: top-down, and botto-up. Perot tried top-down (charismatic leader), and might succeed if he can get together with Jesse Ventura and Pat Buchanan. The Libertarian Party is working hard on a bottom-up approach (local party-building and running many local candidates). They've got years to go before they're taken seriously, though. The Green Party is sort of a mix of the two -- they've got a huge grassroots support in Europe, and a charisamtic leader (Nader) here. They may be able to build on that in 2004.

Here's my FAQ on third parties: (see

Reasons to consider voting for third-party candidates:

"Vote your Conscience"

This is the primary argument of many third-party candidates - that you should vote for the candidate who best matches your views or your beliefs, rather than choosing the "lesser of two evils" by voting for the Democrat or Republican candidate who is less distant from your views than the other of the two.

The "lesser of two evils" argument is related to the argument that the two major parties intentional limit the field to ensure their continued power. In other words, voters must "vote their conscience" if they disagree with issues that the two major parties agree on:

Sending a Message

Popular third-party candidacies have traditionally reflected voter dissatisfaction with the two-party system. A strong showing by a third-party candidate indicates to the Democrats and Republicans that their support is weakening, or that they need to listen to the ideas that the third-party candidate espouses. Third-party candidates are often portrayed as "spoilers" or iconoclasts, just trying to shake up the political system.

Push Range of Ideas

There are positive arguments for third parties as well as anti-establishment arguments. How do new ideas get started in the political world? One way is that third parties espouse a non-mainstream viewpoint from the bully pulpit of a presidential candidacy. Getting the major parties to take their ideas is an explicit goal of many third party candidacies:

Build a grassroots constituency

Third parties also use the presidential race, and the higher interest among voters, for "party building." The campaign is a means to spread their message, to engage new supporters, and to build party membership and recognition:

Electoral Politics

Some analysts contend that the electoral college makes a third-party candidacy even more difficult. Indeed, despite the popular-vote success of Ross Perot in the 1990s and John Anderson in 1980, neither received any electoral votes. The most recent third-party candidate to do so was George Wallace in 1968. But Wallace and the prior candidates in the above list focused on a sub-segment of states (the South), while Perot and Anderson ran "national" campaigns. One candidate points out that the GOP began as a third party, and grew via an electoral victory:

5% cutoff for FEC cash

On practical matters, the Federal Election Commission provides "matching funds" for candidates who receive a popular vote over 5% in the previous national election. That rule is the source of Buchanan's $12 million funding, based on Perot's showing in 1996. Hence, all third parties seek the 5% mark to qualify for funds in the next election (except the Libertarian Party, which claims it would turn down FEC funds on principle).
Numerous states also have rules about ballot access which are determined by a party's showing in the last election. Foe example, in Massachusetts, any party which garners a 5% vote in any statewide or federal race has automatic ballot access in the subsequent statewide race.

Hence, a third-party vote, even if it does not affect the outcome of the presidential race, can have significant effects in other aspects of politics.

15% cutoff for debates

The Commission on Presidential Debates has set the cutoff level for participation in nationally televised debates at 15%. Note from the chart above that Ross Perot would have qualified in 1992, but no other third-party candidate would have qualified in recent times. The Commission on Presidential Debates, the third-party candidates recount frequently, is a bipartisan commission (meaning Democrats and Republicans), and not a non-partisan commission. Indeed, the previous non-partisan sponsors of the presidential debates, the League of Women Voters, withdrew their sponsorship because they claimed the Democrats and Republicans meddled too much with the rules. A closing quotation on the debates, and then we leave you to your ballot decision:

chopper4 rated this answer:

I took the quiz, and was labelled (as you did) a liberal leaning libertarian. I will vote my conscience this year.
I guess that when we vote for the lesser of two evils, we are still ending up with evil.



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