Monthly Archives: February 2019

Could Hispanic voters form a viable third party in the U.S.?

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; February 12, 2019)

Political scientists have long accepted that the formation of a viable third party in the U.S. is inhibited by its winner-take-all (simple-majority, single ballot) electoral system.

At the presidential-level, the electoral college doesn’t help either.

Yet, most voters, at some point disenchanted with the nominees of the two major parties, have probably dabbled with the thought of voting for a third-party candidate.

Actually voting for a third-party candidate rarely ever happens.

In his 1963 cross-national study of electoral systems, Political Parties, French sociologist Maurice Duverger concluded:

The simple-majority single-ballot system favours the two-party system…this approaches the most nearly perhaps to a true sociological law.

Until recently, Durverger’s Law had been one of political science’s few durable laws. In recent years, however, research by Patrick Dunleavy and Rekha Diwakar argues that the dominance of the two-party system in the U.S. cannot be explained by Durverger’s Law or its later derivatives. The U.S. two-party system is unique from a cross-national perspective.

Regardless of how we explain the entrenchment of the U.S. two-party system, the electoral evidence says third parties do not perform well in the U.S., particularly at the presidential level where local- and state-level party organizations are critical to a party’s national success.

Across all U.S. presidential elections, Figure 1 illustrates the general failure of third party candidates (the orange bars and one purple bar) to even come close to winning a majority of the popular vote.

Figure 1: Presidential votes by party

Source: Wikipedia


Instead, where third party candidates such as Teddy Roosevelt (Bull Moose Party, 1912) and Ross Perot (1992) arguably have been successful, is in splintering a majority party enough to allow a minority party candidate to win. Roosevelt pulled in 25 percent of the popular vote in 1912, effectively preventing President William Howard Taft, the Republican incumbent, from winning re-election. Likewise, Ross Perot’s maverick candidacy in 1992 garnered 19 percent of the popular vote and may have done the same to President George H. W. Bush’s re-election chances.

Voter disenchantment with an incumbent administration and an unacceptable alternative from the other major party seems to drive the emergence of meaningful third-party challenges.

Will we see a significant third-party challenger in the 2020 presidential election?

The current presidential election season is already inspiring predictable calls for a new third-party alternative to challenge Donald Trump and whomever the Democrats nominate. So far, the two most common scenarios are:

(1) Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz (or, perhaps, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg) running as an independent candidate in contradistinction to a Democratic Party he views as becoming too leftist.

(2) Should their preferred candidate not win the Democratic Party nomination, progressive Democrats could leverage Sanders’ expansive national infrastructure to run a third party candidate, not only for the presidency, but for congressional, state, and local elections as well.

The latter would be far more disruptive to the two-party system as a Schultz candidacy would inevitably fail and leave no residual organizational structure to build a viable third party for the future.

Sanders, on the other hand, has a national organizational structure independent of the Democratic Party and could be a credible electoral force at all governing levels.

But even a Sanders third-party run might face considerable resistance from some of his own supporters and end up, in the end, getting Donald Trump re-elected. Not a result most Sanders supporters or establishment Democrats want to see.

FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver recently detailed the limitations of a Sanders candidacy in building a majority coalition for the Democratic nomination.

In Silver’s model, there are five constituencies within the Democratic Party (Loyalists, the Left, Millennials, Blacks, and Hispanic/Asian) and a candidate must win three of the five to win the nomination. According to Silver, Sanders’ appeal is strictly limited the ‘the Left’ and ‘Millennials,’ whereas, California Senator Kamala Harris and Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke have strong appeal within at least three of the five groups. [I can’t resist pointing out that Sanders has for the last three years consistently out-polled Donald Trump in a hypothetical head-to-head contest.]

Given the current political culture, a third party would most likely form around an identity characteristic such as race or ethnicity

The previously mentioned third-party scenarios are predicated on a partisan-ideological split between the third-party candidate and the Democratic Party. In the case of Schultz, his candidacy would aim to capture the ‘silent’ majority in the ideological center of American politics; while, in Sanders’ case, his candidacy would be the jettisoning of the Democratic Party’s centrist, corporate elements.

But both of these scenarios assume most American voters are ideologically driven when they walk into the voting booth.

