Third parties are the underpants gnomes of American politics

People just f—– hate Congress. They really
hate it. If you don’t like Congress, and Congress is
fundamentally an ongoing fight between the democratic party and the republican party,
isn’t the thing that would fix it a third party? I think I get that question more than any
other. The thing there is that it really comes down
to what you mean by the word “fix.” Do you remember the underpants gnomes from South
Park? “I don’t get it.” “Phase 1, collect underpants. Phase 2 [pause]. Phase 3: Profit.”
“Oh, I get it.” “No you don’t, fatass.” It gets a bit like that. You have step 1: A third
party. Step 2: [Shrug] Step 3: Politics is fixed. Let’s talk for a second about step
2, those question marks. The problem third parties can solve is a problem of idea suppression.
For some reason there’s a popular idea or popular grouping of ideas and neither party
wants to back them. Third parties can break the monopoly Democrats and Republicans have
over which ideas they consider. The problem they can solve, the problem they might actually
make worse is a problem of no ideas, not even the ideas backed by Democrats and Republicans
being able to make it through the hellscape of fail that is the U.S. Congress. In fact,
a third party might make that hellscape of fail even worse. One of the people I spoke to about
third parties who’s been trying to figure this out is Ronald Rapoport. He’s a political
scientist at William & Mary, and he wrote the book on third parties. I mean that totally
literally. The book is called “Three’s a Crowd.” The thing he says is third parties, to survive,
need a “unique agenda.” If somebody is actually going to go through the trouble of supporting
a third party, they need a damn good reason. And that reason is usually that the third
party is saying something that those people really believe that the big two parties are
not saying. It’s worth stopping on that point for a moment. Because Washington forgets it
completely. The constant talking about a third party is a third party by elites and for elites.
The third party of unity ’08. Michael Bloomberg running for president, Simpson Bowles. Of
technocrats, of the Brookings Institute. Sober moderates, things people in Washington already
care about. That is not how successful third parties look. They’re about the things that
Washington elites don’t care about, or at least don’t care about in the correct combination.
Ross Perot supporters for instance, they were completely pro-choice, totally anti-affirmative
action and really nationalist. Which is to say, they weren’t moderates. Third parties
are not moderate. They were extreme in ways that went left to right and then back to right
and then back to left again and again and again. So if that’s your problem, that no
one in Washington talks about what you care about, then a third party is a weapon that
can help. Again, think about Perot. Bill Clinton was much more focused on reducing the deficit
because Perot showed the issues total power. Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America was
a very close echo of Perot’s United We Stand. By 1996 there wasn’t that much left for Perot
and his party to do. But ideas are not Washington’s problem right now. The problem is that no
ideas are moving at all. The basic machinery of government, the thing that is supposed
to take ideas and make them, if they’re popular and sound into laws has stopped functioning.
[Thunderclaps] A third party might actually make that worse. Let’s start with the likeliest
third party win, a third party president. Some super charismatic probably super rich
figure comes in and wins the presidential election. Right now the basic problem in American
politics is that one of the two major political parties has an interest in destroying the
president at any given time. The new senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell said in 2010,
“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one
term president.” With a third party president, both parties would have an interest in destroying
the president, not just one. In fact, the party the president was actually closer to
on policy might be even more committed to her destruction. Because a third party is
a bigger threat to the party it agrees with most. Think of Ralph Nader being a spoiler
for Al Gore. So that would be the problem for a third party president. They would get
even less Congressional cooperation than a Democrat or a Republican. But it’s also possible
for a third party to win a bunch of seats in the House, in the Senate, and try to fix
Congress from the inside. That’s also damn hard. Everything in Congress is structured
by the two major parties. Committee assignments, debate rules, floor time, all of it. A third
party that didn’t play ball would find itself powerless. That’s why third party candidates
who do win Congressional seats tend to work with one of the two parties. Think of Bernie
Sanders from Vermont or Angus King from Maine. They won their seats as third-party candidates,
but they caucus with and act like traditional democrats. In Congress, even when you have
three or more parties, you quickly realize you only really have two. But the other problem
is that even if a third party did win seats in Congress and accepted less institutional
power, it’s hard to see what problem it would actually solve. Congress is split by disagreements
it can’t resolve and an inability to compromise. A third party would simply add more disagreements
and more people who needed to be compromised with into the mix. Which is to say that all
the crazy incentives and screwed-up structures that are causing so many problems in our two-party
system would end up causing just as many problems if not more for third parties. A third party
might change the ideas that Washington takes seriously, but it’s to see it fixing the fact
that Washington can’t do anything with the ideas it already does take seriously.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. Following that pragmatic logic, a dictatorship is superior to democracy
    It works better, even though people aren't as represented as in a democracy

