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Libertarian Party influence in the Georgia Governor’s Election

Photo Illustration by Kirsten Jackson | The Signal Archives

The prominence of the two-party system in America often obscures political positions deemed niche by major political parties. Historically, political issues such as women’s suffrage and environmental activism started out as third-party platforms. Their policies would be adopted by the larger parties after gaining considerable voter attention.

This relationship between the two dominant parties and less prominent third parties has existed for much of the nation’s history and affects government politics at every level.

In the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race, this historical struggle between third parties and the major two political parties is playing out between the Democratic and Republican front-runners Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp, and Libertarian candidate Ted Metz.

TED METZ, LIBERTARIAN

Metz, who currently has close to 470 followers on Twitter, has run a unique campaign, one that’s been overshadowed by the historic and highly contested campaign between Abrams and Kemp. However, even though Metz is unlikely to win the 2018 governor’s race, he does have a chance of influencing the election in a major way.

For much of the nation’s history, voters have underestimated the significance of third-party candidates, with their significant contributions going largely unnoticed.

But in recent years, with a significant rise in voter dissatisfaction, many voters are turning to third-party candidates in protest of the two-party system. Even our nation’s first president warned against the development of such a system.

WASHINGTON WARNED US

In the fall of 1796, about ten weeks before the third presidential election in the nation’s brief history, General George Washington published his farewell address after serving two terms and presciently warned of potential political pitfalls threatening the new nation, such as the dangers of political parties and their potential for devolving into despotism.

Lamenting the rise of the party system he said, “It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.”

Essentially, the dominance of the two-party system over the nation’s political landscape is exactly what Washington warned against.

THIRD PARTIES’ SUCCESS

However, in spite of the two-party system, third parties such as the Reform Party, Green Party and Libertarian Party have all had varying success in advocating for their beliefs. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Socialist Party advocated for women’s suffrage and the institution of a 40-hour work week — two political positions that are now significant contributions to modern life.

Likewise, third parties can affect the outcomes of elections by gaining enough voter support to influence the votes of other candidates. The 2000 presidential election illustrates this as some political pundits believe Green Party candidate Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign may have cost Al Gore the election when George W. Bush beat Al Gore by 537 votes in Florida. Many pundits believe Nader’s 97,421 votes would have won Gore the presidency.

POLITICAL GHOSTS

In an interview to PBS, Sean Wilentz, the director of the American Studies Program at Princeton, said, “It’s a kind of bitter sweetness. [Third parties] are the ones that raise the issues that no one wants to raise and in the process they change the political debate and even policy, but they themselves as a political force, they disappear.”

U.S. political history is full of third-party interferences but none seem to ever make a lasting impression or name for themselves outside of their impact on the two-party system. It’s rare that they are elected into office and even rarer that they garner even close to a majority vote. They spring into existence passionately around a political issue and fade into obscurity once their policies and platforms have been salvaged for parts like a derelict automobile.

Metz believes the Georgia governor’s race will likely end in a runoff. If this happens, Metz will be continuing a long tradition of third-party candidates “spoiling” elections by siphoning votes away from the major parties, thereby robbing them of the majorities required to win elections.

RUNNING FOR THE RUNOFF

“This is going to be a runoff anyway,” Metz said in his concluding remarks of the Georgia gubernatorial debate. In doing so, Metz also revealed why he believes running for Governor as a minority third-party candidate was worth it, even if he has no chance of winning.

He said, “If you’re tired of the two-party system and the oligarchs running the planet then a vote for me is a protest vote to show them that you’re sick and tired of the same old vote. I’m running to end corruption and hold government accountable and to lower taxes.”

So, it seems Metz’s campaign for governor can be viewed as some sort of politically charged performance art; a brick message thrown through the already cracked window of American democracy. A message, however small, that shows the American people they have other options.

METZ HAS THE LAST LAUGH

At the time of publication, Metz’s polling numbers credit him between 2 and 4 percent of the vote, a percentage that, while nowhere near enough to win, still equates to some degree of political influence.

In the event of a runoff, Metz might consider endorsing a candidate, hypothetically shifting his small percentage of the vote to whichever candidate he endorses.

“I’m going to sit down with both candidates,” he said. “Based on their responses and the sincerity with which they express them, I will let my opinion be known.”

Metz might not be running to win the seat of governor in Georgia, but his presence in the election will almost certainly affect whoever does.

1 Comment

  1. All the talk about “spoilers” would go away if we switched to a Ranked Choice Voting system. With RCV voters can give there first choice ranking to whichever candidate they really believe is best while reserving a lower ranking for someone they think can win.

    It is currently used in a number of cities throughout the country where it has resulted in far less contentious elections since candidates must compete for secondary rankings as well as firsts. You don’t get those by slinging mud at your opponents.

    In addition for jurisdictions like Georgia that require a majority winner it can save the high cost of a separate runoff election since an RCV Election continues in rounds of counting and vote transfers until someone achieves a majority.

    For more information on RCV please visit http://www.fairvote.org.

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