Social Mood Conference  |  Socionomics Foundation

Senior Analyst Chuck Thompson explains rising third-party success

Chuck Thompson, Senior Analyst for The Socionomist, explains that negative social mood is impelling voters to look beyond the two-party system for answers.


[Editor’s note: A text version of the interview is below.]

Dana Weeks: Welcome to ETV. I’m Dana Weeks, and I’m joined today by Chuck Thompson, Senior Analyst for the Socionomist. Chuck, in the October Socionomist, you discussed voters’ strong interest in third-party candidates in the U.S. presidential race. What’s driving this?

Chuck Thompson: In a word, or three: negative social mood. That is the main driver.

Negative mood impels voters to look beyond the two-party system for answers. This trend was evident as far back as May. The website FiveThirtyEight said that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were more strongly disliked than any nominees at that point in the past 10 presidential election cycles.

Things have not improved for either candidate. Based on eight polls from late August and early September, Hillary Clinton has an unfavorable rating of 55%, and Donald Trump has an unfavorable rating of 57%.

The bottom line is that positive mood drives centrism and the status quo. Negative mood drives extremism and polarization. The Dow Jones Industrial Average divided by the price of gold shows the Dow priced in real money. Dow/gold peaked in 1999 and has been trending net lower ever since, suggesting that social mood is becoming more negative.

Dana: Your article also discussed the history of third parties. How has social mood influenced third parties’ popularity over the long term?

Chuck: In the first half of the nineteenth century, there was a political duopoly involving the Whig Party and the Democratic Party. By the 1850s, the Whig Party was nearing its demise. Dow/gold was in its second plunge in a large-degree sideways pattern from 1834 to 1859. The country was deeply polarized on the issue of slavery. Former Whigs got together with disgruntled Democrats and former third party members, and they began the Republican Party, which had a strong showing in the 1856 election. Four years later, the Republican Party ran Abraham Lincoln and won the presidency. But after that third party victory, another duopoly formed: Republicans and Democrats.

Since 1860, third-party candidates have competed in about 25 elections. Only nine of them have won more than 5% of the vote. Two notable exceptions are Teddy Roosevelt and George Wallace. Roosevelt won six states in 1912, when Dow/gold was moving sideways. Wallace won five states in 1968, as Dow/gold was on the way down from its 1966 top. More recently, Ross Perot won 19% of the popular vote in 1992. However, the market was on its way up from the Dot-Com bubble, and Perot did not win a single state.

Dana: We’re seeing an unprecedented number of Americans now identifying as politically independent. Do you think the Democrat-Republican duopoly we’ve had for so long in the U.S. is under threat?

Chuck: This is a real threat. Pew Research says that 39% of Americans now identify as politically independent. That’s the highest percentage of independents that Pew has recorded in more than 75 years of public opinion polling. But what’s even more interesting is that among Millennials ages 18-34, 48% identify as independent. As time goes on, Millennials will play an increasing role in the political process.

State polls say the same thing. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is polling very well, receiving 14% in Pennsylvania, 13% in Colorado and 11% in Nevada, for example. If we see numbers like these for Johnson on Election Day, it would suggest increased openness toward candidates other than Republicans and Democrats.

If negative social mood intensifies, we can expect the popularity of third party candidates and self-identified political independents to continue to grow.

Dana: Well this has been great, thank you so much, Chuck.

Chuck: My pleasure.

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