After 2016 drubbing, what’s next for third parties?
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The dust from the 2016 election is settling, and President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpPaul Ryan defends Navy admiral after Trump's criticism Trump discussing visit overseas to troops following criticism: report Retired Army General: Trump is ‘acting like an 8th grader’ in attacking ex-Navy SEAL who led bin Laden operation MORE is shaping his Cabinet, much to the dismay of both liberal America and many of the voters who rallied behind his “drain the swamp” mantra. As America prepares to usher in a new president, those who lost their electoral battles prepare for what to do next.

Endless analysis has been written about how Trump beat his primary rival, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPaul Ryan defends Navy admiral after Trump's criticism Retired Army General: Trump is ‘acting like an 8th grader’ in attacking ex-Navy SEAL who led bin Laden operation Questions grow about FBI vetting of Christopher Steele’s Russia expertise MORE, and for a short time, everyone wanted to blame Jill Stein and Gary JohnsonGary Earl JohnsonHillicon Valley: Social media struggles with new forms of misinformation | US, Russia decline to join pledge on fighting cybercrimes | Trump hits Comcast after antitrust complaint | Zuckerberg pressed to testify before global panel Ex-Facebook exec ousted from company sparked controversy with pro-Trump views: report Heinrich wins reelection to Senate in New Mexico MORE. However, in the wake of final counts, it appears clear that third parties did not sway this election. 

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For the Democrats, even assigning all of Stein’s votes to Clinton would still end with her losing the Electoral College. For the Republicans, Johnson’s votes could change the outcome of the popular vote, but the election results would be no different.

So with third parties off the hook, and for the Green Party, avoiding another public relations nightmare as they did post-2000 when Gore seemed to have been toppled by Ralph Nader in Florida, it leaves the question on many voters’ minds: What is next for third parties?

Stein and the Greens won 1 percent of the popular vote in 2016; the Libertarians and Johnson secured 3.2 percent. Neither number secures federal election funding and neither number shows that either party is making significant strides in moving third parties forward in the United States. 

The best solution for the movement to build and elect third party candidates in the United States may be to start fresh. The Greens will likely never overcome the stigma of both Nader’s 2000 bid and Stein’s negative press through the 2016 campaign, which focused on her anti-science beliefs and likely ended any chance of the Green Party being taken seriously again.

The Libertarian Party is having a hard time convincing voters is it not just an extension of the Republican Party. While they do hold some issue-based differences, the party tends to be exclusively made up, at least at the top level, of recently failed Republicans and not lifelong libertarians. As the election drew to a close, the Libertarian VP candidate Bill Weld even shifted to fighting for Clinton to win because he felt Trump was such a threat. This move could possibly be seen as a good moral position, but hardly the position a third-party coalition wants to see. 

The left and the right need a new beginning, and the left is a perfect example of what must be done.

The radical left is made up mostly of splintered socialist organizations. Socialist Party USA, Socialist Alternative, Socialist Action, the Democratic Socialists of America, Communist Party USA, and others all share similar goals but spend more time focused on their differences than their similarities. The wedge was broadened when a few of these groups rallied behind Clinton in their efforts to stop Trump rather than run their own candidates and campaigns.

Individually, these groups have memberships ranging from 800 to more than 10,000. The figures individually don’t show a united left or leave voters with the confidence they can be taken seriously. United, they would have at the very least a base worthy of national attention and the ability to recruit and spread their message as one, large party.

However, a new third party should not start from the top. One massive criticism from liberals about the Green Party was their focus on the presidency instead of creating a larger grassroots movement from the local level. While this is an important criticism, it’s also important to realize that with our current election laws, no third party can succeed.

Perhaps more important than focusing on just local elections will be focusing on changing the very laws that govern how we elect officials: We need ranked-choice voting, ensuring a candidate breaks the 50 percent margin before being elected, instead of first-past-the-post voting. Ranked choice also works at a smaller local level, ensuring that gerrymandering can no longer play a role in elections.

If third parties started here, while also proving their viability at the local level and building voter trust, they would find themselves in a position to attract new voters, especially those who fear to vote against one of the two major parties for fear of election spoiling.

This is not to say that already established parties such as Greens or Libertarians cannot accomplish these goals, but with so much division among the parties already, perhaps the best course of action of independent and third parties voters is to forge a new path forward and create a new opposition to two party politics.

 

Dan Arel is a political activist, award-winning journalist, and author of “The Secular Activist” and “Parenting Without God.” You can follow him on Twitter @danarel.


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