Third party a popular idea; experts say it won’t happen
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Oct 14, 2013 | 3742 views |  0 comments | 58 58 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Piedmont resident Gerald Willis shows off some memorabilia that he has had since running for President back in 1984. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Piedmont resident Gerald Willis shows off some memorabilia that he has had since running for President back in 1984. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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In thisAP file photo, George Wallace campaigns during his 1968 bid for president under the American Independent Party. With the government shutdown and the threat of a default, many Americans again favor a third party.
In thisAP file photo, George Wallace campaigns during his 1968 bid for president under the American Independent Party. With the government shutdown and the threat of a default, many Americans again favor a third party.
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Gerald Willis was an unknown when he ran for president in 1984, and he wasn’t going to risk running for an unknown party.

The Piedmont man, then a state representative, who ran as a Democrat in the 1984 election, said even though his own party disowned him at the polls, and several offers from various third parties came his way asking him to be their nominee, he said he was determined to run as a Democrat.

“I believed in the Democratic Party at the time,” said Willis on Monday. “I wanted to be a Democrat.”

(Although Willis said he resisted offers to run under a different party, he is listed as a nominee for the American Independent Party on the 1984 California presidential primary ballot, according to the the California Secretary of State’s office.)

Willis said if he ran for public office tomorrow, he’d be a Republican, but believes now more than ever amid a federal government shutdown, Americans are sick of having to choose between just two parties.

And a recent Gallup poll appears to back that assertion. According to the study, released on Friday, 60 percent of Americans believe the country needs a third major political party.

“I think there are several factors in play that explain that,” said Steven Brown, a political science professor at Auburn University. “For the last 20 years we’ve seen a decrease in the numbers of registered Democrats and Republicans. More and more we see people who label themselves as independents.”

Such people are independent of the two political parties dominant in American politics, and also largely independent of one another, said Richard Fording, a political science professor at the University of Alabama.

“I think a lot of Republicans in Alabama wouldn’t want to see the Republican Party split up,” Fording said. “But I bet if you asked all those people what party they would want to see, you’d get very different answers.”

In other words, just because a lot of people want another party, it doesn’t mean most people agree on what that party should be.

Fording said while he doesn’t find the poll’s numbers surprising, he would be shocked if a third major party emerged anytime soon.

“Unfortunately, I don’t see how we could ever get to having another party,” said Fording, explaining that a patchwork of state balloting laws makes it difficult for outside parties to get on ballots in one or two states, let alone all 50.

“The ballot requirements are too stacked and rigged for the Democrat-and-Republican system we have,” Fording said. “It’s impossible for a new party to break through.”

Fording and Brown both point to the last time a presidential candidate outside the two established parties made any impact on the national level as proof of a system unwelcoming to outsiders.

“Ross Perot was very popular, he had something like 12 percent of the vote,” Brown said of the Reform Party candidate who unsuccessfully campaigned for president in 1992. “But he didn’t even get a single electoral vote.”

And while an Alabamian ran one of the more successful independent presidential campaigns in U.S. history – George Wallace received 46 electoral votes in 1968 as the nominee of the American Independent Party, winning five Southern states – there seems today to be little third party action within the state. Online directories for Alabama chapters of the Green Party, Libertarian Party and Constitution Party, list vacant office chairs and incorrect and out-of-date contact information.

Glen Browder, a professor emeritus of political science at Jacksonville State University and former congressman from Alabama’s 3rd District, said the closest thing the state has ever experienced to a third-party success story was Lowell Barron’s state Senate run in 1983. Barron’s campaign was notable for having the only write-in candidate to win an election in Alabama history – a feat that Browder said would be almost as impossible to pull off today as winning an election as a third-party candidate.

“They’re usually driven by big personalities, strong issues or lots of money,” Browder said. “They don’t usually all accumulate. You have to have all three if you’re a third-party candidate.”

Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.

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