Today there are 37 ballot-qualified minority parties in the U.S. (despite its name, the Tea Party is not an official party, but rather a Republican contingent). Only three of them, however, are recognized in more than five states: the Green Party (left wing, environmentalist), Libertarian Party (individual rights) and Constitution Party (staunchly conservative, religious). Each is wholly unique, but they all share a staunch belief in the need for alternatives to the two-party system.
Green Party - founded in 1984, Jill Stein presidential candidate, The group generally supports a left-leaning, liberal platform on the American political spectrum with an emphasis on the core tenets of environmental protection, social justice, grassroots democracy and pacifism. The party also supports campaign finance reform to limit corporate political influence and declines corporate contributions.
- ballot access in 20 states
Libertarian Party - "Maximum freedom, minimum government" The Libertarian Party (LP) is a libertarian political party in the United States that promotes civil liberties, non-interventionism, laissez-faire capitalism and the abolition of the welfare state. - founded 1971
In 2012, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson received about 1.3 million votes -- more than any other third-party candidate.
The Libertarian Party is the third largest political party in the United States after the Republican and Democratic parties. The group aims to emphasize a commitment to free-market principles, civil rights, personal freedom, non-interventionism, peace and free trade.
According to the party, "Our vision is for a world in which all individuals can freely exercise the natural right of sole dominion over their own lives, liberty and property by building a political party that elects Libertarians to public office, and moving public policy in a libertarian direction."
Embedded below, (and downloadable here as a PDF), this chart compares the positions of America’s three largest minority parties differ on 11 key national issues. Excerpts are taken directly from the political platforms of each party.
[Article continues below]
Few and far between
It’s been a hot minute since anyone besides a Republican or Democrat was president of the United States.
Not since 1853, in fact, when Millard Fillmore of the Whig Party left the White House.
Today, third parties – are relegated to the sidelines of the U.S. politics. Currently, only two U.S. senators identify as independent (although both of them caucus with Democrats). The U.S. House of Representatives is currently composed of only Democrats and Republicans. And of the more than 7,000 state senators and representatives in state legislatures across the country, only 67 are independent and a whopping seven belong to a third party (all of them members of the Vermont Progressive Party).
Yet, in a 2014 Gallup poll, 58 percent of adults said that a third major U.S. political party is necessary because Republicans and Democrats “'do such a poor job’ representing the American people.”
So when Election Day rolls around, why do so few people generally vote for third party candidates?
For starters, the U.S. electoral system is winner-take-all. We’re talking “lose or go home.” And that doesn’t make it too easy for the little guy to get anywhere (but home). It also dissuades voters from supporting a third party candidate they may support, as it can seem like a wasted vote.
In Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and other parliamentary governments, proportional representation opens the door for members of smaller political parties to win seats in government and gain influence.
Not so much in the U.S.
America’s two-party mold, though, hasn’t prevented some notable third party efforts. Most recently, Ralph Nader’s 2000 presidential run as the Green Party candidate landed him a substantial 2.8 million votes. It’s widely believed that Nader’s relatively successful campaign took away critical votes from Al Gore, causing the Democratic candidate to lose Florida, and ultimately the election.
Similarly, in the 1992 presidential election, many believe that independent candidate Ross Perot hurt President George H.W. Bush’s re-election bid. Perot amassed nearly 20 million votes – close to 19 percent of the electorate – many of whom would likely have otherwise voted for Bush. It marked the most successful third party run in recent history, and inadvertently helped Bill Clinton reach the White House.
The once mighty Whigs
Historically, there are several third parties that have had significant influence in national politics. Among them, the Socialist and Progressive parties of the early 1900s, both of which championed labor rights and women’s suffrage. President Fillmore’s Whig Party, which rose to prominence in the 1830’s in opposition to the policies President Andrew Jackson, won three presidential elections in the 1840s and 50s (although Fillmore was the fourth Whig president, he didn’t actually win an election – he was Zachary Taylor’s vice president and took over after his death).
The Whig Party ultimately disintegrated in 1854, though, in large part because of disagreements over the increasingly divisive issue of slavery in the U.S. The party’s exit led to the emergence of the Republican Party.