Is a Third Party on the Horizon of US Politics?

American politics is polarized and fragmented; even the efforts of President Biden to unify the country will likely fall on many deaf ears. American voters must come to the stark realisation that Trump, and his family, shall not step out of the political spotlight anytime soon. It was made explicitly clear at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) that Trump is seriously considering running again in 2024. If Trump does run in 2024, he will most likely win the Republican nomination. Trump has and will continue to prove successful electorally in safe ‘red states’ such as Montana, Wyoming, and Kansas, where support remains high for his economic and social policies.

Indeed, these states feel most disconnected with American politics, and Trump offered something new that attracted citizens of those states. Trump has taken the Republican party hurtling off to the right of American politics, but will moderate Republican congresspeople accept that? By taking the party further to the right wing, Trump has created an enormous gap between the two parties and with the future of the Democrat party looking increasingly further left-wing, the polarization has created a gaping hole for a new, centre-right moderate party to fill and exploit with success.

Moderate Republicans are becoming more and more disenfranchised within their own party, the majority of this ‘gap’ that has been created within the American political spectrum is on the centre-right. Look at the recent actions and words of the likes of Susan Collins and Mitt Romney who voted with the Democrats in Trump’s Senate trial and have constantly distanced themselves from the former President following the riots at the Capitol on January 6th, 2021. However, it is not new for Republican congresspeople to vote against and distance themselves from Trump. In the first Senate trial following Trump’s impeachment in the House in 2019, Mitt Romney was the only Republican senator to vote with the Democrats. More recently, countless state and national Republican officials endorsed Biden over their own candidate in 2020.

A party made up of currently moderate Republicans possesses the potential to outperform the Republican party. A centre-right political party could prove to be successful in elections as it would have the reach and ideologies to persuade existing Republican voters who are not Trump supporters and only voted for him to stop the Democrats winning to join their ranks. There are millions of people who voted for Trump in 2020 who did so with reluctance. The formation of a centre-right party would enable those voters to disassociate themselves from the likes of the Proud Boys, the so-called ‘True Patriots’, and the Make America Great Again movement whilst remaining loyal to their true core political ideologies of small government and low taxes the Republicans once stood for. Nowadays, it is ‘true patriotism’ and their desire to protect themselves from the ‘threats’ of public healthcare, strict gun control and tightening regulations on big corporations that the Republican party appear to value greatly.

A right-wing Republican Party will struggle to attract the number of voters it will need to win the next election, especially given that the party lost voters to the Democrats in 2020 and now faces a deficit of seven-million votes. The presence of a centre-right, moderate party would attract voters who consistently swing from Democrat to Republican and give these voters a plausible alternative to the two stalwarts of American politics. To swing from either the Democrats or the Republicans to the other would require these voters to bypass a party potentially more in touch with their realities and ideology. The difference between the Democrats and Republicans’ policies and visions for the future of America has become so extreme that many voters feel dissatisfied with the two polar-opposite parties on offer. This could lead to less participation and involvement from the electorate in future elections as they feel disconnected from American politics

Every election sees a swing of votes in America of some magnitude, that is why we see a recurring pattern of presidents and congresses constantly alternating between Republican and Democrat control. That alternating pattern between the parties has accelerated since 1980 and we have seen the control of Congress switch between the two parties five times. Between 1918-1980, the control of Congress alternated between the parties five times. There is clear acceleration of Congress’ alteration between parties emphasising the power swing voters hold in American politics. Prior to 1980 the Democrats controlled Congress for 26 years. This pattern highlights that there are great swathes of the American electorate who are not loyal to one party and that a new centre-right, moderate party would have the ability to pull-in voters from both sides of the divide.

Could 2024 be the election where the biggest swing is from the traditional parties to the middle ground?

If a third party was electorally successful in the 2024 Presidential election, then it is plausible to suggest that there may be a three-way split in Congress for seats, leading to no control of the legislature. Such an outcome would require a change in voting system and processes given that the Electoral College would no longer be fit its purpose if it cannot provide an outright winner. An alternative to the Electoral College would have to be introduced in America given that in the event of a three-way split, which would be likely in the forming of a centre-right party. The split would result in no candidate reaching 270 votes. If there were three viable candidates for the Presidency who were all able to win electors to the Electoral College, no candidate would reach the required 270 votes in the eventuality of a three-way split, resulting in a constitutional crisis not foreseen by the Founding Fathers.

The possibility of a third party is of serious concern to the Democrat Party as well. A significant proportion of the voters who voted Democrat in 2020 have voted Republican in the past, as recently as 2016.  They are in danger of losing those voters to a moderate, centre-right party given that some swing voters have a history of voting Republican albeit for a variety of reasons. By 2024, moderate Democrats on the right of the party may have become worried about the party being dragged to the left post-pandemic and post-President Biden. Republicans see liberal politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Bernie Sanders as taking the party away from the moderate, centre ground and towards the far left. This creates a further gap in the centre for a new, moderate party to exploit giving them the opportunity to take voters from the Democrats as well as the Republicans.

