New Strategies and Techniques

Open Up Presidential Debates to Third Parties

For far too long in this country, politics (and debates in general) has been run by the two major parties – Democrats and Republicans. While both of these parties are close to the center of the political spectrum and represent a lot of people, there are others out there with other ideas. Yes, we have third parties, but they haven't won an election (or even been competitive) in decades. Part of the reason they aren't more competitive is that no one knows about them. People in this country have grown up know Republicans and Democrats.. and if you're not one of those two, you don't really matter. If you want to vote, you pretty much have to choose the lesser of two evils.

Also, third parties are very hard to get started. The third party laws in many states are so insane they are nearly impossible (but that's a different issue). If third parties were allowed to contribute to televised national debates, awareness would drastically increase. Instead of being forced to choose the lesser of two evils, people would actually have a broadly publicized candidate for whom to vote.

In the end, the issue comes down to equality. We say we're ALL equal, but then we turn around and say if you're not a Democrat or Republican, you're screwed. Open up the process and make it easier for third parties to participate!


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Similar Ideas [ 5 ]


  1. Comment

    The media gets to decide who is a legitimate candidate and then refuses a forum to others, including people from the major parties. There has to be a better way to allow these candidates with new ideas to be heard.

  2. Comment

    The two-party system is an inevitable result of our voting rules. Because of single-member districts with first-past-the-post plurality rules, the game favors whoever gets closest to 51% of the vote. Thus candidates and parties are driven towards the center. This is not perfect, but it's not all bad. It favors compromise and convergence toward the hallowed "center". Third parties cannot survive for long under these rules because failure doesn't attract more resources.

    But think of the alternative where everybody gets to vote for their favorite issue-driven party. How do you ever converge on national governance? The result of proportional representation is coalition government, which is usually unstable because a small minority can make or break the coalition. This would hardly be ideal in a country as large and heterogeneous as the US. Freedom and liberty have held up pretty well in the USA and part of the reason is that people are encouraged to come together in the public arena to get things done.

    We leave our differences at home and focus on what we have in common.

  3. Comment

    Absolutely. See Electoral Reform for an idea that can consolidate all such ideas as this one. The League of Women Voters were displaced by the two party crime system explicitly to exclude Independents and third party voters, and I am furious over how Virginia and other states continue to deny Independents and others access to the publicly broadcasted debates.

  4. Comment
    dudemanfellabra ( Idea Submitter )

    I liked the idea of proportional electoral college votes instead of winner-take-all (so if a person got 45% popular vote of a state, he would get 45% of the electoral college instead of none). Unfortunately the constitution doesn't give this power to the federal government; it reserves it to the states. In order for a law like this to be passed, it requires a constitutional amendment.... which I would support.

  5. Comment

    Proportional EC voting just introduces a bias of a different nature. Then the EC just mirrors the popular vote, which it was meant to check. With PR EC voting, numbers wield more influence than geographic distribution, so high population density regions wield more power over political choices. I'm not sure this is a good thing. We have checks and balances in our electoral and governing structures to create long term stability and preserve the strength of the union. A situation where one region controls outcomes usually leads to secession movements and the breakup of nations. Since our nation has held together so well with the balance between the popular vote and the EC vote, the motivation to change just isn't there.

    If you think about it, the EC distribution of support only comes into play when the result of the popular vote is statistically indeterminant. In other words, in 2000 the popular vote did not give us a clear preference between Bush or Gore, so we needed to weigh EC votes and then make a judicial determination on how those critical votes were counted. The popular vote really didn't tell us what we needed to know.

  6. Comment

    P.S. For example, in Minnesota they should have a new Senate election because now the data from the 2008 election doesn't really tell us anything about what choice Minnesota voters really made in choosing their Senator. Right now it's a coin-toss.

  7. Comment
    dudemanfellabra ( Idea Submitter )

    Popular vote is a much more workable (and equality-based) system.. especially if we move to a fully standardized digital voting system that removes as much error as possible.

