Third Parties in the USA! Whoa, are you gonna fit in?

Are you tired of Republicans, Democrats or identifying with this two party system at all, and want to see what else is out there? Or maybe just want to understand the difference between the parties of Jill Stein, Gary Johnson and everyone in between that is on your ballot below the Democrats and Republicans? We can help: let’s explore the major (for third and independent parties) parties in the United States that are currently operating and running candidates.

The term, “third party,” is ascribed to any political party in the United States that is not the Democratic or Republican party. Only two third parties have registration at over 100,000 voters with the largest third party, the Libertarian Party, currently at more than 500,000 voters registered with the party in 30 states and Washington D.C., and Green Party currently at just over 250,000 voters. Gregorio Sablan, the Delegate from Northern Mariana Islands, is the only Independent member of the U.S. House of Representatives at this time, but third party candidates run every year for state, federal and local office all along the ballot.


Libertarian Party

The “Party of the Principle” was founded in 1971 on the basic idea that their party opposes “any government interference into personal, family and business decisions.” Known as a right-leaning party that supports a free and competitive market and the abolition of the welfare state, they also support a women’s right to choose and marijuana legalization.

The party’s presidential nominee in 2012 and 2016, Gary Johnson, stated that the party is more fiscally conservative than Republicans and more culturally liberal than Democrats. This is the largest independent or third party in the United States, but currently has no members in Congress or Governor’s mansions.

Green Party

The country’s fourth largest political party by membership has a platform based on the idea of “We the People” with four core policy pillars: dramatically cutting the military budget; getting off fossil fuels and on renewable energy; demanding a living wage and a social safety net; and public financing of elections, open debates and more representative voting systems. The largest left-wing independent party, the Greens gained popular attention after their presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, earned 2.7% of the vote in the 2000 presidential election. Since their 2001 founding, the party has elected several members to positions in state legislatures and local offices, but has not elected anyone to federal office.

Constitution Party

Popular among American conservatives and previously known as the U.S. Taxpayer’s Party, the Constitution Party is based on originalist interpretations of the Constitution with its platform’s principles based on specific quotes in the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, Constitution and the Bible. There are “7 Guiding Principles” for Constitution Party candidates and platforms, including “life for all human beings: from conception to natural death,” liberty, property, family, the Constitution & Bill of Rights, states rights, and american sovereignty. While they regularly run candidates in federal and state races, there are currently only Constitution Party office-holders in small local government councils or districts like the Duchesne City Council in Utah and New Lebanon Town Council in Ohio.

Democratic Farm and Labor Party

After World War I caused a radical imbalance between agricultural prices, workers’ wages and retail prices, the Farmer-Labor emerged in Minnesota in 1918 as farmers and workers sought a populist answer to their problems. The party existed as a successful state party in Minnesota until 1944 when it merged with the Democratic Party, but the party did elect candidates to the United States House of Representatives in elections from 1918 to 1942. Currently affiliated with the Democratic Party, candidates that run as Democratic Farm and Labor candidates in Minnesota are actually not third party candidates, but candidates affiliated and caucusing with the Democratic Party.


Yes, there are politicians who choose to not identify with any political party: several in fact. Funnily enough, in a weird coincidence, all of the independendent federal candidates elected to office are white men. When in office, these politicians often choose to caucus with one of the major political parties, like Bernie Sanders with the Democrats in the Senate or Rusty Kidd in Georgia’s House of Representatives who caucused with Republicans.


Candidates who identified with the Tea Party in 2010 or “resistance” today in 2018 are not independent candidates if they ran as Republicans or Democrats, respectively. These movements were just that movements or brands that influenced the platforms and candidates of the two major political parties that were party to major political movements.

While Bernie Sanders ran as an Independent candidate in his candidacies for Senate, the House of Representatives and local office, he ran for the Democratic nomination for President as a Democrat. If he was nominated for the ticket with the majority of Democratic primary votes and won the majority of Electoral College votes, he would have been a Democratic President like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.


Even MORE confusing for voters is when candidates can run under multiple parties or under the two major political parties by a different name. Small parties increase their influence on elections through “electoral fusion” in which two or more political parties on a ballot list the same candidate, grouping the votes for that candidate from the major political party typically and the third party of concern. This practice was widespread in the United States, but due to complaints and outcry from the two major political parties against the success of minor political parties in doing this, the practice was banned in 18 states by 1907 with the practice only legal in eight states today.

For instance, Donald Trump appeared on the 2016 presidential ballot in California with two political parties by his name, as the nominee of the Republican Party and the American Independent Party, a small right-wing political party famous for nominating former Governor George Wallace in 1968 on a segregationist platform against Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. He was California’s first “fusion presidential candidate” in at least eighty years.

Fusion is most popular in New York City, where it has been used as a weapon against candidates with most legislative and judicial elections won by candidates that have been endorsed by multiple parties. For instance, Andrew Cuomo did not just run as the Democratic candidate for Governor, but also had to garner the endorsements of liberal-leaning third parties to make sure a primary challenger did not beat him in 2014. Cynthia Nixon might try to revive the fusion strategy to align independents to vote against Cuomo in the New York Democratic primary on June 26, 2018. The Independence Party of New York, Working Families Party, and Conservative Party of New York State are a few who participate in this practice.


New party organizations must register with the FEC when they raise or spend money over certain dollar amounts in connection with a federal election. If a party organization will be active only in state or local elections, it doesn’t need to register with the FEC. It’s your country, and you can start a third party with your own platform, officers and candidates if you want to. Then it’s just a matter of getting on the ballot.

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