There are practical reasons for either joining or rejecting the third party option as a venue for political action. Having been in a third party all my life, I can tell you that they cannot succeed in winning even one US Congressional district. It has nothing to do with the message. It's just an issue of simple math.
Following is a list I've made of Pros and Cons for your consideration:
- Third Parties are Platform Driven. The R/D platforms are irrelevant to major party candidates. Their platforms are a reflection of the deals each party has made to the many factions they represent. A third party uses its platform to recruit leaders and direct their candidates toward a common goal.
- Decentralized Authority. The by-laws and charters of Third Parties are usually designed to minimize central authority beyond a reverence for the platform. If outside investors "take" the party, they only get title and not the membership.
- Leadership Training. Running for office is good experience for local citizens, and a third party is fine for that.
- Ballot Positioning. In PA (and other states I'm sure), third parties are not part of the primary process and have their own rules for ballot access. This can be a major advantage for getting members elected and serving in local office. (Most third parties, however, have no focus at all on local government, rather toward national issues). The major parties will not cover all races with a candidate, allowing third parties to pick and choose their races after the primaries, and leading to 1:1 or even unopposed races.
- Ballot Access. This will consume the majority of the campaign season and resources. Each state has its own BA requirements. Pennsylvania is one of the more draconian states, and the R/D parties routinely challenge petitions, personally threatening the candidates with legal fees of over $150k. 50-state BA is nearly impossible.
- Media Access. Most newspapers will be nice to you and give you a write-up or even an editorial comment, but the press is motivated by advertising. National television will black out third party races and televised debates will generally not include you.
- Straight-party voting. Where voters can simply vote Party, as many as 30% of votes cast will go R/D leaving your candidate to pull 50% from the remaining 70%. This makes victory a mathematical improbability. I've seen one candidate get close in a 1:1 race with 44%, which was overwhelming support from the community, but the straight party vote was simply too large a hurdle.
- Limited Resources. A third party generally doesn't raise money from lobbies or civic groups, and has to rely on member donations. My US Congressman had 2 million in his war chest before the race even started, here in a district of a half-million souls. If 5000 people contributed $20, that would be incredible right? But that's only $100k, peanuts when it comes to media saturation campaigns.
- Resistant to Growth. As a third party is platform-driven, so an inner circle will develop to contain the platform and keep the party "pure" as it grows. The party seeks true believers and concentrates on internal education. Conventions usually degenerate over factionalism, and disgruntled activists will be disruptive. They demand a "controlled growth". I tried to remedy this in the LPPA with a brief statement of 10 principles that would have no public objection and would allow candidates to set their own personal platforms, but the old guard radicals went ape and we spent the next three years fighting instead of three years growing. Now the radicals control the party again, and it's dead here in PA.
- Vulnerable to Hostile Takeover. Every third party has a charter of by-laws defining what is necessary to take that party over. The old guard is able to keep the party from growing (big fish in little pond), but this is its weakness should a concerted effort be mounted to seize title of the party. Recruiting 50 people to attend a state convention as delegates is a small affair given adequate cash and time.
- Infiltration. This is another concern, and I'm not saying this to be paranoid,
just to be practical. Operatives from the R/D leadership will look
at your party the same as they look at non-political civic groups,
and will establish a contact within your organization. I don't know
that this is necessarily a "con", but it is something to
So the third party option really comes down to what you expect to accomplish with your own efforts. If your focus is on feeling good about a platform and having some friends to talk about it all day, then the third party is fine. It's almost like collaborative science fiction writing, because there is zero possibility of you or your party ever influencing the US Congress.
If, on the other hand, you want to push our federal government in one direction or the other, then begin by "occupying your precinct" and focus on the Primary elections. Find candidates you can support and help them build confidence in the community. Yes, the R/D parties are corrupt to the core, but that doesn't mean YOU have to be, nor does it mean that your candidates have to be either.