Does America really want a third-party candidate?

By Nicholas Wapshott
April 24, 2012

It is a commonly heard beef. In November we face a poor choice between a president who has disappointed his base and a challenger for whom there is no enthusiasm even from his core supporters. These are the conditions in which a third-party candidate might prosper. But so far no name has emerged. There is no Ross Perot drawling, “If voters don’t have a stomach for me, they can get one of those blow-dried guys”; no John B. Anderson saying you can only balance the budget with mirrors.

That there is little enthusiasm for Obama or Romney is evident. The New York Times described the voters’ dilemma as “like trying to decide between liver and brussels sprouts – a selection they would rather not have to make.” This antipathy toward the two champions has been growing over the years. As party discipline in the House has increased, with fewer free spirits willing to risk the opprobrium of their party’s leadership by voting their own way, so the electorate appears to have become less partisan.

Pollsters report an increase in the number who shun party labels and define themselves as “independents.” Between 2004 and 2009, Pew reports, independents, at 36 percent, became the largest voting bloc in the country, with 35 percent Democrats and just 23 percent Republicans. This does not necessarily mean, however, that voters are undecided. It may be that, with politics becoming increasingly vituperative and partisan, voters are reluctant to associate themselves with either side.

That might explain why, despite the rise in independents, polls still show that, when obliged to pick a president, voters opt for either Obama or Romney. The number of  disenchanted and disillusioned, unaligned and undecided, apolitical and apathetic, remains over time rarely more than 10 percent. According to the Apr. 19 Quinnipiac survey, just 11 percent would either prefer to vote for someone else (2 percent), or wouldn’t vote (2 percent), or hadn’t decided or had some other reason for not plumping for one or the other (7 percent). Is the failure to take sides any more pronounced this election?

Digging down a little, one in four admits to being “less enthusiastic” about voting “compared to past presidential elections,” and that figure is on the uptick. But is this antipathy enough to encourage a third-party candidate? A new organization, Americans Elect, thinks so and is making it easy for a third person to get onto the ballot by making all the arrangements in all 50 states. All it needs is a candidate. The group is undertaking a search for the right person to come up on the rails in November. Its aim is to blow away the polarized two-party system and free a third-party president from the trench warfare that makes governing America impossible.

So far, so good. The first caucus, in which everyone who registers online can take part, takes place in May, when “delegates” start picking a candidate. It is early days, but this noble plan to transform American democracy has failed so far to capture the imagination: Of the 169 million registered voters, only 2.5 million have signed up.

The preliminary choice of candidates is disappointing: two has-beens – former Governor of Louisiana Charles Elson “Buddy” Roemer III and former Mayor of Salt Lake City Ross Carl “Rocky” Anderson – a Boston University economics professor, Laurence J. Kotlikoff, and a woman, human rights activist Michealene Cristini Risley. What, I hear you ask, no Ralph Nader, the eternal spoiler who made possible the dysfunctional 2000 election? He is sitting out the 2012 contest and is backing Rocky Anderson.

The write-in candidates are more plausible: New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg; Ron Paul, the former Libertarian Party candidate now posing as a Republican; Jon Huntsman, who proved too reasonable to survive the GOP beauty contest; and the only unabashed socialist in the Senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The problem is, there is no guaranteeing that even if the massed ranks of Americans Elect pick one of the drafted candidates, he or she would deign to stand.

However, the overriding objection to voting for a third candidate, however chosen and whoever it may be, is that such a choice tilts the election in favor of the candidate you most dislike. Tea Party insurgents who vote for Paul, because he represents their libertarian views, steal votes from Romney and allow Obama to slip by. A progressive impatient with Obama’s centrism who opts for Sanders helps Romney win. As Perot made Clinton president and as Nader helped George W. Sometimes it’s better to love the one you’re with.

PHOTO: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg exits a voting booth in New York, November 3, 2009. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

16 comments

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I would hardly call Rocky Anderson, and Buddy Roemer has-beens. Rocky was named by Business Week as one of the top twenty activists in the world on climate change; he served on the Newsweek Global Environmental Leadership Advisory Board; who was recognized by the Human Rights Campaign as one of the top ten straight advocates in the United States for GLBT equality. The same person has also received numerous awards for his work, including the EPA Climate Protection Award, the Sierra Club Distinguished Service Award, the Respect the Earth Planet Defender Award, the National Association of Hispanic Publications Presidential Award, The Drug Policy Alliance Richard J. Dennis Drugpeace Award, the Progressive Democrats of America Spine Award, the League of United Latin American Citizens Profile in Courage Award, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee Patriot Award, the Code Pink (Salt Lake City) Pink Star honor, the Morehouse University Gandhi, King, Ikeda Award, and the World Leadership Award for environmental programs.

You may classify people as has-beens because you never hear about them in the mainstream media. Rocky and Buddy and Kellen Arno of American Elect were just on a panel about Third Party Candidate at the Hammer Forum (UCLA) in Los Angeles. The event was well attended, but not one major news outlet covered it.

