Why Third Parties Can't Win

Why Third Parties Can't Win

U.S. Elections are Structured in a Way that Makes a Two-Party System Inevitable.

The Republican and Democratic primaries are raging on, but Jill Stein could care less. "Now is the time to support a serious, independent, left candidate for Presidential in 2016" says a statement from her campaign. Stein, a physician by practice, pulled in over 469,000 votes in 2012 as the candidate for the Green Party, America's fourth largest political party. She is now seeking the nomination to be the Green presidential candidate once more, and is "committed to qualifying for public matching funds" in the primary in order to accomplish that goal. Doing so would mean receiving matching funds from the government for the small campaign donations she receives: if someone were to donate $10 to her primary campaign, she'd receive an additional $10 from a fund ran by the U.S. Treasury. This would be an enormous win for her campaign. In order to qualify, however, the Federal Election Commission requires that a candidate "raise in excess of $5,000 in each of at least 20 states" in order to show that they have "broad-based public support." This means that she needs to raise at least $100,000 in order to accomplish her goal.

Such barriers exist all throughout the American election system, serving as obstacles for third parties trying to establish themselves while barely even being noticeable for Republicans and Democrats. Third parties frequently rail against such barriers, and they're smart in doing so, but that shouldn't be their only worry: as long as American elections are structured the way they currently are, the chances of any third party gaining serious, long-term power in America are effectively zero.

Third parties are not as weak as they are in America out of sheer lack of public interest. 58% of Americans believe that a third party is needed out of disappointment with the Republicans and Democrats. If Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, some fans of Bernie Sanders will likely shift their support to the social democratic Green Party. When they fail to secure the nomination, some Rand Paul supporters will probably move to the Libertarian Party and some Donald Trump and Ted Cruz supporters will probably move to the paleoconservative Constitution Party.

And yet, as famous Political Historian Richard Hofstadter said in his 1955 book The Age of Reform: Bryan to F.D.R., "Third parties are like bees: once they have stung, they die." In 1996, Ross Perot won over eight million votes when running with the Reform Party. Last election, the same party garnered just over 5,000 votes. The Green Party dropped from 2.9 million votes in 2000 with Nader down to 469,000 in 2012 with Stein.

According to Hofstadter, the reason that third parties are only able to keep a degree of power for a short period of time is because of how the two main parties, which operate "big tents" meant to welcome a variety of different ideological groups, are able to adjust their positions to absorb their voters:

"[Third parties'] function has not been to win or govern, but to agitate, educate, generate new ideas, and supply the dynamic element in our political life. When a third party's demands become popular enough, they are appropriated by one or both of the major parties and the third party disappears."

This is true: both the Democrats and the Republicans have historically been able to change rhetoric and ideology in order to accommodate new ideological voter groups. But why doesn't this rule apply in other democracies, where there are a wide variety of political parties with the potential to hold political power? Why is it that Canada, France, Germany, and the UK all have more than five political parties in parliament right now while we only have two in congress? The answer is that our elections are fundamentally different than theirs.

Unlike most other nations, America has plurality-based single member district elections, often referred to as a "first-past-the-post" or "winner-takes-all" system. Here, people vote for just one person for a given district or position, and whoever receives the largest number of votes wins that position. This type of system is cursed by a widely-accepted principle known in political science as Duverger's law, which dictates that it will naturally tend towards two political parties. Because they can only cast one vote and there can only be one winner for every position, voters rationally seek to avoid voting for parties that they know don't have much popular support, since that would be "wasting your vote." If a voter did so, they could even unintentionally help the party they like the least by "splitting the vote" of people similar to them among a variety of small parties instead of one, large, unified party. This problem is called "strategic voting": not voting for who you actually want to win in order to avoid a negative outcome you wish to prevent.

As a result, voters from a variety of different ideologies flock towards the group closest to their beliefs among the parties that is most likely to win, and that process continues until there are only two parties left. The video below provides a fun, easy to understand visualization of this in action. Duverger's law is covered from 1:36 to 4:17, but watching the whole thing will help it make far more sense:

This is a problem for democracy, as it lowers the amount of real choice that voters have and forces them to support parties and candidates they don't actually like, while rewarding politicians for promising contradicting things to different groups of voters in order to maintain a wide base of support. All of this weakens how much control the people have over their government.

