Duke University Alumni Magazine

What does the recent presidential election signal about third parties in American politics?

The 2000 presidential election was one of the closest in history, and the loser can blame his defeat on third-party candidates. In Florida alone, at least five candidates received vastly more than enough votes to have changed that outcome. Ralph Nader, of the Green Party, drew his nearly 100,000 votes disproportionately from those who would otherwise have voted for Al Gore. The other four, including Harry Browne of the Libertarian Party, who followed Nader in fourth place with just under 20,000 votes, drew supporters who would have added to George W. Bush's total. Other states, including Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Oregon, had more than enough votes cast for a third, and often a fourth, candidate to have altered outcomes.

And yet, the central goals of the third-party candidates went unfulfilled. In the nineteenth century, third parties were generally movements seeking to enact policy changes. Typically, some portion of their platforms would be adopted by one of the major parties, and their supporters would be absorbed into that party's base. In the twentieth century, "third parties" have mostly been vehicles for individual candidates to seek office. The original promise of Ross Perot and the Reform Party was to combine these two into one serious challenge to the two major parties. The divisive nomination contest eventually won by Patrick Buchanan combined with his effective disappearance as a candidate to seal the demise of those aspirations this year.

The Green Party promised more. It has a clear base in movement politics with an agenda (if not particular policy planks) that is viewed positively by many in the electorate. It has models of at least modest but sustained success in other nations, particularly in Europe. Nader was a surprisingly effective spokesman as candidate. And, while it failed in its immediate goal of getting at least 5 percent of the popular vote and, with that, federal campaign financing, it has patience to build carefully for the future.

The Green Party faces the same problem as Perot in 1996-carry capacity. Can the party's freshness and novelty and Nader's appeal in 2000 sustain it into 2002 and 2004? Besides its credibility problem, the party faces the so far unsolvable problem of contemporary third parties: Can it generate any significant number of credible candidates for offices other than president? The party needs to demonstrate that it represents a sustained threat to the electoral well-being of politicians in one or both major parties.
--John Aldrich, a professor of political science, is the author of Before the Convention and Why Parties? and co-author of Change and Continuity in the 1996 and 1998 Elections.

We asked several Duke faculty members and administrators: What websites do you have bookmarked in your computer?

Sue Wasiolek '76, M.H.A. '78, LL.M. '93, assistant vice president for student affairs, describes herself as "a very practical user of the Web," listing the Duke online course catalogue ACES (www.registrar.duke.edu/registrar/search.html), and weather from WRAL-TV (www.wral.com/weather/), among her most visited websites. And, of course, www.goduke.com, for schedules, scores, and Duke sports news.

English professor Joe Ashby Porter shows the dual nature of his roles as Renaissance scholar and writer of fiction (his latest novel is Resident Aliens). "In addition to the invaluable Perkins Library sites (www.lib.duke.edu), I use 'Web U.S. Universities, by state' (utexas.edu/world/univ.state) to check on current English department rosters, and 'Renaissance Electronic Texts' (library.utoronto.ca/www.utel/ret/ret.html) to search early dictionaries."

In the mathematics department, professor Andrea Bertozzi uses several websites for academics and research, including Duke's applied mathematics program (www.math.duke.edu/applied/), the Center for Nonlinear and Complex Systems (www.phy.duke.edu/research/cncs), and a site pertaining to her own research area of liquid films (www.fastlane.nsf.gov/servlet/showaward?award=0074049). "Last but certainly not least," she adds, "my dog Tupper's Web page," www.math.duke.edu/~bertozzi/tupper/Tupper.html.

Bruce Seltzer, rabbi at the Freeman Center for Jewish Life (fcjl.stuaff.duke.edu), has bookmarks that run the gamut, from news to charity. At www2.haaretz.co.il/breaking-news/, the English edition of one of Israel's leading newspapers is, he says, "one of the ways I have been keeping up on developments in Israel." At www.stopthehunger.com/hunger/, "one click donates food," and at www.ziv.org, a charity "raises and distributes money to innovative programs and groups, and educates about doing good deeds and fixing the world with whatever talents we have as individuals. It's the best site for learning about giving, kindness, and Judaism."

"He's our best three-point shooter, he's an outstanding foul shooter, he can post, he can fill a lane, he has really improved on driving the basketball. His position defensively is magnificent, almost on every play."
--Coach Mike Krzyzewski to the Associated Press on Duke senior

Shane Battier's being named-one vote shy of unanimously-to the AP's preseason All-America team "I have the highest respect for Harvard, but it's not the job for me."
--President Nannerl O. Keohane to The Chronicle, quoted in a New York Times article on Harvard's extensive search for a new president

"I think a lot of people, for the first time in a long time, think their vote counts. It's a great time to be a political science major."
--Duke senior Alexandrea Haskell, a student at the Sanford Institute, where her class and others gathered to watch the election returns

Illustrations by Mary Flock Lempa




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