Third party (politics)

Third party (politics)

In a two-party system of politics, the term third party is sometimes applied to a party other than the two dominant ones. While technically the term is limited to the third largest party or third oldest party, it is common, though innumerate, shorthand for any smaller party.

For instance, in the United Kingdom a third party is a national political party other than the Conservatives and Labour which has a member(s) in the House of Commons. It is currently generally used there for the Liberal Democrats.

In the United States of America, there have been 81 "third parties": see Third party (United States).

The term "third parties" is used mostly in countries with first past the post electoral systems, as those systems tend to create a two-party system, so that successful smaller parties are rare.

Countries using proportional representation give little advantage to the largest two parties, so they tend to elect many parties. Therefore, in those countries, three, four, or more political parties are usually elected to legislatures. Consequently, coalitions, including some smaller parties, are common in the legislatures of such countries. The public in those countries tends to see all parties as being in the same category, as opposed to the idea in two-party countries that there are major parties, which are "serious", and there are other parties, which are to be ignored, scorned, or blamed.

In some categorizations, a party needs to have a certain level of success to be considered a third party. Smaller parties that win only a very small share of the vote and no seats in the legislature often are termed minor or fringe parties.

United States

"See article Third party (United States)."

In U.S. politics, a third party is a political party other than the Democrats or Republicans. The term "minor party" is also used in a similar manner. Such political parties rarely win legislative elections, in large part, because proportional representation is rarely used, and Congress has banned it for federal elections since 1967.

A similar situation occurs with the presidential Electoral College, where Electoral College votes are often given the candidate who receives a plurality of the vote, thus bringing up accusations that certain third party presidential candidates are "spoiling" the election or splitting up segments of voters.

Among the other challenges that third parties face in the United States, is the frequent exclusion from major debates and media coverage, denial of ballot access and the difficulty in raising campaign contributions large enough to compete with the two major political parties.

Parliamentary two-party systems

Third parties usually have little chance of forming a government or winning the position of head of government. Nevertheless, there are many reasons for third parties to compete. The opportunity of a national election means that attention will be paid to the positions of third parties. The larger parties might be forced to respond and adapt to their challenges, and often the larger parties copy ideas from them. Most third parties try to build their support to become one of the dominant parties, as the Labour Party in Britain did.

In the Westminster system there is also the possibility of minority governments, which can give smaller parties strength disproportional to their support. Examples include the Irish Parliamentary Party which pushed for Home Rule in Ireland in the late Nineteenth Century.

Challenging parties also usually appeal for votes on the basis that they will try to change the voting system to make it more competitive for all parties.

ee also

* Third party (Canada).
* Third party (United States).
* Green party.
* Libertarian party.
* Constitution party.
* [ American Patriot Party] (United States).
* Ballot access.
* Electoral College (United States).
* Proportional representation.
* Voting rights.


* McGaughey, William (2003). The Independence Party and the Future of Third-Party Politics. Minneapolis: Thistlerose Publications. ISBN 0-9605630-5-9. Personal odyssey of unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate in Minnesota's 2000 Independence Party primary.

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