Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Third Party Article

Okay, I have something to argue with PBS about. We are discussing the electoral college right now in my US history class and one of my students posted this article on third parties.

My problem is this paragraph:
The most successful of the third parties in any one election was the Reform Party, which in 1992 nominated Texas billionaire Ross Perot as its candidate for president. Perot ran on a platform that advocated reducing the federal budget deficit, an issue previously ignored in elections but one that would become a major part of almost every presidential campaign since. Perot received 19 percent of the vote.

Do you see what annoys me? Not the information about the 1992 election - which is correct - but the stated fact that the most successful third party showing was Perot's in 1992. What about TR's 27% of the vote in 1912 that included electoral votes! (88 to be exact). Agh!! Get your facts right people!

They do mention that Lincoln's win in 1860, while as a Repulican, was technically third party, as the Whigs and the Democrats were the current "two parties." I like that PBS was discussing third parties and why we are a two party system, but wrong facts drive me nuts!


elektratig said...

I'd add that Millard Fillmore and the American Party garnered over 21% of the popular vote, and 8 Electoral votes, in 1856.

I would disagree, however, that the Republicans were a "third party" in 1860. The Whigs were many years dead at that point. John Bell's Whiggish Constitutional Union Party (12.6%, 39 electoral votes) is better characterized as the third party in that election.

Scott said...

I would also disagree with the classification of the Republican Party as a third party. The Republican Party was founded in 1854 and the Whigs officially disbanded in 1856. Lincoln was the first Republican president and he ran against a Democrat (Stephen A. Douglas), Southern Democrat (John Breckinridge), and a member of the Constitutional Union Party (John Bell).

I would contend that the most successful third party was the Progressive Party in 1912, also called the Bull Moose Party after their presidential candidate, Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt won 88 electoral votes, coming in second to Woodrow Wilson.

All this came about when Taft, who was chosen by Roosevelt to succeed him in 1908, did not continue Roosevelt's policies during his presidency. Roosevelt felt betrayed and ran against Taft. After the GOP convention selected Taft over Roosevelt, Roosevelt split the GOP and formed the Progressive Party to run against Taft and the "old guard." Roosevelt's goal was to defeat Taft, regardless of the cost to the party.

The election of 1912 was legendary for the schism that developed between Roosevelt and the Republican Party that continues today. Although he is one of their greatest presidents, you rarely hear the GOP talk nicely of TR or recognize TR as one of their greatest presidents.

Taft, who really did not want to be president, did not do too badly for himself. In 1921, President Harding nominated Taft to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, which was the job he really wanted. Taft served as Chief Justice until 1930 when he retired for ill health. Taft died a month later.

If Taft was not defeated in 1912, he may not have been nominated for Chief Justice, making Roosevelt's run on the Progressive Party ticket probably had the most impact of any third party run than any other in US history.

Jennie W said...

Go for it - I'm all for taking apart this article! I simply liked the mention because the Whigs were so important in the early 19th century and my students like to forget they existed!

schiller1979 said...

Perot's candidancy was the most successful post-TR, in terms of percentage of the popular vote. But Al Gore can tell you how important the popular vote is.

An argument can be made that Robert LaFollettee in 1924, Strom Thurmond in 1948, and George Wallace in 1968, were more successful than Perot, because they won electoral votes, something that Perot failed to do.