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Third Parties

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Despite being the constant underdog and loser in major elections third parties make some significant contribution to the political spectrum in the United States. Third Party Agendas are taken serious by the Democratic and Republican Parties and specific pieces of the Third Party Agendas are sometimes adopted by the two major parties. Third parties give discontented voters other alternatives. The Republican and Democratic Parties have been known to operate in similar styles and third parties give the voter the opportunity to express their discontent. The third parties in the United States are policy advocates and often are more specific about were they stand ideologically. Often the Republican and Democratic Parties try and take a moderate approach to political issues, and third parties are more conservative or liberal when it comes to political issues. Also, third parties tend to do exactly the opposite when their agenda concerns social issues. Then there is the ?spoiler factor? a Third Party Candidate can collect enough votes to change the outcome of a Presidential Election.

In the United States political scientist and other scholars have placed third parties into four specific categories with various political functions. First, third parties are sometimes created to address sectional issues. Meaning a geographical area has a political or social issue or issues that are not being satisfied by the two major parties. Sectional Parties are often created and used to express the rights of particular states in America. One of the best examples of a sectional party was the Dixiecrat party of the south. The party was formed in southern states over the issue of Civil Rights and integration in the Unites States. Secondly, historically third parties have been formed to address single issues. In the United States these issues have included things such as slavery, prohibition, agricultural concerns, and other social issues. The Republican Party was originally a single issue third party. The issue the Republican Party was formed around was the expansion of slavery into newly created states and territories. The Free Soil Party is a strong example of a single-issue party formed with the goal of abolishing slavery in the United States. Thirdly, factions sometimes occur within the main parties themselves. These factions are often called party splits and are extremely effective and dangerous to the outcome of elections in the two party systems. The most successful party that resulted from a party split was the Progressive or ?Bull Moose? party led by former Republican President Theodore Roosevelt. The split in the party caused a three-way horse race for the White House in the Election of 1912 . Involving Progressive Roosevelt, Republican William Taft, and Democrat Woodrow Wilson. The split doomed the Republican Party and made Wilson the victor. Lastly, ideological parties have existed for many years in the Third Party System. Parties like the Communist Party, Socialist Party, Constitution Party, Libertarian Party, etc. These parties seek to change the system as a whole. Most of the ideological parties mentioned have been on the ballot for many years, but they are ineffective in the actual race. These are the four types of Third Parties that have existed in the political realm of the United States.

In the political system of the United States many barriers and obstacles exist for Third Parties. In the current style of United States politics the Media plays a crucial role in the system, and also posses numerous obstacles for Third Parties. The media often tends to focus on the ?Two Party Horse Race? and neglects the third parties involved in the race. A Third Party Presidential Candidate can not enter into a televised debate unless he has atleast fifteen percent of the popular vote in five major polls. Then there is the process of getting on the ballot in each individual state. Each state sets it own quota or guidelines for the number of signatures needed to place a candidate on the ballot. Sometimes the number of signatures are numerous and unattainable for some third parties with limited resources. From a financial aspect it is extremely difficult for a third party to compete in a major election. Campaigns cost money and most of the time that money comes from private donations and matching federal funds. A Presidential Candidate must receive five percent of the popular vote in order to receive Federal Funds for the next election. Historically corporations and interest groups support the two major parties with campaign contributions and do not support third parties. Then there are the historical and cultural factors. The United States has had a strong current Two Party System Since the election of President Abraham Lincoln and voters tend to identify with their parties. The Electoral College and its ?winner take all system? makes it mentally difficult for voters to vote for third parties. People believe realistically and do not want to waste the vote they cast every four years. Also, it is difficult to convince voters to cross party lines on Election Day. Barriers and obstacle exist that hinder the chance for third parties to be a success in a dominant Two Party System.

Although the election of Lincoln in 1860 is considered the only third party presidential victory other third party bids for the White House were popular in the United States. In 1968, Alabama Governor George Wallace ran a strong campaign as an Independent Candidate. Wallace split from the Democratic Party and ran as an Independent.



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