They are not. They are partisan. They are tribal. Their are full of social group antagonisms. But they are not ideological.

In their 2017 book of American public opinion, Neither Liberal nor Conservative, political scientists Donald Kinder and Nathan Kalmoe conclude that “the ideological battles between American political elites show up as scattered skirmishes in the general public, if they show up at all.”

According to Kinder and Kalmoe, partisan preferences and attitudes arise “less from ideological differences than from the attachments and antagonisms of group life.” And this summary of ideology in America has been consistent since political scientist Philip Converse’s study of American public opinion in the 1950s.

When Brigham Young political scientists Michael Barber and Jeremy Pope looked at Trump voters they found that the claim of party loyalists as being conservative was suspect and that “group loyalty is the stronger motivator of opinion than are any ideological principles.”

The findings of Kinder, Kalmoe, Barber and Pope reinforce the work of Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels who detailed in their 2016 book, Democracy for Realists, that most voters make decisions on the basis of their social identity and partisan loyalties rather than any coherent ideology. When a favored party changes course, like driftwood, American voters do as well. The opinions of an ideologue, in contrast, is not supposed to be so pliable.

Instead, Americans are more partisan than ever as they continue to sort themselves out between Republicans and Democrats. And while more Americans than ever are calling themselves “independents” according to the Gallup Poll, it turns out these non-aligned partisans are often as partisan, if not more so, than committed partisans.

This growing partisanship is particularly evident in Americans’ issue priorities.

“Republicans and Democrats have long held differing views about policy solutions, but throughout most of the recent past there was rough partisan agreement about the set of issues that were the top priorities for the nation,” according to Pew Research’s Bradley Jones. “However, that is less and less the case. Republicans and Democrats have been moving further apart not just in their political values and approaches to addressing the issues facing the country, but also on the issues they identify as top priorities for the president and Congress to address.”


As recently as 2014, Democrats and Republicans generally put the same issues on the top of their agendas (i.e., the economy, health care, and national security). Today, not so much.

A viable third party will need to built on something other than ideology — most likely, race and ethnicity

Party ideologies can change from election to another. Remember when Republicans were the free trade party?

What doesn’t change is racial and ethnic identity.

If a sustainable third party is ever to form in the U.S., it will most likely be built upon a construct like race and ethnicity that doesn’t change so easily.

The 2018 American National Election Study (ANES), a December 2018 online survey of 2,500 eligible voters in the U.S., offers evidence that Hispanic Americans do not map onto the current two-party system as well as other Americans and could potentially support a durable third party in the near future.

Figure 2 indicates that Hispanics predominately identify as a Democrat (54%) or as an independent (31%).

Perhaps working against the idea of an Hispanic-based party is that Hispanics only account for about 13 percent of eligible voters (see Figure 2) and are the majority in only 30 U.S. congressional districts (of which 23 are represented by a Democrat).

Figure 2: Eligible Voter Segments in December 2018


Favoring the idea of an Hispanic-based party is the population growth trend which, according to the U.S. Census, will find Hispanics accounting for close to 30 percent of the total U.S. population by 2060.

But for a such a party to form, it must fulfill an unmet need. After all, if the Democratic Party substantively serves the interests of Hispanic Americans, what would be the point in carving out a new party?

Figure 3 gives some indication that Hispanic Americans do not self-identify the same way as white Americans do along the ideological spectrum. Hispanic Democrats see themselves as less liberal than white Democrats and Hispanic Republicans see themselves as less conservative than white Republicans.

This is more true for Black Americans, but as writer and scholar Theodore Johnson aptly notes from his own quantitative research, “The social conservatism of blacks does not affect voting behavior in presidential elections, even though religiosity is strongly correlated with partisanship.”

Figure 3: Average Ideological Position of Eligible Voter Segments (Dec. 2018)


In a previous essay on, using 2016 ANES data, I detailed how Hispanic Americans are more centrist in their attitudes than liberals on issues ranging from transgender bathroom laws, marriage equality, and abortion rights.