Two days later Rocky did a third party debate, sharing the stage with potential Peace and Freedom Party candidates, and potential Green Party candidates. Again, no media coverage.

The Democratic and Republican parties wrested the Presidential debates from the League of Women Voters so there is no chance for third party coverage there. While 20 Republican Primary debates received national coverage, there have been NO debates including third party candidates. Buddy and Rocky limit contributions to $100… How about Republicans and Democrats trying that? Both men have extensive policy papers with SOLUTIONS the major parties do not even consider.

This is supposed to be a democracy but if only Democrats and Republicans are allowed to participate via major coverage, is it still a Democracy. Granted the media conglomerates make hundreds of millions of dollars off the major parties but 54% of the American people want to see a third party. 2.5 million Americans have deserted the R’s & D’s in the past four years. 40% of voters consider themselves independents… yet independent candidates are not even allowed media coverage so people can decide who they feel is the best choice. As Rocky Anderson says, why settle for the lesser of two evils when you can vote for the person you want. Maybe we need to look at Obama and Romney and the corporate funded major parties as the spoilers.

Posted by cscot | Report as abusive

“so far no name has emerged”? Hello? Please do your homework before automatically discounting our options. Buddy Roemer IS the new Ross Perot. He is the only candidate with qualifying experience and who is free to lead. Gov. Roemer will not accept PAC donations and only accepts individual contributions of $100 or less. He is walking the talk. Besides campaign finance and lobbying reforms, his platform includes excellent ideas for tax reforms, fair trade, among many: http://www.youtube.com/user/buddyroemer/ feed

Finally, with two candidates who are both beholden to the big donors (many of the same ones!), what difference will it make which way the vote “tilts”? Buddy Roemer’s support draws evenly from both sides of the political spectrum. This is a rare opportunity that the voters should not pass up!

Posted by TAlers | Report as abusive

Very nicely put, cscot. Your comment hadn’t been posted yet when I added mine. Though my preference is for Buddy Roemer, I should have included Rocky Anderson in my argument as well. Thank you for highlighting his accomplishments. Both men are FAR more qualified and suited for POTUS than either of the two offered up the the RNC/DNC… I am outraged that the media chooses to play the two-party-game instead of informing the voting public.

Posted by TAlers | Report as abusive

Yes, we want a 3rd party candidate. In the fall, are we going to hear about real discussions of finance and banking reform? military spending and the use of our military? voting reform? education reform? health care reform? renewable energy? environmental protection?

Obama will get the anybody but Romney vote, and Romney will get the anybody but Obama vote.

Posted by rationalmanimal | Report as abusive

I am an American and I would happily support another party, but not just for president. It needs to be a viable force in Congress, as well.

Posted by breezinthru | Report as abusive

The problem is third-party candidates don’t win, they’re only spoilers and everyone knows that. So who will spend all that money when there’s little likelihood of a payday? BTW, some of us like both liver and brussels sprouts, with bacon and hollandaise sauce, respectively.

Posted by PCScipio | Report as abusive

You are right, America does not want or need a third party candidate, (particularly when it would be Mike Bloomberg.) What we need is a better 2nd term from Obama than his 1st. With Geithner leaving, that is a very real possibility.

Posted by Dem12 | Report as abusive

I don’t waste much time reading guys like this author. They’re part of the problem of thinking they know more than they do and are more than willing to share their disinformation.

I’ve read a lot about both Ralph Nader and Rocky Anderson. They’ve got a lot more in accomplishments stacked up than he will ever have. I would not be surprised one iota if the author was another of the minions of shills who are “encouraged” to write books that keep people ignorant of what’s happening in their country. Not of much use to us.
Pass.

Posted by rbriand | Report as abusive

Third party candidates can also pull the main candidates away from the center.

One candidate who was not mentioned in the article is Gary Johnson.

Read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Johnso n

Posted by DifferentOne | Report as abusive

In my 67 yrs I only voted once, for Ross Perot.
Did someone mentioned Bloomberg ? Nice Jewish Boy, he is not a politician or much of anything else, besides a billionaire. I love what he is doing for homeless cats & dogs, though.

A third party would have been a good idea if at the same time congress were to be overhauled (& the Supreme Court)

Democrat or Republican is the same garbage, both bought out by special interests, they do not serve the people.
I might want to see Obama for four more because he might show his true capabilities or at least his true intentions, by not having to worry about being re-elected again.
We haven’t had any qualified presidential candidate since long before WWII. There is no room for honest politicians not only in the US, but in the whole world.

Super Packs will decide the upcoming elections, & all the future ones, not the voters.
I am afraid our government is beyond repair.

Posted by GMavros | Report as abusive

Reading here from Australia, as an outsider looking in it’s always puzzled me about the US system.. Our last election was a similar situation – neither of the major parties had much to offer and voter satisfaction was incredibly weak.

They both still held the majority of votes, but they lost a lot of ground to minor parties and independent candidates, and it was only with their co-operation that the Labor party was actually able to get the numbers to form government.

