Andrew Yang has been getting more attention on Twitter than someone who lost a New York City Mayoral Primary last Summer should. One could say the same for his comrades in starting the “Forward Party,” former EPA Administrator and New Jersey Governor of 20 plus years ago Christie Todd Whitman and pre-Trump former Congressman David Jolly. Their third party won’t appear on a single 2022 ballot this November and probably won’t even be competitive for a single electoral vote in the near or long-term future in a Presidential race. Third parties, even when started by fairly legitimate figures like Ross Perot, almost always are irrelevant in the immediate and dead in the long-term. The energy being used to attack Yang for his stunt is really not worth it.
The problem though is that it is a problem for the Democratic Party if a third option arrives on the scene and is given credible coverage. As I recently stated, the majority of the Democratic Party’s base are not leftist ideologues, and may even have certain hostilities towards their party’s more ideological orthodoxies. The Democratic Party, post-Reagan, built a large chunk of it’s base on opposition to the rigid social conservatism of the Republican Party, but it’s worth noting that populist and progressive choices generally don’t win larger-scale (national or statewide) Democratic primaries. This is the opposite of the GOP, where today’s “America First” ideology is king, and tends to dominate their primary electorate. Democrats are far less satisfied with their ideological viewpoint than Republicans. You have moderates in the middle that dislike the “leftward movement” of the party, and you have leftists in the party that view it as weak and ineffective at governing to their satisfaction. Both have a certain interest in alternatives to the perceived failings of the national party. There is a faction of Republicans who feel the same about their party, but it is a smaller faction.
A third party is unnecessary and probably harmful to our democracy, since we require Presidents to win a majority, not a plurality, of the electoral college. A successful third party would likely mean every Presidential election would be thrown to the House of Representatives to decide when nobody ever wins the electoral college, and Americans would simply never accept that. Putting that aside, it also would probably cement an era of conservative dominance that would last until one of the three parties literally died out. Democrats would not be able to hold their 48% national base, and even a drop to somewhere around 42% would limit them to political dominance in ten states or less.
This brings me to my main point- the Democratic Party’s brand is quite fragile. The only reason the party continues to do well at the national level is that the Republican Party has completely embraced a minority of the electorate as it’s base and taken on unpopular positions. People don’t particularly like the Democratic Party though as much as they like the perceived positions of the party. We will see this play out in real time this Fall. While 70% of the country is pro-choice, Democrats will underperform that number by over 20%. The same is true of the large majorities for gun control, sometimes as high as 90%, which Democrats will greatly underperform, maybe by as much as half. Lots of people out there in America agree with Democratic positions on major policy issues, but vote Republican because of some combination of thinking Democrats are ineffective, caring about only one or two issues or qualities where they like the GOP, or just not wanting to be a part of a liberal vision for society. You often times hear progressives talk about how popular progressive policies are, and yet they don’t seem to get votes. Joe Biden, for whatever faults you have with him, is probably having the most effective first two years in passing legislation we’ve seen in about 50 years from a Democrat, and his poll numbers are not going up from it. It is extremely counter-intuitive.
The actual percentage of people who will march with “Proud Boys” or wear a MAGA hat is a small minority within our electorate. Most people when asked, will tell you they support a woman’s right to choose, Civil Rights, and everyone having a fair opportunity to vote. The GOP builds their coalition up though with people who simply oppose paying their hard earned money in taxes, people who generally think our society is pretty decent and doesn’t need massive change, and people who support issues like higher national security spending, gun rights, or jobs in industries like fossil fuel energy. When they build this coalition up to their full potential, they’re suddenly around 46-47% of the electorate (at least) and can win elections in a federalist system like our’s. People know there are problems with the GOP governing, but are willing to accept them because they simply don’t want Democrats governing. Hence, losing even a few people to a third party could be a death blow to Dems.