Americans disagree. From the very beginning, the Founding Fathers feared that opposing political parties would split the country into two groups. However, President Thomas Jefferson saw the divide as a natural result of a democratic republic, going so far as to say that “in every country, these two parties exist…in every one where they are free to think, speak and write.” Perhaps, a third addition to the two-party system is impossible.
In the centuries since President Andrew Jackson founded the American Democratic Party, the country has had two rarely changing political parties. Yes, third parties take votes from the major two in every election but are almost always negligible. They are usually the extremes of the political spectrum and sometimes fringe enough to equate a driver’s license to a hypothetical license to operate one’s own toaster. Recently, former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, former U.S. Representative David Jolly and former Governor of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman announced a merger of three center of the aisle movements to create the “Forward Party.” Promising relief from the extreme partisanship of recent years and catering to the “common sense” majority, the party offers a third option: compromise.
As much as I found myself doubtful of a central third party emerging from a country dominated by a two-party system, I couldn’t help but relish the idea of a faction based on compromise and overall societal improvement rather than often conflicting political groupthink. If the right candidate emerged, I would cast my ballot for a Forward Party candidate. This admission was as much a reflection of my interest in another option as my disappointment in gridlock partisanship.
While one could argue that if neither side gets its way, then politics will remain neutral, the nature of American political history is that stagnant legislation just happens to favor one side of the spectrum. The issue of same-sex marriage is a great example of this phenomenon. When Democrats call for national gay marriage legislation, Republicans can claim that rather than move the debate to the left, they’d like to keep legality where it was pre-Obergefell. However, if the preference of Republicans is to allow states to decide their policies without federal legislation, then keeping the needle in place ends up being a win for the right. In this scenario, a third party, reflecting the nationwide 71% support for same-sex marriage, could hypothetically get behind a candidate who supported gay marriage but was also, for example, in favor of lowering corporate taxes.
By this line of reasoning, a Forward Party candidate could reflect the interests of their constituency by reflecting moderation on both fronts. Regardless of whether you agree that these opinions are effective in practice, voters should ideally agree with the candidate’s opinions on policy. A third, moderate party could give an option in which voters don’t need to sacrifice half of their politics in order to prevent an extreme candidate from taking office.
For a majority of moderate constituents, there is some sense that the current Republican party is headed in the wrong direction and that until recently, the Democratic party was aimed in no direction at all. For some who voted for President Joe Biden in 2020 as the lesser of two evils, perhaps a moderate, established, third-party candidate would be more popular. When the interests of the majority are reflected by those holding elected office, the population can have more trust in the government as a whole.
While commentators on both sides of the aisle have fated the party for doom and mostly Democratic voices fear that a new party will take Democratic votes, maybe Democrats should do a better job of securing their votes in the first place. If Democrats want to keep voters who drag themselves to the polls in order to prevent far-right Republicans from winning, they might need to commit to some popular issues in order to accommodate centrist voters. This is no small base — 42% of the country identified as independent in a 2021 Gallup poll. If more Americans are unregistered with a major political party than are registered with either, maybe a third option is necessary.
I’m glad the Forward Party will exist. Even if it doesn’t change the American political landscape drastically, as promised, voters deserve another choice and leaders now have another avenue to deliver progress. Complacency in a flawed system is a recipe for more dissatisfaction in the system and innovators are almost always a net positive for society. Regardless of its ultimate impact, I hope to see a purple box along the red and blue in years to come.
Ben Brodsky (25C) is from Scottsdale, Arizona.