Thanks, Clinton & Trump: Huge boon for third parties in NJ
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump apparently have people trying transcendental meditation.
The Natural Law Party – founded and based on such meditation techniques in 1992, shuttered in the United States in 2004, though remaining on New Jersey’s political-party-affiliation form as a third-party option for voters – has seen an unexpected boon in the state in recent months.
Between 2002 and 2015, there were never more than 52 New Jerseyans signed up with the party. Since 2007, the number has hovered in the 20s or 30s. Then it went to 54 at the start of March.
Then to 148 by the end of March.
And to 279 by the end of April.
It’s not just the Natural Law Party: All seven alternative parties recognized by New Jersey have seen unprecedented registration spurts since the end of January. In total, their numbers grew by almost 50 percent in a three-month period.
The leaders of those parties say that while their voter organizing efforts help, the trend has to be credited to Clinton to Trump, shown in polls to be the most unpopular major-party nominees.
“I think that’s what it has to be,” said Pat Noble of Red Bank, national co-chairman for the Socialist Party. “Sort of jokingly, it’s sort of a damning indictment of the Republican and Democratic parties if people are instead registering with parties that don’t exist anymore.”
At least the Socialist Party is an active one. It was recognized by the state in 2014; its registrations climbed from 25 at the end of January to 303 at the end of April.
“A large part of that is now that we’re rolling into the presidential election year and the two major parties are putting forward such horribly unpopular candidates with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, people really are starting to look for these alternative parties in a big way,” Noble said.
The Constitution Party has been an option since 2002, when New Jersey first began recognizing minor parties after being sued over the issue. It has peaked at 174 members, then more than tripled in three months to 544 as of the end of April.
“As the other parties crumble, as they’re starting to do, I think, more and more peole will be turning to folks like us,” said Darrell Castle, a Tennessee lawyer and the Constitution Party’s presidential nominee.
Castle, who said he hopes to be on the ballot in 42 states this year, said offers of help and registered voters are up in many states. He said fewer Republicans would have given up on their party if U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz had been nominated but that contacts went way up after Trump won the Indiana primary.
“That is obviously the case,” Castle said. “I mean, it’s the best opportunity that we’ve ever had because we’re getting contacts from Republicans who wouldn’t give us the time of day before this.”
To be sure, third parties aren’t on the cusp of upending two-party dominance in New Jersey.
Even with the recent boon, alternative parties ended April with 7,126 registered voters, equal to 0.13 percent of everyone registered. Presidential election years tend to be their best years for adding voters, same as for the Democrats and Republicans. Typically, though, that jump tends to come in the months leading up to the November election – not the months leading to a primary the minor parties don’t have.
Patrick McKnight, chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party, said third parties still face a lot of hurdles in New Jersey because of state laws that favor the two major parties. The minor parties can’t hold primaries. Because of their size, they can’t get a favored column in the ballot. Standard voter registration forms don’t list the parties a person can choose from, instead including a blank space to fill in; the list is limited to a separate form.
But the parties’ rolls have grown – typically slowly, with the notable exception of the last few months.
“I think it’s great,” McKnight said. “Ultimately I agree with (George) Washington that we probably shouldn’t have political parties. We should have just individuals who stand on their beliefs. But if we’re going to have political parties, clearly the two that have ruled our country for the past hundred years are not doing a good job and they need to be held accountable.”
McKnight said people are “looking for a healthy dose of common sense” and that Libertarians provide it.
“It’s easy to point to Hillary and Trump as the catalyst for this, but I think it’s actually much deeper than that. I think this sentiment has been growing for a number of years,” McKnight said.
“You see more people registering as independents than ever before, and I think they see both establishment parties as corrupt and out of touch. And I think they’re right.”
The Libertarians are New Jersey’s third-largest party, with 2,983 registrants as of April 30. The Conservative Party comes next at 1,492, more than doubling in three months. Then comes the Green Party, which added nearly as many voters in two months as it had in the prior four years.
That’s probably a residual effect of the rise of Bernie Sanders, said Green Party chairwoman Lora Friedenthal. Democrats who Feel the Bern then wind up feeling burned when they realize Clinton is likely to be the party’s pick.
“Our assumption on that would be that as the Democratic race is sort of going on and people are realizing that there’s sort of less and less of a chance that Bernie’s going to be the nominee that they are looking for someplace else to go that still supports those policies,” Friedenthal said. “If you were to look at Bernie’s platform and the Green Party’s platform, they are very similar.”
Friedenthal said there are a lot of people on both sides of the political spectrum who feel a sense of bewildered disenfranchisement watching Trump win the nomination.
“What this race has done is sort of shown people maybe how little their voice matters to the major parties a lot,” Friedenthal said. “So then they’re going to look for someplace else to go, on both sides. I think there’s a lot of people who feel that way, that the parties no longer represent them somehow and they’re not quite sure how that happened. And third parties are the only place left for them to go.”
Friedenthal said she looks forward to a time when third parties grow enough to be influential.
“Whether or not we reach that size now, this year, I don’t know. But perhaps eventually,” she said. “And if we do, that could drive some major changes in the big parties, when they suddenly have something to be afraid of other than each other. I sort of can’t wait to see what that does.”
“I just encourage people to get involved in the system no matter party they support,” said McKnight, the Libertarian chairman. “I know a lot of people are disenfranchised. A lot of people just want to leave the state. But if you leave politics to the politicians, you end up with the situation we have now.”