Difficulties Facing Third Parties

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Difficulties Facing Third Parties

No third party has ever won an election in the history of American politics, in the dominant two party system that operates the country. But why is this so? Anthony Bennett outlined eight different reasons why third (minor) parties struggle to make a significant impact in American politics:

1) The Electoral System

The winner-takes-all, first past the post system makes it difficult for third parties to make a difference on a national scale. Countries with a simple majority system tend to have two party systems, where as proportional representation electoral systems are more favourable to multi-party systems.

Regional minor parties fare better than national minor parties under this system. In 1968, George Wallace gainded 13% of the electoral system and 46 Electoral College votes. These were, however, mostly gained in a collection of southern states. In contrast, Ross Perot in 1992 gained 19% of the popular vote and yet no Electoral College votes.

2) 'Matching-funds'

The qualifications needed to be awarded matching funds by the state are difficult for third parties to achieve. To qualify, parties must rasie at least $5,000, averaging $250 in each state - an easy target to meet. The more restricting objective is that a party must have achieved at least 5% of the popular vote in the previous general election.

There are two things that make this difficult:

                    1) Very few people can do this. In the last 50 years only three third party candidates have been able to get at least 5% of the popular vote: George Wallace (1968), John Anderson (1980) and Ross Perot (1992 and 1996).

                    2) Most third parties are transcient. John Anderson was an example of this. It is hard for candidates to have gained 5% in the previous election; most third parties are 'here one election, gone the next.'

This would account for how Ross Perot did not qualify in 1992 despite winning almost 1/5 of the vote, however Pat Buchanan of the Reform Party did qualify in 2000 despite winning less than 1 in 100


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