March 7th, 2012
08:48 PM ET

Zakaria: Why aren't there serious third party candidates?

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Hundreds of you have submitted very thoughtful questions for me through FacebookTwitter and my blog. Over the next few days, I am going to post my text and video responses to some of the most common questions - and a few others that caught my eye - here on

One of you asked me: Why there aren't more serious third party candidates in the United States?

One very simple reason is the two parties have effectively created a duopoly. It is very, very difficult to get on the ballot in any state. There's a group called Americans Elect 2012 that has been trying to create a third party platform just to get on the ballot. And it takes hundreds of thousands of signatures - over a million in California - to do it. It's a scandal, really, because democracy should be about giving people alternatives and allowing peoples' voices to be heard. But the two parties collude to make sure that you don't get a third party.

The second piece of it is America just does not have a very broad ideological spectrum. If you look at America's two parties, they're actually very close together in terms of their ideological differences. Both American parties -  the Democrats and the Republicans - would fit comfortably as center-right parties in Europe. You have no real social democratic party. You have no real hyper-nationalist parties. If you look at the width of the European political spectrum, the United States occupies a kind of narrow position on it. So it makes sense that we don't have ten competitive parties.

That may change, however, because one of the things that kept America ideologically narrow, if you will, was the fact that we had a big middle class society with big middle class politics that everyone agreed on.

I think that as we become a more unequal society with greater disparities and greater diversities, you could very well imagine different political movements, at the very least, starting up.  The Ron Paul movement would represent a very different phenomenon than the Rick Santorum movement and that would be very different from the people who would want to vote for Barack Obama.

I don't know if this divergence translates into parties. It probably won't. But you'll have very, very distinct and incompatible political movements beginning to develop in the United States.

You can pose questions for me on FacebookTwitter or on Come back throughout the week for more of my responses to questions on third party candidates in America, China's rise, oil prices and more.

soundoff (189 Responses)
  1. KIMN8R

    Common sense, logic, and practicality, those are the main items that are non-existant in American politics and government. You can give it any label you want, politics is always pure crap heaped upon the heads of the powerless citizens.

    March 8, 2012 at 9:57 am | Reply
  2. askfmb

    I would suggest that there is already a 3rd party, in that, it took the right number of blacks, hispanics & whites to vote in favor of President Obama in order for him to have won the election. The Reality is, the current 2 parties, have in fact, acted in an Anti Democratic way, by creating these outrageous rules to get a party on a ballot for a state.
    Which to me, is proof of, the flaw of our two party system.
    The American Party, is the 3rd party, just not on paper yet. We are, in fact, the melting pot, which is the reason why the republican party can't find a viable candidate, due to the specific interest of the republican party, which is against the grain of the American Philosophy of equal treatment of all.

    March 8, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  3. Tina L. Moore - Airwnd Cloud DeadArt

    The Breach on the lefted.
    1. The President Lied – Not sure of how many only can assume the Prostated Cancer and them who held him hostage in the mind of the hole on the left.

    2. Five this includes the Step in after all have and the release of the birther of the Clavicle swirl from the stepin of the right of the psycho covering the white monkey of origin set in CA Sherriff set-up base foundation of conflict. Brendan was on left breach of magic of sight show and then released can't find in lights and the story of 0.48 baby from last birth of main racist of recepit of doing business online. the request from the white monkey of cover-up of the word "freaky" is call out in the realms of invisible.

    March 8, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Reply
  4. Clay Shentrup

    We need Score Voting (aka Range Voting) or Approval Voting. Instant Runoff Voting won't cut it.

    How can people like Zakaria talk about duopoly without talking about the elephant in the room? It's the voting system!

    March 8, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Reply
  5. KellyO

    There are many legitimate, serious third-party (and fourth- and fifth-) candidates running for offices at every level of government. Unfortunately with the plurality system we use now, they are at great disadvantage–voters are afraid to vote their hearts, for "wasting" their vote on a third-party candidate. We need Ranked Choice Voting to even the playing field!

