The Effect of Third Party Candidates in Presidential Elections

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The Effect of Third Party Candidates in Presidential Elections

Although citizens of the United States have the opportunity to vote for many different offices at the national, state, and local levels, the election of the president of the United States every four years is the focal point of the American political process. The American political system has maintained a two- party system since its inception. Political scientists argue that a two-party system is the most stable and efficient means of running a democratic nation as a mono-party system leads toward tyranny, and a multi-party system creates over- diversification and gridlock (Mazmanian 6). The Constitution of the United States does not in any way limit the structure of the political system to two parties. In fact, there has been no presidential election where there were only two candidates; however, third-party candidates are rarely represented in a majority of the states, and those that were on the ballot in a majority of states have never been successful. However, on a few occasions, third party candidates have been able to make a significant impact on the presidential election process such as George Wallace in 1968 and H. Ross Perot in 1992. Through nineteenth century there was little deviation from the traditional two-party system. Until then, political candidates were utterly dependent upon

the political infrastructure of an established party for their campaigns. Until the development of mass media technologies, including radio and television, political candidates had no direct means of communicating with the public and were thus dependent

on the communications systems of the major parties. Thus,
third party movements lacked the capabilities to run an effective campaign against the major parties.
However, mass media has changed the scope of the election process and brought about the demise of the major political parties (Robinson 147). Candidates who run a television dominated campaign have hurt their parties in a number of ways. The media specialists who manage such campaigns tend to be loyal to a candidate rather than to the candidate's party; as a result, the campaign supports a single candidate and not the entire ticket of the party. In addition, the heavy reliance on television allows a candidate to reach voters directly, thereby weakening the traditional function of the party as an information and communication body acting as an intermediary between the candidate and the voters.

Other developments have served to weaken the role of the party in the presidential campaign. The growth of computerized "direct-mail fundraising techniques" and "computerized e-mail" have encroached on activities traditionally performed by the political party (Robinson 150). Also, recent reforms in the areas of campaign financing and delegate selection to the nominating conventions have made the party less significant with respect to fund-raising and candidate selection (Robinson 151). The decreasing role of the political party in the presidential campaign and the increasing ability of the candidates themselves to provide their own publicity has brought about the beginning of a new political era in which the dominance of the major parties is questionable, and the potential for a non-affiliated candidate to mount a competitive campaign is very realistic.

In theory, it is possible for a completely independent candidate to be elected to the presidency, provided the candidate is highly competent, charismatic, eloquent, and photogenic, and the candidate is running against relatively weak candidates of the major parties (Mazmanian 21). However, at this time, political analysts stipulate that the chances of this happening are slim because a majority of Americans are xenophobic enough to be wary of the unknown candidate.

An independent candidate can, however, have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the election without actually...
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