Repost: The Myth of Third Party “Viability”

I posted this a while back, but with all of the talk of voting “Third Party” lately because some are having hissy fits about Hillary, it’s worth re-reading. Jill Stein and Gary Johnson will not win; only Clinton or Trump will. And no, it is not a “lesser of two evils” election. You may think it makes you look cool to trash Hillary, but it’s called lying, and I’d like to think we liberals were above that. The key to winning is not being like right wingers.

Anyway, please read…

Once again, I get it. Reality is not everyone’s friend. I mean, really, I wish I was better looking, younger, richer and in perfect health, too. But the reality is, I’ll be 58 in May, my 40th high school reunion is coming up later this year, I don’t have very much money and I need a minor-but-necessary operation.  My wishes and dreams aside, all of those are reality.

So, I was listening to the podcast of this morning’s Stephanie Miller Show a few minutes ago and some guy called in to opine that he “disagreed” with the contention that Bernie and Hillary were the only choices for liberals this year. And he asked the million-dollar stupid question:

“Why isn’t Green Party candidate Jill Stein a viable candidate?”

Wow. Right?

Yes, Jill Stein and the Greens are a choice this year. However, the “viable” part? Not so much. Sorry, but as of 2016 in the United States of America, there are TWO viable political parties. Again, the key word is “viable.” There are actually 134 registered political parties in the country, but only Democrats and Republicans qualify as “viable.” You may not like that, but blame democracy. In a democratic system, there are almost never any more than two viable parties because of basic math. Put it this way, if you have three viable political parties, then the one that can manage 40 percent will always win. If you have four, then the one who can manage 33-35% will probably win.

That works another way, too. One reason the minority party, the Republicans, keeps winning an inordinate number of elections is because their voting base is fanatical and will obsessively vote for anyone from their party. (You know, like Donald Drumpf?), which means a lot of people like this guy voting for a “third party” unwittingly give the GOP’s votes more strength. In a system with three or more viable parties, a voting bloc of 25-30 percent of the population turning out to vote at a 90 percent rate will always have an advantage, especially when turnout is low. Unfortunately, “progressives” like this guy, who seem to have no concept what the word “viable” means, operate under the delusion that any party that says what he likes to hear is somehow “viable” and they have no idea that a vote for, say, Jill Stein, is effectively a vote for a Republican. And with the two most likely Republican nominees being Drumpf and Cruz, that should be a non-starter.

Ironically, it’s the Green Party’s fault that their party isn’t closer to viable. In 2000, they ran Ralph Nader. Unfortunately, he and the “progressives” who made up his strongest supporters did the same thing in 2000 that they’re doing with their support of Bernie Sanders in 2016; for some stupid reason, they decided that a great strategy was to attack the Democratic candidate far more vigorously than they attacked George W. Bush. Sorry, but that is so politically tone-deaf, it’s hard to take them seriously.

See, here’s the thing…

If Ralph Nader had worked WITH Al Gore in 2000 and they had tag-teamed their complaints about Bush, the Green Party would have gotten the five percent they were supposedly shooting for (and possibly even a lot more), which means they would have permanent ballot status AND we could have avoiding having Dubya as president. However, for some reason, these people, who self-describe as “political junkies,” seem to think that attacking the party or candidate that is ideologically closest to them will somehow draw that candidate closer, ideologically speaking. You know, because your good friend calling you a “worthless loser” is how they make you their best friend, right?

In a democratic system, your goal can’t be to become a viable THIRD party; you have to become a viable SECOND party. And you do that by going after the current SECOND party, not the current FIRST party. And when I say that, I don’t mean you attract the right. You attract the left by going after the far right and, in doing so, you marginalized the far right. All the Greens did in 2000 and 2004 was to confuse most voters. Instead of going after George W. Bush and telling everyone how horrible he was, the Greens went after Al Gore and made voters think he was as bad as or worse than Dubya. It probably made some people vote for Bush rather than Gore, but just as importantly, it probably made a lot of voters just stay home, since they didn’t think it made any difference which one they voted for.

No matter how many times our side loses, these same people never seem to learn shit. It’s frightening. In a democratic system, you have to do two things; you have to make people want to vote and you have to make them want to vote for you. You don’t do that by making voters who already think Republicans are dipshits think that Democrats are dipshits, as well. People want to vote FOR something good or against something evil.

That’s right, folks; if you’re trashing Hillary or you’re planning to vote Green, both strategies are equally likely to make it more likely for a Republican to win. Only two parties are “viable” as of now. If you’d like to make the Greens viable, then do it. Run some Greens in local races and look for support from your ideological allies in the Democratic Party. Create an alternative. But don’t just assume they’re “viable” just because they say what you want to hear.


  1. The other think to say might be that 3rd parties NEED to run new candidates. New blood, so to speak. Ralph seems like he was around forever. Gary and Jill seem NOT to be new, you know. Just a few years of being around.