    March 8, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Reply
  6. BettyT

    Three words: Ranked Choice Voting. Check out and

    March 8, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Reply
  7. Raj

    As a practical point of view, voters will be afraid of a potential for a candidate with just the plurality of votes (34% in 3 similar strength party contests) could win the elections unless we have runoff elections that would not be desirable for already frustrated voters due to long election season and additional cost. The outcome will neither provide a mandate nor reflect the general will of the people in a democracy. So the current electoral system is not conducive for a credible third party challenge.

    Ranked choice is not a good system for voters voting with principles either.

    March 9, 2012 at 8:19 am | Reply
  8. Mr Mike

    "not a broad ideological spectrum" – hmmm.. personally, none of the parties represent the way I think.. because to them, everything is mutually exclusive. Case in point: global warming. There's no doubt it's man made (if you're science minded, you know the reasons's not rocket science), however, why does reigning in greenhouse gases have to hurt business ? Honestly, as americans are we saying there's technology we can't do ?,,
    Also, the biggest obstacle to a third party is the media and the general public. Case in point, let's look at the budget. 30+ years of deficit spending. The media reports that Clinton ran a surplus ? Really ? Anyone can go to the treasury web site (look up "debt to the penny") put in any date (calendar year or fiscal year) and subtract one years debt to the prior years. Each and every year of Clintons presidency saw an increase in intra-government and inter-government debt (your debt doesn't rise if you running surpluses, since you don't need to borrow). Also using social security surpluses is not balancing the budget when eventually you will have to pay that money back. Also, take a look at Bush's budgets and how the wars were "off budget". "Off Budget ???" So Obama puts them back on, making the deficits look worse (officially), but in fact, were the same as Bush's. The bottom line is that the general public is too stupid to be voting and have consistently have had a choice of dumb and dumber in general elections.

    March 9, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Reply
  9. M Houston

    Why no third Parties? Because most of us don't want them and they generally cause more problems than they solve.

    March 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Reply
  10. Goodguy1

    Two Parties can split the cash proceeds more easily and help their friends make some serious bank.

    March 9, 2012 at 7:23 pm | Reply
  11. Bretzky

    The primary reason that it is nearly impossible to have a serious third party in the U.S. is the nature of how we elect presidents. The U.S. system of electing presidents is extremely skewed towards a duopolistic party system. It is a first-past-the-post system. Therefore, the average voter feels like he is "wasting" his vote if he doesn't vote for someone with a real chance to win the election (i.e., a Democrat or a Republican). And the U.S. political system is geared primarily towards one goal: getting a member of your party elected president. If a third party can't compete in that contest, then it has little chance of attracting electable candidates for contests farther down the political pyramid.

    March 9, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Reply
  12. jack

    ROFL at a member of the mass media who asks why no 3rd party candidates!!!!!!! Maybe it's because YOU PEOPLE never let anyone get any press except the GOP and Democrat candidates! You know perfectly well why there's no third party candidates Zakaria, your readers are not idiots.

    March 10, 2012 at 8:10 am | Reply
  13. krehator

    Because most voters are idiots. They like the abuse.

    March 11, 2012 at 4:28 am | Reply
  14. jack

    Zakaria you know perfectly well you are a tool of the system that makes sure there are no serious third party candidates.

    March 11, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Reply
  15. Stephen Rost

    Politics are not good for people.

    March 11, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Reply
  16. Soumyo

    a third party system won't work because in a duopoly system whoever gets 50% votes, wins. for a multiparty system to work please look up govt of India, coz its too elaborate and long to explain here. in short, the leader of the majority party/coalition of parties is the head of the government. plz send ur opinions to

    June 22, 2013 at 8:32 pm | Reply
  17. Elizabeth

    Thanks for any informative site. The place else could I get that type of tips written in such a perfect way? I've challenging that I'm merely now working on, and that I've been on the glance out for such information.

    November 4, 2013 at 8:07 pm | Reply
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