Let’s Talk About Third Parties

I’m a liberal independent. By the time I started voting in 2004, the Republican Party had drifted so far rightward that I’ve never once voted for a Republican in my life. I frequently vote Democrat, and occasionally independent when the independent candidate has a enough support to have a chance at winning and better aligns with my values. Rarely, I’ll vote third party, with the same conditions on which I’ll vote for independents.

In practice, this means Democrats nearly always get my vote. And these days, the Republicans are so crazy that I’m willing to let the Democrats do the bare minimum because the alternative is to let the Republicans destroy decades of progress in our country.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa?!” you exclaim. “What about third parties?”

My answer is that they are not a viable alternative. Not right now. If you’re a third party supporter, you likely don’t like that answer. I don’t even like that answer, though some of my reasons are likely different from yours. But that is the answer. Don’t believe me? Look at the two biggest third parties since the year 2000, the Libertarian Party and the Green Party. Libertarian Gary Johnson won 3.28% of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election. Green Jill Stein won 1.06% of the popular vote in the same election. They’re not anywhere close to winning, despite any claims they make to the contrary. In fact, when they make claims to the contrary, they make their position worse because then they seem like they’re out of touch with reality.

Third parties need a plan. They need a real, believable plan backed by data and presented with a compelling narrative to convince people it’s time to jump ship from one of the major parties and support a winning third party that is the real deal. I would love to begin voting for the Green Party. They’re more in line with my political views than the Democratic Party is (with some exceptions for liberal Democrats, but they aren’t the norm). But I’m not willing to hand the country over to the Republican Party on principle when the Democratic Party is passably capable of governing. It takes more than a wish and a prayer for a third party to win, and all third party candidates and supporters need to get on board with this fact.

Using the Green Party as an example, there’s a lot I need to know from them.

If a large swath of liberal voting Democrats starts voting Green, effectively splitting and killing the Democratic Party, what is the interim plan to prevent Republicans from causing even more harm in the country until the Green Party achieves enough power to seriously challenge the Republican Party? How do we stop them from passing abhorrent laws, repealing helpful laws, or stacking the Supreme Court? Even if I prefer single-payer health care, I like Obamacare better than no health care plan at all. I also like environmental protection and allowing our national scientific organizations to share real, scientific data and facts with us.

What is the plan for achieving this power, and realistically, how long will it take? Are you planning to supplant and replace one of the existing parties? Open up election law and process through ranked choice voting and other reforms to make third parties viable? How will you do either of these? How likely are you to be successful? Back up these answers with real data, facts, and understanding of our political system.

Why should I risk giving Republicans power to destroy decades of progress when I can get 50%-75% of what I want out of Democrats, and maybe 70%-90% of what I want out of the Greens? I know a lot of people talk about how awful the Democrats are, or say they’re just the same as the Republicans. There are times I wish the Democrats had more of a spine, and stood for more liberal values. There are also times where they don’t do enough to protect those who need protecting. But on the whole, they do a reasonably good job, especially in light of Republican obstruction that was rampant through President Obama’s terms as president. And the Democrats are light-years ahead of the Republicans when it comes to governing well and supporting the disadvantaged. Why should I throw that away on the hope the Greens will be better when they haven’t even convinced me voting for them is a risk worth taking? Because again, if the Green Party succeeds enough to split the vote between Democrats and Greens, but not enough to win, then the Republicans win. I’m okay with the Democratic Party winning. I’m not okay with Republican Party winning, not as their party stands today.

In short, if you’re a third party candidate and supporter and want my vote and support, provide me a solid, realistic plan that gets you into power while minimizing the harm caused in the process. Back it up with real data and knowledge of the political system. If you do this, and my values align more with yours than the other parties you’re running against, you will win my vote. Until then, I’m stuck with the Democrats and the occasional safe independent and third party candidate.

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