A Third Party (1928)

A Third Party (1928)

The political theory of the Third Party in a Republican form of Government is that when the two chief parties cease to stand for distinct policies and principles, one of them will disappear, or the two will coalesce, and that a Third Party will arise and become one of the main contenders for the popular vote. In this way, it is assumed that there will always be a real difference of aim and principle between the main political parties. It was thus that the Republican Party arose and triumphed in the election of Abraham Lincoln. In this way the English Liberal Party displaced the Whigs, and the Labor Party now bids fair to displace the Liberals.

Many Americans place their hopes of political reform in the United States on the rise of a Third Party which will register the fact that the present Republican and Democratic parties no longer differ in any essential respect. That both represent the rule of organized wealth, and neither of them has been willing to take radical ground with regard to the tariff, the farmer, labor, or the Negro.

The efforts, however, to organize a Third Party movement have not been successful. The Populists failed. The Socialists failed. The Progressives failed. The Farmer-Labor movement Many reasons have been advanced for these failures, but by common consent the real effective reason has seldom been discussed and that reason is in the Solid South: the fact is that no party in American politics can disappear if it is sure of 136 electoral votes.

This number of votes the Democratic Party is practically sure of in the Solid South: Virginia, 12; North Carolina, 12; Tennessee, 12; South Carolina, 9; Georgia, 14; Florida, 6; Alabama, 12; Mississippi, 10; Arkansas, 9; Louisiana, 10; Oklahoma, 10; Texas, 20.

There is a possibility that Tennessee’s 12 votes might now and then be cast for the Republican Party and a still slimmer possibility of Oklahoma’s 10, and North Carolina’s 12. For the most part, however, a presidential election in the United States has to do only with 395 of the 531 electoral votes. In order to win an election, a party must carry 266 votes. Any Third Party, therefore, in the United States to be successful would have to find its 266 votes among the 395 votes.

It must receive all but 29 of the electoral votes of the North and West. If it fails to do this, then it not only fails to carry the election, but it throws the election into the hands of the least liberal of the two old parties.

The least liberal party must be the Democratic Party because that party must place its main dependence upon the Solid South. The Solid South has the greatest percentage of illiteracy, the greatest percentage of lynchings and lawlessness, the greatest amount of religious bigotry, the least liberal laws as to labor of men, women and children, and is, in fine, because of its economic history, the most backward part of the whole nation. It does not make any difference how far the Democratic Party of the North may be stirred by liberal leanings, its very dependence upon the Solid South compels it to be a reactionary party. We might, of course, imagine liberal and radical elements among the Democrats making a strong appeal to the party and to the nation, but could we imagine any such political leadership voluntarily relinquishing 136 electoral votes?

Suppose we represent the electoral vote of the United States by the figure 16, and assume that today this power is divided almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans, each with 8 votes. To 4 of these votes, cast by the Democrats and representing the Solid South, a Third Party could make no appeal at all. This would leave 12 votes open to liberal appeal. Assume that the principles of the Third Party are so strong and compelling that they convince half of those voters; that is, half of those open to conviction. What is the result? The result is the triumph of the Democratic Party by a vote of 7 Democrats, 6 Third Party men, and 3 Republicans. This illustrates what is bound to take place as long as there is a Solid South.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1928. “A Third Party.” The Crisis. 35(11):381.