    Rural residents whine about how popular vote takes away their power because most people live in cities. I believe this is just an expression of selfish favoritism. If there are 90 affirmatives (city people) and 10 negatives (rural people) in a vote, should the 10 negatives collectively have just as much influence as the 90 affirmatives? No! One person, one vote. We try to quote that "all men are created equal," but we turn around and set minorities on a pedestal. That, in my opinion is NOT equality; it is favoritism.

    Rural people aren't going to "secede" from the nation.. they'll have their representatives in Congress to do their bidding. They'll still be represented.

  8. Comment

    This is just a false argument. Rural residents don't control anything with 10% of the vote. What voters do control is how their state as one of 50 represents their interests in the national union. To deny them this is certainly neither democratic nor morally justifiable. Making hyperbolic arguments about different minority groups that make up our nation don't get us anywhere. One person, one vote is not the historical basis of our United States. We are not a nation of US citizens, we are a united nation of states' citizens. Ever notice you register to vote as a state resident, not with your American passport?

    P.S I've always been an urban dweller.

  9. Comment

    I don't see how we can accept the proposals of either major party if they refuse to let minority voices be heard. You don't become the best by keeping the competition from competing, you become the best by beating them in a fair match.

  10. Comment

    Martin: you're ignoring how the democratic process works. Minority voices are heard if they strengthen either of the parties in their ability to win elections and satisfy those voices in tandem with their base of support. If not, they are rightly ignored. In other words, minority advocates must convince the majority to adopt their positions, most likely with compromises.

    Two-party politics forces all interests toward a common center by forcing compromise - a good thing in my opinion. If a minority position cannot be accepted by the majority, it would be undemocratic to enforce it, no? Of course, the constitution defends minority rights, but all interests are not rights.

    Why do you think both the Democratic and Republican parties are trying to respond to Hispanic voters? Do you think instead we should have an Hispanic Party? Of course not, we want to converge on national American interests, not splinter into separate enclaves defined by narrow interests.

    Anyway, the US politic system IS open to third parties - the problem is they just don't make any sense given the voting system we have adopted. Our system has not failed because some people feel left out. These people only feel the system has failed because they themselves have failed to define their priorities together with their fellow citizens. In other words, their interests are narrow, not broad. God help us if we become a nation of narrow interests.

  11. Comment

    I see we've veered away from the subject of this post - from opening up presidential debates to contesting the two-party system. It makes sense to open up debates - in my recollection there were numerous candidates from different parties in the 2008 elections. But at some point, as national priorities over candidates converge on the front runners, it doesn't make sense to have too many voices on the podium.

  12. Comment
    Jonathan Geeting

    I'm a Democrat, and I agree with this. Too often issues aren't fully fleshed out in debates, with discourse limited only to the parameters accepted by the two major parties. But there are more diverse opinions out there than those taken up by the two parties, and if a third party candidate is able to command some exceptional threshold of support, I don't see a reason not to allow that candidate to participate. We need more, not fewer, voices in our democracy.

  13. Comment

    If you want new parties, form them. Go out, recruit people, entice people. Get people from your new party elected to your states legislature. Once you have some people in the state legislature, run someone for governor from your party. If you can collect enough support within your state, your candidate can win. Once you have a majority of the state in your party, you can run someone for the Federal legislature, the Senate or the House of Representatives.

    Probably before your party goes national, it will expand beyond your states borders. Someone else, in another state, will hear about your platform, on the news, on the internet, somewhere they will hear about you and your party and start your party in that state. Once your party is in every state, with people in the state legislatures and in the Federal legislature, your party will become a Third party.

    At that point, your candidate for President will get his/her proper recognition.

    Elections are done by the states. Not by the Federal government, at least, not yet.

  14. Comment

    Debates should certainly be opened up; it could force the major-party candidates to discuss issues in more detail if they knew challenges were going to come from third-party candidates. And instant runoff voting, in which voters rank multiple candidates in order of preference, with votes redistributed according to voter preference until a majority is reached, would help ensure that no extreme minority is over-represented. Even leaving the election system as it is, more debaters would open up the after-debate discussions, which would be a good thing.

