Summary: a Successful Third Party is Possible
Third party politics is very difficult in the United States because we have winner-take-all district elections for most partisan offices. We even have a name for this difficulty: Duverger’s Law. But like many laws, Duverger’s Law has loopholes. We found the loopholes by looking at the rules a successful third party must follow to succeed:
Rule 1: A successful third party must be moderate enough to win somewhere.
Rule 2: A third party needs some principles.
Rule 3: A third party must have a base of voters/activists that is indifferent to the difference between the Democrats and Republicans.
It is difficult to follow all three rules at the same time. For a left or right wing party, following Rule 1 violates Rule 3. Most centrist parties violate Rule 2. Today’s minor parties follow no more than two of these laws at the same time, and thus remain minor. Following all three rules at the same time is challenging enough that many consider successful third party politics to be impossible, and third parties a waste of time. I disagree. I have found two loopholes in Duverger’s Law:
- Triangulate. If we view the political playing field in more than 1 dimension, we can find regions ill served by either major party yet still close enough to the center to have a large constituency. The libertarian region on the Nolan Chart is one such region, so the Libertarian Party could grow much larger should it drop its extremism. But a much better opportunity lies for a party based on the ideas of this site.
- Focus on two-way races. Many state legislative races go uncontested. A third party could thus be a second party in those races, bypassing Duverger’s Law entirely.
To the radicals who dominate third-party politics, the response to these discoveries is mostly, “So what? What is the point of launching yet another unprincipled party?” To Libertarians I answer: while the market for pure libertarianism is tiny, the market for smaller government is huge, well beyond the small-government faction with the GOP. To Greens I answer: going back to a primitive agrarian standard of living is unpopular, but environmentalism is hugely popular when the price is kept down. To moral conservatives I answer: millions of God-fearing minorities currently vote for liberal Democrats because of racist policies of the GOP; a new party which abandons the Dixiecrats and focuses on school choice and other urban issues could add a new anti-abortion block to our legislatures. To progressives I answer: small government done correctly is progressive; the heavy bureaucratic solutions of the Democratic Party favor big corporations.
None of us can get all of what we want unless we each get our own planet. But by providing new competition to the duopoly which is creating a police state, selling our seed corn, debasing our currency, and bankrupting our treasury, we can do better!
No Magic Bullet
The aforementioned rules are necessary for a new political party to succeed. They are not sufficient. Politics is a competitive game. Play it poorly and you lose. Going back to the chess analogy, just knowing the basics of opening theory and the like is good enough to provide a serious edge against novices, but it won’t win you many games at a serious chess tournament. You still need practice, experience, and myriad bits of specialized knowledge. The same goes with politics.
Experienced political consultants can provide some of that specialized knowledge. Get some to cross over to our proposed new party and they can provide it. However, much of their knowledge will not be applicable until after the new party grows to major status! I have watched professionals cross over to the Libertarian side and fail miserably. Third party politics has some special rules, rules which have been learned by many in the third party community, and some rules which many in the third party community still need to learn.
In the next chapters we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of building up a new political party from scratch. We shall start with a framework for analyzing third party strategy. The optimal strategy changes as a party grows. With the following framework, we can determine which strategies are best at each stage of growth.
[Originally, I had hosted the Plan on another web site, but decided to move it here, to focus on those of similar outlook. In the process I decided to do a rewrite. Alas, other projects have intervened so the rewrite has stalled. You can continue with the plan here in the plan's original printer-unfriendly form.
blog comments powered by Disqus
Copyright© 2006-2008, Carl S. Milsted, Jr. All rights reserved.