According to a Gallup poll published this week, nearly two-thirds of American adults believe that the Democratic and Republican parties “do such a poor job representing the American people that a third party is needed.”
Gallup reported that this is the highest percentage of U.S. adults desiring a third party since it started polling on this issue in 2003.
The poll revealed that half of all U.S. adults have rejected party affiliation and identify as politically independent — the highest percentage ever measured in a Gallup poll. Of independents, 70 percent favor the idea of a third party.
Those who identify as Republicans follow closely behind, at 63 percent. This is a marked increase since September when just 40 percent of Republicans favored the formation of a third party.
The uptick is likely fueled by Trump loyalists’ view that the antipathy that GOP establishment types — such as Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — expressed toward former President Donald Trump in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 incursion into the Capitol was a party betrayal.
Trump has publicly flirted with the idea of creating a third party, according to the Wall Street Journal, and Reuters reported that Never-Trump Republicans have entertained the notion, too. The surge in interest among Republicans for a third party is no doubt attributable to these public discussions.
In contrast to Republicans, Democrats’ support for a third party has waned over the last few months. Although 52 percent of Democrats wanted a third party in September, only 46 percent favor the idea now.
While this downward slide owes in part to Democrats having won the presidency and majorities in both branches of Congress, it also likely results from Biden’s pledge to incorporate the radical leftists’ agenda into his own platform.
Nevertheless, despite muted enthusiasm among Democrats for a third party, the stage is set for an intra-party rift that could quickly crescendo. Recall that just one year ago, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York declared that “in any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party.”
Democrats found common ground in their shared contempt for Trump, but that glue will likely chip now that Trump is out of office and his second impeachment is behind us.
It is only a matter of time before the tensions between the Democratic Party’s progressive wing and its more moderate members boil over. Just one month into Biden’s term, the fault lines are already starting to widen.
This week, Biden angered the AOC-Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont element by publicly refusing to unilaterally cancel $50,000 of student loan debt per borrower. This type of infighting will undoubtedly increase in frequency and intensity each time Biden rejects a radical agenda item from his party’s left flank, and the calls for a third party will become louder.
Third parties are nothing new — they have been a regular, and important, feature of the political landscape throughout American history, often serving to highlight divisive issues that the major parties prefer to ignore. And they have played a role in bringing about important social change, such as the abolition of slavery and the establishment of women’s suffrage.
Independent political groups such as the Free Soil Party, the Nullifier Party, the Anti-Masonic Party, the Greenback Party, the Prohibition Party and the Green Party were all created to advocate for or oppose one or more prominent issues of the day.
Others, like the Liberal Republican Party, were created to support or oppose particular political candidates.
And, of course, third parties have been born out of political ideology. The People’s Party, the Socialist Party and the Libertarian Party are examples of these.
There has been no shortage of third parties in our nation’s history. Indeed, there are over 26 active ones in the United States today.
Yet, due to the Republican and Democratic parties’ shared concern that third-party candidates would siphon votes away from their own candidates (think Ross Perot in 1992 or Ralph Nader in 2000), entrenched political interests pushed for state laws to discourage new third parties from forming.
These included “sore-loser laws,” which prevent candidates who lose in primaries from running as third-party candidates in both presidential and congressional contests, and “anti-fusion laws” that prohibit candidates from being nominated by more than one party.
Also, many states’ ballot access laws require that a substantial percentage of registered voters sign petitions in order for a party to appear on the ballot. This presents a substantial barrier for many third parties, which do not have the organizational support that major parties enjoy, and whose candidates usually lack name recognition.
Similarly, federal campaign finance laws require that minor parties obtain at least 5 percent of the popular vote in the previous election in order to qualify for matching funds. This puts third-party candidates at a marked disadvantage compared to major party candidates.
Given these obstacles, it’s no wonder that it has been over 50 years since a third party won even a single elector in a presidential election.
Still, we should not forget that former President Abraham Lincoln was elected president as a third-party candidate in 1860, when the upstart Republican Party beat the Whigs and the Democrats on an anti-slavery platform.
While the present level of support for a third party may not be quite enough to upset the current duopoly, a viable third party is closer to reality than it has been in a long while.
The Jan. 21-Feb. 2 Gallup poll surveyed 906 adults over the age of 18 in the U.S. and reported a margin of error rate of +/- 6 percentage points.
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