  15. Comment

    I think this is important to help eliminate some of the polarization in our political climate.

  16. Comment

    This won't help eliminate polarization. We should be clear on this. Polarization is a partisan technique to gain votes that promotes the interests of parties. It also serves the interests of media who must use conflict and controversy to attract audience share. It will only end when voters reject the false stereotypes promoted by both parties. The real political conflicts in America flow from different lifestyle choices that can best be captured by the rural vs. urban divide. Look at a presidential voting map colored by county and voting preference (red v. blue) and this will be obvious. These issues can find common ground, but not in a political atmosphere that casts the opposition as evil or immoral. The ideological issue between traditionalism and progressivism is mostly a false one. Ideologically Americans are mostly "tolerant traditionalists."

    To get voters to reject this tribalism we need a VOTING SYSTEM that forces them to compromise on issues when they really don't want to. (Instant run-off voting would help.) Opening up political debate can be benign, but it doesn't force people to move toward compromise with their opposition. It only temporarily allows people to feel better about the process, but the result will be the same. We should remember that compromising on policy issues by finding common ground doesn't necessitate compromising political principles.

  17. Comment


    Do you truly believe that EVERY issue has a compromise? And, wouldn't these compromises hurt us, as a nation,

    as much as they would help us?

    - What kind of compromise do we come to on abortion? Any number of abortions, for any reason, are going to be offensive

    to those who are rabidly anti-abortion. Are we just going to ignore that small, but often, very vocal minority? Are we just

    going to tell them "Sit down and shut up. You're not going to win this argument!" Or, do we simply make all abortions, for any

    reason, illegal? Are we willing to sacrifice our mothers, wives and daughters in order to, possibly, save a baby? As I said,

    where's the compromise? Do we allow abortions in Maryland, since that's what Maryland voters said they want, even though

    abortions are readily available just across the border in Virginia or Pennsylvania, since that's was what the voters there wanted?

    - What about Taxes? The democrats are tax and spend liberals. President Obama has put us in more debt in his first six months in office than Bush did in eight years with 9/11/01 and two wars to fight!! Do we pass a Constitutional amendment that says that the Federal Government can not spend more than it has? A Balanced budget amendment. Do we put in exceptions? What about wars? What about natural disasters? What if another hurricane sweeps in and drowns New Orleans? Should we just tell the people there to "Get over it!" Or do we, as a nation, actually help them or will that be determined by how much do the Feds have in bank? If it hits late in the year, after Congress has spent all those those tax dollars, they're just out of luck. But, if the storm comes early, Congress will have money and everyone's happy... until some poor government employee doesn't get paid. "Dear Mr. Smith. The United States government regrets to inform you that you will not be getting paid for the remainder of this year. We had to send so much money to help the victims of the hurricane, that we are simply out of money. Failure to continue showing up at work, will lead to your immediate dismissal, whether you get paid or not. Sorry about that."

    These are just two of the most immediate problems. Those that come to mind. I'd love to hear your ideas of what kind of compromise you want the US to come to on these kinds of issues.

    And we haven't even gotten into issues where the compromise wouldn't do any good or would do ENOUGH to even bother with.

    The thing about compromises is that they tend to make Nobody happy.

  18. Comment

    I believe the debates are run by a private organization (it used to be the League of Women Voters, I'm not sure who runs it now), not the government, so while I agree that I'd like to see third parties in the debates, I don't think it's something that can be changed with government rules, at least not without overturning the first amendment.

  19. Comment


    Well, no, all issues do not have a clean compromise. But deciding to disagree hopefully falls short of civil war. That will depend on whether participants accept the voting system and political process. But multiparty systems with proportional representation do not solve this problem. They tend to lead to erratic, unstable governments that suffer from centrifugal rather than centripetal forces. Think about it - how is a third party with a third of the vote going to get anything it wants?

