This morning I interviewed North Dakota Libertarian House candidate Jack Seaman, and our discussion took an interesting turn to the viability of third party candidates.
Seaman told me he was hoping to exploit the fed-up feelings voters have for both Republicans and Democrats, but I questioned how fed-up voters really are. When most incumbents get re-elected in one election cycle after another, can we really say that voters are fed up?
Are they really fed up, or is it just fashionable for voters to feign cynicism about politicians? Because while there’s polling that shows approval for Congress in the singe digits, there’s also the reality that most members of Congress will probably get re-elected again in 2014 even if one or both houses of Congress changes hands.
We also talked about the relationship between the two major parties and third-party candidates. It’s my theory that the dominance of Republicans and Democrats isn’t the result of some political conspiracy to freeze out alternatives (though it’s a shame that third party candidates aren’t taken more seriously in the media, or included in more things like debates) but rather because of the nature of American politics.
We have a sprawling system of governance compared to other countries that makes it impossible for third parties to get traction. Whether it’s the Green Party or the Libertarian Party or some other group, that party is going to pull support mostly from one of the two major parties. And the moment that division hits critical mass, the one of the two major parties getting hit will swoop in to assimilate the third party.
Because a right-of-center movement split between Republicans and Libertarians isn’t going to win anything against a left-of-center movement consolidated behind Democrats. And vice versa for left-leaning third parties.
I don’t know if that’s good or bad – I could make arguments both ways – but that’s the way it is.
The reward for any third party movement that gets significant traction, I think, is assimilation into one or both of the two major parties.