  2. Yet somehow most other democracies around the world have more than 2 parties. This is all a product of a bad electoral system.

  3. what about how third parties split up peoples votes, mostly taking votes away from one particular party, thus making the least lied person win……

  4. What a surprise. Vox, a media company in the tank for the Democratic establishment, doesn't want more parties to compete with. places hand over gaping mouth

  5. Moron.
    If there were half democrats and half republicans and some lost to 3rd parties, then the dems and reps would need to win over the third parties…

  6. Just looking at the comment's this is a hated video and I agree, I like many of the video's Vox makes but this is garbage. Was the DNC involved with this? multi party governments are hugely successful internationally. The U.S.A. has several problems with democracy, First past the post voting system is outdated and results in a 2 party system, Money in Politic's. A way too much which is effectively corruption, Gerrymandering, constituencies with multiple seats can have a fairer representation in government, Media working with political parties *hint hint and a general disenfranchisement with politics due to lack of education and being let down, time after time.

  7. The music is awful, it distracted me from following the ideas of the video. I hope you don't do that again on future videos. Thank you!

  8. Here I am looking at the German voting sheet of 21 parties, 6 thereof (or 7 if you count CDU/CSU separately) are likely to make it into parliament, and wonder what the problem is …

    … yes here it is: With 6 parties in parliment, the only 2-party coalition with an absolute majority is the one of the two biggest parties, and while coalitions of more than two exist at regional level, they haven't been tried at the federal level yet. Which means it's very unlikely that the distribution of power will shift in any way: we will very probably have another 4 years of CDU/CSU/SPD colition under Angela Merkel.

  9. I miss the benefits of a third party. From outside it looks like there is a lot of polarization going on in the US (in other countries it happens as well, but not as extreme). When there is a solid third party, and two parties will always be forced to co-operate to get things done, it could force politicians to co-operate with each other. Similar to what you see when politicians try to get support from the other side of the aisle.
    As to what kind of third party might be suited, I would say a combination of Socialist + Conservative. The democrats are socialist (at least for US standards) and progressive. The republicans are more capitalist and conservationists. A party that is socialist (thus supporting medicaid and are against the proposed tax-cuts for the rich) while in the meantime have deep christian values (and for instance disapprove of abortion), might be a combination of values that a lot of people might vote for.
    I must admit, as pointed out in this video, the current constitution in the US makes it hard for a multi-party system to work properly (multi, as in more than two). And currently, in The Netherlands we require four parties to co-operate and that has its downside as well.

  10. I disagree his agreement is that a third-party will make things worst. But we are already at worst new ideas need to keep up with time and that is not happening. Congress has been less effective in the last 30 years.

  11. When you elect people to represent you, you lose your fundamental right to directly influence American governance. Furthermore, you essentially create a new kind of aristocracy. Instead of lords and ladies we have senators and congressmen who have a much larger impact on the issues that we face as a country than the people who elected them. Slightly more than 535 people control the fate of all Americans. Yeah, in some ways this video is right, third parties aren't going to fix what was already a heavily flawed system.