This pattern is also revealed in the 2018 ANES data (see Figure 4). Hispanic Democrats are more likely than Black or white Democrats to approve of Trump’s handling of his job and the economy

Figure 4: Presidential Approval by Eligible Voter Segments (Dec. 2018)


When comparing the ability of Democrats versus Republicans to handle a broad range of issues from the economy to natural disasters, Hispanic Democrats uniformly are less inclined than white, Black or Asian Democrats to think the Democrats are better (see Figure 5, where higher values indicate a stronger belief Republicans are better at handling a specific issue). An analogous pattern does not exist between Hispanic Republicans and other Republicans.

Figure 5: How the Eligible Voter Segments Rate the Two Parties by Issue (Dec. 2018)


Our final graph (Figure 6) plots the attitudes of 2018 ANES respondents on a series of questions related to illegal immigration. The list of questions can be found here. To simplify the analysis, I employed a principal components analysis to identify the two most significant factors in describing attitudes on illegal immigration. The two factors were: (1) illegal immigration’s impact on the economy and society, and (2) its impact on crime and security. The two factors account for almost 70 percent of all variance in attitudes related to illegal immigration.

Hispanic Republicans are plainly unique in their attitudes regarding illegal immigration. While they are similar in attitudes with their Republican brethren on the negative impact of illegal immigration on crime and security, Hispanic Republicans differ substantially on attitudes related to the economic and social impact of illegal immigration.

Figure 6: Immigration Attitudes and Opinions across Eligible Voter Segments (Dec. 2018)


I suspect one reason the Trump administration is emphasizing the ‘crime’ aspect of illegal immigration (i.e., drugs and gangs) over the economic impact is based on the relationships observed in the 2018 ANES. For Hispanic Republicans, illegal immigration is about crime, not the economy.

As for Hispanic Democrats, they differ slightly from white Democrats on the impact of illegal immigration on crime, while both groups see illegal immigration as a more positive factor on the economy and society.

Are these attitudinal differences enough to inspire an Hispanic third party?

Hispanic Democrats are more socially conservative and family-oriented than the average Democrat. Hispanic Republicans differ significantly from other Republicans on illegal immigration’s impact on its economic and social benefits.

Are these differences enough to inspire Hispanic Americans to jettison the current two-party system and build a third party that better represents their attitudes and opinions?

The safe and unimaginative answer is NO.

From data’s dispassionate perspective, however, it is hard to see how Hispanics believe their interests are sufficiently served under the current two-party system.

According to the opinion data, Hispanics are more socially-conservative and family-oriented than Democrats and more accepting of illegal immigration for economic and social reasons than the Republicans.

A third party dedicated to the interests of social conservatism and a more rational immigration policy might very well attract a large enough fraction of American voters to be the deciding factor in future presidential elections and a meaningful number of congressional and state-level races.

We can at least conjecture.

  • K.R.K.

Comments and critiques can be sent to:

A simple plan to help a hopelessly divided Democratic Party to beat Trump

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:; February 2, 2019)

Within less than 24 hours of her well-orchestrated announcement that she was running for president, California Senator Kamala Harris officially became the 2020 election’s version of Hillary Clinton and offered more proof that the Democratic Party is deeply divided going into the 2020 election.

There is a simple solution, but first it is useful to dissect Harris’ campaign recent hiccup regrading Medicare-for-all for what it tells us about how deeply divided the Democratic Party remains.

Medicare-for-all: The Progressive Litmus Test

The day after her launch announcement, CNN generously televised Harris’ hour-long town hall in Des Moines, Iowa, and it didn’t take long for an audience member to ask Harris about Medicare-for-all, a health care reform bill she has already co-sponsored in the U.S. Senate, along with Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand.

[As I wrote at the time, Harris co-sponsoring a bill that had no chance of passage was virtually costless to her and did not necessarily represent what she truly believed. I wish I had been wrong.]

After appearing to give her full support behind the idea, CNN’s Jake Tapper, host of the town hall, pressed Harris on the topic:

Tapper: So just to follow up — so just to follow up on that, and correct me if I’m wrong, to reiterate, you support the Medicare-for-all bill, I think …

Harris: Correct.

Tapper: … initially co-sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders. You’re also a co-sponsor onto it. I believe it will totally eliminate private insurance. So for people out there who like their insurance, they don’t get to keep it?