As the video explains, this system opens up the potential for yet another problem, this one specific to congress: gerrymandering. In the majority of states, state legislatures either decide or play a major role in deciding how the lines for congressional districts are drawn. They use this power to their advantage, organizing districts in a way to provide their own party with an unfair advantage. This process is how, in 2012, the Democrats won more total national votes for the House of Representatives than Republicans did, but Republicans still wound up with 33 more seats than them. Sometimes, gerrymandering isn't even secret: a court document filed recently by the Chairman of the Virginia Board of Elections spoke of "incumbency protection" as one of "the Legislature's overarching priorities" in determining districts.

Along with distorting congressional representation between the two major parties, gerrymandering could also be used to extinguish the chances of third parties as well. Using this process, even if the entirety of one large city unanimously wanted their congressional representative to be from a third party, the state legislature could draw up the map so that the city is split between a number of surrounding districts, eliminating its chances at forming a unified voting bloc for a candidate from said third party.

Though the Democrats might benefit from the rise of a right-wing third party that splits the conservative vote and Republicans might benefit from the rise of a left-wing party that splits the liberal vote, both parties recognize the desirability of keeping the system between themselves. Less potential competition makes the system so much easier for them. Because of this, they have every incentive to game the system using gerrymandering to prevent a third party from sending a candidate to congress.

There are a number of ways that we can solve these problems. Many countries have abandoned the very idea of single-member districts, adopting alternative election methods instead. One popular option what's called a "party-list proportional representation" system. In congressional elections under this system, everyone votes for a party instead of candidate. If a party wins a certain percentage of the vote, they get that percentage of the seats in the legislature, and the candidates who take those seats are chosen from a publicly available list made by the party. So, for example, under this system the Republicans would run for the Senate as a party, and they would publish a list of one hundred of their candidates in a listed order. If 20% of the voters vote for the Republican party, then they would get 20 of the 100 Senate seats, which they would give to the first 20 people on their list.

This way, even if a party doesn't win the majority of the vote in any given district, they still have congressional representation. All a third party would need in order to get one congressional seat is one percent of the vote . Advocates claim that this system takes better account of the true beliefs of the voters, allowing relatively small and distinct groups to have their own unique say in the political process.

However, these systems might be hard to sell to Americans, who often like the idea of having someone from their own city or area represent them politically and be directly accountable to them. An alternative idea is to keep district-based elections, but change basically everything else. The decision of how districts are drawn can be kept politically neutral by giving the task to independent commissions, which is how it currently works in four states. Then, the fear that people have of "spoiling the election" by voting for a third party candidate that they like the most can be eliminated through instant-runoff voting. Under instant run-off voting, a voter would be asked to rank the candidates on the ballot in order of who they like the most, and votes are then determined through a series of runoffs that eliminate the least popular candidate and shift people's votes accordingly.

Say there was a ballot with three candidates: A Republican, a Democrat, and a Libertarian. Under our current system, someone who likes the relatively unpopular Libertarians would probably make the rational decision to suck it up and vote for their second favorite choice (the Republicans) so that their least favorite choice (the Democrats) don't win. Under instant runoff voting, however, they'd instead just rank Libertarians as their first choice, Republicans their second, and Democrats their third. Then, if the Libertarians got the least number of votes, his vote would automatically be transferred to his second favorite choice, the Republicans, in an instant run-off election. This would eliminate the problem of strategic voting, allowing voters to support who they like without fearing that they're indirectly supporting someone that they don't.

Even with these reforms, however, our current elections would still be stacked in favor of a two-party system. The enormous flow of private money to political parties and the extremely limited public funding available benefits the parties with the most connections and the most willingness to bow to the policy preferences of the wealthy. The Republicans and the Democrats are both experts in those areas, to varying degrees.

The increase in the influence that a small number of wealthy interests have had over elections in recent years has an unintended consequence in how it further crowds third parties out of the process. The organization of Super PAC's and large donations are rarely done out of a honest desire to support a candidate one believes in; they're done in order to build relationships and favors with politicians so that they become financially dependent on donors. Donors can then use their influence to craft policy that is friendly to them and their interests, allowing them to earn them a return on their donation. This cynical process is referred to as the "Investment Theory of Party Competition" by Political Scientist Thomas Ferguson, who views donors as investors looking to make a return when putting their money into the political process. Such a system further compounds the irrelevancy of third parties: they don't have political influence, so they can't raise much money, which in turn guarantees that they won't get any political influence.

The limited public funding that we do have is effectively structured so as to keep third parties out. You can only receive public funding for the general election if your party earned at least five percent of the popular vote in the last Presidential election. Since the end of World War II, third party tickets have only achieved that feat twice. Such a high threshold for public support serves the purpose of preventing third parties from breaking through in a similar way to the importance of private money. The financing paradox is simple: third parties can't do well in an election without money, and they can't get money unless they do well in an election.

