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Questions for Advocates of Third Parties

- September 26, 2011

The renewed interest among commentators and advocates in third parties raises a host of questions.  Here are several:

* What are the social bases of this potential third party?  Where will it get its votes?  Who will fund it?  Will the rise of this third party disadvantage the Republicans, the Democrats, or (improbably) both?  Why will its sources of financial and organizational strength be any more divorced from the constellation of interest groups than those of the two major parties?

* Are today’s pure independents a good base for a political party, since they are disproportionately less interested in politics?

* Is the model a third party whose platform is quickly (if incompletely) incorporated by one of the major parties–like many third-party bids in U.S. history–or a third party like the Republicans in the 1850s, which actually displaces one of the prior two parties?

* Do the recent Presidential elections with significant third-party bids lead to outcomes that are more or less representative of the electorate’s preferences?  I’m thinking about 1980, 1992, and 1996–but of course we could talk about 1912, 1968, or other elections.

* Do the significant third parties at the national level in Canada, Britain, and other developed democracies operate as models for third-party advocates here in the U.S.?

* Would the institutional reforms that made a third party more viable and less dependent on interest groups also make that third party less necessary?