Poli Sci 40 Final Essay
The United States is distinct among Western Democracies in the rigidity and persistence of its two-party system. Citizens from various nations that exhibit a similar level of democratic control over their government appear to be much more open to the election of third-party candidates than citizens in the United States. Whereas countries such as Canada, Great Britain, and South Korea play host to more than two dominant political parties, the United States is unique in its propagation of a two-party schism between Democrats and Republicans. Even as the two major parties have grown more and more polarized in recent years, minor parties have struggled to find an opening through which to interject themselves into the political scene. The reason for this phenomenon lies in the inherently strategic nature of American politics. In the United States, tactics not only govern the political choices of voters, but of political candidates as well. Rather than choosing their preferred choice, voters think strategically by voting for the most feasible option. Minor-party politicians also employ strategy in determining whether or not their candidacy will hurt the chances of the next most palatable option. With single member districts, plurality rule, limited political scope and relevance, and legal disadvantages, it is no wonder that minor parties cannot rise to political prominence in America’s two-party system.
The United States is host to a wide variety of minor parties, though few of them rarely pose a threat to the Democrats or Republicans. In the 2008 Presidential Election, twelve third-party candidates collectively garnered 1% of the popular vote, receiving a grand total of zero electoral votes. It makes sense that no electoral votes would be awarded given the miniscule percentage of the popular vote each third-party candidates received, but what if a candidate had received a much larger share of the popular vote? Case-in-point: Ross Perot in the 1992 Presidential Election. Once leading in the polls, Perot racked up 18.9% of the popular vote on Election Day, so one would expect his electoral tally to be roughly proportional to his popular vote count. Not so. Perot received zero electoral votes, despite his strong showing as a third party candidate. While Perot did not win the election, or even a single electoral vote for that matter, his candidacy was largely seen as a spoiler for George H. W. Bush. However, such influence is often a disadvantage anyway because a candidate does not want to be blamed for costing anyone the election. In fact, most third-party candidates have a tremendous amount trouble convincing a skeptical electorate that can play anything other than a spoiler role in an election. Progressive candidate Ralph Nader is thought to have siphoned off support from Al Gore during his presidential candidacy in 2000. For this reason, many voters, including Nader’s own supporters, urged the candidate to stay out of the 2004 presidential race for fear of hurting John Kerry’s chances. It’s hard enough for a third-party candidate to convince the American population that he can actually win, let alone convince them that he won’t hurt the next best option.
Even if people express support for third-party platforms, it is not certain that they will “waste” their vote on a candidate with no legitimate chance of winning the election. Voters appear to be more concerned with preventing the opposing party from winning than with electing their most preferable choice. Voters are more likely to vote against a candidate than for one. For this reason, they are liable to shift their votes to a more feasible winner, or the “lesser of two evils.” Abraham Lincoln exploited the spoiler role of third-party candidates when he forced Douglas to go on the record as wanting to allow western settlers to ban slavery. Douglas’ move to the center made room for the South to nominate a third-party...