When there is discontent people look for change. That was the premise of the very successful 2008 Obama campaign and it is a valid premise for any time. Given the really low levels of approval that poll after poll shows there have been rumblings about a third or even forth party emerging this election cycle.
Today the former pollsters for Presidents Carter and Clinton, Patrick Caddell and Douglas Schoen respectively, take to the pages of the Wall St. Journal to give their view of this. Unsurprisingly they find that it is likely that a third party candidate will be in the running in 2012. (Do note that these are the guys that Fox turns to when they want to bash the president)
They cite the strong support, across the political spectrum, for a third party. In polling done by Mr. Schoen’s shop they found that 51% of Americans say there is a need for a major third party (sorry Libertarians and Greens, it seems you aren’t considered major).
This is on top of other polling like the Gallup poll from this May that shows a majority of Republicans think that they don’t have enough choice when it comes to political parties to support. That was a first for this question in the Gallup polling.
What makes these two pollsters think that this is the time that new third party might break onto the political stage? Let’s let them speak for themselves:
We have seen in the past where economic distress and political alienation can lead. In both the 1980 and 1992 presidential campaigns, third-party candidates emerged—John Anderson and then Ross Perot—and each garnered high levels of public support. Mr. Perot actually led in the polls for several months during the 1992 campaign. And the conditions in those years were nowhere near as severe as they are today.
They go on to talk about an in-depth focus groups run by Mr. Caddell where he talked to 100 folks from across the nation and across the socioeconomic spectrum. All of them were people who voted for President Obama, but are now undecided. The goal in talking to folks like this was to determine what would make them support a candidate.
Disappointingly what emerged was pretty much the same old same.
These focus groups indicated that the American people are desperate for a leader who stands outside of the political establishment currently running Washington. A leader who can speak for the American majority—offering not just rhetoric, but a new direction and a proven record of getting things done.
It is fairly obvious that it is about leadership but the rest shows the basic disconnect that most of the voting public lives in. They want a leader who has a proven record of accomplishment but they also want someone outside the political establishment.
The problem is that you can not have the one without the other. No one who has a record of governmental accomplishment can possibly be from outside the system, since the political system is where all governmental accomplishment happens.
The only other, marginally to me, viable analogue is being a success in business. However we have had an MBA president, George W. Bush, and I seriously doubt that anyone wants a return to that kind of governance. By the end of his second term there were large numbers of Republicans walking away from this for the blunders of his wars, the tanking economy and his inability to offer new ideas.
The authors cite a Rasmussen Reports poll (which should always be taken with a big grain of salt) that shows an overwhelming number feel that the federal government does not have the consent of the governed. It is 69% to 17% which is not as astounding as it might sound.
After all, the Conservative noise machine has been pumping up the idea that President Obama is not a legitimate president since day one. There are still die-hard birthers out there who insist that he was not born in Hawaii. In fact an Air Force Sergeant was discharged for failing to follow orders over his belief that the so-called “Long Form” birth certificate released this year was a forgery, just this last week.
That combined with decades of “government is the problem, not the solution” sloganeering has made for fertile ground for feeling that the government is not acting with the consent of the people.
So where does that leave a third bid? In pretty good shape, actually. There are three hurdles that a viable third party or third party candidate has to jump to be viable. There is getting on the ballots in all fifty states, money and staff.
With the numbers from the polling in this article there it seems that there would be no trouble in getting the number of signatures needed to place a candidate on the presidential ballot. That leaves money and staff.
This is where these things tend to fall apart. The last time we saw a candidate who did not mostly self fund was 31 years ago with John Anderson. This is where the dynamic of “strong leader with new ideas” gets mashed.
A billionaire, like Donald Trump is supposed to be, can self fund enough to get a good start. But they are often going to be locked into the same old dynamic that produces our current political leaders. People like the Koch Brothers have the money to run if they wanted to but they won’t be bringing a campaign message that is a winner no mater how discontent the electorate is.
Then there is the issue of staff. Whether a third party emerges from the Left or the Right or even both, there is going to be a very real hesitance on the part of political staffers (who do most of the work in a campaign) to jump ship from the party that provides them with a living. Going to a third party candidate is a very serious career risk.
The folks who are agitating for a third party (keep going guys!) will probably say that real political change requires changing out the staffers too. This is correct but it presents a chicken or the egg conundrum.
It is very hard to win with inexperienced staff, especially at the national level. The only place staff can learn their craft is though prior political campaigns. Which then builds them into supporting the current two party system.
So even with a huge number of people saying they want a new political party it is pretty unlikely that one will be successful if it emerges. What all this discontent is saying is that the people want different choices and outcomes, but without electoral success there is exactly zero chance of change happening.
So the even if one or two third party candidates emerge this cycle it is unlikely that they will be able to build the infrastructure to truly launch a new party. While I am not completely opposed to a third party it is always the problem of jumping all the hurdles to viability that keeps me advising against it.
However, if these pollsters are right, then there may not be a better opportunity for those who want to give this a try. The question really is will it be another party on the Left or one on the Right?
The floor is yours.