In the US, a third party, is any political party outside the major two, the Republican and Democrat parties. These groups are usually formed by people who feel disenfranchised by the big two, or feel that the people are not being effectively represented by either of the major parties. Voting for a third party candidate is still frequently referred to as throwing away a vote, however, and third parties are often considered “spoilers.” Ross Perot ran as a Reform Party candidate in 1992, for example, and won nearly 19% of the popular vote. He is often credited by Republicans with helping Bill Clinton win the presidency.
In 2000, Democrats blamed Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate, for the election of George W. Bush. As politics become heated and controversial issues abound, more people are becoming politically active. They are becoming more educated about what is going on in the world by utilizing many different news sources. Those who feel they are being pandered to or abandoned by the major parties may vote for an outside candidate, even if it is only to send a message.
Instead of continuing to vote for the “lesser of two evils,” many voters on both sides want more choices. Third parties are currently at a disadvantage in terms or recognition, funding, air time, debates, and ballot access, however, so are often unable to offer voters much of a choice. Until a third party can compete with Republicans and Democrats, a vote for one of these candidates will continue to be viewed negatively by many people. The irony is that without a high enough percentage of votes, these parties will never be recognized as major parties.
Third party candidates have filed lawsuits to obtain fair treatment and access, and a great number of people are pushing for more choices. Many see the major parties as two sides of the same coin. Change is brought about by having more choices, and third parties may become the vehicle of that change. Even when a third party doesn’t win an election, it may be able to bring certain issues to the forefront and cause Republicans and Democrats to address those issues.
The largest third party in the United States to date is the Constitution Party, followed by the Green Party and the Libertarian Party. There are several other smaller parties, all vying for precious votes.