Trumponder: Third Parties

A Trumponder is a literary form that came into being in 2016 in which a person offers assorted (possibly contradictory) responses to the recent POTUS election based on half-baked grasp of what is going on.

Third parties:

Working out what difference McMullin, Stein and Johnson made to the result is a fools game. Remember that for every person who voted for somebody other than Trump or Clinton there are THREE other scenarios:

  1. they could have voted for Clinton
  2. they could have voted for Trump
  3. they could have not voted at all.

In US elections option 3 is always a powerful spoiler candidate. In so far as turnout promotes turnout, somebody choosing to vote rather than not vote because there was a third party candidate they liked, probably helped Clinton a tiny bit.

Can a third party ever hope to win a US Presidential election? Sure but they would need a lot of money, a lot of luck and be an awesome candidate. Which pretty much means, no a third PARTY couldn’t win but somebody attached to a third party possibly could. Even so, it would be either a one-off or be part of realignment in which one of the other two parties was departing the national stage.

Given the all-or-nothing nature of the POTUS election, a three-candidate dynamic is not going to be common. The existence of established parties allows people to coordinate their choices – i.e. in an imaginary universe in which Trump ran as the Trump Party candidate, he would be at a disadvantage to whoever was the Republican Party candidate because any right-leaning person could be more confident of the existence of other Republican voters. Not impossible but hard.

In broader terms, even parliamentary democracies tend towards two-party dominance. Voting systems that reduce the impact of wasting votes on a third party help make such parties more viable. So the UK is (largely) two-and-a-bit party system, Australia with more sophisticated voting systems is more complex (two main parties but one of the two is a coalition and third parties and independents play a role).

The degree of electoral and constitutional reform needed to make the US have a viable three party system is enormous.

However, third parties can have bigger impact at a local or a regional level. In the UK, nationalist parties in Wales and Scotland have played a significant role, even prior to greater regional autonomy. It is notable, that the impact of third parties at a state level is not substantial in the US either – given that, it isn’t likely to happen at a presidential level at all (short of either the Republicans or the Democracts deciding to quit the politics game and rebrand as lifestyle consultants).



  1. thephantom182

    The Parti Québécois has been holding the Canadian government to ransom since the 1970’s. Never a chance to win a majority, but powerful anyway. Their power has recently dropped, mostly due to former PM Harper calling their bluff. La Quebecois no longer want to separate, it would be economic suicide.

    A similar situation does not exist in the USA. There the divide is shaking out as urban/rural. Generally, the only places outside cities where Clinton won was Indian reservations. I say “generally” because I’m sure some earnest soul will dig out an exception and call me a liar again. A preponderance, shall we say?

    Incidentally, continuing rioting in several cities goes far to explain the failure of polling. Nobody wanted to be a target, and everybody knew this would happen.

    As an aside, I note that when a popular Republican loses to a hated DemocRat, as often happens, there is much grumbling. Strongly worded letters are sent.

    When a DemocRat loses, stuff gets burnt down by mobs and people get beaten in the streets.

    Those racist, fascist Republicans!


    • camestrosfelapton

      Urban v rural is a common poltical divide – I assume a similar dynamic plays out in Canada (it does in UK and Australia). Note also approx 60% of US lives in cities (although that figure depends on how you count it).


      • thephantom182

        In Canada the divide is (roughly) Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver (Liberal/NDP = socialist) vs. everybody else (Conservative = socialist lite). Three varieties of the same thing. Corruption is starting to be a real problem.

        The thing to remember about Canada is that it looks big on a map, but it is actually a 200 mile wide ribbon along the border. Most of it is empty. If somebody nuked the shore of Hudson’s Bay in Ontario, no humans would die. There’s only three “big” cities in the country. If you are a kid and you want a decent job, you pretty much move to one of them.

        I didn’t have a bean until I finally left and went to the USA for ten years. That’s when my fortune was made.


      • camestrosfelapton

        “The thing to remember about Canada is that it looks big on a map, but it is actually a 200 mile wide ribbon along the border. Most of it is empty. ”

        🙂 – I live in Australia. Most people live in a ribbon running from Melbourne to Brisbane.

        I like the way Australians get freaked out when they visit Britain and you can’t leave one place without ending up some place else.