    On your two points, there actually is a compromise position on abortion when it comes to public policy. Unfortunately its drowned out by both extreme positions. If you look at survey data the compromise position is "legal, but highly restricted." Neither extremes will accept this compromise and they are the most vocal in defining the issue. Extreme interests will never accept compromise unless they are forced to. This can have negative results but it's far preferable to an outright civil war. Compromise on policy does not necessarily admit a compromise on principle. A pro-life person can accept the judgment of a fair political process and still never cease to lobby for a stricter pro-life policy. But democracies must favor persuasion over compulsion in order to survive.

    On taxes there are an infinite number of possible compromises because, unlike abortion, the issues are infinitely divisible. I.e., should the tax be 10% or 11%, or maybe 5% or zero? But in general, your questions carry an assumption that these private economic decisions should be managed by a central government, when in reality most economic exchanges should be private in a free market. We've dealt with all these public issues of war and natural disaster for the past 200+ years without any lasting problems.

    Your last comment reveals the weakest common assumption of this thread - that the democratic process is supposed to make everybody "happy." No, it's supposed to work. Nobody gets everything they want in a democratic society - give and take is the nature of living together in peace. If we want to get things done it's about time we stopped whining about not getting our own way 100% of the time.

  20. Comment
    Philip Brown

    Actually, I don't think its the First Ammendment we need to worry about, its the 12th and 25th that put us in a 2 party mess.If you want compromises, imagine President Obama and Vice President McCain.

    I think that not only should we have 3 parties but 5 or more.

    I think that debates should be like Sunday Football. We should be talking about it the day after. This country needs to be a discussion, not a stand-off.

    I think that the E.C. is a problem and that people feel cheated when the popular vote doesn't win. Its hard to imagine "One Man, One Vote" and have the person with the most votes lose.

    I've heard ideas to rectify this. One was to give the winner of the popular vote 100 Electoral votes. Its still possible to lose, but much more difficult. I've heard of priority systems where you vote for your top five candidates in order. Maybe we should vote for the issues blindly (not knowing who supported them) and let the issues determine the winner.

    Its not like there are a lack of ideas to make our system better than the 2 party, some say 1 party, system that we currently have.

    One last thing. This country seems to think that its a good idea to have "gridlock" in D.C. One party in the White House and another in the Capitol. Its not, It never has been. It weakens our resolve as a nation and we wonder why the world finds us amusing.

  21. Comment


    Voting is not about personal therapy - it's about arriving at one choice out of many. There is no restriction on ideas imposed by a 2 party system. And the single choice we must arrive at is not enhanced by increasing the pool of possibilities.

    Lastly, somehow we have to educate our public that "One Man (person?), One Vote" is not the basis of our national voting system - it's merely one important value that informs our concept of democracy.

    Opening up debates may make us feel better and increase the infotainment value of media campaigns, but it won't solve our political problems one wit. See also Electoral Reform.

  22. Comment
    Philip Brown

    There is no restrictions on ideas imposed by a 2 party system except for the restrictions imposed by the party line and the voter base that the party feels the need to pander to.

    We will have to disagree that having more parties would or would not bring in more ideas or different versions of their applications I guess and in some ways I think that the discussion of issues between family and neighbors might be even more important than the actual vote. In the end, a vote needs to be cast , yes, we agree there.

  23. Comment


    Agree with your first statement. So the solution is to empower the non-aligned voter base so that parties must respond and the direction of change comes from bottom up rather than top down. But power is a function on being able to coalesce and find unity - splitting up the non-aligned voter base into many parties and choices does not enhance that - it weakens it and plays into the divide and conquer strategy of the 2 major players. Instead, we need electoral reform that shifts control of the agenda towards voters and away from party leaders. We can do this with voting reforms, but not with the wrong ones.

    I like instant run-off voting, term limits, campaign finance reform, independent redistricting, more independent media sources, etc. I would eschew reforms that merely delude the electorate into thinking they have more of a voice when in fact they will have less.

    I think focusing on the two-party system and the Electoral College is misguided and counter-productive.