Another problem, for the Presidential election specifically, is that Presidential debates are rigged to keep third parties out. The debates between the Republican and Democratic candidates are organized by a private organization called the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which, believe it or not, is run jointly by the Republican and Democratic parties. In this way, the two parties can cooperate in excluding third party candidates so that they fail to receive any significant attention. Jill Stein and her running mate were arrested for trying to even attend one of the 2012 debates between Obama and Romney.

Recently, the Libertarian and Green parties have teamed up to sue the CPD for violating anti-trust laws. Their proposed fix would be to "include all candidates in presidential debates who are legally qualified to serve... and whose names appear on enough states’ ballots to potentially secure a majority in the Electoral College." Even if their lawsuit does work, such a fix would currently only benefit those two parties and no others (how convenient!). This raises another problem: the process of acquiring ballot access itself is often stacked against third parties, and the policies for it vary widely from state to state. So even if a third party finds a way to get past all of the previously listed problems, there's a chance that they still won't even show up on the ballot.

To recap: in order for a third party to establish themselves as a serious power (with a chance in both the legislative and the executive branch) in the United States under the current system, they need to raise large amounts of money without having what they need to get it, get themselves mass public attention without being able to debate the most popular candidates, try to get themselves on the ballot, find a way to avoid gerrymandering, and then convince voters to vote in a way that ultimately benefits the party they hate most. Beyond that, it's easy.

This isn't to say that voting for third parties is always a useless exercise. When Hofstadter said that they "agitate, educate, generate new ideas, and supply the dynamic element in our political life," he was right. Supporting third parties can be an effective way to influence the activities of the two major parties. If a large portion of the voters who typically support a major party decided to cast protest votes in favor of a third party, the major party would immediately start investigating that third party to see what they can "appropriate" from it (to use Hofstadter's term) in order to win the voters back.

There are fixes to or current system. Instant runoff voting, independent districting commissions, extensive campaign finance reform, and an opening up of debates and ballot access to more political competition would all go a long way in helping to break up the two-party system in America. But the fact remains: under current policy, voting for a third party with the intention of getting them into office is futility in its purest form. And, until people begin to demand change, there's no reason for either of the parties in power to change that.

Cover Image Credit: Mint Press News

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I'd Rather Be Single Than Settle – Here Is Why Being Picky Is Okay

They're on their best behavior when you're dating.

Dating nowadays described in one word: annoying.

What's even more annoying? when people tell you that you're being too "picky" when it comes to dating. Yes, from an outside perspective sometimes that's exactly what it looks like; however, when looking at it from my perspective it all makes sense.

I've heard it all:

"He was cute, why didn't you like him?"

"You didn't even give him a chance!"

"You pay too much attention to the little things!"

What people don't understand is that it's OKAY to be picky when it comes to guys. For some reason, girls in college freak out and think they're supposed to have a boyfriend by now, be engaged by the time they graduate, etc. It's all a little ridiculous.

However, I refuse to put myself on a time table such as this due to the fact that these girls who feel this way are left with no choice but to overlook the things in guys that they shouldn't be overlooking, they're settling and this is something that I refuse to do.

So this leaves the big question: What am I waiting for?

Well, I'm waiting for a guy who...

1. Wants to know my friends.

Blessed doesn't even begin to describe how lucky I am to have the friends that I do.

I want a guy who can hang out with my friends. If a guy makes an effort to impress your friends then that says a lot about him and how he feels about you. This not only shows that he cares about you but he cares about the people in your life as well.

Someone should be happy to see you happy and your friends contribute to that happiness, therefore, they should be nothing more than supportive and caring towards you and your friendships.

2. Actually, cares to get to know me.

Although this is a very broad statement, this is the most important one. A guy should want to know all about you. He should want to know your favorite movie, favorite ice cream flavor, favorite Netflix series, etc. Often, (the guys I get stuck on dates with) love to talk about themselves: they would rather tell you about what workout they did yesterday, what their job is, and what they like to do rather than get to know you.

This is something easy to spot on the first date, so although they may be "cute," you should probably drop them if you leave your date and can recite everything about their life since the day they were born, yet they didn't catch what your last name was.

3. How they talk about other women.

It does not matter who they're talking about, if they call their ex-girlfriend crazy we all know she probably isn't and if she is it's probably their fault.

