Minor political parties do not do well in elections as two parties dominate American politics and the likelihood is that this will be the case in the future. The wealth that the Democrats and Republicans can generate and their traditional hold in American politics invariably means that no other party is likely to get even a ‘toe hold’ in the area where politics count – elections.
Since 1980, only four state governors have labelled themselves “independent” out of a potential total of 350 and there is only one “independent” state governor now. The impact an independent governor would have at state level would have to be assessed on an individual state basis. Their impact on national politics is obviously minimal. Therefore America remains a dualist-nation politically. However, minority parties do exist.
they do not have the financial backing that the two main parties have the cost of thorough campaigning during an election is beyond most most voters traditionally support the two main parties as they are ‘safe’ bets – the minority parties would be something of a gamble the electoral system counts against them both main parties are prepared to be flexible with regards to what they represent and they modify their policies according to what is popular at the time, therefore taking potentially important issues away from the minority parties. As such, they can ‘steal the thunder’ of the minority parties.
There have been instances when the electorate has clearly shown that they were disinterested with the two main parties – such as Perot’s showing in 1992. The resultant move by both parties was to steal away from Perot much of what he stood for so that by the 1996 election, his national support fell drastically – despite the financial resources he could call on.
Two types of minor parties have been identified :
1. the ideological/doctrinal party that has a long history of campaigning in elections
2. the transient parties that quickly rise and equally fall and decline.
1. the Libertarian Party which believes in a massive reduction in the power of the government at all levels. In the 1980 election, the party won nearly one million votes while in the 1996 election they got 485,000 votes – 0.5% of the total.
3. the Reform Party led by Ross Perot which has been the most successful third party since Teddy Roosevelt in 1912. For the 1996 election this party was known as the Independence Party and it got 8.4% of the national vote – but this was a major decrease compared to the 1992 support received by Perot. Perot, of course, has access to something that the other minority parties do not – almost unlimited wealth and spending power that brings with it the media coverage so needed in modern politics. For all this he did not win one Electoral College vote in 1992 or 1996. In the 2000 election, the Reform Party’s Pat Buchanan got less than 500,000 votes nationally and no Electoral College votes.
The transient parties are usually formed from a breakaway from the two main parties and are a response to the policies that they might be supporting at a national level. In 1948, some southern Democrat politicians created the “Dixiecrat” candidacy of Thurmond as they did not approve of Truman and his presidency since 1945. Once the main party has been seen to accommodate the views of these breakaways, they died a quick death. In 1968, the Democrat George Wallace created the American Independent Party which wanted segregation of the races – he was a southern politician. He gained 45 Electoral College votes in 1968. Four years later he was back in the Democrat Party though the party had not re-introduced segregation. In 1968, Wallace was supported simply because he was George Wallace – a charismatic and publicity seeking politician with a band of support in the south. In the 1988 election, the AIP polled just 27,000 votes – an irrelevance.
|Candidate/Party||Popular vote||% of national total||Best state showing|
|Perot (Reform)||8,085,285||8.4||Maine (14%)|
|Nader (Green)||684,000||0.7||Oregon (3.5%)|
|Browne (Libertarians)||485,000||0.5||Arizona (1%)|
|Philips (US Tax)||184,000||0.19||Virginia (0.5%)|
|Hegelin (Nat. Law)||114,000||0.12||Montana (0.4%)|
|Moorehead (Workers World)||29,000||0.03||Ohio (0.2%)|
|Feinland (Peace and Freedom)||25,000||0.03||California (0.2%)|
|Collins (Indepen)||8,900||0.01||Colorado (0.1%)|
|Harris (Socialist Workers)||8,400||0.01||DC (0.1%)|