The United States is home to more than 54 political parties — 37 of which have had candidates run for the presidency. Third parties have had a major influence on U.S. policy and political debate despite their minor presence in Congress — currently only one U.S. senator and one member of the House of Representatives is an independent. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Socialists popularized the women’s suffrage movement. They advocated for child labor laws in 1904 and, along with the Populist Party, introduced the notion of a 40-hour work week, which led to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. The most significant obstacle facing third party candidates is the winner-take-all system. In most states, the presidential candidate with the highest percentage of votes gets all the state’s electoral votes. A more comprehensive list of third parties can be found here.
- Libertarian: Favors a dramatic reduction in government functions, taxation and regulation and takes a hands-off approach to social issues such as drug use, prostitution, and abortion. Favors as little government intrusion into personal freedoms as possible. Libertarians tend to be fiscally conservative and liberal on social issues.
- Green: Promotes environmentalism, social justice and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans to receive the same civil liberties and rights others enjoy. Party members typically oppose war. The party tends to be liberal on fiscal and social issues.
- Constitution: Formed as the Taxpayers Party in 1992, this party is socially and fiscally conservative. It believes the two major parties, the Republicans and Democrats, have expanded government beyond the powers granted in Constitution. In that way it is much like the Libertarian Party. However, the Constitution Party opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. It also opposes amnesty for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, wants to disband the Federal Reserve and return to the gold standard.
- Socialist: Strives to establish a radical democracy that places people's lives under their own control -- a classless, feminist, socialist society free of racism, sexism, homophobia or transphobia, in which people cooperate at work, at home, and in the community. We are committed to the abolition of capitalism through the creation of a socialist society based on compassion, empathy, and respect as well as the development of new social structures. They call for social ownership and democratic control of productive resources, for a guarantee to all of the right to participate in societal production, and to a fair share of society’s product, in accordance with individual needs.
Once you have explored the various third party groups in the United States, answer the following questions:
- What is a Libertarian?
- Are political parties helpful or harmful to American democracy?
- Why are third parties important?