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Would a third major party ease Congressional gridlock?

October 13, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Do the Republican and Democratic parties do an adequate job representing the American people or is a third major party needed? According to Gallup, the percentage of people saying a third party is needed has hit an all-time high. Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: A poll this week got our attention.

For the past 10 years, Gallup has asked: Do the Republican and Democratic parties do an adequate job representing the American people or do they do such a poor job that a third major party is needed?

Well this week, those saying the two major parties did an adequate job hit an all-time low, and the percentage of people saying a third party is needed hit an all-time high.

For more on what this means, we’re joined from Washington by Nathan Gonzales, he’s the deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

So what do you make of these findings?

NATHAN GONZALES: Well I think this third party question is another way of asking the congressional job approval question right now — and for many Americans, they think there’s too much gridlock, they don’t agree with what Congress is doing, and they’re extremely open to another possibility. So when prompted — would you want another third party — they say sure, we don’t like what Republicans or Democrats are doing so let’s look for another way.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So is this indicative of why the tea party’s popularity has sustained itself over time?

NATHAN GONZALES: I think the tea party is a slightly different animal. It would be natural to say the tea party is in place to become the next third party across the country, but the tea party has never shown a desire to become that party. I think it’s more of a reform movement within the Republican party. I think the tea party revels in its decentralization and I think to be a legitimate electoral third party threat you would need to be much more organized, have more of a central leadership in order to win races up and down the ballot.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Despite the growing sentiment for a third party, aren’t there huge structural obstacles to creating one?

NATHAN GONZALES: I think there are a number of issues. One — structural issues for any potential third party. Our system is I think biased toward two parties: Republicans and Democrats. If you’re a third party in most states it’s much more difficult just to get ballot access. You need more signatures and you don’t have the party infrastructure in place to gather those signatures.

I think it’s also structurally a problem for a third party in raising money. You don’t have a natural base to go to from one party or the other. But I almost think more than the structural disadvantages for a third party is an ideological challenges.

I think what this question — what the openness to a third party shows is a dissatisfaction with Republicans and Democrats. These people know what they don’t want because they’re seeing gridlock.

But when you start to ask people, okay let’s get a third party — what are we for? That’s when it becomes much more difficult because people have different ideas of what the solution is, even though they all agree on the problem.

I think that would be a major struggle for a third party to really come up out of this.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There have been many serious third party candidates over the years. Then former President Theodore Roosevelt got 27 percent and carried six states in 1912. Former Alabama Governor George Wallace won 13.5 percent and won four states in 1968. And Ross Perot won nearly 19 percent of the vote in 1992. Is there a serious third party candidate who could emerge by 2016?

NATHAN GONZALES: Well I think every twelve years or so there is an appetite for a third-party candidate at the presidential level which you just talked about — and throw in Anderson in 1980.

But I think it’s going to have to be more than that in order to get a third party across the country. You have to get candidates in the Senate, in the U.S. House in place and win seats because that’s where the electoral power is going to come — in winning seats.

And so right now, in most cases, you see third-party candidates, they can get a significant chunk of the vote in a presidential race, maybe pick up a governorship or two — but it’s going to take more than that, more organization, more money in order to have a major widespread change across the country.

HARI SREENIVASAN Alright, Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, joining us from Washington — thanks so much for your time.

NATHAN GONZALES: Thank you.