  2. Our Constitution provides for a Winner TAKES ALL election outcome. That is why we will always have a TWO Party system. Choose the party which more closely matches your values and join them. Just look at how the TEABagger Deplorables took over the GOP in 6 years. Elections are always won “in the center” of the electorate where MOST voters reside. Lunatics from the fringes never win. You must Push the whole pile in your direction.
    When the Left nominated George McGovern in 72 he lost Big Time. When Conservative nominated extremist Goldwater in 64, he got CREAMED. Sorry but elections are won in the Mushy Middle.

  3. There are a number of ways to make third parties viable- proportional representation, ranked choice voting just to suggest a couple. That said, given the current rules we operate under and the way in which the electorate is structured, you are not a viable candidate without a R or a D after your name.

    So until a rule change happens, and that is unlikely given the current hands on the levers of power we have to play the 2 party choice game.

  4. Thank you! I get it and wish these people would too but, they have not quite grown up enough to put it together. Youth and optimism at its worst.

  5. ” In a democratic system, there are almost never any more than two viable parties because of basic math.”
    not true.
    That’s only the case in the US. In the UK there’s at least 4 viable parties, despite first past the post. most other democratic countries have 6+ viable parties, because they don’t use first-past-the-post. Just take a look at the polls for the Icelandic national election that is taking part later this month.

    The difference is that the US actively discourages the establishment and continued existence of other parties, while other countries actively embrace them.

    Andrew “K`Tetch” Norton
    former national party chairman, US Pirate Party
    former Chairman, Board of governors, Pirate Party UK
    Founding leader, Pirate Party International.
    (yes, I have a lot of experience in political parties in the US and elsewhere)

    1. Also, the UK has a proportional voting system by party, not candidate. It is not winner-take-all.

  6. It is a bit difficult to get into this conversation when you are old and your kids are young. What I have found to work the best is “A Democracy asks (demands) two things: “That you raise hell when you think it necessary, but that you vote responsibly.”

  7. Thanks for reposting this, Milt. One other thing…many of the ones screaming for Stein or Johnson have tunnel vision when it comes to the issues.

    Case in point–Al Giordano, reporter and community organizer (and supporter of President Obama), mentioned this in a recent tweet in regards to Gary Johnson:

    “Johnson opposes minimum wage, education & health care subsidies, so good luck begging your rich friends for the weed”

    One of the responses was this:

    “Also opposes endless war & overincarceration (drug/petty crime) which can be of use, if you’re dead or jailed. Hillary doesn’t.”

    See that? Complete ignorance of Giordano’s point–that Johnson (and Stein, for that matter) are tone-deaf to the issues that really matter–education, minimum wage, health care, and also civil rights, women’s rights (including abortion). Instead the respondent spewed out this nonsense about “endless war” and tries to tie Hillary to it.

    These fools (sorry, that’s what they are) are so blinded by their tunnel vision that they cannot see that there are many other issues that matter and that those issues matter more than free weed or buzzwords that they themselves probably do not understand. They refuse to see the danger of a Trump Presidency and some even hope for one to teach us all a “lesson” or two. Add to that their nonsense about how Trump would hasten the “revolution” and you realize that they are truly nuts.

    They don’t care if others suffer. Talk about privilege.

    1. So, your idea of important issues are not my idea of most important issues. Character in the highest office is most important. Ending war and stop killing our youth is also top of my list. Your party has been the status quo causing many of today’s devisions. Gary Johnson is best suited.
      The Ds and Rs hold on America needs to be broken.

  8. “Why isn’t Green Party candidate Jill Stein a viable candidate?”

    As Norbrook observed above, the Greens don’t even pretend to contest the entry level positions where the heavy lifting of party building is done. In New York I would vote the Working Families Party line, as a statement that I was annoyed at the Democratic Party but refused to play games that might allow some Republican monster to be sworn in – although that strategy itself is losing validity as people try to be overly clever.

    In the bigger picture, Stein is an irresponsible gadfly who alienates every intelligent person who tries to hear her out. To borrow a phrase, her good ideas are not unique (in fact, are well integrated into the Democratic mainstream) while her unique ideas are disgusting. Antivaxx quackery kills children, and wifi radiation in no way melts your brain, but these are two loonie toons notions that Stein has recently advocated in front of the cameras.

  9. One of the other things that makes the less than viable is that they’re not really present in the local elections, or in state and congressional districts. Without that presence, doing well in Presidential contest is simply a national popularity poll, and even if they somehow won, they’d still have to figure out how to get one of the other two parties who are in the legislature to work with them.

    1. The problem is, people like this want shortcuts for everything. There are no shortcuts in politics. Things don’t just happen because you think they’re right. You have to develop a strategy to make that happen. Like you said, that happens at the grassroots, which are state and local elections. You don’t start with the presidency.

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