  12. God what a nothing, unimportant, unoriginal, video with nothing new or interesting to say.
    Here were the only candidates worth mentioning, let alone voting for in 2016:
    On the ballot in New Jersey for President and Vice President of the USA:
    Dr Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka, Green Party
    (my vote in 2012, 2008; my friends & family vote in 2016)
    Gloria La Riva and Eugene Puryear, Socialism and Liberation Party
    Monica Moorehead and Lamont Lilly, Workers World Party
    Alyson Kennedy and Osborne Hart, Socialist Workers Party

    Zoltan Istvan, Transhumanist Party (my vote in 2016)
    Clifton Roberts, Humane Party
    Ralph Nader, Green Party (my vote in 2004, 2000, 1996)
    John McAfee, Libertarian Party

  13. The fact that you care ONLY about labeling how "far left" or "far right" somebody's position is, according to YOUR arbitrarily chosen categorization, and hence, tossing around that mathematical word "extreme", without bothering to quantify what is "extreme" about a particular position, RATHER than judging HOW MUCH NET GOOD or NET BAD a position is, shows you have nothing important nor practical to say.

  14. And yet still nothing physically stops voters from voting for 3rd parties. And, so many times we've seen loudmouthed prognosticators say bullshit such as "it's impossible for X to win", and then they're proved wrong. Politics is not a rigorous science like climate science or like proving theorems in mathematics. No absolute rules exist.

  15. Ezra/Vox needs to revisit this topic after (((everything))) that's happened since 2015 when this was apparently published.

  16. Take european political systems as examples, as "phase 3" so do say. So yes, step 2 to is hard, but thanks to Trump, your are closer to a monarch then ever before. From a monarchy, you can follow the example of the United States of America (saying follow French again would sound too eurocentric), have multiple parties and now step 2.1: Do not reinvent the parts, that let to the two party system.

  17. The only REAL reason I see for being against third parties in the US is the spoiler effect. It's not always a third party candidate that makes a major two-party candidate lose, but it's entirely possible. If we were to fix our system of representation and/or voting systems, this could potentially lead to fairer representation – thus more third party representation – white also guaranteeing that votes aren't driven away from a candidate that may have a plurality of the vote if the third party wasn't in the race at all. So, it's not as if third parties destroy democracy, but that the way our voting systems are set up, there is barely a chance that these parties could ever thrive. Not to mention, third parties are ALWAYS blamed for splitting the vote of the major party closest to its ideology, but a lot of the blame should be placed on the major party itself. It's like the opposite of accountability.

  18. In The Netherlands we currently have 13 parties. Besides that we always have at least two governing parties and this year even four. Of course politics in The US is very different from politics in The Netherlands but if we can compromise on almost everything I'm sure democrats and republicans can compromise on some.

  19. I have a better Idea 💡 what about NO PARTIES AT ALL? Just let representatives run for office as independents. Let them have allegiance to their constituents and our constitution. It’s that simple. PS getting money out of Washington will also help. 😉

  20. this video is so stupid. I am even surprised how stupid; Makes no sense, considereing world history or thoughts on political cleavages.

  21. dumb americans cant even handle a third party with their binary brains. We have 14 different parties in our congress right now, how about that.

  22. Vox makes it seem as if third parties are by definition counterproductive, but that's only because of the ridiculous voting system the US (and the UK too btw) uses. Parties with reasonable and representative systems like direct representation or MMP, think Germany, the NL, New Zealand, function fine with a multiparty system. In fact, such a system doesn't necessarily lead to more divisions, but rather to actual working compromises. It would allow the moderates to govern. And it works great for us here. In my personal opinion, I'd say Germany (and New Zealand) has the best system, with direct representation, local representatives, and a threshold to bar real tiny, splintergroup parties from entering Parliament. That would work for America too.

    It's not the two party system that's holding you back, it's the system that forces you to use only two parties: first past the post… FPTP is awful and ridiculous, allows for gerrymandering… Just change that and you'll have your actually useful third parties, compromises, and a more diverse political spectrum in no time.

  23. No parties at all would maybe be better but a parliamentary system might be okay. Benjamin Franklin wanted no political parties. Of course our founding fathers set up a government of and for the wealthy from the start so they'd probably be pleased at how well that's working put.

  24. You people need a preferential voting system. That way everyone can vote for whoever they want, without risking their vote benefitting the party opposite their values. Then a third or fourth or even fifth party could spring up naturally.

  25. The problem is we've been a two-party system so long it prevents the birth of a third. The third party would be made up of former members of the two major parties. Neither of them want that because it weakens them. It basically means the solid party is strong while the opposition party is divided into two camps meaning the solid party will probably win. The Green and Libertarian Parties have to focus grassroot growth in regards to local races. But in the end they will still align themselves one of the two majors. It's inherently flawed.

