Though third-party candidates are on the ballot, they aren’t generally on people’s minds.
The common idea is that a third-party candidate running in a close race will pull away votes from either the Republican or Democratic candidate. Prominent election spoilers in recent history have been Ross Perot who drew attention away from George H. W. Bush, allowing Bill Clinton to win the presidency. More recently, Ralph Nader spoiled the race for Al Gore and handed the presidency to George W. Bush.
This is the way history remembers these individuals. An opinion piece in the New York Times that ran in 1996 describes all of Perot’s faults, weaknesses and strengths, but sums him by saying that “all of this makes him a possible spoiler, but not a desirable candidate.”
A 2004 CBS piece called “The Nader Effect” was a little kinder towards Nader. However, it did reference how Nader’s candidacy received a collective moan from people (as Nader noted) being opposed to him even though they agree with him. Terry McAuliffe, then-Democratic National Committee chairman, told the press that it would be a shame if Nader’s legacy was giving the country “8 years of George W. Bush.”
I believe neither of these guys are spoilers. Why? Look at who is attaching the label in both instances: it’s the losing party. I see this less of a case of people getting in the way of better candidates than I do of others getting mad and pointing the blame anywhere they can.
It’s bad enough that the two parties effectively own every avenue for running into office. Granted, some third parties are more niche and that may prevent them from having widespread appeal, but the current political trend is two-fold: people vote for one of two parties until something bad happens and then switch or something really bad happens in politics and nothing gets done.
Is what we really need is switching from extreme to extreme? That sounds like our current self-propogating problem. No issues make progress, like Social Security or immigration or passing an actual budget. Whatever party in power is too busy reversing everything the previous power holder did.
So how do third-party candidates fit in here? Instead of this game of rocking the ship back and forth, why aren’t more candidates put forward that are more middle-of-the-road than firebrands and dyed-in-the-wool party members? It would make much more sense than having to wait until the over-corrections are made. Putting into office people who are essentially the loudest and angriest in support of their views against some who loudly and angrily disagrees with them.
For clarification, this is not an endorsement of Greg Orman, the independent running against the incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts. It is more of an endorsement of this kind of situation. Just one glance at Kansas or its voting history shows anyone that it is a red state, meaning voters in the state have a strong tendency to elect Republicans and usually not Democrats. It would therefore make sense that instead of making voters pick one ideology over another, that they can have a choice of more candidates that everyone can agree with.
It just means getting over this stigma that third-party candidates are a wasted vote. In a NBC video segment, people were introduced to the two candidates for the Kansas senate seat and experienced the unique situation of having a independent in the race, as well as the history of third parties across the history of the U.S. The general consensus from the video is that candidates who are not a Democrat or a Republican are somehow crazy and doomed to fail.
While the video ends on a positive note, stating that independents have won seats in Congress and become governors too, it does so after reinforcing the fact that Perot and Nader are spoilers that stole votes from the more popular candidates in their respective races.
To steal votes implies that the other candidate owns them. Owning votes sounds incredibly wrong, like those candidates bought them or have some inherent ownership just because they have a donkey or elephant sticker next to their name. The fact that a third-party candidate is in the race should be proof enough that they have something to bring to the table.
Voters don’t owe their allegiance to Republicans or Democrats, nor do they to a system of voting for the loudest screamer with the simplest platform every election.
Patrick White is a senior in mass communications.