The 2016 presidential election was a high water mark for third parties not seen since Ross Perot’s runs for president in the 1990’s. Although, unlike what happened after Perot’s second campaign, interest in third parties hasn’t waned since the election.
In fact, a recent poll of millennials conducted by NBC News found that 71 percent said a third major party was needed. Specifically, the respondents stated that the Republican and Democrat parties were doing such a bad job of representing them that a third party was required.
A third major party was needed during the 2016 election
This sentiment was measured at similar levels during the presidential campaign last year. Numerous polls were taken to gauge the public’s interest in having a third party candidate on the Presidential debate stage. A USA Today poll measured support for including Governor Gary Johnson at 76 percent in September of 2016.
Gallup has done polls on third party support for many years and consistently placed the number that support a third major party at high levels. Their most recent survey revealed 57 percent of the public supported the need for an alternative to the Republican and Democrat parties. That number is up 11% from 2012.
Among independents support was even higher, at 71 percent, while it was lowest among Democrats, at 43 percent.
No one can agree on which third major party is the right one
While third party support is high in the United States, there is a problem with that number. Questions such as the one asked by NBC News are too broad. They don’t take into account that each one of those people who responded affirmatively probably wanted their own version of a third party.
This is one of the main reasons that when it comes time to vote, third parties get nowhere near 71 percent of the vote. Third parties often represent the fringes of the political spectrum and their members resent attempts to moderate their platforms.
Third parties must moderate if they want to gain support
There is no better example than what Governor Gary Johnson attempted during the 2016 election. He took a hard tack towards the middle by labeling libertarianism as nothing more than being fiscally conservative and socially liberal. That message gained steam, and the Libertarian Party earned the highest percentage of the vote in their forty year history.
Despite that success, Libertarian Party members were appalled at the way their message was made palatable for the public. Many preferred their traditional, ideologically pure platform to any attempt to gain actual electoral support.
For that reason, and many others, while support for a third party may be at historic highs, third party support at the ballot box won’t be.
(Photo of former Governor Gary Johnson speaking at the 2016 Politicon at the Pasadena Convention Center in Pasadena, California by Gage Skidmore)