If they talk bad about their mom, let's be honest, if they're disrespecting their mother they're not going to respect you either. If they mention a girl's physical appearances when describing them. For example, "yeah, I think our waitress is that blonde chick with the big boobs"

Well if that doesn't hint they're a complete f* boy then I don't know what else to tell you. And most importantly calling other women "bitches" that's just disrespectful.

Needless to say, if his conversations are similar to ones you'd hear in a frat house, ditch him.

4. Phone etiquette.

If he can't put his phone down long enough to take you to dinner then he doesn't deserve for you to be sitting across from him.

If a guy is serious about you he's going to give you his undivided attention and he's going to do whatever it takes to impress you and checking Snapchat on a date is not impressive. Also, notice if his phone is facedown, then there's most likely a reason for it.

He doesn't trust who or what could pop up on there and he clearly doesn't want you seeing. Although I'm not particularly interested in what's popping up on their phones, putting them face down says more about the guy than you think it does.

To reiterate, it's okay to be picky ladies, you're young, there's no rush.

Remember these tips next time you're on a date or seeing someone, and keep in mind: they're on their best behavior when you're dating. Then ask yourself, what will they be like when they're comfortable? Years down the road? Is this what I really want? If you ask yourself these questions you might be down the same road I have stumbled upon, being too picky.. and that's better than settling.

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Pride? Pride.

Who are we? Why are we proud?


This past week, I was called a faggot by someone close to me and by note, of all ways. The shock rolled through my body like thunder across barren plains and I was stuck paralyzed in place, frozen, unlike the melting ice caps. My chest suddenly felt tight, my hearing became dim, and my mind went blank except for one all-encompassing and constant word. Finally, after having thawed, my rage bubbled forward like divine retribution and I stood poised and ready to curse the name of the offending person. My tongue lashed the air into a frenzy, and I was angry until I let myself break and weep twice. Later, I began to question not sexualities or words used to express (or disparage) them, but my own embodiment of them.

For members of the queer community, there are several unspoken and vital rules that come into play in many situations, mainly for you to not be assaulted or worse (and it's all too often worse). Make sure your movements are measured and fit within the realm of possible heterosexuality. Keep your music low and let no one hear who you listen to. Avoid every shred of anything stereotypically gay or feminine like the plague. Tell the truth without details when you can and tell half-truths with real details if you must. And above all, learn how to clear your search history. At twenty, I remember my days of teaching my puberty-stricken body the lessons I thought no one else was learning. Over time I learned the more subtle and more important lessons of what exactly gay culture is. Now a man with a head and social media accounts full of gay indicators, I find myself wondering both what it all means and more importantly, does it even matter?

To the question of whether it matters, the answer is naturally yes and no (and no, that's not my answer because I'm a Gemini). The month of June has the pleasure of being the time of year when the LGBT+ community embraces the hateful rhetoric and indulges in one of the deadly sins. Pride. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the figures at the head of the gay liberation movement, fought for something larger than themselves and as with the rest of the LGBT+ community, Pride is more than a parade of muscular white men dancing in their underwear. It's a time of reflection, of mourning, of celebration, of course, and most importantly, of hope. Pride is a time to look back at how far we've come and realize that there is still a far way to go.

This year marks fifty years since the Stonewall Riots and the gay liberation movement launched onto the world stage, thus making the learning and embracing of gay culture that much more important. The waves of queer people that come after the AIDS crisis has been given the task of rebuilding and redefining. The AIDS crisis was more than just that. It was Death itself stalking through the community with the help of Regan doing nothing. It was going out with friends and your circle shrinking faster than you can try or even care to replenish. Where do you go after the apocalypse? The LGBT+ community was a world shut off from access by a touch of death and now on the other side, we must weave in as much life as we can.

But we can't freeze and dwell of this forever. It matters because that's where we came from, but it doesn't matter because that's not where we are anymore. We're in a time of rebirth and spring. The LGBT+ community can forge a new identity where the AIDS crisis is not the defining feature, rather a defining feature to be immortalized, mourned, and moved on from.

And to the question of what does it all mean? Well, it means that I'm gay and that I've learned the central lesson that all queer people should learn in middle school. It's called Pride for a reason. We have to shoulder the weight of it all and still hold our head high and we should. Pride is the LGBT+ community turning lemons into lemon squares and limoncello. The lemon squares are funeral cakes meant to mourn and be a familiar reminder of what passed, but the limoncello is the extravagant and intoxicating celebration of what is to come. This year I choose to combine the two and get drunk off funeral cakes. Something tells me that those who came before would've wanted me to celebrate.

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