After Thomas Friedman’s article on Sunday, there has been a lot of talk about a third party coming into the fold of American politics. American’s on both sides of the aisle are disgusted at what they are seeing. While all polls show people want a compromise on the debt ceiling, plans are being rejected on the left and right while the Congressional Budget Office is saying those plans won’t do any good anyway. So why can’t a third party break into the system?
One problem is money. Running races are expensive, particularly if you plan to go nationwide. In New York a candidate running for state Senate has to raise around three hundred thousand dollars just to be considered a serious contender. That’s not easy to get, particularly in the beginning when chances are not a lot of people have heard of you.
Getting the right people to run can also be hard. One of the reasons why the Tea Party was successful in the last election is that they ran candidates who were known in the state or district, had respectable jobs, family, and could stick to talking points. When new party’s come into play they are always coalesced around people on the extremes who are passionate about what they believe. Being an outsider is always good because you can say what the people want to hear without having any real responsibility. It also keeps the energy going because you are around people with similar views, and would probably be friends with them even if you met them another way. However, being too extreme can lead to political gaffes (i.e. Sarah Palin) that can swing the race.
Democrats and Republicans are also already very entrenched within the system. Here in New York, there is the Working Families Party (WFP) which has been around since the early 1990’s. They run grass roots campaigns and have a line on the election ballot. But in order to maintain a strong premise within the state, they work with Democrats. After going door to door for a few months telling people about the candidates they have endorsed, the people who said they would vote for that candidate are reminded about voting on WFP’s line. The more votes they garner the more political influence they have. The Party then tells the elected politicians how many votes they got for them and how many in their district actually favor more progressive policies. But that politician is still a Democrat, and probably wouldn’t be in office if he/she wasn’t because of the money raised to pay the people to go knock on doors.
I don’t think the Tea Party is as a powerful force in American politics as they claim to be. They got their candidates through primaries in more conservative areas, not to mention that the two extremes are the ones who show up for the primaries. Combined with a low Democratic turnout in the general election, they were able to get more seats then they probably should have. I’m not saying they didn’t run good campaigns, but their timing couldn’t have been worse for Democrats.
The internet is one of the major reasons people are excited about something new coming to American politics. It has made it a lot easier to organize and get messages out to the public, and quickly. It has also helped with fundraising efforts for political and grass root campaigns. But the messages that are sent out only goes to those who want to hear what these groups or individuals have to say. And obviously the money being raised is from people who would be donating anyway. But if it’s a local campaign or issue that is being funded by outside influence, it probably means you’re not reaching the people you need to.
What must frustrate political insiders though is that there hasn’t been a way to figure out how to reach those independents that can make or break issues. Eventually, politicians and interest groups are going to want to find a way to do it, especially as social media will become a part of our everyday lives. Someone is going to be willing to spend money to hire a smart programmer to create an algorithm that will find those independent voters. This is going to bring privacy and freedom of the internet issues to a whole new level.
The fact is no one is going to win politically over this debt fight. Both sides look incompetent and unable to lead. But the Tea Party/GOP are the ones who look extreme right now. Even though
Democrats are playing to the middle, that’s where most American’s are, and ultimately they are the ones who will decide the election. They won’t be voting for someone who seems too ideologically driven. Plus, with Obama back on the ballot, there is going to be a lot more people who are going to want to vote for him no matter what. Liberals will not like any of the other candidates, but times are too important for people to not want to participate.
Plus, whoever runs on this third party will need to be the right person. None of the Tea Party candidates can be taken seriously for President because they are too driven by ideology, that’s one of the reasons why we see the libertarian Ron Paul getting a lot of attention but going nowhere in the polls. Obama was the right person for the Democrat party in 2008. But remember, he played the game well.
So, are third party candidates viable? Not yet. It’s going to take a lot of effort by a lot of smart and talented people who can figure out a way to balance the energy to fight the man, along with promoting policies middle class American’s can agree to.