2008: The Year of Change – Or Plus Ca Change…?
Early indications were that 2008 might be a banner year for third parties. It wasn’t. In fact, it was downright disappointing. And although the excitement surrounding the historic Barack Obama campaign was partly responsible for that, the usual suspects – ballot access, unfair subsidies, and two-is-company, three’s-a-crowd debate rules – played their roles in the farce as well. The nation, souring on a war of choice in Iraq that had no end in sight, had rejected the Republicans in 2006 and given control of the US House of Representatives to the Democrats, despite widespread skepticism that the Democrats represented a real alternative. The indispensable Richard Winger crunched the numbers and found that in 2006, a full 5% of the votes for the “top office” on each state ballot – usually governor or US senator – went to independents and minor-party candidates. This was the second-best midterm showing since 1934: the best had been the previous midterm election in 2002, when the comparable figure was 5.3%. The worst midterm total was in 1954, at the height of the Red Scare, when only 0.6% of the votes for the top office went to non-Republicans/Democrats, while the best showing – a remarkable 16.3% – was in 1914, as Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive “Bull Moose” Party, the Socialist Party of Eugene V. Debs, and the Prohibition Party polled well.1