  24. Comment
    Philip Brown


    I see your last point as well as merit in much of the rest of what you say but I think the strongest or most potent attack on the two party system would be issue oriented. If an "Issue of the Week" concept could be extended further, and I'm not sure how yet, and the focus were taken away from the Party or candidate, we might see much different and voter satisfying results. The nomination would be decided by issues and not "war-chests" if political coverage were free and more, not fewer, people felt the need to SERVE the country because of conscience. Of course the last point isn't a matter of reform.

  25. Comment

    Free Equal Media Time For All Persons With Requirements To Run For Office. The free time must be used by the candidate in person. No comercials allowed on the free time. Elections in this country must utilize modern informtion formates, such as television, radio, and internet. Our government must adapt to the information age to allow a freer voice of its candidates and its operations. Free air time would costs the US citizens NOTHING. Just rewrite the FCC rules to allow free media time for candidats or invalidate their license.

    Free Media Election Time IDEA at link:

  26. Comment

    I agree. Taking control of the issues and using technology to help set the media agenda are both positive steps to taking control of the political agenda. Politicians and parties are productive when they are forced to focus on the demands of the electorate and find workable solutions and then build support for them. But if politicians and parties control the agenda they will pursue what suits their interests best and most effectively (i.e. split the electorate into "us" vs. "them"). Both parties do this incessantly and voters should just turn away from them when they do. (Even Obama, who is often quite smooth when he does it. Remember "bitter folks who turn to guns and religion" and those "evil, greedy folks on Wall Street"? - this is political demogoguery and everybody does it because it often works. We voters need to say "enough" and deal with differences honestly. There is loyal opposition - it's not evil.)

    For this to work the voters will have to learn to listen to their opposition (their neighbors) and figure out common ground. As long as we divide ourselves, the easier it is for politicians, parties, media hounds and interest groups to fan the flames. Frankly, I think we need more frequent turnover in our political class. Maybe in parts of our bureaucracy too.

  27. Comment
    Philip Brown

    Ok we agree on the issues for the most part. Finding common ground sounds so nice but it also sounds like what parties count on. If there were 100 opinions, all sequestered from each other, than the parties would see what the voters want...ok that doesn't work either. Keeping lobbyists out of it would help though. Actually, public funding, and only public funding would make a big difference. It would be like a vote. No more than a dollar per candidate or something like that. They get paid when they take office. Campaign staff, well many are volunteers so that's another vote sort of, it reflects on their support. Campaign travel would need to be subsidized somehow so the guy down the street from me who makes less than $15,000.00/yr can run as easily as an incumbent or Bill Gates. Its always people with tons o money that run and don't always have the best ideas or intentions. Maybe its just the money that is the problem. Without it there is less incentive for the media to get involved. Just thinking out loud but the issues are more important than the office. How to make that work out is unknown at present.

  28. Comment
    Philip Brown

    Ok we agree on the issues for the most part. Finding common ground sounds so nice but it also sounds like what parties count on. If there were 100 opinions, all sequestered from each other, than the parties would see what the voters want...ok that doesn't work either. Keeping lobbyists out of it would help though. Actually, public funding, and only public funding would make a big difference. It would be like a vote. No more than a dollar per candidate or something like that. They get paid when they take office. Campaign staff, well many are volunteers so that's another vote sort of, it reflects on their support. Campaign travel would need to be subsidized somehow so the guy down the street from me who makes less than $15,000.00/yr can run as easily as an incumbent or Bill Gates. Its always people with tons o money that run and don't always have the best ideas or intentions. Maybe its just the money that is the problem. Without it there is less incentive for the media to get involved. Just thinking out loud but the issues are more important than the office. How to make that work out is unknown at present.

  29. Comment


    I don't think we really need to open up this can of worms on campaign funding all down the line as it would be struck as a violation of free speech. Instead, I think we need to look at how technology readdresses the financial imbalance. Public media time sounds like a possibility. But the best thing is to empower the people with forums like this, or wikis, or alternative media, so that voters don't have to wait passively for the parties and candidates to set the agenda and then give their narrow, biased positions. I kind of like freedom in my politics. I just want to remove financial barriers, not take control of campaign finance.

  30. Comment

    Without instant runoff voting it's a moot point.