      • KR

        This has been bothering me ever since I first read it, so I wanted to come back and leave a comment for posterity. No surprise that Phantom’s grasp on Canadian politics is tenuous. The divide is very much not as he describes (Alberta is a huge category its own, and BC liberals are anything but socialists. They aren’t even liberals, unless one uses 19th century workhouse standards as liberal). Also, he is egregiously wrong to say that the Conservatives (which used to be the “Progressive Conservatives until they were consumed by the Texas-style Alberta Reform party and dropped the “progressive” part of their name — and who themselves are about to be devoured by an even further right Trump-like candidate Kellie Leitch. There was nothing socialist-lite, or even conservative-lite about the Conservatives under Harper). i want also to mention that rural areas are also very much not inherently conservative — The idea of socialized medicine in Canada came out of Saskatchewan under Tommy Douglas and the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which was an agrarian socialist movement not unlike ones seen in the UK and elsewhere. I sure wish we could “Make Canada Great Again” by returning to THOSE co-operative ideals. 🙂

        it’s annoying, also, to read that attributes his rising income level after 10 years in the US to the freedom to make a fortune there. In fact if I recall, he went there to attend specialized graduate education and then apparently built up 10 years work in a profession. Most people’s income levels rise as they improve their professional qualifications and build up seniority. This has nothing to do with being in the US, as he implied.

        Finaly, and the main thing that brought me back to comment in simmering irritation, is the assertion that Canada is “empty” beyond a 200-km ribbon. This is a sort of urban Central Canada view that totally diminishes the rights and existence of First Nations peoples as part of our national fabric. And, it is anthro-pocentric to claim that non-urban space is “empty” — it’s an updated settler colonial dynamic. There are plants, animals, resources and people in that “empty” space. It’s not empty. This is the same attitude that has given us the horrendous settler colonial dynamic in North Dakota and it has to be confronted.


  2. po8crg

    Even with real proportional systems, you get two-coalition politics. With the exception of a few countries where there is another split as important as left-right (Ireland), most parties are either left or right and you choose which coalition you want and then which party within that coalition.


    • Cora

      It really depends on where you are. Yes, there usually is a big generally rightwing/conservative party and a big, generally leftwing/socialist party. However, the actual alignments in coalitions can vary a lot. Sometimes, each big party has a designated smaller junior partner they enter coalitions with. Sometimes, there is only one smaller third party that flip-flops between the two big parties in coalitions (this was the case in West Germany until the 1980s). Sometimes, both big parties are forced to form a coalition government known as a big coalition (very common in Austria, though Germany also had a few, including the current federal government). And sometimes, coalitions shift in really weird ways based on whatever seems viable. At the moment, one German state is ruled by a coalition between the Green Party and the conservative party, who are not exactly logical bedfellows. Another is ruled by a so-called Kenya coalition between the conservative party, the social-democratic party and the Green party. Another option investigated, but not implemented was the so-called Jamaica coalition between the conservative party, the liberal party (liberal in the European sense, i.e. closer to libertarian in the US sense) and the Green party. There is also R2G (red red green), a coalition between the social democratic party, the left party and the green party. Both the Kenya and Jamaica coalition are named after the colours assigned to the parties BTW. Other countries have other weird and wonderful coaltions.

      Multi-party systems also usually have a proportional rather than a simple majority first past the post system, i.e. even though I live in a voting district that always votes conservative, even if the actual candidate looks and sounds like Blofeld, my vote is not wasted/discarded, but still makes an impact via the proportional system, as long as the party I voted for makes it into parliament.


      • Cora

        We also know the traffic light coalition (social democrats, liberal party and green party), which has been tried in several state parliaments.


      • po8crg

        The party structure varies a lot, but the centrist position of “we don’t care whether we get a moderate left government or a moderate right government as long as they’re moderate” can rarely hold together for long in practice. Once they get into government, they tend to lose either their left or their right wing and to become the most-moderate element of a wider left or right coalition. Look at how the FDP’s left wing (most obviously, the JuDos) left the party after the Wende of 1982, for instance. The FDP is now probably to the right of the CDU/CSU.

        That idea of the centre party that can choose between the left and right coalitions is much rarer in practice than it is in theory, because there are very few voters who prefer moderate right to solidly left and prefer moderate left to solidly right.

        It tends to work better when the centre party has different issues from the left and right parties, as with the CDA (christian, religious centrists) in the Netherlands; they could form coalitions to both left and right, but eventually you got a “grand coalition” of the main left-party (PvDA), the main right-party (VVD) and the centrist liberals (D66) to oppose the CDA based on unifying (liberal) cultural values. This so-called “purple” coalition (because it contained both red and blue parties) is the government that implemented gay marriage, for instance. These days Dutch politics is even more complicated with no party getting even 20% of the vote and very large coalitions forming.

        With some limited exceptions, grand coalition goverments (we tend to say “grand” rather than “big” coalition in English, for no particular reason I can identify) are usually in opposition to a party of the extreme left or the extreme right that no other party will form a coalition with. For instance, in Germany, there is currently a left-wing majority in the Bundestag, but that would mean a red-red-green coalition (SPD-Linke-Grünen) and including die Linke (the old East German communists) in national government is not acceptable to too many people in the SPD. In Austria it’s generally opposition to the FPÖ (the neofascists) that unites the left and the centre-right.


  3. George Phillies

    Excellent discussion. There is — for completeness’s sake, a fourth scenario. The person who does not vote for a particular third party candidate could vote for a different one.