Third Parties in American History

September 23, 1996

Goodman, national affairs correspondent Larry Bensky, and academic Alan Lichtman discuss the role of third parties in the American political system.

Lichtman asserts that third parties have created stability in American politics and society by introducing key initiatives and issues now inherent to our way of life, including: the abolitionist Free Soil Party, women’s suffrage, Teddy Roosevelt’s progressives, fair wages, regulation of child labor, and George Wallace’s conservative populism.

Questions posed: Were these past parties more effective by being broad-based organizations rather than a self-funded campaign by an independently wealthy candidate? And would the US government benefit more from a multi-party coalition-based political system?

Lichtman believes that the winner-take-all-system makes it difficult for third parties to raise money. Parties have become candidate-centered, rather than party-centered, which makes it difficult for newcomers and grass-roots candidates to gain recognition and run viable campaigns. He also recommends that there be a third debate that includes all the presidential candiates.

- Alan J. Lichtman, professor at American University, author of "Keys to the White House."