It sucks to be a Democrat right now. Make no mistake, this past Presidential election was ours to lose, and lose it we did. Under the circumstances, any left-leaning person who wants to jump ship and join a third party, well, I feel you. I’ve been a Democrat my entire life, and I feel the same way. I’m not a Democrat because my parents were, I’m a Democrat because of the two major political parties, they’re the ones who align most with my interests. Except, most notably, where those interests are keeping racist demagogues out of the highest office in the land, it seems.
But before you change your voter registration to the Green Party, Socialist Party, Working Families Party, or Monster Raving Loony Party, think about three things.
1. The Democratic Party Has the Infrastructure We Need to Win
Political parties aren’t just about picking who runs for office, they provide crucial infrastructure in terms of finance and manpower. Winning an election, especially on the national level, requires a lot of resources, and the Democratic Party has them. From ad buys to messaging, from transportation to catering, and, most importantly, fundraising, fundraising, fundraising, the Democratic Party has this all built out and humming pretty darn well.
If all us fed-up Democrats jumped ship for the same third party, we’d be able to take a lot of that infrastructure with us. But you know as well as I do, that ain’t gonna happen. A bunch of folks will sign on to the Green Party, a bunch will sign on to the Socialists, or Working Families, or Natural Law. Even more will just go unaffiliated. This means we’ll go from a large party with significant infrastructure, to a whole bunch of tiny, fractured parties that will be way easier to defeat.
“Well, we’ll just form a coalition!” Sure, you will. Look, I’m a Lefty, and if I know my fellow Lefties, I know we’re absolutely terrible at this coalition thing. It’s gonna turn into a People’s Front of Judea situation, which helps nobody. Even if we’re all squabbling under one big tent, it’s going to be more effective and harder to beat than a bunch of us squabbling from between ten different tents. But there’s more to be concerned about.
2. Numbers and Geography make a National Third Party win Almost Impossible
It’s easy to point at European countries, or Canada (which may as well be European) and the robustness of their multiple-party political systems. And they’re right. One key difference, though, is that there’s a lot more country here than there is over there.
To put it another way, in the UK, there’s roughly 45 million registered electors. In the US, there’s 146 million, more than three times as many. This means, for a third party candidate to get a significant proportion of the national vote, they need way, way more people to vote for them. Libertarian Gary Johnson pulled 4.1 million votes in this election, for 3.2% of the popular vote. If Gary Johnson pulled the same number of votes in the UK, he’d have had 9.1% of the popular vote. That’s a hell of a difference.
This is why third party candidates, when they do get elected to office, succeed more on the state and local level. It’s a hell of a lot easier to win a majority of a small state or district than it is to win a majority of the entire United States. By way of example, Vermont has roughly 450,000 registered voters. To win his Senate seat, Bernie Sanders only had to win over 225,001 of them. (Depending, of course, on turnout.) Way easier than getting elected president, huh?
3. We Can Change the Democratic Party
Remember the Tea Party? Not the one in Boston that helped set off the American Revolution, the one that started around the time of Obama’s first term. They weren’t happy with the Democrats, but they also weren’t happy with the Republicans. So, what they did was take the initiative and moved the Republican party further right. How? They showed up. They voted in off-year election, primaries, local elections, and state elections. They ran for office, starting local, and moving up the chain until they could take the House and make a damn good attempt at the Senate.
In many ways, it’s the Tea Party who we can thank for the Republican Party we have today, and our President-Elect.
But the Tea Party serves as a valuable example of what involvement in party politics can do. If the Tea Partiers said, “Screw this, we’re gonna start our own political party… with Blackjack… and Hookers!” we’d be having a very different conversation today. It was a process, but it paid off in Republicans taking control of 31 state legislatures and governorships, as well as a majority in the House of Representatives. This means they get to control redistricting, thumb their noses at demands from the Democrat-led federal government (until Jan. 20th, 2017), and generally fuck shit up with impunity. I mean, look at North Carolina for chrissake.
But it only happened, ’cause they got involved and did the dirty work of party politics.
We have eighteen months. Let’s start now.
In November 2018, a huge chunk of the Senate, and the entire House of Representatives are up for re-election, along with 36 governorships.
Roughly six months before then is the 2018 primary season, where we vote for who we get to vote for in November.
A lot is made in presidential election years about getting out the vote, phone banking, donating, and supporting your candidates up and down the ballot. Off-year and mid-term elections don’t get the publicity, or the horse-race coverage from national news networks. You might have to pick up your local newspaper to find out what’s going on, assuming it still exists. It’s easy to forget, and easy not to care.
And I’ve seen this first hand. I worked for seven years as an election worker in Philadelphia—specifically as a Machine Inspector. Turnout always varied by election: Presidential elections were huge, mayoral elections were decent. Mid-term and off-year elections got some people, but mid-term and off-year primaries? Let’s just say those were the elections where you drank lots of free church coffee, and caught up on your reading.
Which is a shame, because those elections are as important, if not moreso, than Presidential elections. Today’s candidate for state legislature could be tomorrow’s presidential candidate. If you don’t show up to make sure the right one gets voted in now, what are you going to do a few more elections down the line when you have another set of unexciting Presidential candidates to pick from? If history is any indication, most people will stay home and catch the results in the morning.
Think Nationally, Vote Locally
Quick! Who are your representatives in your state’s legislature?
Mine are Leroy Comre in the NY State Senate, and David I. Weprin in the NY State Assembly.
And yes, I had to look that up. I’m not gonna pretend otherwise. Don’t feel bad if you have to look yours up too.
Your local and state politicians have a huge impact on your life, and they will be the foundation of the deep bench for the Democratic Party moving forward. Without that bench, we’re going to be in deep shit come 2018, let alone 2020.
That’s why we need to start now, get involved in the less glamorous elections, and start building the new Democratic Party from the bottom up. We’ve tried it the other way around, and look where that got us. Theres more that can be done: donating, attending party meetings, writing and calling our representatives, and lobbying—yes, lobbying. But all of these are useless if we also don’t get our butts out to the polling place and shape the party from there as well.
So put your change of registration form away, and let’s make it happen.