AP®︎/College US Government and Politics
Third parties in the United States
Explore the role of third parties in the United States political system, including the Libertarian, Green, and Reform parties. Understand the challenges they face, such as the winner-take-all system and major parties incorporating their messages. Dive into the impact of third parties on elections and political discourse.
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- What the heck are parties in the United States? Can you give me more examples.(1 vote)
- Today, America is a multi-party system. The Democratic Party and the Republican Party are the most powerful. Yet other parties, such as the Reform, Libertarian, Socialist, Natural Law, Constitution, and Green Parties can promote candidates in a presidential election.(1 vote)
- What are special interests?(2 votes)
- In a political sense they are interest groups that support a special cause (say for or against nuclear energy, consumer protection, etc.) and try to influence politicians in that direction.(1 vote)
- Hi... Where do the 10% of votes from Party C in your example go? If they are not proportional, in our current political system, do they get added to the party with most votes?(0 votes)
- From the author:Party B would win the election and therefore get all of the seats. Party A and Party C would not get any seats in Congress.(2 votes)
- Isn't Bernie Sanders third-party, not Democrat?(0 votes)
- He ran as a Democrat for the last Presidential primary. While he ran as an independent for his most recent senatorial election, as well as previous elections, he caucuses with the Democratic party.(1 vote)
- So what are the parties that existed during this time, more straightforward?(0 votes)
- Let's talk about third parties in the United States. And I put the word third in quotation marks because there's more than one third party. So you could even think of it as a third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh parties. But the reason why people say third parties is because in the United States, you have two dominant parties. You have the Republicans and you have the Democrats. And so any other party is considered to be a third party after those first two big, dominant parties. So here are some of the logos of some of the, I would say, major third parties in the United States. And I'm gonna put major in quotes because they don't have much of a say in our government today. You have the Libertarian Party, that is very focused on people's individual liberties. They generally think about the government doing as little as possible. That whenever the government strives to get bigger, it infringes on people's liberties, either in the economic sphere or in the social sphere. The Green Party is also very pro-civil liberties, but you can also imagine, because it's called the Green Party, it is very concerned with the environment. Now, this third, third party, and there's many more than just these three. This is the Reform Party. And the Reform Party is really interesting because it was started by Ross Perot in 1995. And this was after, in 1992, Ross Perot ran as an Independent candidate for President. And he did surprisingly well. He got nearly 20 percent of the popular vote. But an interesting question is even though he got 20 percent of the popular vote in 1992, and even though in the Reform Party, it had some reasonable support even in the 1996 election, how come we don't see Congress people who represent the Reform Party? And there's two real answers here. One is, the winner-take-all system. Winner - take - all. So if we're dealing with a situation where even if a third party gets 20 percent of the vote, they're not going to get any representation for it. And you can contrast that with a proportional representation system like you have in some Parliaments. So in some countries, their Parliament is elected by proportional representation. So let's say that 20 percent vote for Party A. Let's say 70 percent vote for Party B. And then the remainder, 10 percent, vote for Party C. In a Parliamentary proportional representation system, Party C would get roughly 10 percent of the seats in the Parliament. But that's not the way it works in our government. In our government, in almost any jurisdiction, if you had a voter breakdown like this, well, Party B would win. Or maybe sometimes Party A would win, and even if Party C does get some votes, it's never going to cross the threshold to actually get representation. Now, with that said, this doesn't fully explain why we don't we see more third party representation in say the United States Congress. Because there are countries that have more third party representation, even though they don't have proportional representation. Now another reason that's often cited for why we don't see third party representation is that the major parties, the Republicans and Democrats oftentimes incorporate the third party's messages into their own. To get a sense of this, I'm gonna show you a little bit of an excerpt from a Reform Party ad in 1996. And at that time, they were saying things that neither the Democrats or the Republicans were saying very strongly. And I want you to think about, when you hear it, whether some of those messages have, later on, become parts of either the Republican or the Democratic candidate's messages. - Washington is selling our future to the special interests. - Don't waste your vote on someone who will sell you out. - Ross Perot is the only candidate who will work - For our interests, instead of the special interests. - Just vote for Ross. - Because you own this country. - So as you saw in that ad from the Reform Party, there's a lot of talk about the influence of special interests and how people need to take their government back. And if you fast-forward to the 2016 Presidential election, you had two major forces, actually one on the Republican side and one on the Democratic side. On the Republican side, you have Donald Trump, who's echoing the need to focus on special interests. That Washington is a swamp, that it needs to be drained. It wasn't obvious from that ad, but Ross Perot in 1992 was ringing the alarm bells about NAFTA and free trade and saying why it would be bad for the United States. And in 2016, you heard many of these same things from the Republican candidate, Donald Trump. Same thing with Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side. He echoed the need to take a second look at free trade. And that special interests had taken over Washington.