Harris: Well, listen, the idea is that everyone gets access to medical care, and you don’t have to go through the process of going through an insurance company, having them give you approval, going through the paperwork, all of the delay that may require. Who of us has not had that situation, where you’ve got to wait for approval, and the doctor says, well, I don’t know if your insurance company is going to cover this? Let’s eliminate all of that. Let’s move on.

Harris couldn’t have described the problem with our current private insurance system any better. While watching her response, I believed that she believed Medicare-for-all is not only doable, but the best direction for this country’s deeply-flawed health care system. She had me at “Let’s eliminate all of that.”

But it didn’t take long for Harris to betray her own words. Within hours of her town hall comments on private insurance, some centrist Democrats squawked.

“You can’t just pull the rug out from underneath everybody’s feet,” said Michigan Democrat Sen. Gary Peters. Possible independent candidate for president, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, said Harris’ health care stance is exactly why a candidacy like his is needed.

Harris’ campaign went into damage control as one of her advisers suggested the candidate was also considering health reform plans which would preserve the private insurance industry.

CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski subsequently put out a tweet saying Harris was “ also open to bills that preserve private health care,” only to pull the tweet hours later after the Harris campaign complained that his first tweet was not exactly right either. [Another sad and illustrative moment in the ongoing death of independent journalism in the U.S.]

As Kaczynski went back and polished his Harris campaign public relations release, Harris national press secretary Ian Sams told other reporters at CNN that her consideration of alternate paths to a single payer system did not indicate a lack of commitment to the single payer goal.

Hillary Clinton circa 2020.

Centrist Democrats and critics of Medicare-for-all don’t need to look hard to find the potential problems with health care reform that comprehensive:

  • Will health care utilization rates increase dramatically under Medicare-for-all as the previously uninsured gain access? If so, what will that do to the program’s costs?
  • Will employers lift salaries and wages once their contribution to employees’ health insurance coverage goes away?
  • Can we expect doctors and hospitals to take substantial pay cuts and not change the quality or availability of health care?
  • How do you shut down the private insurance industry? And when you deliberately shrink the economy in such a way, what are the short- and long-term effects on employment and output?

Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the progressives have yet to adequately answer those questions. And they will have to be answered before Medicare-for-all becomes a reality. And I still believe it will. The economic case for Medicare-for-all is just too strong.

“At the end of the day, it is undeniable that the United States can afford the same guarantee of health care enjoyed by people in other wealthy countries,” according to Dean Baker, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “The question is whether we have the political commitment to bring it about.”

But for Harris to go wobbly right out of the gate on the elimination of private insurance, the central cost-saving element of the Medicare-for-all reform, is a non-starter with many in the progressive wing of Democratic Party.

Huffington Post contributor, Dr. Victoria Dooley, a nationally prominent Medicare-for-all advocate and Sanders supporter, wasted no time on Twitter responding to Harris’ backtracking on private insurance:


Progressives were already suspicious of Harris, given her tenures as a San Francisco district attorney and the Attorney General of California, as well as her unapologetic advocacy for tougher enforcement and sentencing laws. Still, some progressives held out hope that she would at least stand by her public support for Sanders’ health care reform bill.

Unfortunately, at a minimum, her equivocation on the private insurance question demonstrates her unsteadiness in defending the Sanders Medicare-for-all plan. To uncompromising progressives, Harris’ performance reveals her disingenuous support for Medicare-for-all in the first place.

In fairness to Harris, there are single payer proposals that aim to preserve a role for private insurers. Furthermore, critics of Medicare-for-all willfully misrepresent what the Sanders bill would actually do with respect to private insurance.

While Section 107 of Sanders’ bill expressly states — “It shall be unlawful for a private health insurer to sell health insurance coverage that duplicates the benefits provided under this Act” — private insurance companies would still be allowed to offer supplemental coverage, as occurs under Medicare now.

If it were just Harris, a progressive could hope she’s an aberration. After all, 81 percent of Democrats support the “idea” of Medicare-for-all, according to a January 2019 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. A Democrat aspiring to win the party’s nomination for president would be crazy to oppose Medicare-for-all, right?

If other Democratic candidates’ reactions to Harris’ predicament are an indication, however, Medicare-for-all may not be on sound footing with the party’s other leading presidential hopefuls.

