Do Third Parties Still Have a Political Role to Play?

“Every politician knows that a third party political movement is essentially political suicide.”

By Rhonda FanningMay 10, 2016 2:37 pm|

It looks like the Presidential race may boil down to a battle between Donald Trump and Clinton. But from the noise we’re hearing, people aren’t satisfied with their choices. For months now there’s been talk of a third party option – from either the left or the right. But is there space for a third party? Why is it that in American politics, our choices must be red or blue, left or right, Republican or Democrat?

Leah Wright Rigueur is Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She says that democracy works to eliminate any possibility of third party political movements.

“Every politician knows that a third party political movement is essentially political suicide because there is no way to harness that potential and the numbers that you need to win an election,” Rigueur says.

Rigueur says she doesn’t see third parties emerging as a mass phenomenon, but there is still value in them today – they work to disrupt the major political parties. In fact, the Republican Party itself comes out of the third party tradition.

“The two party system is really designed as a safeguard against fringe ideas,” Rigueur says. “(Third party systems work) as a reset button for the two major political parties to force them to change their agendas and how they do politics.”

Listen to the full interview in the audio player above.

Prepared for web by Swathi Narayanan.