The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

It’s time to retire the ‘third’ party conceit

An attendee wears a U.S. flag button during the Turning Point USA's Student Action Summit held at the Tampa Convention Center on July 23 in Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

There is a 62-year-old woman in Baltimore County, Md., who has an unusual distinction: She is the only registered member of the Grass Roots Party in the United States.

Maryland is also home to the only registered member of the Natural Party and the only registered member of the Tax Party. It has three members of the Bull Moose Party, though there are more than 50 across the United States. It also has three members of the political party that is my personal favorite: the Anarchist Party. Like being a member of the Destroy All Clubs Club.

Most Anarchists (that is, party members, not actual anarchists) live in Pennsylvania. In that state, there are 44 Anarchist Party voters, out of more than 7 million third-party voters in general. There are more than 30 political parties with which Pennsylvanians have registered, from the American Party to the Whigs. (Amazingly, only three of the state’s 42 Whig Party members are older than 65.)

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The point is simple. All the discussion in this country about the need for a third party — that is, an alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties — ignores that we already have a lot of political parties. In fact, in the states that report voter registration by party, 1 out of every 42 voters is already registered with a third party. (This is according to Washington Post analysis of voter data from the firm L2.) The 3.3 million third-party members in the reporting states make up 1 in 64 voters nationally.

The state with the highest density of third-party registrants is Alaska, with 1 in 11 voters

This is actual party members, mind you; not just “decline to state” or “independent.” It does, however, include members of the American Independent Party, a right-wing party that appears to benefit from voters mistakenly thinking that it’s the proper choice to register as an independent.

This is also just voter registration. There’s a whole other set of parties that have filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission but may not have registered voters anywhere. Parties like United Change (which may be limited in membership by the typo in its URL), the National Cannabis Party and Black Lives Matter. There are plenty of “unity” themed ones, too, from Iowa Patriots United to the United America Party to the Unity Party.

I included those in that list because they have actual domains. A number of FEC-registered political parties do not, including:

  • The American Party of 1776
  • Apple Party
  • Colours Christian Political Party
  • Diversity Matters
  • Jeffersonian Party
  • Liberty4Life
  • Patriots Rising
  • Rebels of Freedom
  • The Rising Tide Party
  • Unicorn Party
  • The Welcome Party

There are also several more “unity” parties, including United Change, the Global Unification Party and Messiah United, which honestly sounds more like an oft-relegated Welsh soccer team.

Should one choose, a voter might seek to be affiliated with one of two parties founded by a gentleman in Modesto, Calif., the Order of the Dracul or Societas Signum Draconis — the Order of the Dragon. The policy platforms of these parties is unclear, but I would assume that they are diametrically opposed to the Homo Sapiens Americanus Party, also registered with the FEC.

I am also unclear on the political focus of the Intergalactical Global And Local Religious Government and Political Party, which you may know better as IGALRGAPP. Or perhaps not.

As I noted last week when a cadre of former politicians and elected officials announced a new “third” party — Forward! — what people are demanding when they seek a new “third” party isn’t really a third party, as such. It’s a party that can serve as a viable counterweight to the two most dominant parties in the United States. It’s not a call for a third party; it’s a call for the end to a system dominated by only two parties. Being more direct about that aim would probably go a lot further toward diminishing the sense of failure that often accompanies these declarations that a new party has been willed into existence.

A newspaper in Delaware documents the views of two of the Forward Party’s candidates on one of the party’s points of focus. The “evils” of racial injustice “can only be ended by such abolition of oppressive privilege as is set forth in our platform,” the candidates wrote in a questionnaire, “in organizing the Forward Party in Delaware as a part of the nationwide movement for a new national political party.”

This statement was published in October of ’22 — 1922. The Forward Party one century ago failed to establish a new national political party of any significance.

History does not record what became of any prior political organizations centered on the needs of dragons.

Lenny Bronner contributed to this report.