In the shadow of Harris’ Medicare-for-all quandary, Bloomberg’s Joe Weisenthal asked Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren if she wanted to eliminate private insurance. Warren’s answer was anything but clear:

Right now, it means fighting the Republicans who are trying to sabotage the Affordable Care Act. We’ve got this lawsuit going on down in Texas where the Republicans are trying to do what they couldn’t do with the vote, and that is trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, to make it OK to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, to cut off access to health care for millions of Americans. So job number one is to defend the affordable care act…

…Job number two is to make changes where we need to make them right now. Changes to hold insurance companies accountable when they’re trying to cheat people, when they’re trying to scam people. Changes right now, and what’s happening with drugs, prescription drugs. We need to lower the cost of prescription drugs…

…And the third, how do we get universal coverage. Medicare for all. Lots of paths for how to do that. But we know where we are aiming. And that is, every American has health care at a price they can afford. And that the overall costs in the system are held as low as possible.

That was the abridged version of Warren’s answer.

New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was perhaps clearer, but hardly unequivocal in support of Medicare-for-all’s elimination of private insurers.

“If you did that you would create so much competition, I don’t think the private insurers would be able to compete because they’re far too concerned about their profits,” Gillibrand said when asked by Fox News about Medicare-for-all and private insurers. “That competition alone will displace them, it will disrupt that industry. That is how you get to single-payer.”

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s answer to the question, at least, was clear: “Even countries that have vast access to publicly offered health care still have private health care, so no.”

Germany is an example of such a country. While 86 percent of Germany’s population receive health coverage through a public option, 14 percent use private health insurance.

Booker, with his deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry, and Gillibrand, with her deep bench of Wall Street donors, have never been favorites among progressives, but Warren is different. She is expected to the primary competitor with Sanders for the Democrats’ progressive voters— who may account for half of likely Democratic voters today. The winner in that battle will probably be among the final two candidates vying for the party’s nomination.

Warren’s answer to the private insurer question will generate more than a little disappointment among progressives. Incrementalism, no matter how earnest, will not cut it with progressives. Listen to Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez. They talk about a “complete transformation” and “re-engineering” of not just the American health care system but the entire economy.

Progressives are trying to change the system, not tweek it.

What can bridge Democratic progressives and centrists?

If you dangled centrist Democrats from New York’s George Washington Bridge and forced them to choose between the economic policies of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and those of Donald Trump, they would choose Trump’s without pause.

Trump’s economic policies better serve their interests and the interests of their donors. It is not complicated. It is politicized self-interest. That is how pluralist democracies work.

With that in mind, the Democratic establishment cannot assume their two ideological flanks will stay loyal in a Harris-Trump or Sanders-Trump race. They are both heading down a path that could easily get Trump re-elected.

Something has to change the current dynamic within the party.

But what?

The formation of governments in other countries frequently depend on political coalitions to achieve a governing majority. It is an essential element in the art of governing.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in Israel needed the support of the Kulanu, Shas and The Jewish Home parties to form their current government.

Giuseppe Conte’s government in Italy needed a six-party agreement — Five Star Movement, League, Forza Italia, Democratic Party, Brothers of Italy, and Free & Equal — to form a governing coalition in 2018.

In every case, the smaller parties in the coalition gained something concrete by joining the government — typically a cabinet position, but sometimes a binding agreement on a favored policy initiative (as was the case for the Kulanu and The Jewish Home parties in Israel).

That is how governing is accomplished in divided, polarized political environments.

Granted, the U.S. does not have a parliamentary system, but we do we have the deep political divisions. Our two-party system merely papers over and suppresses many of these differences. They still exist.

That is why the Democratic Party’s two factions must agree now, whichever faction wins the nomination (and it still looks like this is Harris’ nomination to lose), the other faction deserves — or, rather, should demand — the vice presidential slot. Had Hillary Clinton made this deal with Sanders in 2016, she’d be gearing up for her re-election campaign right now.

As it stands, for those who believe issues like climate change and income inequality represent immediate and existential threats to this country, the Democrats cannot afford to lose the presidency in 2020. And to avoid that outcome, the Democrats need to see themselves as they are — an estranged, unstable coalition of two distinct and often opposed political doctrines.

To fail to embrace that reality is to risk re-electing Donald Trump.

  • K.R.K.