"DISILLUSIONED with President Clinton and uncertain about...

September 26, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

"DISILLUSIONED with President Clinton and uncertain about the Republican Party, Americans increasingly say they are willing to support a new third party." -- L.A. Times.

Get outta here! This is a two-party nation and always will be.

Lots of voters like to say they are willing to support a third party, but on Election Day, the overwhelming majority of them still pull a "Democratic" or "Republican" lever.

In the last presidential election, for example, Ross Perot ran the -- best financed third party campaign ever. He got more "free media" than any candidate ever. The public was said to be more turned off by the major parties than ever. And Perot got 19 percent of the vote. My arithmetic isn't great, but I'm pretty sure that means 81 percent of voters voted for the good old two-party system.

This nation is so locked into two-party politics, that that meager 19 percent was almost a record. The last third party effort was John Anderson's in 1980. He got 7 percent.

Actually I'm overstating their showings. What they really got was 0 percent in each case. That's zero. Presidents are chosen by electoral votes, not popular votes, and neither Perot nor Anderson carried a state.

George Wallace (13 percent of the popular vote) carried five states in 1968. Strom Thurmond (2.4 percent popular vote) carried four in 1948. Only two other times in this century has a third party candidate won electoral votes. In 1924 Robert LaFollette (17 percent of the popular vote) carried one state. In 1912 Teddy Roosevelt (with a record 27 percent of the popular vote) carried six.

Even in the more volatile 19th century, the two major parties got at least 75 percent of the popular vote every time but once.

But that's the presidency. How about at the congressional level? Those elections are more responsive to the restless grass roots. Anyone who believes that has been smoking grass roots. As of now there is one member of a third party in the House of Representatives; there are none in the Senate. There were two "independents" in the Senate in the late 1960s and early 1970s. There were none between 1955 and 1968. The most there have been in the Senate at one time in this century was four, back in the thirties. That was just 5 percent of the Senate.

Today's lone third party representative is a Socialist from Vermont. I think his name is Ben. Or is it Jerry? Anyway, before he was elected in 1990, there were few or no third partiers in the House after the 1930s, when at one time there were 13 (still only 3 percent of the total). They represented three parties: 'u Independent Republican, Progressive Republican and Farmer-Labor.

I would like to list all the third party labels ever worn by members of Congress. Some are wonderfully colorful and imaginative. But I can't. Not enough space. There have been 168 in the nation's history. But at no time since the Civil War have there been even 10 percent of the members of a Congress who were not Democrats or Republican.

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