A Fierce New Kind of Electoral Politics


Danielle Raskin, Senior, Urban & Environmental Policy Department, Occidental College, Class of 2017

As I write this, it is Wednesday November 9th, 2016. Donald Trump has just been elected President of the United States, sending shockwaves across the political establishment and the world. In an unprecedented sweep of rust-belt states, he has won the necessary 270 votes to win the electoral college-- although as of this writing has lost the popular vote. With all of the pollsters, commentators and politicians predicting a Clinton victory, many are asking, "What went wrong?"

For those of us who study electoral politics and have felt frustrated by it for a long time, many obvious answers float to the surface. The Democratic Party, which once stood for the working-class, women, the elderly, the disabled, women, people of color and the LGBTQIA+ community, has largely abandoned those at the bottom of the economic totem pole for the last 25 years. In an attempt to better align with the moneyed interests that have come to define American democracy and capture more moderate voters as the Republicans shifted to the right, the Democratic party has left large swaths of once-reliably Democratic voters in the dust (as illustrated by Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin). The populism that energized so many in the Democratic primary to support Senator Bernie Sanders was used instead to elect a right-wing populist with authoritarian tendencies. The political establishment, on both sides of the aisle, were so concerned with maintaining their own power that they tried squashing the populism that emerged in the primaries. However, only the Democrats were successful in their efforts, and instead of using the powerful force of populism to win the Presidency, dismissed it and left it for the Republicans. Many voters who were so disenchanted with the status quo opted to vote for change, for something different, for anything but the establishment politics of the last decade.

All of this is to say that an utter electoral failure like this means that politics as usual is no longer going to cut it. Now more than ever we need a fierce new kind of electoral politics that brings into the fold those who feel disenchanted, excluded, and left behind from the political system. We will disagree on the way to achieve this, whether to work within the Democratic party, start an entirely new party, or do something in between (as will be discussed in this paper), but there is no longer any ignoring the necessity of the challenge at hand. While the Republican Party will likely coalesce around and adhere to the new direction of president-elect Donald Trump, the left must similarly transform in order to engage with the issues most pressing to the electorate and emerge as the party of the people. The issues of economic insecurity, terror, and corruption that were the core of the Trump campaign are issues that resonate deeply in this country. The job of the left from this day forward should be to address those painful issues, and to propose solutions that do not pit fellow Americans against each other through white supremacy, xenophobia and sexism, and as the right has, but to lay a new vision for for a country and an economy that works for all.

This election may have been an earthquake, but the mountains that have formed as a result are simply new summits to mount-- we must not just stare in awe at their grandeur, but pack our gear and prepare for the journey ahead.

The task at hand, quite simply, is how American democracy can be made to represent and reflect the the diversity of the American electorate rather than one of establishment elites who represent only their own interests. While there are many ways to tackle this issue, this paper will explore how third parties can become more influential and build power in American politics at the state, local, and to a lesser degree, federal level. With the Presidency and both houses of Congress in GOP hands, the left must now turn politics at the state and local level as terrain for change. Luckily, these places are much more fertile ground for third-party efforts than federal elections.