Our country has a long history of third party candidates, dating back to at least 1832. Some of them you may have heard of, most of them you haven’t. That’s because they lost. Still, the allure of a candidate who isn’t affiliated with parties perceived as corrupt will likely always have a following. Looking towards the upcoming election, six percent of likely voters plan to cast their ballot for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, despite the fact his name isn’t even on the ballot in many states.
One can hardly blame third party supporters with wanting to change the system. Politicians on both sides make promises they have no intention to fulfill. Moreover, there are large swaths who feel that neither side represents their interests. Unless you vote for yourself, though, you’re never going to find a candidate that you agree with 100 percent of the time. It is simply not possible to have a candidate that pleases everyone, which means that in order to have government you must compromise your values to some extent. The ideal candidate is both the person who you agree with most and the one best suited to win. When three candidates are running, two are likely to have similar platforms, and from there it’s simple arithmetic. You can agree with 99.9 percent of what a candidate stands for, but if they can’t win an election, then you may end up with the candidate you agree with least.
The majority of third party candidate supporters are folks who are politically active. By nature, this bloc has a high probability of voting. However, in presidential elections their candidates never win. The closest a third party candidate has come to winning an election in the past 180 years happened 100 years ago, when “Bull Moose” Teddy Roosevelt received 27 percent of the vote. But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. The election of 1912 was the first year primaries played a significant role in presidential politics. Running for reelection was Republican William Taft, versus the Democrat opponent Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt, who had been president from 1901-1909, decided to run against Taft for the Republican nomination (TR was the first president to run for three terms).
Taft and Roosevelt were the respective leaders of two wings of the party: Taft was a Conservative, Roosevelt was a Progressive. The progressive Republicans favored restrictions on the employment of women and children, ecological conservation, and were more sympathetic toward labor unions. The Progressives were also strongly in favor of federal and state judges picked by popular election instead of being appointed. The Conservatives favored high tariffs on imported goods to encourage consumers to buy American-made products (as did most progressives), favored business leaders over labor unions, and were generally opposed to the popular election of judges (Taft later went on to become the only president who also served as chief justice).
The results of the election are as follows:
Roosevelt effectively split the Republican party, which allowed Wilson the win. Woodrow Wilson, of course, went on to sign the Federal Reserve Act into law the very next year, a move that both Taft and Roosevelt supporters found disagreeable. Wilson himself would later be prompted him to write the following: “I am a most unhappy man. I have unwittingly ruined my country. A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men. We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated Governments in the civilized world no longer a Government by free opinion, no longer a Government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a Government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.”
So how successful have third parties been in changing presidential politics? I’d say marginally, but only in regards to the structure. They certainly haven’t had any impact as far as changing the dominance of the two party system. At least 180 years of history hasn’t made third party candidacy more accessible.
By no means am I advocating voting strictly along party lines. However, the presidency is the only office that is voted in on a national level; that’s not the venue to change the political structure. If you want to change it, then do so by changing your representatives and senators. The place to vote your convictions is still in the primaries; after that you have to ask yourself where your vote will have the most positive impact. In presidential politics, two’s company, three’s a crowd. “We cannot change the cards we are dealt with, just how we play the hand.” Randy Pausch
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Clinton Gill is editor of the Glade Sun. His column is published weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.