But this year is shaping up as an almost tectonic shift in American electoral politics, as early polls already give third party candidates as much as 8% of the total vote.
Pulling support away from Obama:
Ralph Nader--running this year as an unaffiliated independent and polling as high as 8% in some key states.
Cynthia McKinney--already the presumptive nominee of the Green Party. Former Congresswoman McKinney is (to my mind, anyway) something of a nutcase. But she's the most-recognized figure the Greens have ever run (except Nader himself), and she is directly going after the African-American vote. Check out her most recent endorsement by editor Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report (h/t Independent Political Report):
Two candidates with almost identical positions on virtually every issue fight to exhaustion over non-substantial concerns for months, and will doubtless soon celebrate having achieved “unity.” Tweedle-dum Hillary Clinton and Tweedle-dee Barack Obama may or may not emerge from the primary battles as friends - but what does that matter? “Their policies are interchangeable, as are their advisors…. All serve the same masters: the financial corporations.” The general election campaign, already begun, will see Obama and McCain draw politically closer each day, until at the end “the voters’ choice will be just a matter of personality and individual taste” - and race.
Pulling support away from McCain:
Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party is a clearly far more conservative candidate that John McCain--he favors declaring the unborn to be citizens, terminating US membership in the UN, and more. . . .
And, of course, there's Bob Barr of the Libertarian Party, who may already be killing McCain in Georgia and North Carolina, to say the least. . . .
As we go into summer, as much as 10% of the American electorate is registering sufficient dissatisfaction with the candidates thrown up by the two-party duopoly to say that they would consider voting for a third-party candidate. In various battleground states like North Carolina or Michigan, the McCain and Obama campaigns are quietly worried that third-party candidates might actually tip the election to their opponent.
The major problem for all of these third party efforts is ballot access.
The Libertarian Party will be on the ballot in 48+ states (and possibly DC)
The Green Party appears to have current ballot access in 20 states and active campaigns for access in at least four more states.
The Constitution Party has access in 20 states, with drives essentially complete in three more states, and drives under way in many others.
Ralph Nader has just gained access in his third state--Arizona.
Because the US Constitution does not specify federal ballot access standards, each state is free to create its own.
In most states, the one thing that Democrats and Republicans agree upon is that there shouldn't ever be more than two parties on the ballot.
The best brief explanation of just how bad the situation is, and how destructive to democracy it can be is found on Ralph Nader's site:
Check out the requirements in these nightmare states: (And remember, we need to collect double the number required in each state because many are arbitrarily invalidated.)
Texas, requires 74,108 valid signatures between March 5 and May 8. Deplorably, anyone who has voted in the primary cannot sign the petition.
Oklahoma, requires 43,913 by July 15.
North Carolina requires 69,743 by June 12. In 2000, it cost Pat Buchanan $250,000 to collect enough signatures for ballot access in that state.
Indiana requires 32,742 by June 20.
Georgia requires 42,489 by July 8th
Ballot access was much easier in the nineteenth century. Voters had more candidates and small parties to choose from. Ballot access is much, much easier in other Western democracies.
As a result small parties were able to pioneer the great social justice movements such as abolition of slavery, women’s right to vote, and protections for workers and farmers.
Currently, ballot obstruction can consume upwards of a quarter million dollars in a federal campaign’s budget to get on the ballot in one or more states.
Without candidates’ rights to be on the ballot—in a country where ninety percent of House districts are one-party dominated heavily due to gerrymandering—voters are becoming further disenfranchised.
If you are reading this, and you are either a Democrat or a Republican, ask yourself what non-partisan purpose is served by restricting the political options of American citizens to only the choice between Ass and Pachyderm?
My progressive friends tell me all the time that we should emulate the democracies of Europe--virtually all of which are multi-party democracies.
The answer, unfortunately, is that for Democratic and Republican partisans, winning has become (a long time ago) more important than having a vibrant, functioning democracy.