How to Start a New Political Party in the United States
So you want to start a new political party. Congratulations! You have come to the right place. I can show you how, but I warn you: it isn’t easy. If you live in the United States of America, you live under an electoral system rigged against third parties. This is not a paranoid conspiracy theory, nor am I whining about campaign finance laws or ballot access requirements, annoying though they might be. Contrary to Libertarian Party pep talks, you could eliminate those two annoyances and the system would still be rigged against third parties, and the LP would continue to struggle along, mostly failing. (Though things are looking pretty good in 2016, thanks to The Donald.)
The voting system is rigged against third parties at its very core: how we fill out our ballots and determine the winner: pick one plurality-take-all voting. The problem is acknowledged by academia; political scientists call it Duverger’s Law. Unless you can change the game, unless you can get this country to adopt Range Voting, any party other than the Democratic and Republican parties will face a nearly impossible challenge getting traction.
The key phrase is nearly impossible. After nearly a quarter century of third party experience, after spending thousands of hours and dollars working on behalf of the Libertarian Party doing things the standard way and then performing my own experiments, I have discovered two loopholes in Duverger’s Law. Exploit one or both of them and your new third party has a realistic chance at actually electing candidates in significant partisan races – not Soil and Water Board. One of these loopholes is simple and easy to exploit. With it a niche party could get some legislative seats. The other is huge. Exploit it properly and your new political party has a chance to grow bigger than one or both of the existing major parties.
But it’s still not easy. These are loopholes, not magic bullets. If you blow the basics, you still lose. Political campaigns are winner-take-all games, and the other sides play hard. On the other hand if you do the basics right without exploiting the loopholes you are pretty much guaranteed to lose, and you will waste thousands of dollars and hours in the process, and likely even hurt the cause you are trying to support. The loopholes I’m about to reveal are that important.
Make yourself comfortable. I’m going to walk you step by step through the proofs of some important political theorems. If you don’t follow the proofs, the conclusions won’t stick, so take your time with this if you are serious about third party politics. The hours you spend here will pay for themselves many times over if you are serious.
And if you are really serious, I have a book’s worth of materials based on my quarter century of third party activism. I have been an independent campus activist buttonholing and debating all who would stay still long enough to listen. I’ve been an obedient party volunteer, dropping literature, working events, gathering signatures, planting signs. I have performed political experiments, produced humorous radio spots, chaired a campaign committee, chaired a county party, and served on multiple national committees. I led a floor fight at the national level which led to the biggest change in the Libertarian Party platform since its early days.
I’m not just this guy spouting ideas off the top of my head. What I have to teach is the result of long experience, many experiments, and serious cogitation.
Why Start a New Political Party?
Strategy begins by asking “Why bother?” Start a political party for the wrong reasons and you will waste time and money, and maybe even hurt your cause.
If you are a true radical, a person of principle unwilling to compromise, the answer to “How to start a new political party?” is “Don’t.” If your ideas are far outside the mainstream, if you wish to widen the Overton Window, you shouldn’t run for office. There are many, many, many cheaper, and more effective ways to spread your message. Why bother with conventions, committees, campaign finance headaches, and ballot access petitioning when you can just stand on the sidewalk waving a sign to get your message out. If you want to spend some money, just buy some air time or hire a pretty model to dress up in lettuce. It works for PETA.
If you are just a bit more principled than the major parties, if you wish the Democratic Party was a bit more liberal or the Republican Party a bit more conservative, you might be able to exploit the smaller loophole and win some elections. Should you succeed, you may well make the system less corrupt, and you thus have my blessing even if I disagree with your politics. That said, it’s probably more efficient for you to work within one of the major parties. Many local party offices are ripe for takeover. You just have to show up. (Ron Paul’s activists exploited this fact in his second run for presidency.)
If you are a political centrist and despise the bickering and paralysis of our two party system, you too might be able to exploit the smaller loophole. Should you succeed, you will make the system less corrupt and thus have my blessing even if I find your ideas to be boring. But still, you might have an easier time making an impact by working within the existing parties.
No, the real reason, and the best opportunity, is for those who have fresh, but not extreme, ideas which are outside the norms of the two legacy parties.
- Suppose you want to replace the welfare system with a Basic Income Guarantee. Which party banner to do you run under? The Democratic leadership will call you simplistic while the Republicans will call you too generous to the poor.
- Suppose you want to replace the payroll taxes with a carbon tax? Which major party do you support?
- Which major party is ready for small government sustainable economics? (A green tax shift with a mix of Austrian and Georgist economics.)
- What if you want a balanced federal budget, and are willing to have tax increases and real spending cuts to get it? Which major party do you support? The Republicans sign the no new taxes pledge which the Democrats salivate for stimulus programs and socialized medicine.
- Suppose you want to tax the rich but want a truly simple income tax. Who will support you? The Republican leadership wants tax cuts for the rich while the Democrats love sadistic levels complexity.
- What if you are pro life but also want a generous social safety net to ensure that the extra babies are taken care of? Which major party to you support?
- What if you want to privatize the retirement system for the middle class, but are willing to reform the financial system to make retirement saving a reasonably safe effort. Which legacy party do you support?
Back when I stuck to the Libertarian Party line, I had a hard time getting people to hold still to hear my ideas. Many of the ideas here at Holistic Politics play well to mainstream citizens. I have market tested them at supper clubs and the like. Since I made the switch I have seen many a nodding head, and had many a person ask me why I wasn’t running for office. Independents loved the ideas. Most of the people who pushed back were active in the existing political parties.
There is a huge market out there for fresh ideas, a market which may be bigger than either legacy party. But it might take a new political party to put these ideas before the voters.
And that’s why I feel compelled to write this Business Plan for a New Political Party.
Organization of this Manual
The manual is organized into five parts:
1. Political Science and Third Parties. This part is crucial! Here, I reveal two loopholes in the system that is rigged against third parties. Skip this section and you will fail.
2. Branding and Positioning a New Party. Here, we explore some possible new parties which make use of the larger loophole revealed in Part 1. These are meant to be primarily concrete illustration of general principles. Some of the examples are intentionally bad. Others, just might work. (I am currently added to this part as of June 2016. Keep an eye out or subscribe to the blog feed to be notified of updates.)
3. A Strategic Framework for Third Parties. Here, I reveal a process for evaluating strategies and tactics available to third parties. Through the use of multiple bottleneck analysis I demonstrate that it is possible to get one or two orders of magnitude improvement without the need for billionaire donors or celebrity candidates.
4. Lessons Learned in the Libertarian Party. Lots of nuts and bolts lessons, some of which are applicable to other third parties.
5. Starting from Scratch. Going from a glimmer of an idea to a real political party – even a fringe party – is a challenge indeed. I have some observations based on experience which can be useful. (But make sure you start with Parts 1 and 2!)
This is a big series! Just look at the left sidebar. But if you aren’t up for this much reading, you aren’t ready to launch a new party. Seriously.
Important note: I originally hosted this “book” on my older Quiz2D site. I am in the process of updating and adding to the Plan as I migrate it here. The links for the chapters in Parts 3, 4, and 5 go to the Quiz2D site still, so don’t be overly shocked if you click a link and get a very different looking layout.