To those of you who saw the US Election Blagger’s Guide in Issue 2 of this year’s Wessex Scene, you may have seen the following statement: “the US election system is essentially a two-party system”. Essentially is the optimum word here.
Indeed, for most of us, the US presidential race is a straight-out battle between the big two: Romney vs. Obama; Republicans vs. Democrats; Red vs. Blue. Yet, in more literal terms, the US political system is far from a two-party system.
In tomorrow’s election, there will be an array of ‘other’ candidates and parties fighting it out for the White House; 25 of them will be on at least one states’ ballot. From Jack Fellure of the Prohibition party, Tom Stevens of the Objectivist Party and plain old Barbara Dale Washer (to name a few) these men and women represent a wide variation of views from different swathes of the US public.
And that’s not even including the many, many others who are running without managing to get ballot status in any state; “Mad Mike” Hughes, Robert “Naked Cowboy” Burck and “Average Joe” Schriner just a few of the weird and wonderful names on the list with my particular favourite being the ambiguous Love-22.
Yet, these candidates are essentially forgotten about. Excluded from polls, media coverage and the debates, there are excluded from the thought of the American people. Of course, candidates such as ‘Love-22’ should be somewhat marginalized; much in the same way as the UK’s Official Monster Raving Loony Party is done, in that it is not a serious proposition
There are a few candidates that are, however; representing third-parties that have a large enough backing to be included on most ballot slips – and, more importantly, offer a clear alternative to the two-party dominance of the Republicans and Democrats.
Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate – along with her running-mate Cheri Honkala – is one of those alternatives, offering a protection of social security and Medicare as well as cutting military spending amongst a ‘Green Deal’ – the creation of many green jobs. Despite being endorsed by such luminaries as intellect Noam Chomsky and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges – and being a choice for 85% of US voters – Stein was barred from being involved in the recent presidential debates. In fact, she and Honkala were actually arrested whilst trying to enter the second debate.
These candidates, by attainting enough state ballot positions as to be a choice for over 80% of the US population, deserve their fair share of media coverage.
Gary Johnson, a former New Mexico Governor – who attempted to run for the Republican nomination – is another widely-supported candidate with policies of an immediate Afghanistan withdrawal, the relaxation of drugs law and a reassessment of the federal government’s role. He was also never invited to participate despite being the candidate for the Libertarian Party, which will be placed on 43 out of the 50 states ballot list.
Virgil Goode, a pro-life former Virginian Congressman, represents the Constitution party which wants to end illegal immigration, drill for oil in Alaska as well as to cut foreign aid and education to balance the budget. Rocky Anderson is another going for the presidency; the former Salt Lake City mayor only formed his Justice Party last year, yet has had large ballot success.
These candidates have 0% chance in the election; but are the best four examples of candidates that deserve better public and media attention. You may not agree with all their policies, but by attainting enough state ballot positions as to be a choice for over 80% of the US population, they deserve their fair share of coverage.
Even more so considering the effort, money, support and time required to get such a privileged positions; in many states, you need nearly 3/4 of a million signatures to get on the ballot – a task which requires in excess of $100,000. The law even have ways to make it extremely difficult for these parties to make any inroads into the US public’s conscience; with far more stringent rules imposed upon them. In Maryland, for example, thousands of signatures for the Greens and Libertarians were annulled after they were declared illegible or inconsistent with voters’ registration details.
The media is also to blame, with a essential blackout over these parties. The Republicans and Democrats control the way the presidential debates are laid out with no room for other candidates – partly due to the fear that third-party and independent candidates will ask out-of-the-box questions. In fact, these third-parties had to hold their own presidential debate to gain any sort of commercial coverage.
Despite there low-key positions, however, these candidates may have a say in the election; by impacting the votes of the two main candidates.
The third-party share may only change the vote by a small margin, but in a election this tight, it could change everything.
In Ohio, for example, Stein, Goode and Johnson are on the ballot. A poll in the state suggests that Romney and Obama are tied at around 49% with Obama holding a slight edge. When third-candidates are introduced into the poll, however, Obama’s percentage falls to 48%, but more critically, Romney’s support decreases to 44%. The third candidates in this case has siphoned off much of the GOP candidate’s support. The same story has been seen in polls from Virginia and Colorado. It may be only a small margin, but in a election this tight, it could change everything.
It is a far cry from any position of power though. Yet, without better media coverage, the vicious circle cannot be broken. If these candidates remain unknown, they will be unable to gain finance. Without finance, they will unable to campaign in order to generate more votes. Without votes, they will remain anonymous – barely noticed or seen as wasted votes. Only with better finance or media coverage will they generate the momentum needed to break the stranglehold of the Republicans and Democrats.
In Britain, the system of a two+one system is little better, but the electoral system at least allows smaller parties to have representatives as MPs, hence make inroads into parliament. The third party, the Liberal Democrats, also allowed a chance for dissatisfied voters to make clear their feelings towards the two main parties – the only ones effectively able to win – by voting for them and other smaller parties.
Instead, in the US, the choice is between two starkly similar alternatives. Even those Democrats unhappy with Obama will likely vote for him rather than for Romney. Approval for the Democrats and Republicans are at an all time low – with the most ‘other’ candidates than ever before and much voter dissatisfaction. A successful third-party could challenge this bloc.
Instead, these parties are excluded from the same debates and media coverage that would allow them to do so, therefore removing the very choice of an alternative from the eyes of many Americans.
An undemocratic practice at the heart of the world’s most famous democracy.