Why 2016 Isn’t The Year of The Third Party.
My inbox is full of them: pieces about how bad people are for supporting Jill Stein. This seems to be a theme for the this year’s campaigns and their support: attacking other people’s supporters. Satirical pieces, angry screeds, and condescending crap.
Two things. First, political fandom wars are legitimately sickening at this point. Second, there’s a real argument against Stein (and really any current or previous third party candidate) but no one seems to care.
Look, I know it was fun to smack each other around during the primary. I know calling all the Bernie Sanders supporters sexist was really effective or whatever, but the war people are fighting between political fandoms is tired. I don’t know how anyone is tolerant of it at this point. You know what? There was an argument against Bernie Sanders they could have used that was legitimate, but it required Hillary Clinton to change her position on it, too: he doesn’t support reparations. She didn’t, though — and why would she? It’s not like this country has a debt to pay to black people or something like that.
But that’s about Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. You know? Candidates. I say that because I believe campaigning against a candidate’s support is incredibly ill-advised.
Let me first present my argument against third parties’ viability in the 2016 presidential election. I’m mainly going to talk about the Green Party, because they are at least vaguely progressive and I have no wish to indirectly kill impoverished people. Regardless, we should have a problem with a party running a presidential candidate whose experience in elected office is a position in an obscure town meeting co-office. The Green Party also currently holds no offices beyond mayor, city council, and school board. This is a party with no higher office experience and assuming a Green did become president this election, congress would undermine them. They’d use the relative lack of experience to make it seem like third parties are an irresponsible choice.
No Greens in congress, no greens in state governments, just local. And it’s mainly in California. This party has been around since 2001 and has been piddling around in Cali the whole time.
Let’s say Jill Stein wins the presidency. Pretend for a minute. That puts a Green Party member into the Oval Office without any political clout and with the two “major” parties scared and angry. This doesn’t even take into account that Jill Stein was/is using the most blurry possible rhetoric to say she believes vaccines are good, most likely in a bid to leave the door open to anti-vaxxers. Remember, Green is primarily school boards in California, and them Cali parents! You wouldn’t want to piss them off! Green could lose what power they have actually attained!
But again, the two “major” parties in this system would eat any 3rd Party President alive just because. To them, that’s even worse than an independent getting in. They would likely have support that’s better organized, or at least way less messy, than whatever support would elect an independent President. Having a party that organized enough to push a candidate in with no real support in any other branch of government would scare them — but also present them with the most de-fangable opponent they could ask for.
To undo the two-party system of today, we need a truly massive number of people to coalesce around a third party over the next decade and elect them to positions in every possible election. If it’s got to be Green (I personally would hope it isn’t), they need to stop trying to jump to the highest level and try to work on some medium-level stuff. Parties need a support structure to get anything done. They need support on all levels, meaning they need people elected on all levels (in all states). A top-down approach will not work; we need a bottom-up approach. A third party need to run people for state office and national congress and win.
Now, I personally think it does have to be a party other than the Greens. We need a new, full-progressive party with no baggage. No 2000 election or legion of anti-vax parents from Cali to bring up. We need leaders — ones without real controversy other than being third party leaders — that excite young people, because we would need obscene numbers to actually exploit the small cracks in the current system — but how else is it going to get changed. This stuff isn’t happening before November, though. That’s the problem. Sanders was basically an opportunity to elect someone to the bully pulpit, but even that was top-down aspirations in retrospect.
It could have worked, but again only for the bully pulpit. Both parties would have worked to make it look like a president not of the typical political binary couldn’t be effective, meaning his main impact would have been in assisting smaller elections. Which could have been pretty big, but ultimately would still have been a start and not a big fix.
The biggest problem for a third party candidate isn’t overcoming the media for fair coverage, it’s not getting people to vote for them — it’s the Electoral College. If you don’t get 270 electoral votes, then the House decides who is President. The house is never going to vote a third party, and splitting the electoral votes in 3 even-ish segments (a likelihood in a third party win scenario) would mean no one gets to 270. The third party would have to get more electoral votes, which are winner-take-all by state, than the other two parties combined. The two other parties, the ones which have extremely large built-in membership, would have to combine to get a total percentage lower than one of them normally would in an election without a third party.
I don’t see that happening, especially with a media that wants a close race between just two candidates for the sake of simplicity.
Systematically speaking, if you don’t want Trump, you need to vote Clinton. A vote for an alternative to whoever you are closest to in the binary is a vote against them. I don’t like it, but that is the situation. We aren’t going to undo this system until we understand that it’s very specific in its structure as to ensure third party candidates for the Oval Office can’t succeed.
There needs to be a movement that overturns the Electoral College before a third party can gain the presidency — and a congress made up of Republicans and Democrats ain’t gonna do that. And given how averse to parties people like most young people are, the means by which we can actually move to a non-binary system strike me as incredibly difficult. I’m on the older end of the Millennial age spectrum and still personally averse to political parties. I would join one, but it that party would have to be legitimately progressive and have a stated purpose of working against the electoral college first.
That would show they understand where the floodgates actually are.