Third Parties: Doomed for Failure?

Man carrying child shoulders at a political rally

They’re cropping up all over the place, waging a tug-of-war battle with one or both of the two major political parties.

They are known as Third Parties, regardless of what name tags they carry.

And even though their numbers are many, history has shown that third parties are short-lived and doomed for failure, almost from the start.

Clinton Rossiter, in “Parties and Politics in America,” Cornell University Press, 1960, stated that it is a notable fact that no third party in America has ever risen to become a major party, and that no major party has ever fallen to become a third party.

Yet, in almost every election, in Illinois and around the nation, it’s not unusual to see a third party slated on the ballot, far removed from the banner of Democratic and Republican Parties.

In a scholarly research paper, “A Changing Phenomenon: Non-Partisan Parties in Illinois Politics,” Dr. Robert Donaldson II, professor of Public Administration at Governors State University, said something “very alarming” is taking place in suburban politics in the state of Illinois.

Donaldson said this “powerful political force” consists of disgruntled elected officials, African Americans and other ethnic groups that have been excluded from the mainstream of the two major political parties.

Another side of the coin, is an increase in the number of African Americans moving into the suburbs; a broadening gulf between the haves and the have-nots; and the inability of the major parties to deal with problems until they reach the crisis state.

Donaldson said the purpose of the research paper, first presented at the 1989 National Conference of Black Political Scientists in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in March 1989, is to describe the new phenomenon that is taking place in Suburban Cook County and how political leaders in both major parties manipulate the electoral system in suburban politics by establishing new parties when it is to their benefit to win elections at all cost.

The nonpartisan parties that are proliferating in suburban Cook County can be described as a network of cliques which interact and cooperate when it is to their advantage,” Donaldson said in the study. “These parties are usually formed around the philosophy and ideology of a small group of individuals and are usually temporary. Some are usually launched by personalities rather than issues.”

In many instances, he added, the two major parties temporarily shed their major parties’ philosophy and ideology and come together as a coalition to run as nonpartisans when it is convenient for them and for their sole purpose.

In the April 4, 1989 general elections, 120 local municipalities in Cook County participated. At the time of these elections, some of the political leaders in the villages, towns and cities chose to establish nonpartisan parties rather than identify with the Democratic and Republican Parties, the report stated. However, these nonpartisan parties were temporary and tended to go out of existence after the general election.

Quoting William J. Crotty, “Political Parties and Political Behavior,” Allyn and Bacon, 1971, the report stated: “Nonpartisan elections tend to decrease involvement, interest, and turnout in elections; favor those of higher socioeconomic status; are more resistant than partisan-based electoral systems to social and political change; increase the advantages enjoyed by incumbents; result in less serious, less policy-oriented campaigns at the local levels; and are less effective in keeping officeholders accountable.”

Some party caucuses do not have written rules and many party meetings are often not announced to the public, the report stated. In many cases, party agendas are often manipulated. Friends, relatives, and close associates often dominate the selection of officers and the slate of candidates. In some cases, the slated candidates are assessed large sums of money. Discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and age are evident. The party caucus process tends to be secretive and many major decisions are made behind “closed doors” before the general meetings are held.

Donaldson noted a need for additional research study as to why political leaders Lyons, Norwood Park, Oak Park, Proviso, River Forest and Riverside, are reluctant to identify with the two major parties. He said Lyons, Oak Park and Proviso Townships are considered favorite townships for the Democratic Party.

Bloom and Rich Townships chose to abandon their party labels, and are “safe havens” for the Republican Party, which has controlled both townships for over 50 years, the report stated.

Donaldson pointed out that nonpartisan turned into a “nightmare” for some candidates and became very expensive for others, using nonpartisan parties in Worth and Thornton Townships as examples.

The report also gave an analysis of the third party effort waged by the Harold Washington Party in 1989 special mayoral election in the city of Chicago. The party has now put a Cook County slate together for the November 6 General Election. No decision had been made in the legal challenge at Copyline’s deadline.

“The Harold Washington Party is destined to be a major local party…” the report stated.

The research study found that:

·         In the villages, towns and cities that had municipal elections on April 4, 1989, 65 percent chose not to identify with the Democratic or Republican Parties; 33 percent chose to run as independents and only two percent chose to identify with the two major parties;

·         That many political leaders in both major parties decided to run together as coalitions under a non-partisan party, and;

·         that smaller villages tended to have more non-partisan parties than larger towns and cities.

In Township governments, of the 30 such governments in Cook County, 70 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of Republicans chose not to run on their party label.

·         Over 50 percent of the political leaders decided to run as non-partisan parties;

·         In the Northern Townships of Cook County, 70 percent of the townships decided to identify with the Democratic and Republican Parties; 60 percent in the Central Townships, and 80 percent of the townships in Southern Townships decided not to identify with the two major political parties.

·         There were major court challenges to non-partisan slates in several townships;

·         In 27 percent of the townships, a one-party non-partisan system prevailed. Some Democrats and Republicans were running as a “coalition”, and;

·         Data indicated that in two townships, where the Republican Party slated candidates under their party label, the Democratic Party chose to run on a non-partisan ticket. And, in another case, the Democratic Party chose to run under their party label and the Republican Party chose to run as a non-partisan party.

Political parties in local governments in Suburban Cook County have increasingly become more nonpartisan, the study pointed out. However, township governments are rapidly approaching the status of nonpartisan.

“What should be of concern to the political leaders in the two major parties in Cook County is the phenomenon that candidates running for offices in races for local and township governments do not prefer to run under the traditional party labels,” the report stated.

“Is this the beginning of the erosion of the two major parties? Is there a realignment or de-alignment taking place in party politics in Cook County? Are voters annoyed with the vast number of elections that have taken place in Cook County since 1983? Are nonpartisan parties established to have a delusive connotation to the voters? the report asked.

In conclusion, the report stated that the city of Chicago is destined to become the first major city in America with four legally established major parties; Democratic, Republican, Solidarity and Harold Washington Party.

From an original article written by Juanita Bratcher, November/December 1990