Guestpost: More than just a two-horse Presidential race

I’m delighted to introduce a guest post from Ross Greer.  Ross is 18 – yes 18! – and is a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament.  He is also a founding member of Youth and Students for Independence, and is, unsurprisingly, a Green. 

It goes without saying that US elections are unlike any other. With predicted spending on both sides this year set to exceed £6 billion, this Presidential election will be two hundred times more expensive than the last UK general election for a population just six times larger. In October alone, 300,000 TV ads were run, most of them in a select few swing states such as Ohio which will decide the election.

Most commentators did not expect it to be so intense. Despite Obama’s severe dip in popularity from his messiah-like early years, the Republican primary candidates were widely seen as the worst group to have run for the Presidency in decades and it looked as if he might win comfortably enough, though certainly not as convincingly as in 2008. In the end, Romney managed to energise his supporters more than was expected and Obama’s poor performance in the first Presidential debate confirmed this as a desperately tight race.

With the colossal campaigns being run by the Democrats and Republicans, you would be forgiven for thinking that Americans will have just the two choices on polling day. Only in one state will just Obama and Romney appear on ballots. There will be four more candidates joining Romney and Obama on enough state ballots to win the required 270 electoral votes.

  • Gary Johnston, former Governor of New Mexico, Libertarian Party

Platform of super-small government, fiscal conservatism and pro-civil liberties

  • Jill Stein, physician, Green Party

Platform based upon a ‘Green New Deal’ to create jobs as well as combating climate change, socially progressive and has been arrested three times during the campaign.

  • Virgil Goode, former Virginia Congressman, Constitution Party

Traditional conservative platform of small government, balanced budgets, restricted immigration etc.

  • Rocky Anderson, former mayor of Salt Lake City, Justice Party

Social Democratic platform, socially progressive and broadly similar to Stein and the Green platform.

Johnston and Stein’s campaigns are seen as the most competitive, both having qualified for federal matching funds but of course, neither stand a chance of being sworn in come January. Like minor party candidates anywhere, their votes come from those with a strong ideological conviction and a belief that one day they might stand a chance rather than those who actually want to pick the next president. In 2008, between them the so called ‘third-party’ candidates could only achieve just over 1% of the vote but relative success is not impossible.  In 1992 Texas billionaire Ross Perot achieved 19% and almost twenty million votes as an independent and more recently in 2000, Ralph Nader (on the Green ballot line) gathered almost three million votes and close to 3%.  Nader’s result might not sound significant but in an election so close that it was finally settled by the Supreme Court, many people still argue that Nader took enough votes from Democratic candidate, Al Gore in the key swing state of Florida to cost him the presidency.

Nader (and the idea of third-party candidates more generally) was slammed in the mainstream media, particularly by Democrats who felt they were entitled to his votes.  But no party is entitled to any vote, they must earn it and those voters who made the choice to go Nader in a swing state in 2000 did so because Nader agreed with them where Gore did not.  Indeed the major parties go to extreme lengths to marginalise the third party candidates for fear of a ‘spoiler effect’. This year, the Republicans have attempted to have Gary Johnston removed from the ballot in Iowa on the grounds that he would cause “irreparable harm to other candidates and political parties who must compete against him” and that his appearance would cause “irreparable injury to the voting public because it could improperly impact the election.”

I’m not sure just what’s so harmful about voters being given more choice but if it were up to Democrats and Republicans, the land of the free would only be free to choose between their two candidates.  Another example of this is the commission which controls the Presidential debates, a commission run jointly by the Democrats and Republicans which states that candidates must be on enough state ballots to conceivably win the election (fair enough, as we’ve seen there are quite a few who qualify), who are constitutionally eligible (over 35, born in the US etc.) and crucially, who achieve an average of at least 15% in five selected national polls.

There have been a number of ‘Third Party Debates,’ the most notable hosted by Larry King and the final, hosted by Ralph Nader broadcast on Russia Today, but these were still only seen by a small number, largely over the internet.

The biggest problem with this qualifying criteria is that almost no-one polls for any but the two main parties so even if the support exists, there is no way to prove it. Even as a supporter of Jill Stein, I acknowledge that no third party-er is likely to have 15% support but that is more due to a blackout by the mainstream media, a lack of corporate funding and the amount they have to spend simply to appear on the ballot rather than on campaigning itself.  Only four polls have included Gary Johnston (5.3%, 1%, 4%, 5.1%) and six have included Stein (2%, 1.9%, 1%, 1.6%, 3% and 1% in an Ohio state poll).  None appear in the list of ‘selected’ polls the Debates Commission accepts.

However, there are two reasons for paying attention to third party results in this election.

Firstly, if any of them achieve 5% nationally (Johnston or maybe Stein are capable of this but it’s unlikely) they will unlock $20 million in federal funding for the 2016 election and will have achieved high enough results in many states to maintain their party’s ballot access for at least the 2014 mid-terms.  This would mean that they do not have to spend most of their campaign budgets simply getting back onto the ballots as they had to do this time. These assets would allow the candidates to mount more serious campaigns in 2016, running ads etc. that would allow them to reach more voters than they can currently.

Most importantly though, with such an incredibly tight race between Romney and Obama, we could see them achieving high enough results to yet again be accused of ‘spoiling’ and costing someone the election. That state poll in Ohio is of particular interest.

In 2000 Bush won Florida by 543 votes or 0.1% over Gore, smaller than the votes gathered by any of the eight other candidates. If any third party candidate achieves a result greater than the difference between the top two, we could once more see an explosion of controversy and further setbacks in the campaign for greater democracy and a multi-party system.

For many, this is enough of a reason not to even consider voting for a third party candidate, but for many more, the ‘lesser of two evils’ just isn’t good enough, as Chris Hedges of Truthdig explains:

“It was the Liberty Party that first fought slavery. It was the Prohibition and Socialist parties, along with the Suffragists, that began the fight for the vote for women and made possible the 19th Amendment. It was the Socialist Party, along with radical labor unions, that first battled against child labor and made possible the 40-hour workweek. It was the organizing of the Populist Party that gave us the Immigration Act of 1924 along with a “progressive” tax system. And it was the Socialists who battled for unemployment benefits, leading the way to the Social Security Act of 1935. No one in the ruling elite, including Franklin Roosevelt, would have passed this legislation without pressure from the outside.

“It is the combination of a social movement on the ground with an independent political party that has always made history together, whether during abolition, women’s suffrage or the labor movement,” Stein said when I reached her by phone as she campaigned in Chicago. “We need courage in our politics that matches the courage of the social movements—of Occupy, eviction blockades, Keystone pipeline civil disobedience, student strikes, the Chicago teachers union and more. If public opinion really mattered in this race, we [her presidential ticket] would win. We have majority support in poll after poll on nearly all of the key issues, from downsizing the military budget and bringing the troops home, to taxing the rich, to stopping the Wall Street bailouts, to breaking up the banks, to ending the off-shoring of jobs, to supporting workers’ rights, to increasing the minimum wage, to health care as a human right, through Medicare for all. These are the solutions a majority of Americans are clamoring for.”

If the election is as close on Tuesday as many are projecting, keep an eye-out for those third party results – they might make their candidates more famous in the aftermath than they could ever have hoped for during the campaign.

One thought on “Guestpost: More than just a two-horse Presidential race

  1. Was Rocky Anderson not once in the 13th Floor Elevators?

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