Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!

In Election’s Wake, Will Third Parties Rise?

In the aftermath of the election, important questions abound about the nation’s future. However, one is clearly missing from the public conversation: Will Americans’ growing frustration with the major parties give third parties a new boost?

As well known, the 2016 Democratic and Republican presidential nominees were the most disliked in recent U.S. history. And since 2013, according to Gallup, a sustained majority of Americans has thought “our major political parties do such a poor job that a third party is needed.” Thus, minor parties enjoyed a notable spurt in campaign engagement this year. Of course, in the ballot box they didn’t surge countrywide, as they’d hoped. Their top two presidential candidates received less than 5% of the vote combined, and their gains at lower levels remained isolated. Still, for third parties could it be that “the loser now will be later to win, for the times they are a changin’” (Dylan)? That’s certainly possible, if “winning” pertains to the crucial, immediate battle for more grassroots supporters and activists.

On the battle’s left front, minor parties may have a considerable opportunity to advance. Months before Election Day, many progressives were already simmering about the Democratic primary, which they viewed as rigged against Bernie Sanders by a pro-Clinton party establishment. Clinton’s loss to Trump seems to have accentuated their disgust with the party leadership. These “Berners” are familiar with polls suggesting that Sanders, as a progressive populist, would have been better able to win the general election than Clinton, a chameleon-like corporate hack. They realize that Sanders’s clear class-based message may well have attracted numerous economically disaffected voters ultimately drawn to Trump or repelled by Clinton. They could even infer that the Democratic Party would rather lose a major election than back a true progressive candidate. Therefore, many ordinary progressives may now have a lot less tolerance for a party that fails to represent them. Furthermore, the Democratic Party is very unlikely to stop disappointing (if not betraying) them, because it remains beholden to wealthy elites who provide much of its campaign cash. As a result, even Bernie may be unable to prevent a bleeding “DemExit” into new or existing progressive third parties in the months and years ahead.

Meanwhile, some Trump supporters could also be pressed onto a third party course. During his campaign, Trump promised that he would aggressively defend ordinary Americans. Yet since the election, he already has made moves indicating that, as president, he will heavily favor big business—in tandem with his partisan majority in the new Congress. And should he try to take any significant actions to the contrary, other Republicans will likely thwart him. These tendencies could eventually alienate certain anti-establishment Trump voters from the entire Republican Party. To the extent that the Democrats can’t offer them a credible populist alternative, various third parties could start to do so.

Of course, the major parties have long demonstrated a remarkable ability to deflect challenges to their dominance. Yet from the mid-19th to the early 20th century, third parties repeatedly became strong enough to help bring about critical reforms on behalf of the less privileged. This happened because the major parties had ignored or even fostered grave social inequities for decades. Such a dynamic may be brewing again today. Already, festering economic inequality has loomed large in the 2016 rebellions against the establishments of both parties. Other serious injustices also have the potential to fuel political insurgency if they continue.

We modern Americans must decide how much frustration with electoral politics as usual we are willing to take before pursuing bolder alternatives ourselves. In 2017 and beyond, more of us may see the two-party system as a key obstacle to progress. How many of us will feel impelled to do something about it? Will it finally be our time to help build a third party force capable of pushing the country toward a better future?

More articles by:

Jonathan H. Martin is Professor of Sociology at Framingham State University. He is the editor of and a contributor to the book Empowering Progressive Third Parties in the United States (Routledge 2016). He can be reached at or his book’s Facebook page.

October 22, 2018
Henry Giroux
Neoliberalism in the Age of Pedagogical Terrorism
Melvin Goodman
Washington’s Latest Cold War Maneuver: Pulling Out of the INF
David Mattson
Basket of Deplorables Revisited: Grizzly Bears at the Mercy of Wyoming
Michelle Renee Matisons
Hurricane War Zone Further Immiserates Florida Panhandle, Panama City
Tom Gill
A Storm is Brewing in Europe: Italy and Its Public Finances Are at the Center of It
Suyapa Portillo Villeda
An Illegitimate, US-Backed Regime is Fueling the Honduran Refugee Crisis
Christopher Brauchli
The Liars’ Bench
Gary Leupp
Will Trump Split the World by Endorsing a Bold-Faced Lie?
Michael Howard
The New York Times’ Animal Cruelty Fetish
Alice Slater
Time Out for Nukes!
Geoff Dutton
Yes, Virginia, There are Conspiracies—I Think
Daniel Warner
Davos in the Desert: To Attend or Not, That is Not the Question
Priti Gulati Cox – Stan Cox
Mothers of Exiles: For Many, the Child-Separation Ordeal May Never End
Manuel E. Yepe
Pence v. China: Cold War 2.0 May Have Just Begun
Raouf Halaby
Of Pith Helmets and Sartorial Colonialism
Dan Carey
Aspirational Goals  
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much