How is it that in a democracy containing approximately 300 million individuals, only two parties control the political process? Despite the active political presence of third parties, the Democrats and Republicans dominate media attention, debates, and even inclusion on ballots. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “Voting for a third party is a waste of a vote,” I’d be as rich as Trump, even after paying taxes.
In the 2016 Presidential Election, third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein continue to face an uphill battle as we approach Election Day. As the Libertarian Party candidate, Johnson’s platform includes strong stances on small government, embracing immigration, a powerful national defense, and complete freedom of expression, business, and lifestyle.
Conversely, the Green Party candidate Jill Stein calls for climate action, living wage jobs, universal health care, tuition-free education, and social justice. Although similar to the Democratic and Republican platforms, each candidate brings something to the table that sets them apart from the norm.
The two main parties are likeCoke and Pepsi: they’re generic options, popular throughout the media and mainstream opinions. Yet they conspire with each other, eliminating any competing cola brand, despite already being well-liked and well-known options. How often do you go to a McDonalds and see Royal Crown as a beverage option? Brands like Coca-Cola or Pepsi work with restaurants and stores to offer lower prices of syrup and machines than the competing companies, leaving the various other cola brands to gain publicity with their limited resources.
That is not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with the Coca-Cola or Pepsi brands, just as there is nothing wrong with the Democratic or Republican Parties. The problem, however, stems from how these “brands” eliminate any other valid and potentially successful options, also known as, what we call in politics, the “two-party system.”
The fact that many legitimate candidates are exluded from continuing in the election silences a portion of the population who may not agree with the typical Democratic-Republican norm. Instead, the nation is forced into a “hobson’s choice,” in other words, a take it or leave it situation, leaving many unhappy and even more unheard. Millions of Americans are left ignorant to any potential ideas of third party candidates because they are given the short end of the stick when it comes to the American political process.
Third parties provide Americans increased choice, giving many independent, far-left or far-right voters valid options that won’t force them into compromising their ideals. They also propose new and different policies and practices, giving novelty to the traditional government views and practices. For example, it was the Socialist Party that fought for woman’s suffrage, child labor laws, and the Fair Labor Standards Act, according to PBS. With the right representation, third party members can have a significant influence on U.S. policy and practice.
However, some may argue that more extreme third parties can lead to a divided government, causing less unity within the different government sectors. This is because the Democratic and Republican candidates are pushed into moderacy in order to appeal to a wider range of voters. And yet, according to Fox News, 66 percent of the American population, myself included, would be much happier with an option other than Trump or Clinton. Candidates Stein and Johnson aren’t considered valid options due to their third party status, forcing one third of people to settle for a candidate they disagree with.
Third parties face many obstacles, reinforcing the two party dilemma. Financially, campaign finance for every candidate is built on the basis of federal grants, fundraising, and donations. However, when a party fails to receive five percent of the popular vote, they are ineligible to receive any federal or public grants.
According to the Federal Election Commission, the grant for the 2016 election was approximately $96,140,600 for each major party nominee while third party nominees received nothing. Not only that, but according to the Federal Election Commission, both third party candidates sole source of income was from individual donations. Johnson received $11.3 million in donations and Jill Stein received $3.5 million. Any nominee outside of the typical Democratic-Republican norm, has unequal access to funding, debates, and ballots.
When it comes to media attention, third parties tend to be discarded by mainstream media networks and often lack the funding to promote their name on their own. According to the Washington Times, Johnson and Stein receive less than one percent of the network coverage, despite their collective polling at 11 percent.
It was also found that networks dedicate 0.05 percent of airtime to discussing third party candidates, focusing instead on the half-informed ramblings of Trump. We see time and time again that third party awareness is a Catch 22. The candidates’ poll numbers could improve if they were able to garner more media coverage, but their low poll numbers are informing decisions of how much media attention they receive. It’s difficult to face your opponent when you aren’t even able to debate them in a public forum.
Even getting on the ballot is difficult for third parties. All candidates must meet a variety of complex, state-specific filing requirements and deadlines in order to be placed on the ballot on Nov. 2. Candidates, such as Ralph Nader, a Green Party candidate from 2004, had to raise 1.5 million signatures in all states to even appear on the ballot. That is nearly impossible, considering the lack of funding and media attention they receive.
However, due to California’s Proposition 14, also known as the Top Two Primaries Act, only the top two candidates in the preliminary election will be the ones competing against each other in the ballots. The voting system itself isolates third parties, keeping their perspectives and ideas unavailable to the public.
If third party candidates can even get on the ballot, the Electoral College makes it all but impossible for a third party candidate to win an election. The results of the popular vote are not guaranteed to stand because the presidential election is instead decided by the votes of the Electoral College.
This winner-takes-all system established in 1877 fails to accurately represent the public’s votes, where individual votes are almost completely discarded. Essentially, popular votes are cast in a particular precinct, where certain electors cast the actual presidential vote. When each state is summarized by either a Democratic or Republican vote, the individuals who disagree with the majority are silenced and third party votes are completely discarded.
For a country based on the idea of choice, it’s sad how the American political process only allows for two. Due to the two-party system, we are ultimately ignorant of the ideas held by the minor parties. When it comes down to the choice of either Coke or Pepsi, there will always be some who will prefer Mr. Pibb.