How Third Parties Can Win Under First-Past-the-Post

Third parties don’t win. Why? First-past-the-post. Voters are too scared of splitting the vote to support who they really like, so they choose the ‘lesser evil’ of the two major-party candidates.

The obvious solution is to switch to another electoral method, like favorability voting, but neither major party supports this — so is it even possible?

Ranked-choice voting has gained some popularity, being adopted in Maine and Alaska, but I already wrote about why it won’t benefit third parties very much. Short answer: third parties get eliminated in the first few rounds.

Focus On the State-Level

Most third parties make the mistake of focusing too much on the federal-level, while ignoring the states. This is a terrible strategy.

Federal elections have too much money in politics for a third-party candidate to win, but state elections are much more competitive.

Just look at Vermont, where the Progressive Party holds six seats in the Senate and seven seats in the House of Representatives (although most of them are shared with the Democrats). Minnesota even had a third-party Governor, Jesse Ventura, until 2003.

Furthermore, each state is allowed to set their own election laws — which is why RCV was passed at the state-level. Election laws are the first thing that need changed, so it’s only natural that we’d focus on the state-level first.

Position Yourself Against Both Parties

Third parties tend to do better when they’re so fundamentally different from both major parties that they either can’t split the vote, or make the two major parties look so similar to each-other that it doesn’t matter.

This is why the Libertarian Party is the largest third party: they’re to the left of the Democrats on social issues and to the right of the Republicans on economic issues, meaning they take votes away from both parties equally.

The Party for Socialism and Liberation (a communist party), is so far left that the Democrats look right-wing in comparison. This means their supporters might as well vote PSL, since although they’re technically closer to the Democratic Party, it won’t make much of a difference to support them.

Be Willing To Work With the Major Parties

This seems to contradict my previous point, but third parties have to be willing to work with the two major parties. We aren’t going to overturn the two-party establishment overnight, and voters want to know we’re practical and reasonable.

The Vermont Progressive Party is so successful because they’re not afraid to nominate Democrats — as I said before: most of their seats are shared. This means they can support their policies while not splitting the vote.

This approach won’t work for all third parties, but if you want to win: you have to be willing to occasionally nominate a Democrat or a Republican, if they agree with what you stand for.

This can also help keep your party at the state-level by nominating candidates of other parties for federal offices, as to not waste time and resources running your own.

Furthermore, when you finally get into government: you’ll have to work with one party or the other to get legislation passed.

Be careful not to overdo it, however, or your party might look more like a faction of one of the two major parties.

Don’t be Too Extreme

The reason the PSL doesn’t do very well in elections is because they’re too extreme; they might be able to polarize their base against the two major parties, but that base ain’t very large. Furthermore, next to no one is willing to vote for a Neo-Nazi.

The Libertarian Party also makes this mistake to a lesser extent, driving away moderate Libertarians.

You have to be moderate enough that your base isn’t too small, while being radical enough that you can distinguish yourself from the two major parties.

Focus On the Issues that Matter

People don’t vote Democrat because they like the color blue, they vote Democrat because they support left-wing policies.

If third parties want to win: they have to focus on the issues that matter: healthcare, wages, abortion, immigration, etc. You need to make sure your platform spells out a number of important issues and clearly conveys what you believe.

The LP has a pretty extensive platform, which is another reason they’re the largest party. The Greens have a large platform too.

Furthermore, single-issue parties don’t do very well, since they either ignore most important issues or make voters think they only care about one thing. When was the last time the Prohibition or Marijuana parties won an election?

Pick a Good Name

Although the American Solidarity Party does a good job at everything else, their name doesn’t say much about what they believe — which is a reason why they don’t get many votes.

Similar parties in Europe tend to call themselves the “Christian Democratic Party” — although that name might make them look too similar to the Democrats or seem like they exclude other religions. Another possibility is the “Distributist Party”, since that’s the official name of their ideology.

The Libertarian Party, on the other hand, did a great job choosing their name — which is another reason they’re so successful.

Use the Internet

Most Americans use the Internet, so it’s a great way to get the word out and attract new supporters. The biggest third parties all have websites and social media accounts. Furthermore, your candidates should also have an online presence.

It’s 2021; move forward with the times or get left in the past.

Get Active

Being active online is half the equation; the other half is being active in real life. Go to protests, hold voter registration drives, hand out flyers — whatever you can to get the word out (so long as it’s legal).

Don’t be afraid to go to events with people you disagree with on other issues! I went to a Medicare for All protest attended largely by Democrats, and no one got mad at me for being socially conservative.

On the other hand, don’t go out of your way to highlight your disagreements — you’re there for what you agree on.

Conclusion

The only way for third parties to win without changing the electoral system is to stay local, be different from the two major parties, but still willing to work with them, don’t be too extreme, focus on the issues, pick the right name, and be active both online and in real life.

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