Young people are increasingly saying “no thanks” to the two old and long established political parties.  This is likely due in part to a growing sense of disappointment in the ideological relativism of our political parties. With getting re elected seemingly the primary goal, pandering to the electorate has taken precedence over values and principles. Young people see the hypocrisy and want no part of it.
Interestingly, Many older voters keep dutifully showing up at the polls and voting R or D out of habit and perhaps with little knowledge of the candidates in any given election. For some it is simply easier to make voting decisions based on historical stereotypes of what the two parties were supposed to represent. Never mind that in many cases those principles have long since been abandoned.
So how does a new third party communicate its commitment to its ideology and earn the trust of an emerging electorate that is increasingly skeptical of political parties and their promises?
Sometimes they don’t. Take for example the NYS Reform Party. In 2018 they used the NYS fusion voting election law to nominate republican candidate Marc Molinaro as their candidate for governor. That didn’t work out so well. Having neglected to grow their party enrollment, the Reform party failed to reach the 50,000 vote total necessary to maintain party status in NYS. This should be a lesson for all new political parties. Grow your base or you risk your demise.
To be fair, there are a couple of exceptions to this rule. The Conservative Party has been maintaining party status for decades by cross endorsing republicans. Recently the Working families and Independence Parties were successful endorsing the current governor. But this may all come to an end. Governor Cuomo and NYS democrats are considering putting an end to the practice of allowing minor parties to cross endorse other parties candidates. Then what will happen?
Are these and other third parties in NYS such as the Libertarian and SAM parties prepared to stand on their own ideologies and run their own candidates? If not, they risk extinction. We can add them to the list with the Reform, RTL and liberal parties among others that have come and gone in NYS.
But there is another approach. Take the NYS Green Party. While I find issue with much of their ideology, I have deep respect for their commitment to it. The Greens run their own candidates and have spent considerable energy building a critical mass of enrolled Green Party voters who show up at the polls to support those candidates. The Greens have been true to their word and to their membership. You won’t hear them talking about endorsing “Green leaning” republicans or democrats. Any candidate they endorse has bought in by enrolling Green. This is a smart approach. In fact it may be the only approach that doesn’t compromise principle and relegate a party to the auxiliary ranks of the republican and democratic parties.
Endorsing another parties candidates sends a clear message to voters. There is no significant difference between your party and the party of the candidate(s) you support. The libertarian party calls itself “The Party of Principle.” Unless of course at election time it chooses to just endorse “libertarian leaning” candidates. Then I suppose it becomes “The Party of Leaning Principles.” To be clear if the NYS libertarian party makes cross endorsement a common practice it will go the way of the Reform, RTL and Liberal parties. In which case R.I.P. Libertarian Party of NY.
So what is the answer? How does a third party survive in shark infested political waters? It does so by growing its base. That is the only way to survive and indeed to thrive. Third parties must provide real alternatives to the broken two party system. In order to do that, they can’t embrace the candidates of those parties that elected Donald Trump and Andrew Cuomo. Those parties are broken beyond repair. A smart third party makes it a priority to communicate its world view and ideology to the people. It remains consistent and dedicated to those principles. Party leaders make a compelling case for voters to affiliate with their party. They avoid promoting rival parties through the cross endorsement of their candidates. In short, third parties that want to thrive avoid perpetuating the status quo.
The principled approach is most often the hardest path to follow. I encourage us to embrace the challenge.