During the presidential debates the world sat glued to the television as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney thrashed out topics such as the American response to violence in the Middle East, job creation and health care. Missing from the conversation, however, was global warming, the war on drugs, and free trade. Also missing from the conversation were the voices who wanted to talk about these issues: third party candidates.
Instead of sharing the stage with two-party politicians who spent billions on their political campaigns, the other presidential candidates to appear on the ballot, Libertarian Gary Johnson, Green Party’s Jill Stein, Constitution Party’s Virgil Goode and Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson, had to find other venues to be heard. Despite their candidate’s virtual erasure from mainstream media sources and therefore political mindsets, third-party voters stand strong in their beliefs and have hope that the political landscape is beginning to change.
Steve Ziemba is a part of the Libertarian Party and writer of the New York State Third Party Candidates Listing & Political Commentary Blog. Post elections he was excited to find that, “In several states, we [The Libertarian Party] actually had 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent of the vote. Now that doesn’t seem like much but you have to remember that two elections ago, we didn’t even break the .5 percent total in any state.” The Libertarian Party had their largest showing in a presidential election, with Gary Johnson garnishing 1-3 percent in each state or over a million votes.
But these million voters are often met with extreme scrutiny. Popular opinion says that they are “spoilers,” taking integral votes away from other candidates, especially in close elections. (Ross Perot in 1994 and Nader in 2002 are often cited as examples). Third party voter opinion varies about the idea of being “spoilers,” but all feel strongly about the need to vote according to true beliefs.
Patrick Morrison is a registered Democrat, but often goes with third party candidates. Originally from Utah, a Red State where he says people are “closet democrats,” Morrison grew up feeling that he didn’t have much of a choice how to vote. Now living in New York, a decided blue state, he feels similarly about the impact of his individual vote, but refuses to settle. “Neither of the parties are really representative of the actual spectrum of public discourse,” says Morrison. “None of them have anything to offer me policy wise, but there are great candidates that do and get no attention.” More importantly to Morrison are his morals. “Both parties’ issues include a lot of things that I vehemently disagree with: emphasis on free trade, lack of respect for those with handicaps and veterans. Everyone else is guilty of passing out grants to horrible organizations that poison our water and fatten our kids,” he says. In order to support his beliefs, Morrison and some friends from Salt Lake, voted for fellow Salt Laker, Rocky Anderson, of The Justice Party. However, Morrison admits that if he lived in a battleground state he would have voted differently. “I certainly would have voted Obama, not because of how much I support him, but how terrified I’d be of a Romney government,” he says.
Though Morrison might have voted Democrat under different circumstances, Libertarian voter and fellow New York voter, Christopher Titcombe, would have gone the other way. “Without a Libertarian candidate, I would have voted Republican, and for the most part I have my entire life. Not because I support the Republican Party and most of their views, but it’s always the lesser of two evil,” he says. As for the idea of being a spoiler he responds, “I don’t give that argument much weight. It’s more of a reactionary argument, a complainers argument.” He agrees that third party voting might shave votes off of the two-party system, but doesn’t think the dialogue about 3rd party voting is at the level it should be.
Ziemba agrees and even goes further to say that if there wasn’t a write in or 3rd party option, most of the people he knows would stay home. “People think they’re taking away from candidates, but many 3rd party candidates wouldn’t vote for what they don’t believe in,” he says. For them it’s a matter of pride, exercising your vote and also showing support for additional positions.
Though critics see third party voting as a waste of time, Ziemba says that third-party voting could hold weight. “There’s a lot of people out there who don’t vote at all,” he says. “They believe the system is rigged. If everybody who didn’t vote, got out there and voted on a third party you would see a change.”
Though those non-voters didn’t convert to third party supporters this time around, progress was made. Third party candidates managed to garner some media attention, appearing in separate debates on C-Span with Larry King and on CNN for a Washington, DC based panel moderated by Ralph Nader.
Titcombe also cites the attempts made by Americans Elect as a step forward this year. This non-profit planned to have an online primary and was able to access the ballot in 29 states. Eventually, they failed to produce a candidate. Despite this failure, Titcombe feels their influence is important saying, “That was large progress for a 3rd party concept.” Though there was little success this year, Titcombe thinks in the next election, thanks to efforts like American Elect and without an incumbent presidential candidate, they’ll be a greater third-party presence.
Although not in the presidential category, third party candidates did have some victories. Though not an official third-party, perhaps one of the most heard names this year was The Tea Party. This ominous conservative faction of the Republican Party continued to make their presence known on Tuesday night with victories by Justin Amash, Jimmy Duncan, and Walter Jones all re-elected to congress. First time Tea Party endorsed winners included Thomas Massie, Ted Yoho, and Kerry Bentivolio. What makes these victories particularly poignant is that there has been fear and threat of secession from the Republican Party, a move that would weaken the two-party system.
Not only right aligned Tea Party supporters gained success, independent senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was re-elected and Maine elected fellow independent former Gov. Angus King to the Senate.
It is too early to tell if next presidential race will have a viable third party candidate but meanwhile little by little, voters continue to try to make their voice heard outside of the two-party system. “You can play the game and compete in the game, or you can work to control the system and fight the system,” says Titcombe. “By voting for a third party, I’m more against the two party status quo than either candidate.”