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Why Dont Third Parties Usually Succeed?

The main reason third parties do not succeed in two-party systems, such as the one in the United States, is that both state and federal elections are conducted on the principle of "first past the post." This means that nothing is gained by coming in third, or even second. Under a proportional representation system, third parties are better able to gain political influence.

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The term "third party" may refer either to the party that is literally third in terms of polling or membership, or figuratively to all parties which are not one of the two dominant parties in a two-party system. In the United States, the term "third party" is generally used to refer to all political parties except the Democrats and the Republicans. In recent elections, the two most prominent parties have been the Libertarian Party and the Green Party.

The principal reason for the failure of third parties to make much impact on the political scene is the use of a voting system known as "first past the post" in both state and federal elections. If, for instance, there are 100,000 votes cast to elect a representative for a district, the Republican candidate might receive 40,000 votes, the Democrat 35,000, and the third-party candidate 25,000. In the next district. The Republican receives 10,000 votes, the Democrat 60,000, and the third-party candidate 30,000. The result of these two votes is that the Republicans and the Democrats each have one representative, and the third party has nothing. This is despite the fact that the third party received more votes than the Republicans across both districts. Under a system of proportional representation, the third party would gain more representatives. Even if, as generally happens, the third party polls well below the the Democrats and the Republicans, it may receive millions of votes, as the Libertarian Party did in the 2016 elections, without gaining a single representative or senator.

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