2016 May Be The Year for Third Parties in America
Trump’s and Clinton’s historic disapproval ratings could be a boon for third parties, says Professor Jonathan Martin of Framingham State University
THOMAS HEDGES, TRNN: While the 2016 elections continue to prove anything but conventional, what may become its lasting legacy are the historic disapproval ratings that have plagued both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump from the beginning of their campaigns. While most lament what they see as a choice between one of two evils, some are saying this year’s race could in fact be an opportunity not only to educate but encourage people to consider third parties as a viable option. That’s what Professor Jonathan Martin of Framingham State University in Massachusetts aims to do in a book he’s just published.
JONATHAN MARTIN: Alright so some reforms that the populist and the socialists inspired or they helped pushed through included abolition of child labor. I’m reading directly from the book here. Limitation of work hours, establishment of minimum wages and graduated income taxes, broadening of access to public education, expansion of suffrage to previously excluded groups, institution of direct election of U.S. Senators, use of public referenda. They either helped pushed them through or they inspired them and they didn’t have to win a majority of offices. In fact they only won really a small cluster of offices around the country. But enough to pose a significant electoral threat that frightened the major parties into implementing some of their ideas or risk losing power.
HEDGES: Earlier this summer, Martin sat down with the Real News to expand on some of the issues he writes about in his book, Empowering Progressive Third Parties in the United States. And he says progressives specifically because recent right-wing third parties, Martin feels, have never truly been independent.
MARTIN: The Tea Party, it’s really more of a faction of republicans trying to pull it to the right.
HEDGES: With the right-wing Tea Party movement having been co-opted by the republican party starting in 2010, Martin hopes that voters and activists can refocus their energy and attention on the growth of grassroots organizing on the left.
MARTIN: From the 1980’s and especially the 1990’s through the present we’ve seen an increasing like a surge of progressive third party activity. The establishment of the Green Party, an attempt to establish a labor party, the Vermont Progressive Party starting in the 1980’s through the present. In Richmond, California a Green was elected to mayor in 2006. Reelected in 2010. Just in 2014 a socialist, a revolutionary socialist who was elected to city council in Seattle, her name is Kshama Sawant, played a critical role in pushing through the first $15 an hour minimum wage.
HEDGES: Despite these recent victories, not since 1992 when billionaire Ross Perot ran has an independent candidate been included in the presidential debates which is controlled by a private company composed of just democrats and republicans. But progressives, Martin says, should draw strength not from the national debates stage where money tends to steer ship but from local and municipal elections. Another pressure point for the two major party structure in the United States is the fact that an increasing number of incumbents especially state legislatures face no challengers at all when they come up for reelection. Martin says that in places where on party dominates state politics like here in Maryland for example, third parties have an opportunity to seize on.
MARTIN: The fact that campaign especially at a higher level are less labor intensive, I think it’s something that makes lower level campaigns even more important because that’s where people can use people power to make breakthroughs. Where it’s a lot more difficult at higher levels because they have to spend so much money to pay for television advertising for example. And once you’ve done that, once a municipal office is–that can become a base or a springboard to win offices at a higher level. A major obstacle to progressive third parties is the belief that you cannot win. So if you can show people that you can win even on a small level, that legitimizes you and then you can run for a higher level office. Then you can run for the next level. That’s how Bernie Sanders got to where he is.
HEDGES: And it’s not just a small fraction of people that want third parties to rise to prominence. In fact, most people do.
MARTIN: There was a poll in September of 2015 that showed that 60% of the public, this is a Gallop poll, 60% of the public would like to see a third party arise in the United States. And in a lot of places in the country democrats are the only game in town and there isn’t a viable republican opposition and in that case progressive third parties can actually run a candidate against incumbents or democrats in power and represent the only alternative. That’s actually happening, from what I understand, in Baltimore to a certain extent is that there’s been a lot of frustration by the black lives matter movement with the police in the city and the persecution of black people. Now you see a kind of a bubbling up of third party activity in this city by the Green Party. By something called the Ujima People’s Party.
HEDGES: But it’s also the political climate that Martin says should encourage people to consider an alternative. The inability of so called progressive candidates such as Jesse Jackson in the 1980’s or Howard Dean within the Democratic Party to affect any change over the past few decades should be an indicator.
MARTIN: There are a lot of people who weren’t alive back then and who haven’t learned the lesson and need to learn it. They may have pinned their hopes on Barack Obama over the last 8 years and been disappointed. And they still may think if they elected or try to elect a different democrat that it’s going to turn out differently and that the party really wants to do the right thing but somehow it’s incompetent or stupid. I think they’re going to learn, many people are going to learn otherwise. So this is a new generation that needs to learn its own lessons.
HEDGES: Sympathy towards third parties this election cycle has grown. And while it’s true that some polls show that a majority of voters want to see the rise of an independent party, third parties are still polling quite low. The bottom line for many and it’s something that Martin expects to see more of is the general election’s approach is that third parties can sometimes split the progressive vote in favor of the right wing. But at the end of the day, Martin says he draws the line not between democrat and republican but between those who take corporate money and those who don’t.
MARTIN: There’s a difference between rhetoric and policy. And it tends to be the campaign contributors, the wealthy campaign contributors, the corporations who are calling the tune. So it shouldn’t surprise people when there’s a big gap there that’s happened again and again and again. And that’s why we need an alternative.
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