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ThePlumLIneGS whorunsgov plumline
Posted at 11:10 AM ET, 11/25/2011

Third-party goofiness

The Post today has an update about the progress of Americans Elect, which depending on your point of view is either the organization dedicated to opening up the political system to break the two-party duopoly on offices, or the shadowy stalking horse for a third-party run that refuses to reveal its donors.

What you need to know about these sorts of things is that “successful” third-party runs are traditionally some combination of presidential weakness and finding someone with a big enough ego to go through with it. The first condition is already met, since Barack Obama’s approval ratings have been mostly hovering in the low 40s for some time now. The second condition? We don’t know. “Successful” third-party candidates should either have plenty of political success or plenty of cash or both, so we’ll see if anyone from that group does it.The other thing to know about “successful” third-party runs for the presidency is that they are very, very, likely to yield something between John Anderson’s 7% in 1980 and Ross Perot’s 19% in 1992.

In other words, success is getting to be included in nationally televised debates, and treated seriously by the press. If you define success as actually winning, there’s very little chance of achieving that. And, no, there’s little evidence that these candidates have much effect on much of anything else, either, despite the persistent myth that Ross Perot put the deficit on the agenda in 1992.Meanwhile, the silliest part of the profile was Americans Elect’s claim that they are a nominating process, not a party.

Huh? Political scientists actually have fierce debates about exactly what political parties are, but if there’s a consensus on anything it’s probably that the job of selecting candidates to run for office is very close to the core of what political parties do. See for more Seth Masket’s excellent takedowns here and here. Not that there’s anything wrong, other than the likely futility of it, in forming a new party. But the really annoying thing to me at any rate is that the folks who do these things tend to believe that something about the political process is responsible for the failure of public policy to conform to their preferences. The truth is that we have bitter disagreements between the political parties because a lot of people have intense, honest, and perfectly legitimate disagreements over policy. Or, in other words, because that’s what happens in democracies. As James Madison observed long ago, the only way to get rid of squabbling, petty politicians is to eliminate freedom, and that’s a cure much worse than the disease.

By  |  11:10 AM ET, 11/25/2011

 
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