In his bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate from the state of New York, Senator James Buckley switched to the Republican Party from the Conservative Party and ended up losing to Daniel Moynihan in 1976.
Buckley is the last known person to be elected to either House from a different political party other than Republican or Democrat. He was elected in 1970 running as a nominee of the Conservative Party.
40 years is a long time for any country to have only two parties running its political system, but for the mighty United States of America, the time seems like more than a couple of centuries.
There have been Independent congressmen mixed in along the way during the last 40 years, but it seems like there should have been many more. The Independents can probably be counted on one or two hands.
These Independents don't claim any supporting political party and many of them switched to Independent after being elected either Republican or Democrat.
Many of the reasons for a lack of third parties in Congress can be attributed to a philosophy put forward by Maurice Duverger, a French sociologist. He hypothesized that a plurality rule election, meaning single-winner elections, favors a two-party system. It seems his theory has turned out to be a forecaster for how American government works.
Second-place, third-place, fourth-place and so on have never amounted to much publicly in America for politics, sports and anything else for that matter.
So, can Duverger's Law be broken? Will a third party ever again rise up to gain political clout in the U.S.?
A year ago, the Tea Party activists looked poised to try and put a seat in Congress. They were on the ballot in a few states and did reasonably well in one New York 2010 election, but didn't close out the deal.
Since then, they have failed to become active enough to declare major differences with Republicans and have decided to run with them (similar to what ended up happening with the Conservative Party of James Buckley in 1976). While there was a time they were willing to part ways, this is no longer the case. The Tea Party has become another wing of the Republican Party.
Also within the last 40 years, there have been notable runs for the White House by Ross Perot and Ralph Nader, who both associated themselves with political parties, the Reform Party (Perot) and the Green Party (Nader). Both garnered significant support in their campaigns, but neither was able to push their respective party far enough along in the eye of the media to have someone later on represent their party in Congress.
The importance of one single congressman/woman elected from a third party can not be overstated. This person can present any legislation to all other members of Congress. They can share new ideas or give a different perspective on old ones.
The question of a third party has become whether there are any new ideas or issues that are worthy of being brought to the attention of Congress that aren't already being serviced by Democrats and Republicans. Third parties may never gain momentum because both of the dominant parties are willing to engage all the independent voters with promises encompassing all of the possible political areas to explore.
It may be insignificant in the long-term, but it sure would be a site for sore eyes, to see somebody elected, House or Senate, from a different political party. Just to know America isn't bought and sold only by Republicans and Democrats, but can believe and envision another set of viewpoints, would leave lasting impressions for future generations.
Originally Posted December 2011