The Working Families Party was first formed in 1998 in New York by a coalition of labor unions, community organizations and political activist groups that were dissatisfied with the ability of the two-party system to represent their views. New York’s Working Families Party has led to the founding of similar Working Families Parties in Delaware, Vermont, Connecticut, South Carolina and Oregon. Although the party occasionally has put forward its own candidates, it more often backs a Democrat or Republican candidate, a practice known as fusion voting.
In 1998, the Working Families Party first made its mark by endorsing the Democratic candidate for New York governor, Peter F. Valone. He lost the election to George Pataki, but Valone got a little more than 50,000 votes from the Working Families Party, enough to grant the new party a position on future ballots. When the Green Party and Liberal Party lost their ballot positions in 2002, the Working Families Party was New York’s only liberal minor party remaining.
New York’s election laws allow for fusion voting, in which more than one party endorses a single candidate. This allows voters to feel that they can support smaller political parties such as the Working Families Party without wasting a vote on an unelectable candidate. Fusion voting also has been an effective tool to get Democrats and Republicans to address issues that concern the minor party.
Built from a grassroots base of labor and community activists, the Working Family Party’s agenda revolves around issues affecting working class families. The party members believe that elected officials should be accountable for the decisions they make and the policies they support. Working Family Party members support an increase in the minimum wage, guaranteed sick pay and paid family leave. Affordable housing, green technologies in the home and workplace, healthcare and public transportation also are issues of concern to the party and its supporters.
Traditionally, these policies would have been seen as the Democratic platform. In fact, many of the candidates endorsed by the party run as Democrats. Party supporters, despite taking an active role in the party’s direction and voting for party candidates, often are registered as Democrats, Republicans or Independents. Many voters, though, felt that their voice was being drowned out by well-funded lobbyists and saw the Working Families Party as a way of regaining the attention of their elected officials. In some elections, the party has endorsed receptive Republican candidates over Democrats who seemed to be disconnected.