Well Organized Third Party Movements Can Have An Impact

Dear Everyone;

Quite by accident I came across this report on a book published about the Ross Perot 3rd Party movement. It was in depth study covering 1,700 randomly selected Perot supporters and the results. This is the report on the book and there is a paragraph I highlighted which we should think about as Libertarians.

If any of you doubt 3rd Party movements can have an impact - look at the Socialist Party agenda and see how many of their programs have been adopted or adapted. Social Security - Medicare - Welfare Programs. It's a wonder there is a Socialist Party as all of their programs have been co-opted.

Now if only Libertarians could come up with a well organized - well funded program with a real national leader who could masterfully articulate the Libertarian Way and get more than the magical 5% - 10% - 15% - 20% in the polls ( the percentage amounts vary based on how badly the opposition wants to oppose a thrid party candidiate). The 20% figure is when THE MEDIA starts to take notice.

Oh Well - maybe in '08 we'll have such an organization after the expected blood-letting at the National Convention and everybody joins together as one big tent happy family. Yeah Right.

Ron Getty
SF Libertarian


In late 2005, the University of Michigan Press published Three’s A Crowd: The Dynamic of Third Parties, Ross Perot, and Republican Resurgence. The authors are political scientists Ronald B. Rapoport and Walter J. Stone.
This is more than just a book. It is the result of the largest study ever made of the activists of any third party movement in the United States, a study that has been going on for the last fourteen years, and is still not completely finished.
Rapoport, Stone, and more than 30 political science graduate students working with them, were given permission to examine some of Ross Perot’s 1992 campaign records. Specifically, the authors enjoyed access to the list of names and contact information for the 500,000 individuals who contacted the Perot campaign in 1992 and wanted to volunteer. The project selected approximately 1,500 such individuals randomly, gained their cooperation, and then interviewed them, not only in 1992, but in 1994, 1996, 2000 and 2004.

The book is not just a study of the Perot movement. It is a study of what happened to the individuals who became energized by the Perot movement, and what political activity they have engaged in ever since 1992.

The study also examined how the two major parties reacted to the Perot movement. It shows that in 1993 and 1994, the Republican Party made a massive effort to convert Perot supporters to the Republican cause. The book, using a great amount of data, beyond the interviews, concludes that the Republican sweep of Congress in 1994 would not have occurred without the Perot movement. The book specifically concludes, "Had Perot not run in 1992, Republicans would have picked up only fourteen seats, and the Democrats would have maintained their majority in the House."

The Republicans lost quite a few House seats in 1996. The book shows that Republicans who captured Democratic seats in 1994 were far more likely to be re-elected in 1996 if they supported the Perot agenda during their first terms.

One might think that voters who voted for Perot in 1992 were naturally the type of people who would have voted Republican for Congress in 1994 anyway. The books rebuts this idea. The individuals who worked for Perot in 1992 were personally changed by their experience. "These results show that if there had been no Perot campaign in 1992, there would have been nothing to engage the energies of volunteers, stimulate their commitment to the cause, and sensitize them to the stakes in future political conflicts (page 227)."

It is easy to forget that the Republican victory in the 1994 mid-term elections, which ended 40 years of Democratic control of the House, was unexpected. It is also easy to forget that the 1994 Republican campaign, built on the "Contract with America," was designed to appeal to the Perot movement. The "Contract with America" supported congressional term limits, term limits for committee chairs in Congress, and an end to labor laws that excluded congress itself from its provisions.

The book concludes, "The logic of third parties compels us to recognize that they, too, are an integral part of the American two-party system…Movements such as Perot’s can have an enduring impact on the two-party system, compelling it to respond to interests and forces to which it might otherwise be inattentive (pp. 238-239)." The book is a welcome sign of renewed interest in third parties and independent candidates among political scientists. It is surely the most important political science book on U.S. third parties since 1984, when three political scientists published Third Parties in America.