  26. We have to change our electoral system before third parties can be successful first. There are too many people who are not voting for third parties who otherwise would simply because of the spoiler effect inherent in First Past The Post electoral systems. We need to get Ranked Choice Voting first.

  27. I thought this was going to be about lobbyists in congress. Trying to watch it from that perspective really screwed up my understanding of whatever point he was trying to make.

  28. It's pretty narrow-minded to say that there's no third ideology that might make an okay US political party – the partisan nature of US media makes it harder for them to be viable, but a Bernie style party (something like Canada's NDP) could be a way to popularize ideas that break out of the US's constrained, very right-wing Overton window. Obvs it wouldn't elect a President anytime soon, or a majority in either house, but when a third party controls a handful of seats, it can serve as a tie-breaker when Democrats and Republicans are intractably opposed. That's historically been what the NDP does in Canada – presents innovative ideas, serves as a tiebreaker between Liberals and Conservatives, has its ideas become popular and made into real policy by the moderate Liberal party…

  29. Wow, not once did you mention First Past the Post voting (see the video by CP Grey) and how that gives the US a two party system. This video was just bad, a terrible lack of critical thinking and just plain awareness. I mean not once did you mention the Libertarian party, a party that has been remarkable consistent for over 40 years and isn't more extreme than the GOP and Dems, just a different combination of their beliefs.
    Watch some of ReasonTV's videos and you'll see a good examples of what you totally failed to cover.

  30. Almost like this is a good argument against democracy altogether.
    Which would make me happy.
    Democracy is just an authoritarian subversion of anarchy.
    Give me anarchism without the authoritarianism, please. It doesn't fit

  31. Yikes. This is probably the most ridiculous video Vox has ever made. From the very beginning it makes an obvious and probably intentional fallacy. Instead of assuming that third-party advocates don't know how third parties will fix politics because you don't know how they will fix politics (an appeal to ignorance), why not actually try to figure out why people think third parties will fix politics before comparing them to underpants gnomes? Oh wait, you DO know what problems third parties can solve and talk about them later in the video, making the entire underpants gnome analogy pointless in the first place!
    Next, Klein mentions that third parties can break the monopoly that the two major parties hold on American politics. How does he refute this position? Oh, wait, he doesn't! He just changes the subject and talks about a completely different problem. Now I now where Kellyanne Conway got her interview tactics from.
    For a while after that, he doesn't say anything good or bad about third parties, except that they might make the "hellscape of fail" even worse, but at this point in the video, he hasn't even given a reason for why they will make it worse; he just asserts it.
    His next claim is that a third party would be run "by elites and for elites." He seems to be forgetting that the two major parties are already run by and for elites as well, so even if his assertion is correct, it says nothing about whether or not third parties are better than the two major parties. He doesn't even give good evidence to back ul his assertion either; he just mentions a few cherry-picked examples without even talking about the more relevant third party candidates like Gary Johnson or Jill Stein.
    He also makes the claim that third parties are not moderates. This is true, but it doesn't necessarily apply to all third parties and independent candidates. A Moderate Party is a perfectly reasonable possibility, and even if there never is one, independent candidates can still be moderate. Giving one example of a third party that held extreme views doesn't change this.
    The next claim made is that third parties will make the political climate worse because now instead of having one party against the other, you have two parties against one other. This is anogher very silly claim. The reason the current political climate is so toxic is due to political polarization, something that is only possible due to the two party system. In a multi-party system, every party will agree with other parties on some issues, so they won't hate each other like they do today. In addition, the tactic of mudslinging only works well when there are only two options. In a two party system, decreasing support for your opponent automatically means increasing support for you because there are only two options. In a multi-party system, you can talk about how bad one of the parties is, but even if that convinces people not to vote for that party, it still doesn't mean they will vote for you. This makes mudslinging a much less effective strategy.
    The next claim is that third parties are a bigger threat to the party they agree with more. This is true, but only because in the U.S. we use the absolutely atrocious first past the post voting system. The FPP voting system is what caused two-party dominance in the first place, and it is the reason third parties can't take off. Candidates elected by FPP are also rarely the candidate that would actually cause the greatest voter satisfaction, making it an objectively bad system, but the two major parties still support it because it helps their agenda. If third parties were elected to Congress, they would probably advocate for a better voting system, like range voting, which is guaranteed to produce maximum voter satisfaction if everyone votes honestly (and there is no strategic reason for range voters not to give an honest ordering of their candidates, unlike in FPP, where strategic voting is common).
    The next claim, that third parties will still act like members of the two major parties, is only true if there are two major parties. In countries that don't have two-party dominance, the different parties do act differently from one another.
    The next claim is that third parties will cause more disagreement and inability to compromise, but this is just flat-out wrong. Congress can't compromise because Democrats and Republicans don't agree on anything, but a third party would agree with Democrats on some issues and Republicans on others. They would cooperate with the Democrats to beat the Republicans when voting on issues they agree with Democrats on, and they would cooperate with Republicans to beat the Democrats when voting on issues they agree with Republicans on. This causes more cooperation, not more disagreement. Oh yeah, and what the heck are you talking about when you say a third party adds more people who need to be compromised with? There are still only going to be 535 seats in Congress either way.
    So there you have it. Every single one of the points made in this video was either wrong, or has no bearing on whether or not we should support third parties. Sadly, it doesn't seem like third parties will be gaining any traction soon, but if they do, America will be much better off. A two party system alienates most of the public and causes political polarization; it's the reason everyone hates politics so much. Democracy means that the people get to choose who they want to be in power, and any system that artificially restricts your choice to only two options is NOT DEMOCRACY. It's only one step away from being a one party state in which citizens are technically allowed to vote but don't actually get to make any choices.