Traditional swing states would be the primary targets for a moderate, centre-right party. States including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona all fit into the realms of what a moderate, centre-right party would be able to achieve. The electoral college votes from the swing states Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina add up to 125 Electoral College votes. It is very plausible to suggest that these states could be won by the new centre-right, party given that they alternate between Democrat and Republican at elections and have the potential to capture voters from both sides. If so, the party would prove to be a formidable force in American politics and would create an earthquake that would alter the parties’ existing electoral prospects and strategies.

Striking similarities between US and UK electoral politics

It is remarkable how similar the electoral prospects of the Democrats and Republicans could be when compared to the Conservatives in the run up to the UK General Election in 2019. In 2019, the Conservatives were worried that the newly formed Brexit Party would split their vote share between the two right wing parties and open the door for Labour to win seats that were inevitable Conservative wins. Only by stepping down their candidates in seats the Conservatives won in 2017 did the Brexit Party avoid creating an embarrassment for the Conservatives and Brexit voters alike.

In America, the formation of a third party, with a centre-right ideological focus, would have similar consequences; it would split the Republican vote but also the Democrat vote and should worry officials of both parties greatly. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation suggested that swing voters could account for as high as thirty percent of the electorate. That is the reality of the catchment that a moderate centre-right party has and the scale of electoral catastrophe they would create for Democrats and Republicans. The party could certainly win key swing states where there could be an even higher percentage of swing voters, but even if it fails to win states, it will still slice chunks out of both the Democrats and Republicans’ vote and bring the two-way rivalry into a three-way slog for victory.

On January 6th, 2021 Trump-loving protestors stormed the Capitol in rebellion against a free, fair and legitimate election result being counted by the Senate. It meant that congressmen and women had to run for shelter in fear for their lives and five lives were lost. Trump failed to denounce this violence, leaving Vice-President Mike Pence to pick up the pieces for him. This was the defining moment for moderate Republicans in turning their backs on Donald Trump. Even Mitch McConnell, the leader of the Republicans in the Senate, a loyalist and an ally in many ways to Trump, distanced himself from the President. Republicans across the party’s spectrum called out Trump. They knew how much damage he was doing to the party already by laying down false and unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud. Trump’s silence during the rioting was ultimately deadly and he never called on his supporters to leave the Capitol for hours, his speech in front of the White House telling his supporters “I will march with you” all fanned the flames for the prospect of a new party and was the impetus for moderate Republicans to begin to pack their bags and leave the party.

America’s democracy needs a third major political party

In many ways the health of democracy in the country seen as the ‘land of the free’ and pinnacle of democracy around the world in fact lacks some of the benefits it brings whilst so many countries do.  A two-party system is detrimental to the health of American democracy; the constant partisanship that leads to deadlock in Congress is unfair to the American people. The partisanship means that legislation and support from the federal government is not always passed if it does not comply with a party’s strict ideologies. The American people deserve a Congress that will work for them and be effective in its operations, and a two-party system does neither of those. A third-party would bring about long awaited and much needed change to the dynamics and atmosphere of Congress. As a result, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans would have control of Congress which would encourage bi-partisanship and cross-party collaboration that has been absent from Capitol Hill for far too long.

American politics has never come this close to seeing a third major party take on the Democrats and Republicans. The gaping divide created already by Trump’s right-wing politics compared to Biden’s moderate policies has left a sizable gap on the centre-right for dissatisfied and angry Republicans to exploit at the former president’s expense. Trump cannot win back those who have left him for Biden in 2020 if he continues with his divisive policies and angry tone, he offers little to young American coming out of college but at the same time offers a lot to rural and wealthy Americans.

A moderate, centre-right party offers something to every American and would provide better quality opposition, for example in the form of more effective scrutiny when more views are considered, in Congress against the Democrats and President Biden if multiple ideologies are considered in policy and law making. Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski all are likely candidates to be a part of a new centre-right party and have the ability to bring voters over from the centre-left to them. They also would be able to bring former Republicans with them who do not want to be associated with the far-right that seem to be taking over the Republican Party.

The health of America’s democracy is dependent on the formation of a third party, the deadlock caused by partisanship and constant voting along party lines has led to ineffective governance over the last four years. It is of even greater importance that a third party of electoral credibility is formed following the events of January 6th; now is the time for reconciliation and cross-party cooperation. A centre-right party is America’s best option to achieve that because realistically it looks the only credible alternative to what is on offer currently.  The creation of a third party would force Democrats and Republicans to stretch a hand across the aisle and work together in a new multi-party system given that no party would have a majority in Congress.