A Case Study of the Perils Facing Third-Party Candidates: Taiwan

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

In an important world event that far too few Americans knew or probably cared about, Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou was recently re-elected with 51.6% of the vote.

The election itself was quite interesting; there are several fascinating patterns that occur in Taiwanese politics. But this post will focus mainly on the travails of third-party candidate James Soong Chu-yu.

In America third-party candidates generally do terribly. Amazingly, there is not a single Congressman in the House of Representatives who is not a member of either the Democratic or Republican Party.

There is a very simple reason for this: American politics is based on a first-past-the-post system, rather than a proportional parliamentary system. Whoever gets the most votes wins.

This represents a tremendous hurdle to third-party candidates in the United States. Since the supporters of a third party would otherwise vote disproportionately for another major party candidate, third party candidates are constantly accused of “stealing” votes. A vote for Ralph Nader is a vote for George W. Bush, or so the saying goes (and, as it turned out, a vote for Ralph Nader was indeed a vote for George W. Bush). This is why a third-party candidate has never won a presidential election in the history of the United States.

In Taiwan, whoever gets the most votes also becomes president. Third party candidate James Soong Chu-yu’s positions generally leaned towards the Kuomintang. He was unsurprisingly accused of siphoning votes away from the Kuomintang candidate Ma Ying-jeou. Soong thus faced the same hurdle that all third-party presidential candidates in the United States have failed to overcome.

So how did James Soong Chu-yu do? Well, in the earliest summer 2011 polls Soong generally pulled in low double-digits, sometimes breaking the 15% barrier but never falling below 10% of the electorate’s support. As the campaign season wore on, however, his support steadily leaked away. The polls document this drip, drip, drip of support fleeing him quite well. By October Soong was dipping into the single-digits. By November he was struggling to break into the double-digits at all. The last five polls on Wikipedia’s list gave him 7%, 5.8%, 7.2%, 6%, and 6.8% of the vote. Due to Taiwanese laws, polling then ceased during the ten days prior to the election.

On election day James Soong Chu-yu got 2.8% of the vote.

In other words, a candidate who started regularly polling above 15% ended up with less than a million actual votes. James Soong Chu-yu essentially turned into a non-entity; as the possibility of him splitting the Pan-Blue coalition vote came closer and closer to reality, his support plummeted.

All in all, this result is a fascinating application of an electoral principle being applied to a country outside the United States (or outside of the Western world for that matter). When electorates in the United States and Taiwan are presented with the same situation, they react in the exact same way. This reveals that the effect of a first-past-the-post system is quite universal: the system destroys third party candidacies. Whether the third-party candidate is Ralph Nader or James Soong Chu-yu, the result is the same.



Time For Another Third-Party Run?

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Presidential election results are often pictured through electoral college maps, a useful and simple tool. Looking at the competition of the two parties throughout time provides a quite interesting exercise. Certain states turn blue, then red, then blue again. Others stay the same color. One election the map is filled with red; the next election blue makes a comeback. And on and on it goes.

This is in fact quite deceiving. What the electoral college does not show is the history of third-party challenges to the two-party system. In 1992, for instance, presidential candidate Ross Perot finished with 18.9% of the vote – yet not a single state in the 1992 electoral college showed his third-party run.

Since 1992, however, third-parties have had quite a rough run. This graph shows the third-party vote after that year:

Graph of Minor Party Vote: 1992 to 2008

Several factors influenced this. Mr. Perot ran again in 1996, winning a much reduced share of the vote. In 2000 Green candidate Ralph Nader polled as high as six percent, before his support collapsed as voters abandoned Mr. Nader for Vice President Al Gore. Then came the infamous Florida debacle, in which Nader votes literally cost the Democratic Party the presidency. Ever since then not a single third-party candidate has gained more than one percent of the vote.

Will either 2012 or 2016 be the year for a third-party run? On a micro-level, discontent with both parties does not appear to be extremely high. Democrats are fairly happy with President Barack Obama. The tea-party movement is really just a large group of amped-up Republican supporters – so the Republican Party isn’t exactly falling apart, either. Of course, these types of evaluations are naturally subjective. Different people may come to different conclusions.

Let’s take a look, then, at the macro-level trend. Here is a graph of third-party performance throughout the entire history of the United States, since popular voting first started.

History of Vote for Minor Party

The data here is also fairly inconclusive. Strong minor party candidacies seem to come and go in no particular order. There are long periods where they get less than 1% of the vote, and times where they regularly break the 10% barrier. To be frank, I was expecting to find a more discernible pattern – say, a strong minor party performance every four or five cycles.

Here is the data in a table format, for those interested:

Vote for Minor Party in Table Format

To conclude, one can make a strong case either way. Since 1964, strong third-party performances seem to come every three elections or so. Under this argument, America might be overdue for a third-party candidacy in 2012 or 2016. On the other hand, one might also argue that the country is headed towards another long period of utter two-party dominance, such as existed from 1928 to 1964 (during the time of the so-called New Deal coalition).

What is fairly certain is that third-party candidates will continue having extreme difficulty actually winning the presidency. Out of 56 presidential elections, minor parties have a batting average of exactly zero. The strength and organizational depth of the two major parties, combined with the extreme hurdles presented by the first-past-the-post system, continue to make a third-party presidency almost impossible.

This might be a good thing. To date, the strongest minor party performance in the electoral college occurred in 1860, when they won a combined 111 out of 303 electoral votes. That year Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln won the presidency, despite not being on the ballot in ten states. Shortly afterwards the country plunged into Civil War.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/



The Strange Case of New Jersey

By: Inoljt, http://thepolitikalblog.wordpress.com/

The New Jersey governor's election is less than two weeks away, and it deserves far more attention than I have been giving it. Nevertheless, I will now belatedly share some thoughts that have been stewing in my head.

Here is a snapshot of the race, taken on October 25th:


There are several unmistakable trends here. The challenger Attorney Chris Christie gains a double-digit lead over the incumbent, for fairly obvious reasons. Then, mysteriously, he proceeds to lose it. Incumbent Governor Jon Corzine's share of the vote mostly remains flat but - and this is important - trends slightly upward. While the two main candidates blast each other, third-party candidate Chris Daggett draws support at an accelerating rate.

Mr. Corzine's positive trend should encourage Democrats; it indicates that he is actually building support, not just tearing down Mr. Christie. In addition, expect Mr. Daggett to overperform on election day as he reaches viability. Normally, third-party candidates perform below their polling; this election, however, with both major candidates highly unpopular, constitutes anything but a normal situation.

The strangest and most interesting part of the campaign, however, has been the story of Mr. Christie.

Continued below the flip.

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The End of American Culture 1925-1995

Ben Franklin once said "We've spawned a new race here... Rougher, simpler; more violent, more enterprising; less refined. We're a new nationality. We require a new nation." But Franklin wasn't really telling the truth, not then, and not for most of the history of this country. We were too big for that. There was a Southern culture and a New England culture and a Western Culture and dozens more, restricted by the difficulty of travel and the minimum of communication among regions of the country, even of individual states. This lasted until the invention of Radio.

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