  32. The problem is that the 2 parties we have now are gridlocked. Having only parties engenders a fight for control and pushed each to the right or the left, with one agenda winning and the other losing. A 3rd party that isn't beholden to either of the 2 parties, could serve to push forward ideas, by switching back and forth between partnering with one or the other party. Which could even encourage the Democrats and Republicans to work together sometimes, because no one party had the power to do it in their own.

  33. All arguments made by Americans on third parties (and usually they're against them) rely on the ridiculous first pass the post system.

    Ezra, wouldn't it be interesting to see what would happen to American politics if they adapted a (in my view more sensible) representational system like the Netherlands or New Zealand (and if you wanna keep a president: France)? What'd happen then? In the NL, where I live, we currently have 13 parties in Parliament. It isn't easy, but we still manage to form governments and they're not limited by this awful dichotomy between two parties, and the representation is diverse.

    The YouTuber soliloquy did a cool video on this, but I wonder what your opinion is Ezra. What'd happen you think? Would it be better for America? Could you finally get a working Congress again and escape this ridiculous hold by the two major parties?

  34. Gore was his own spoiler in 2000. 97,000 Florida Green votes? 308,000 registered Florida Democrats didn't vote Green, didn't vote Gore, didn't stay home but did vote for Bush/Cheney. Nader cost Gore 2000 is a lazy, lazy myth.

  35. everywhere in the world you go, you always gonna run into politic problems. If you are talking about authoritarian nations, then holy hell man……

  36. Trump's platform was basically a more immigration-focused version of Perot's reform party platform. So in a sense, the third party did win with Trump.

  37. Disagree! Wrong philosophy. You just pointed out ‘bad’ possibilities of members or principles of a third party.
    Odd numbers are universally accepted and important as Minerva vote. If yourself would be a candidate for a party Yellow I would vote for you.
    Why? You don’t conform in a red square or a blue triangle. As the teens are not conforming with ‘thoughts and prayers’ anymore. As mega billionaire Facebook is bleeding due to greed, Mercer family are in the spotlight for bribes and being shady power mongers. Hello! New concepts, new personas, new energy. Maybe should be only 3 but 5. As you know some dem condem abortion and some rep are guilt of corruption and sexual misconduct. They should go to some other party.

  38. LOOK AT CANADA, IT HAS THE BEST BALANCE. The third party (NDP) never wins but takes enough of the vote to force the party that wins the most (liberals) to become more moderate to compensate for losing left-wing voters and thus makes them willing to work with some conservative ideas.

