Views of Third Parties and Independent Candidates
The recent elections of Reform Party candidate - now governor - Jesse Ventura of Minnesota and Green Party candidate - now state legislator - Audie Bock of California, have highlighted the roles of third party and independent candidates in American politics. However, the successes of these two giants of minor party politics contrast with the political experiences of most candidates who are listed on the ballot without a "D" or an "R" next to their names.
With few exceptions, third party and Independent candidates usually fail in their quest to hold office. Most lose in the general election, a small number lose in competitive primaries, and many fail to get as far as meeting the requirements to get on the ballot and thus are shut out of competition.
Many third party and Independent candidates and their supporters regularly complain about various aspects of the campaign system. They believe that the process is so severely biased against them that they are automatically pushed to the periphery of elections. Nevertheless, these candidates can play important roles in raising issues, mobilizing new voters, introducing campaign innovations and tilting elections from one major party candidate to another - even when they don't win. Of course, a small number of them attract enough voter support to win.
Just as it is important to be fully aware of the hurdles that minor party contenders need to jump, it is important to learn about their unique perspective on the campaign process.
Laws governing most elections are either specifically designed to limit the prospects for third party and Independent candidates or to work to the advantage of the two major parties. The winner-take-all system of counting ballots, for example, does little to encourage a party that perpetually comes in third or fourth place to repeatedly contest elections, whereas proportional representation systems, which are widely used in other industrialized democracies, do.
Similarly, ballot access requirements make it difficult to run in some states. Third party candidates for the U.S. Senate in Florida, for example, need to gather almost 200,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot, whereas their counterparts in New Jersey need to gather only 800. Campaign finance laws that favor incumbents or competitive challengers and open-seat contestants, most of whom belong to one of the two major parties, also decidedly work against the prospects of third party candidates. Contribution limits are especially harmful to these candidates because they do not have large donor pools from which to raise significant funds. Election laws are not the only obstacles. The media is often hostile to third party and Independent candidacies. They focus on the most "electable" candidates - almost always Democrats and Republicans - to the detriment of all others. When minor party candidates attract media coverage, it is usually distorted and...