Third Parties: Obstacles Facing Third Parties

The obstacles facing third parties in the USA.
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Do third parties in the USA face any obstacles?
Third parties in the USA face a number of significant obstacles:
1) The electoral system.
2) Federal campaign finance laws.
3) State ballot access laws.
4) Lack of resources.
5) Lack of media coverage.
6) Lack of well-known, well-qualified candidates.
7) Regarded as too ideological.
8) The tactics of the two major parties.
Why is the electoral system an obstacle for third parties?
The first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all system, which is used for every election in the USA - federal, state and local - makes life difficult for third parties. For example, Ross Perot won 19% of the vote in 1992 but won no Electoral College votes. This is particularly true of national third parties. Regional third parties, such as George Wallace's American Independent Party in 1968, fare better.
Why are federal campaign finance laws an obstacle for third parties?
The way candidates can qualify for 'matching funds' puts third-party candidates at a disadvantage. Major-party candidates qualify by raising at least $5,000 in contributions of $250 or less in at least 20 states. But third-party candidates qualify only by getting 5% of the popular vote. Not only is this a difficult hurdle, but it means that the party can qualify in only the next round of elections. Hence Ross Perot could not qualify for matching funds in 1992, but his Reform Party did qualify in 1996 and 2000 by virtue of getting more than 5% in the previous election.
Why are state ballot access laws an obstacle for third parties?
The way third-party candidates have to qualify to get their names on the ballot paper in each state makes life difficult for third parties. States require third-party candidates to present a petition signed by a certain number of registered voters in the state. While Tennessee requires only 25 signtures, in Montana the figure is 5% of all registered voters. This takes time and money.
Why is a lack of resources an obstacle for third-parties?
Third-party candidates are generally short of resources - especially financial resources. They find fundraising difficult. People are reluctant to give money to parties they see as sure losers, creating something of a 'catch 22' situation.
Why is a lack of media coverage an obstacle for third parties?
Third parties also tend to miss out on media coverage. Newspapers and television usually ignore them. They cannot afford much of anything in the way of television advertisements. They are generally excluded from the televised presidential debates.
Why is a lack of well-known, well-qualified candidates an obstacle for third parties?
This again is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Third-party candidates are unlikely to be household names and are unlikely to have held any significant political office.
Why is being regarded as too ideological an obstacle for third-parties?
Because the two major parties are so all-embracing in their ideologies, third parties are often left only the ideological fringes of the political spectrum, as in the case of the Constitution Party or the Socialist Party. Others are easily linked to 'extremism' by their opponents. The following slogan, for example, was used against third-party candidate governor George Wallace during his 1968 presidential campaign: 'If you liked Hitler, you'll love Wallace'.
Why are the tactics of the two major parties an obstacle for third parties?
If a third-party candidate does still manage to win significant support (such as Wallace in 1968 or Perot in 1992), one or both of the two major parties will eventually adopt from of their policies. So, for example, Nixon pursued what he called his 'southern strategy' in 1972 to woo ex-Wallace voters. Both Governor Bill Clinton and President George H. W. Bush addressed the federal budget deficit issue in the 1992 campaign after Ross Perot had got so much support by talking about it. In this sense, third parties can be seen to be the 'winners' - losing the election but winning the policy debate.
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