A high-level overview of the barriers to electoral success facing third-party and independent candidates.
Why do third parties rarely succeed in US politics?
|independent candidate||A candidate for office who does not have a formal affiliation with a political party.|
|party platform||A set of goals supported by a political party. Parties design their platforms to appeal to the concerns of the public and to encourage voters to support the party.|
|proportional system||An electoral system in which legislative seats are awarded in proportion to the percentage of votes garnered by a party in an election. This system is common in Europe and benefits minor political parties, who may win a small number of legislative seats even if a mainstream party wins most seats.|
|third party||Also called a minor party, a third party is a US political party other than the two major parties (the Republican Party and the Democratic Party). Third parties rarely win elections in the United States, but frequently influence national politics by drawing attention to issues previously neglected by the major parties.|
|two-party system||An electoral system in which two major parties dominate voting at all levels of government.|
|winner-take-all system||An electoral system in which legislative seats are awarded only to the party who received the most votes in an election. This is the most common system in the United States, and it does not benefit minor political parties, since third-party candidates rarely win the majority of votes in an election.|
Barriers to third-party success: Although the Constitution doesn’t make any rules about political parties, US government has a two-party system in which candidates from the two major political parties win nearly all elected offices. Many third parties have emerged over time, but two major barriers have prevented third parties from electing many candidates. First, most US elections operate by the winner-take-all system, which awards seats only to the candidate or party who wins the most votes in an election; independent or third-party candidates, who have neither the name recognition nor the organizational support provided by the major parties, rarely win the majority of votes. Second, the two major parties frequently incorporate the platforms of third parties into their own platforms; voters who identified with a third-party issue will often vote for a major party candidate who has adopted that issue because major parties are more likely to succeed.
Why is it difficult for third-party candidates to win elections in the United States?
What are the benefits and drawbacks of third-party participation in the US political system?