Dozens of former Republicans and Democrats have announced the formation of a new centrist political party aimed at attracting the support of voters who have become dissatisfied with America’s two major political parties.
The party, called Forward, is led by former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang alongside former Republican New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and ex-GOP lawmaker David Jolly. The trio described Forward as a “unifying political party for the majority of Americans who want to move past divisiveness and reject extremism.”
Attempts to establish a viable third party that can meaningfully compete with Democrats and Republicans are not new, but none of those efforts have been able to break the dominance of the two parties. It’s been more than 50 years since a third-party presidential candidate has won any electoral votes. The most successful modern candidate from outside the two major parties was Ross Perot, who received nearly 19% of votes while running as an independent in 1992.
The two major parties also hold near-unanimous command over Congress. Each of the 431 current members of the House of Representatives is from one of the two parties. There are two independents in the Senate, though both consistently vote with the Democrats, and one, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, has run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Forward’s leaders are aware of this history but argue that a huge share of Americans “feel they aren’t represented” by the two major parties — which they say creates room for a moderate third party to step in and make a difference.
Why there’s debate
Though they acknowledge that it’s a very steep climb, some experts believe the current environment may be ripe for a third party — even if it’s not Forward — to have a substantive impact on American politics. A Gallup poll early last year found a record 62% of voters believe the two major parties are doing such a poor job that an alternate party is needed. While they concede it may be far-fetched to imagine a third-party candidate making a legitimate challenge for the presidency in 2024, optimists argue there is opportunity for outside groups to be competitive in local races and build a solid foundation that allows them to gradually increase their influence over time.
But skeptics say the challenges are simply too steep for any third party to break through. Beyond the enormous financial and infrastructure advantages the major parties enjoy, America’s “winner-take-all” system of government can make it impossible for third parties to hold any real governing power. Critics also say polling on suggesting a widespread desire for a third party can be misleading. They say that while there are plenty of discontented voters, they are spread so disparately across the ideological spectrum that no one party could possibly represent all of their varying views.
There’s also the “spoiler” problem, in which third parties tend to siphon off votes from the major party they’re most closely aligned with, which can ultimately help the party they most oppose win close races.
For example, voters who supported Green Party candidates Ralph Nader in 2000 and Jill Stein in 2016 have been blamed — fairly or not — by some Democrats for helping the GOP win the presidency in both those elections.
Some political analysts, though, say the impact of third parties shouldn’t be judged solely by whether they win elections. They argue that there are plenty of examples in history when a third party gained enough support that one of the major parties was compelled to make a substantial policy shift in response. A centrist third party could have a similar effect today, some argue, by forcing either Democrats or Republicans to moderate their approach if they fear too many voters will abandon them.
Forward is planning to hold its first party convention next summer and aims to have candidates on the ballot in local and state-level races across the country in 2024. Party leaders say there are currently no plans to run a presidential candidate during that election cycle.