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Does a Third Party Have a Shot at Success in the US Political System?

The GOP has realised that it cannot win back the US Congress without Donald Trump, while tens of millions of average American voters believe that the former president represents their values and their aims, say American observers, commenting on the recent poll showing Republican voters’ loyalty to Trump.

A new Suffolk University/USA Today poll has found that 46% of Donald Trump voters would join his party, with just 27% saying they’d stay with the GOP and the rest undecided. At the same time, 54% of respondents said that they were more loyal to Trump than to the Republican Party compared to 34% who signalled that the party was more important to them.

Trump’s base remains committed to supporting him after the second impeachment trial, the 6 January DC riots and his defeat in the 2020 election. Furthermore, according to an earlier Suffolk University/USA Today survey, 73% of Republicans still believe that Joe Biden was not legitimately elected.

Third Party’s Election Odds are Historically Minimal

The GOP appears to find itself at a critical juncture in its 165-year history, says Rogers Smith, Christopher H. Browne distinguished professor of political science, suggesting that “it is more likely that Trump supporters will complete their takeover of the GOP than it is that they will form a third party”.

Meanwhile, Never Trump Republicans will continue to leave, according to the political scientist, though he doubts that they would be able to create a viable “third party”. Over the last few months, the third party issue has been floated both by Trump supporters and Never Trumpers within the GOP. First, the Wall Street Journal reported about a hypothetical “Patriot Party” which could be led by Trump. Later, dozens of Republican centre-right politicians were said to be considering forming a separate party “free” of Trump’s influence.

However, third parties have never managed to win the majority of votes in US federal elections, according to Diego Von Vacano, professor of political science at Texas A&M University, who refers to the cases of Bernie Sanders and Ross Perot. The latter gained 19% of votes in the 1992 presidential election, considered to be one of the best results by a third party or independent candidate.  

​In addition to that, a third party’s election activities would require a lot of financial and human resources, given that it would be necessary “to organise to get on the ballot for offices in every city, county, and state, to have candidates in most if not all of the country, and to get funding”, notes Smith, stressing that “all of these are huge obstacles”. Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party appears far more viable in this respect, according to the observers.

“I don’t think the poll shows that people want a third party,” Vacano says. “I think it shows more that Trump has taken over the Republican Party”.

On the other hand, the Republican Party has recently shown that it’s “pretty afraid to break from the kind of Trump line”, Vacano suggests. Despite subjecting Donald Trump to criticism over the 6 January Capitol protests, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell nevertheless voted to acquit the former president during the Senate impeachment trial. For his part, McConnell’s longtime party mate, Lindsey Graham, openly admitted that congressional Republicans “don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of taking back the majority without Donald Trump”.

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