  39. here in israel we got 10 psrties in parliament and even more that didn't make it to parlament in 2015.

  40. This is a very unconstructional video to what could be done and offers few insights in solutions.
    In the Netherlands we have a lot of parites, the leader of the biggest party gets to be the prime-minister. (of sorts) He then has to work together with other parties to get the majority of the house. Such a coalition carries a broader view of what the people want. So if you add extra parties to the american system and make sure that a government is still formed out of more than 50% of the house. In this way a third party (or more) might benefit from working together with the first to retain legislative power instead of only working against the main party for power politics.

  41. A different idea:

  42. In Brazil we have 24 parties…
    Some people here that It is too much..
    But i think this stop a party to become too powerfull and force parties to work together

  43. You dont need a third party but a parlimentary system. With multiple parties and less power in the hands of few and highway for people to vote for who they want instead of who is available.

    Multiple party system is definately not an utopia and can also be ineffecient, there are no perfect solutions in Politics.

    Do you need to change the second degree voting (electoral college)? I dont know, but it would be nice if you people stop calling your country a Democracy. Its embarrasing! You have destroyed millions of lifes trying to export a product you dont even have. Your founding fathers understood this very well, they explicitly say it.

    For god sake, Moses Finley was an american schoolar. Have some dignity.

  44. The assumption of the video is, that each party tries to sabotage the success of the other parties. I think this is exactly the point where a 3rd party would make a game changer. Imagine a house where three parties have each about a third of the seats. The only way to power would be the cooperate. So overlapping party profiles would be beneficial for two parties. Switzerland's current constitution has been based on the US constitution. With some changes. The government forms a coalition of a mix of 4 parties. Resulting in a policy of moderate compromises ( plus a unique component of direct democracy) . So instead of listing why a US multiparty(>2) system would fail go and look abroad where it actully does work and results in less polarisation and more cooperation.

  45. How about 5 parties…. the UK and Germany have many parties.
    2 party is not viable anylonger.
    Parliament type of government apparatus… let's try that.

  46. Not necessarily if a third party gets enough support it can get stop both parties from getting a majority, but be open to supporting a party like the parliamentary systems of Europe. Though some ideas congress takes seriously pass real easily. Things their donors paid for.

  47. So, basically you are saying you read a book by that rapparport guy, and are willing to talk about your thoughts about it? WOW, truly mindblowing…a nincompoop, thinking about something he/she read and then bloviating about it – on the internets of all places, WHAT A CONCEPT?!?!?! truly unheard of!

  48. That's mainly why a lot of 3rd parties advocate for a change in how we elect our officials. A rank choice system for single seat positions (president, governor, etc.) would mean a more moderate executive, and a single transferable vote system for the legislator would mean more diverse ideas.
    Bit on a more concrete note, people like Jill Stein were fighting to get liberal ideas heard on the national stage. We can criticize those ideas, or show problems with them, but it's odd that in a democracy we don't even give her ideas a passing thought.

  49. why are we having this discussion?!?! America is only "democratic" country that has a two-party system for good reason, and the reason is that this is not a democracy,.

  50. The best way for a third party to gain serious support is to adopt Alternative Vote. Currently in America to vote for a third party is tantamount to throwing your vote in the bin, because you know they won't get anywhere. With AV you can vote for a tiny third party that is very unlikely to without throwing your vote away. Watch CGP Grey's video on Alternative Vote if you don't know what I'm talking about

  51. So he addresses some points I had never considered. But I'm surprised he didn't discuss the way multi party systems and coalition governments work in European parliaments. This would be more difficult in a bilateral congressional body, but it's a point to be considered. When the parties have to compromise with someone to pass anything, it forces them to actually compromise…

  52. Here's the final solutions: Kill Them All.

    Write your own god damn rule book.

    Let's let the United become divided and then we'll sort it all out when so many of our children have killed each other that food, oil, and all other resources will be plentiful for those that remain.

    It's what we as people have always done.

  53. No Parties, just none.

    Any person who holds an elected or appointed office shall have no official, financial or informal ties to a political party, nor shall they give financial or public support for a political party while holding office.

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