Third Party Politics in America- What You May Not Know

by John Berger,
ITL Staff Writer


Up to one third of all US voters describe themselves as neither Republican nor Democrat. Yet by election time, all but one or two percent of these Americans will have cast their support for one of the two major parties. It has been said that this arrangement encourages dishonesty in candidates who must cater to their base and more radical voters during primary season, yet then must quickly veer toward the center to win the general election. Political maneuvering like this leaves a bad taste in the mouth of tens of millions of Americans who, more and more, have called for greater political variety on their ballots.

Public exposure to a political party is, of course, largely a matter of funding. Existing institutions such as the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, which uses tax dollars to partially cover campaign costs, offer no help to any recent third party or independent candidates, since eligibility for the Fund requires a party to garner at least 5% of the popular vote in the previous presidential election. Third parties face the perennial difficulty of ever getting off the ground enough to reach these numbers.

Critics argue that the policies of the Campaign Fund are designed to ensure that third parties stay relegated to political back alleys, and never reach the public eye. Proponents, however, argue that these policies are in place to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not wasted on crackpot candidates who stand no serious chance.

The Electoral College is another institution oft-criticized for its tendency to preserve the two-party system. In almost every state, the electoral votes are awarded on a winner-takes-all basis. The idea that elections based on plurality rule will inevitably lead to a two-party system is known to political scientists as Duverger’s law. Recall that while nearly 20 million people voted for Ross Perot in the 1992 presidential election (a number that would surely have been higher had he not briefly dropped out of the race amid strange circumstances), he did not receive a single electoral vote.

Undeterred by these obstacles, recent critics of the two-party system have suggested new tactics for raising awareness of third parties and independent candidates. One such strategy is to focus on the election of senate candidates. Since they would find themselves crucial swing voters for many bills and measures, a mere 6 independent or third party senators could wield significant legislative power.

This is the first installment of a four-part series profiling the lesser-known political parties that likely appeared on your presidential ballot last election. For an overview of their political platforms, I recommend watching the 2012 Third Party debate, hosted by Larry King, which can be found here

Founded by former mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson, who was also the party’s presidential nominee, the Justice Party only received 43,011 votes in 2012. The party holds no congressional seats or governorships. Perhaps these humble beginnings make it all the more impressive that the fledgling party managed to secure official ballot status in fifteen states, and write-in status in fifteen more. Yet there are many questions to be asked about this brand new political entity.

The Justice Party focuses most heavily on issues enjoying broad support across the political spectrum. Included among these is the Financial Transaction Tax, the long-debated idea of taxing transactions such as stock trades, futures, and derivatives at a fraction of a percent. Often called the Robin-Hood Tax, the FTT would derive hefty revenue from the financial sector; which is largely viewed as having caused the recent global recession through dubious handling of home loans. The estimated revenue of such a tax falls between 177 and 354 billion dollars annually. Polling indicates that voters on ‘Main Street’ are keen to the idea of a more substantial fiscal contribution from financial giants and speculators.

The Justice Party

Under the banner “economic, environmental, and social justice for all” the Justice Party works on reducing corporate influence in politics and legislation, aggressive environmental protection, prosecution of banks and individuals on Wall Street for criminal behavior, and government funding for higher education. The Party even supports a constitutional amendment enshrining equal rights for women into American law. The Justice Party seeks to end the War on Drugs.

An unconventional political duo, Anderson and his running mate, former gang member and award winning Chicano writer Luis J. Rodriguez, can at least avoid the stigma of Washington insiders. A 61 year old lawyer and activist, Rocky Anderson was a popular two-term mayor of Utah’s capital and most populous city. He was a strong supporter of local businesses and established a reputation as a fiscal conservative by substantially increasing the city’s reserve fund. He also gained popularity by playing a critical roll in hosting the Winter Olympics.

Reportedly, Anderson was the only mayor of a major U.S. city to call for the impeachment of President George W. Bush. After leaving office, Anderson expressed great disappointment with Barack Obama’s presidency and the Democratic Party to which he had belonged as mayor. He has criticized the Democrats often; and in 2011 complained that “The Constitution has been eviscerated while Democrats have stood by with nary a whimper. It is a gutless, unprincipled party, bought and paid for by the same interests that buy and pay for the Republican Party.” Thus he echoes the growing sentiment of many nonpartisan activists, both liberal and conservative.

As mayor, Anderson came under fire for the alleged misuse of some $600 of public funds, which he spent on food and drinks for visiting mayors. Anderson fought the charges, and ended up repaying the city from his private holdings. Legislation was later passed permitting the use of public funds for the purpose of hosting visiting dignitaries.

It has been argued that the Justice Party itself is superfluous, given its political similarity to the more established Green Party. When interviewed about his choice to form the Justice Party rather than run for the Green nomination, Anderson stated:

“Well, I think the Green Party, they have a lot of great people. They have a good platform. But I think there are some organizational problems. I think they’re also perceived as being sort of a sliver of just the left in this country. We are a—we’re attracting a multi-partisan group of people. We’ve been contacted by Republicans, Libertarians, Democrats, people across the political spectrum that have just had enough. They know that there’s got to be another way.”

Unsurprisingly, this multi-partisan approach has alienated ideologues on the far left, who don’t all trust Anderson’s motives in splitting from the Greens and taking wind from their recently deflating sails (yet confusing matters even more, Ralph Nader himself endorsed Anderson in 2012). Indeed, Anderson’s campaign manager Michael McGee has stated that, in lieu of winning the presidential election “we can affect the outcome of the election and have the leverage to get Justice Party people in Federal positions, including the Cabinet.” Some on the far left have criticized statements like this as indicative of a political ploy. Neither is the far left charmed by Anderson’s highly genial partnership with Mitt Romney in hosting the Winter Olympics ten years ago, or their mutual endorsement for each other’s mayoral and gubernatorial campaigns. When questioned about this, Anderson simply stated that the Mitt Romney of 2012’s Presidential race was a different political animal than the Romney he worked with in Utah.

The coming years will show whether the Justice Party can gain any significant public support. Yet if any third party is going to stand a chance, Americans will have to get behind a broad challenge to the two-party duopoly.