Forward Party sends ‘strong warning’ to Democrats and Republicans, but faces uphill battle

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Andrew Yang speaks at the Asian American Business Development Center 20th Anniversary Outstanding 50 Asian Americans in Business Awards Gala at Cipriani Wall Street in New York, NY. Photo by Stephen Smith/Sipa via AP Images

A group of Democrats and Republicans have broken from their respective political allegiances to form what they’re describing as a more middle-of-the-road political party, offering an alternative voice to the gridlock and polarization in Washington. 

Dubbed the Forward Party, founders David Jolly, Christine Todd Whitman and Andrew Yang, writing in the Washington Post, say the country needs a new political party that speaks to the “moderate, common-sense majority,” rather than the “fringes” of both mainstream parties. All former officeholders plus a presidential candidate (Yang), the trio say the party will advocate for election reform, tackling issues such as “ranked-choice voting … open primaries, the end of gerrymandering … and nationwide protection of voting rights.” 

“The two major parties have hollowed out the sensible center of our political system—even though that’s where most voters want to see them move,” they wrote. “A new party must stake out the space in between.”

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While it’s true that an increasing majority of U.S. adults have expressed some desire for a third party alternative to shake up the political system, doing so in practice is “extremely difficult,” says Costas Panagopoulos, head of Northeastern’s political science department.
Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

While it’s true that an increasing majority of U.S. adults have expressed some desire for a third-party alternative to shake up the political system, doing so in practice is “extremely difficult,” says Costas Panagopoulos, head of Northeastern’s political science department.

One reason it’s so hard for third parties to break through, of course, is pretty straightforward: the U.S. electoral system is winner-take-all. In a congressional system with single-member districts, one candidate needs only a plurality—meaning, simply, the most votes, but not a majority—to be declared the winner. This first-past-the-post design promotes two-party competition and forces all other alternatives, at best, into potential “spoiler parties,” Panagopoulos says.  

The chances of success for alternatives, like the Forward Party, are, therefore, slim to none, he says.  

“It’s more likely that an alternative party emerges to replace one of the two major parties than a true third party achieving national success,” Panagopoulos says. “That is due to the nature of our electoral system in which winners take all.”

Of course, that’s what happened to the Whigs in the middle of the 19th century when the mainstream party was pushed out by the GOP. 

Panagopoulos says it’s more often the case that third parties succeed in systems that have “proportional representation, or mechanisms for minor parties capturing smaller shares of the vote to win seats in the legislature.”

And the creation of a new political party in the U.S. is itself not particularly noteworthy. There are dozens of politically active minor parties across the country—but very few are ballot-qualified.

To make it onto the ballot, parties must clear all sorts of hurdles that vary by state, including obtaining a share of the vote. For presidential candidates seeking ballot access, there is a separate list of criteria that’s just as daunting for alternative parties looking to back one of their own for high office. 

The Forward Party has one thing going for it, though: its founders (particularly Yang) are relatively well-known, and are enjoying national exposure. The announcement of the party’s creation generated endless media coverage. But, Panagopoulos says, name recognition alone wouldn’t carry the party to victory at a time when voters, despite growing discontentment with the two dominant parties, nevertheless remain closely and complicatedly aligned with them. 

“Citizens’ voter identities are more linked to their partisan allegiances in ways that are more intense today than ever before,” he says. 

Although third party candidates rarely make a splash in national elections, there are some notable success stories. Ross Perot, for example, who famously ran as an independent in the 1992 presidential contest, garnered 19 percent of the popular vote—though he didn’t carry any states or receive a single electoral vote. But no other third party candidate since Theodore Roosevelt, who ran for a third term in 1912 at the helm of the Progressive Party, received as large a share of the popular vote as Perot.

On top of the “spoiler” effect, third parties also threaten to cannibalize the vote in favor of a less desirable candidate, according to presidential historian Michael Beschloss, who tweeted about the issue recently. 

“Remember that historically third parties sometimes have the effect of tipping a close election to an existing party’s nominee who is the opposite of what the third party stands for,” he said in the tweet. 

The Forward Party, as of Aug. 1, hasn’t shared details about specific policy proposals. Instead, its website lists three core priorities it says will help “springboard policymaking.” They include “free people, thriving communities, and vibrant democracy.” Yang, Jolly and Todd Whitman say they’ve merged their national organizations—the Forward Party, the Renew America Movement and the Serve America Movement—under the new platform. 

The launch of the party alone sends “a strong warning” to Democrats and Republicans that they may be vulnerable to losing significant support to newer initiatives like the Forward Party, Panagopoulos says. 

“But it’s not necessarily true that an alternative [party] would do any better—or would otherwise enact policies that better serve” the people, he says.

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