What We Know About American Third Parties

We’ve had many third-party movements over the last century, but none has achieved national dominance; few have proved lasting.  In fact, third-party candidates do not win elections.  As Peter Kiernan observes in his book, Becoming China’s Bitch (poorly written but interesting), whenever third-party candidates or their ideas begin to gain traction, the major parties co-opt them.  Individuals who run as third-party candidates without having a true national party organization behind them are doomed to be remembered as irritating spoilers.  The so-called independent candidate—whether wealthy or quixotic—is wasting our time.

Creating a lasting third party in the US could be accomplished, but it would take at least a decade.  The new party would have to be ideologically distinct from the existing parties—perhaps even inimical to them—, yet moderate enough in its outlook to gain traction in the mainstream.  In addition, the viability of such a party would have to be proved at the state level first.  A new party solidly established in several of the largest, wealthiest, and most diverse states—say Florida, New York, Texas, and California—might have a hope of success nationally.

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