Despite growing ranks of independents, third-party candidates struggle for tractionSouth Dakota voters have the opportunity to vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson, a two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, and Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode, a six-term member of Congress, both Democrat and Republican, from Virginia.
By: Denise Ross, The Daily Republic
Most voters have had their fill of the Democratic and Republican party presidential nominees, but few have even heard of the choices they will have beyond Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
South Dakota voters have the opportunity to vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson, a two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, and Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode, a six-term member of Congress, both Democrat and Republican, from Virginia.
Despite the growing ranks of independents — 18 percent in South Dakota — it remains unusual for a candidate not backed by the Democrats or Republicans to claim a percentage of the overall vote beyond the low single digits.
“People make a lot of noise about voting for these people, but it never happens,” said Jon Schaff, a political science professor at Northern State University in Aberdeen. “Research shows that between 8 and 10 percent are pure independents who really have no political affiliation and are completely up for grabs. And they are probably the least politically knowledgeable part of the population.”
Academic studies are not daunting the 2012 candidates, however.
Johnson, the Libertarian, is aiming to get 5 percent of the popular vote, which will grant his party ballot access in all 50 states and federal funding in the next election cycle.
“This year, do something revolutionary. Cast a protest vote that counts,” Johnson instructs visitors to his website in a video. “All it takes is 5 percent of the vote to end the two-party system for good.”
The nation won’t know until Wednesday whether Johnson will make history, but surveys consistently show Congress’ approval rating in the single digits and voter dissatisfaction at 65 percent and higher.
Kevin Madden, a top adviser to Mitt Romney told a group of medical device professionals this summer that voter anger and dissatisfaction ranked second only to the economy in shaping opinions.
Despite what might seem like a modest goal for the Libertarian Johnson, NSU’s Schaff says voters like to talk tough but a huge chunk of those independents appear to be closeted Democrats or Republicans.
Disaffected voters started to peel away from the Democratic and Republican parties in the 1960s, Schaff said, probably due to several factors, including the shift from party bosses choosing candidate to primaries and campaign finance laws keeping party honchos from working directly on individual candidate campaigns.
Today, voters are divided roughly a third each as Republicans, Democrats and independents nationally. While many have shed the party labels, that change hasn’t followed them into the voting booth, Schaff said.
“‘Independent’ is how they identify themselves, but that’s not necessarily how they vote. Most voters have a consistent voting pattern,” Schaff said. “As for voting behavior, people are getting more partisan than they used to be. People are more and more going back to voting a straight ticket.”
South Dakota’s Constitution Party Chairwoman Lori Stacey, of Sioux Falls, has run headlong into this reality in trying to promote her party’s candidates. On Oct. 27, vice presidential candidate Jim Clymer, of Pennsylvania, visited Sioux Falls to little fanfare. He received no media coverage and had what Stacey described as a poor turnout from the public.
“So we went down to the Zombie Walk and campaigned through the crowds downtown,” Stacey said.
The zombies were ready to talk politics, Stacey said, and she senses a growing dissatisfaction among rank-and-file voters.
“I’ve talked to more people this time around than any election in my lifetime who are saying, ‘I need to stand up,’ ” she said.
For his part, Clymer takes a long view. Candidacies like his provide a needed alternative in a democracy, he says, and he’s confident that a tipping point will be reached in some future election cycle.
“We go pretty much unnoticed by the major media,” Clymer said, but he senses voters are taking more interest.
“I think the dynamics are changing. You won’t see a big shift in one election, but over time you will see an incremental shift,” Clymer said. “Young people are more willing to step out of the box and vote for what they believe.”
“The major parties really put a push on as we get close to an election. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, ‘This is the most important election in our lifetime.’ They create a sense of urgency, but people are becoming increasingly wise to that.”
Clymer said major parties often tell voters that a vote for a third-party candidate that might better represent their views amounts to a vote for the major-party opponent in an attempt to scare voters.
He believes Ross Perot’s 19 percent of the vote in the 1992 presidential race and Jesse Ventura’s election as Minnesota’s governor in 1998 — both on the Reform Party ticket — show voters will vote for a third party in some cases.
The trick, he says, is to carry that momentum forward into future election cycles.
“Our goal is to not just change major parties but to create a new, viable third party and present a markedly different platform,” he said.