Political Science Professor: If You Want Choice In Politics, Turn To Third Parties

Professor J. David Gillespie

Dr. J. David Gillespie, a former professor and vice president of academic affairs at Presbyterian College, teaches political parties and third-party politics at the College of Charleston. He authored two books on third parties, more recently Challengers to Duopoly: Why Third Parties Matter in American Two-Party Politics. Though Gillespie's article focuses on ballot access inequity in South Carolina, this systemic problem is just as pervasive in Georgia.

From TheState.com - February 23, 2015 
Retrieved March 2, 2015

Choice lies right at the heart of democracy. Democracy empowers citizens to enter a free marketplace of ideas and choose from an array of candidates, parties, issue positions, policy alternatives and proposals for reform. It warms many Americans’ hearts to think that democracy is among this nation’s precious exports, its gift to the world.

But that isn’t us. Here in South Carolina all seven congressional districts are “safe.” Gerrymandering underwrites some of that safety. Two South Carolina GOP congressmen did not face even token Democratic opposition last year.

Sadly, what we find here also exists in varying degrees in other states deemed red or blue. No wonder there is congressional arteriosclerosis, the inability to legislate. Incumbents in safe districts need not fear the general election. Their worry lies in being primaried out by a dogmatic within-party challenger attacking them for being too accommodating across the aisle.

Political scientists like to feature our General Assembly to exemplify electoral non-competitiveness. In 2008, for example, voters in only 40 House districts could choose between two general-election candidates. In the other 84, they enjoyed no more choice than what pre-Gorbachev Soviet voters found.

That has long been the pattern here. In state House elections in 2014, only 31 of the 124 races had a choice between a Republican and a Democrat, and every single one of the 111 incumbents on the general election ballot was re-elected. (Just two incumbents lost their primaries.)

Third parties want to offer choices. Over the years since 1930, our two-party system has really morphed into a duopoly — a system engineered by Democratic and Republican policymakers to pull up the ladder against minor-party and independent challengers and to limit voters’ choices. Through most of our history, third parties have found that the marketplace of ideas has been less than free and accessible to them. Even so, “minor” parties have played major parts, charting a course, years ahead of the majors, to abolition, women’s suffrage, child labor laws, Social Security and scores of other crucial reforms.

They may seem invisible to the non-observant, but third parties offer choices in South Carolina...

Your ballot next time may carry the names of some Greens and Libertarians and maybe a Constitution Party nominee or candidates from the United Citizens, Working Families, or Labor party.

...South Carolinians, like all Americans, should wish and work for stronger Democratic parties in red states, for stronger Republican parties in blue states and for third parties everywhere a level playing field. That would be a blessing for democracy and the voter by increasing the number and range of voter choices.

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