Is California Ready for a Third Party?

A “record-breaking” 1.62 million signatures qualified Americans Elect for next November’s ballot.

A state as large and media-centric as California will put the group in the national media spotlight.

According to its website (, Americans Elect “is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that is not affiliated with any political party, ideology or candidate. It is funded exclusively by individual contributions—and not from corporate, labor, special interest, foreign, or lobbyist sources.“

Its goal is “to nominate a presidential ticket that answers directly to voters—not the political system,” by “using the Internet to break the gridlock in Washington, open up the political process and give every single voter—Democrat, Republican or independent—the power to nominate a presidential ticket in 2012.” (The “virtual” selection process will feature the country’s first, on-line Presidential nominating convention.)

Nationally, a third party ticket has not won the White House, but some have siphoned votes from major candidates—becoming the “spoiler” in a tight election.

Another perspective on Americans Elect

What does this latest iteration mean to California? Can Americans Elect evolve into a new electoral force? (The group insists it “is not a political committee or a traditional third party”.) Could it open the door to a Third party in the Golden State?

Today’s political environment offers voters plenty of impetus to look beyond our nation’s adversarial, two-party system. State and national polls show that voters are cranky, disgusted with dysfunctional government and nasty politics. In a December survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), 6 of 10 Californians saw the state moving in the wrong direction.

One of four Californians—and only 16 percent of likely voters—approve of the job the legislature is doing. (Governor Jerry Brown fares better, with 42 percent approval. Nationally, a recent Gallup Poll, puts President Obama’s approval rating at 43 percent, while Congress’s rating is a record low 11 percent.)

One of 5 California voters is registered as independent or decline-to-state (up from 18.8 percent in 2007). Democratic registration growth has been anemic (44 percent, compared with 42.5 percent four years ago), and GOP registration has decreased (30.9 percent, down from 34.2 percent in 2007.).

These numbers suggest fruitful terrain for party realignment. Americans Elect may want to open up the electoral process, but, as with all “reforms,” there are consequences.

One could argue that Americans Elect’s reliance on the internet makes it an “elitist” party. In a state as diverse as California, lack of internet savvy and/or access can take seniors, poor people, and minorities out of the nomination equation.

It’s ironic, too, that voter revulsion with government is more a function of disgust with legislative dysfunction than executive performance, yet Americans Elect does not address that problem.

Nationally, it could be a long time before Americans Elects’ strength is proven. To change Congress requires mobilization state by state and district by district.

The implementation of California’s new “top-two” primary could allow an early test. Will candidates filing for legislative and Congressional offices choose to list Americans Elect as their “party preference” on the ballot?”

Can these candidates, unlike those of California’s long-established third parties, overcome the major parties’ massive registration edge and make it into the November run-off?

The Golden State has once again become the Petri dish in which government reform is tested. And the momentum Americans Elect must marshal for real change may rest with the success or failure of this latest California experiment.

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