Thing is, the basic first-past-the-post voting system used in the big elections over there doesn’t really allow for it. Winner takes it all, and that’s the end of it. Preferential voting (as used here in Australian elections) allows for _all_ the choices on a voting slip to matter, whether you number all your choices (thereby ‘sending a message’ to the eventual victor of what issues matter to you), or simply mark your preferred candidate and let your preferences flow as that candidate has previously registered, giving those minor candidates a little bargaining power even before the elections have begun.

Yes, a strong and independent media is crucial to a healthy democracy, and it certainly seems that while the big media conglomerates are certainly strong, there’s some serious questions surrounding their independence.. But that fundamental flaw in that most basic voting system is something that could go a long way to increasing the viability of smaller candidates.

Posted by Michael_N | Report as abusive

I voted enthusiastically for Obama in the last election, knowing that McCain/Idiot Palin would be the kiss of death for this country as we’d be in even more illegal and unnecessary mass killing adventures around the world, and the religious right wing nuts would destroy our culture.

Obama has most certainly been a big disappointment in his first term, proving that he, too, is part of the established political order ~ although I think he had little choice when dealing with the burning ruins left by Bush/Cheney. Obama has brought many of the Wall Street Cabal into his administration and has refused to prosecute those responsible for our economic problems.I view this as one of his major blunders. He did get out of Iraq while the republiCONS would have increased our troop strength and increased the financial costs to unbelievable amounts of debt. Don’t forget Obama got Osama, and took a great risk in doing so. McCain never would have thought up such a tactic, and Osama would not be fish food.

Obama is still better than the thought of a Romoney presidency and the implementation of the insane proposed republiCON budget that would prove to be the final blow to the middle and lower classes. The Plutocrats would be dusting off their gold crowns. A completely republiCON controlled government, POTUS, House, Senate, SCOTUS would/will nail the death throes into this country and the rest of the world. It would be impossible to imagine the final outcome. Hell on earth wouldn’t be descriptive enough.

Rocky Anderson is the furthest thing from “a has been” and an Anderson/Gary Johnson ticket for the 2016 race would prove to be an amazing administration, but obviously they shouldn’t aim for 2012. Instead, they should organize NOW and spend the next four years gaining the national attention they so much deserve, under the banner of The Justice Party. Ralph Nader is an absolute has been, and always has been “a has been”. What he brought forth on this country from 2000-2008 in the name of his Ego should be enough to make him ashamed of himself.

The important thing for 2012 is to forgive Obama for all of his short comings and vote not only for him, but for as many Democratic candidates as are possible. We MUST keep the democratic advantage in The Senate, we MUST create a democratic majority in The House, as we will then hopefully end up with a progressive SCOTUS, and have a government that is doing its’ best for the 99%,

From 2012-2016 we MUST organize, and I suggest support The Justice Party, with an Anderson/Johnson ticket, and the most important thing is to somehow FORCE the main stream media out of the hands of the 5 or 6 families that own the entire MSM, and have the media cover our third party as much as it does the currently ingrained two party system. The OWS movement MUST take on the MSM, and we, the people, MUST take on the MSM. Whoever controls the media controls the thoughts of the people. This has been proven time and time again.

To all of you democrats, independents, and fed up republicans please bite the bullet the way I have and vote for Obama and all progressive democratic candidates in the country. Romoney will bring us to our knees, and a third party is not currently a viable alternative for 2012. Send all of the republiCONS back to their mansions.

Posted by TheGame2 | Report as abusive

Yes.

Posted by RexMax46 | Report as abusive

Buddy, if he gains enough supporters via http://www.americanselect.org (and he has my support AND donation money, under $100), will likely take away votes from Obama.
I am a younger generation voter who is college educated, seeking a second degree right now – thanks to our ever discouraging economy. Buddy does appeal to my generation who has become disillusioned by Obama and his false promises, not to forget his spending sprees with money WE DON’T HAVE.
However, I believe that ALL THE OLD RICH FOLKS (WHO, NO DISRESPECT, ARE SET IN THEIR GOP LOVIN’ WAYS) SHOULD GIVE BUDDY A CHANCE TOO.
For starters, his tax plan is more accommodating to the ultra wealthy – he will tax anyone making over $100,000/year at 8.5%. That’s pretty fair in my book.
Secondly, the man is just practical. Old people have lived their lives, sewed their wild oats – with Buddy, there is no risk. Obama, RISK GALORE. Romney – who really believes in him? Too blase if you ask me.

Moreover, both Obama and Romney are corrupted by the two-party system of Super PACs and ginormous donations made by the Top Wall Street companies that have gotten us stuck in this hellish economic rut.

Buddy has all the right ideas in all the right places. We won’t be going down with Buddy – except mayyybe in HISTORY.

Lend your support today. Thank you.

Posted by JennVerde | Report as abusive

By all means, let’s have a real Tea Party candidate. That’ll show ‘em!

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive

There will never be a legitimate party as long as lobbyists, PAC’s & Super Packs are legal. Money talks in our enlightened world.

Posted by GMavros | Report as abusive