  31. Comment

    I agree. Instant run-off voting rules would have a much bigger impact than open debates. With alternative media, the debate forum will probably change anyway.

  32. Comment


    A government of the masses.

    Authority derived through mass meeting or any other form of "direct" expression.

    Results in mobocracy.

    Attitude toward property is comunistic-negating property rights.

    Attitude toward law is that the will of the majority shall regulate. whether it be based upon deliberation or governed by passion, prejudice, and impulse, without restraint or regard to consequences.

    Results in demagogism license, agitation, discontent, anarchy.

    Democracy is the "direct" rule of the people and has been repeatedly tried without success.

    A certain Professor Alexander Fraser Tytler, nearly two centuries ago, had this to say about Democracy: " A Democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of Government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largess out of public treasury. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that Democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by a Dictatorship."

    A democracy is majority rule and is destructive of liberty because there is no law to prevent the majority from trampling on individual rights. Whatever the majority says goes! A lynch mob is an example of pure democracy in action. There is only one dissenting vote, and that is cast by the person at the end of the rope.


    Authority is derived through the election by the people of public officials best fitted to represent them.

    Attitude toward property is respect for laws and individual rights, and a sensible economic procedure.

    Attitude toward law is the administration of justice in accord with fixed principles and established evidence, with a strict regard to consequences.

    A greater number of citizens and extent of territory may be brought within its compass.

    Avoids the dangerous extreme of either tyranny or mobocracy. Results in statesmanship, liberty, reason, justice, contentment, and progress.

    Is the "standard form" of government throughout the world.

    A republic is a form of government under a constitution which provides for the election of:

    an executive and

    a legislative body, who working together in a representative capacity, have all the power of appointment, all power of legislation all power to raise revenue and appropriate expenditures, and are required to create

    a judiciary to pass upon the justice and legality of their governmental acts and to recognize

    certain inherent individual rights.

    Take away any one or more of those four elements and you are drifting into autocracy. Add one or more to those four elements and you are drifting into democracy.

    Our Constitutional fathers, familiar with the strength and weakness of both autocracy and democracy, with fixed principles definitely in mind, defined a representative republican form of government. They "made a very marked distinction between a republic and a democracy and said repeatedly and emphatically that they had founded a republic."

    A republic is a government of law under a Constitution. The Constitution holds the government in check and prevents the majority (acting through their government) from violating the rights of the individual. Under this system of government a lynch mob is illegal. The suspected criminal cannot be denied his right to a fair trial even if a majority of the citizenry demands otherwise.

    Difference between Democracy and Republic, in brief:


    a: government by the people; especially : rule of the majority.

    b: a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.

    Attitude toward law is that the will of the majority shall regulate, whether it be based upon deliberation or governed by passion, prejudice, and impulse, without restraint or regard to consequences


    a: a government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who in modern times is usually a president : a political unit (as a nation) having such a form of government.

    b: a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law.

    Democracy and Republic are often taken as one of the same thing, but there is a fundamental difference. Whilst in both cases the government is elected by the people, in Democracy the majority rules according to their whims, whilst in the Republic the Government rule according to law. This law is framed in the Constitution to limit the power of Government and ensuring some rights and protection to Minorities and individuals.

    The difference between Republic and Righteous Republic is that in the Republic the Government rules according to the law set up by men, in the Righteous Republic the law is the Law of God. Only in the Righteous Republic it can truly be said "One nation under God" for it is governed under commandments of the only One True God and there is no pluralism of religions.

    Autocracy declares the divine right of kings; its authority can not be questioned; its powers are arbitrarily or unjustly administered.

    Mobocracy: 1. Political control by a mob. 2. The mass of common people as the source of political control.

  33. Comment

    Uh, I don't think this post is about changing the constitution regarding the structure of government. I don't even think most posters are talking about a pure majoritarian democracy. Most of them just want to add more voices to the mix, though I believe that will just muddy the conversation.

    As you say in so many words, we have a representative democracy and governing institutions based on a republic of 50 equally represented states. I think the major point of this post is how to get all those representatives to listen to their masters (the voters).