Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

A Serious Look at the Reform Party and Third Party Politics

In 1992 and 1996, Ross Perot ran as the Reform Party candidate as a centrist/populist. In 2000 Pat Buchanan ran with the endorsement of the Reform Party from the far right. Now, in 2004, Ralph Nader is running with the endorsement of the Reform Party from the far left. Is the Reform Party nuts? Do they pay any attention to the candidates they endorse? The secret to understanding the Reform Party (and contemporary third party politics in general) is to realize that they are a one issue party and that issue is opposition to free trade.

Why is third party politics based on the trade issue? First, free trade benefits a sizable majority of American voters (we can debate that issue later, for now just trust me). Second, because of the first reason, the median voter in any state wide or national election (local areas can be hurt by trade) will be pro-trade. Since we have an electoral system that encourages parties to compete with each other for the support of the median voter, both the Democrats and the Republicans – especially in the Senate and the White House – will have pro-free trade positions. The two parties disagree sharply on issues such as abortion, welfare spending, taxes, etc but on trade, they agree.

Now, since the Reform Party (and other third parties) need to differentiate themselves from BOTH of the major parties, they need an issue that both Democrats and Republicans agree on that they (the third party) can rail against. Right now, the biggest issue that fits that bill is free trade. Normally, one of the two major parties will adopt the position of the new third party to capture their votes. To a certain extent, the Democrats have done that with both civil rights for minorities and with environmental protection. But they won’t move towards being anti-trade because trade is just too good for too many people. That’s why the Green Party is mainly an anti-trade/globalization party now rather than an environmentalist party.

To sum up: Trade is THE issue of third party politics because both of the major parties agree on that issue. The problem for third parties is that the reason both major parties support free trade is that free trade is good policy for the vast majority of Americans. So don’t let Green voters, Reform Party voters, Naderites, Pat’s angry peasants, or Ross Perot tell you that they lose because they are getting screwed by the system. The biggest reason the Greens or Reform Party have no chance of being anything but a spoiler is because the most important policy they advocate is bad policy.

(NOTE: if you click on the links above, scroll down to the bottom of the page to see a little graphic that places each person or party in a two dimensional ideological graph)

No comments: