Media needs to a better job at covering third party candidates
Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 19:09
One of the basics tenets of objective reporting is that a writer must present all sides of a story. The elections this November are receiving a lot of press, but almost none of it is coverage of third party candidates. While it may feel like we’re being inundated with every bit of news even vaguely related to politics, the mainstream media is not providing comprehensive coverage of the 2012 elections by ignoring candidates outside the two major parties.
In the United States, we have the freedom to form political parties centered on just about any platform you can imagine, from the Modern Whig Party to The Rent Is Too Damn High Party, but very few of them ever get their candidates elected to office. No candidate from outside the Republican or Democratic parties has been elected to the presidency since 1853. Of the 535 politicians currently serving in Congress, only two represent third parties. Third parties don’t usually receive the same level of support, notoriety or campaign contributions that major party candidates do, in part because they often represent fringe issues and policies that are less popular with the general electorate, but also because the mainstream media has little interest in covering candidates that get such a low number of the votes. This perpetuates the weak turnout for third party candidates. While they’re not as big a story as the Republican or Democrat who’s probably going to win the election, they’re still part of the race. Third Party candidates can’t be expected to be competitive with the major parties if they’re never given press coverage.
There were four candidates on the ballot in Connecticut’s 2010 senate race, and eight write-ins. By November, only two of those 12 were household names. Many people going into the voting booth were seeing the names of Independent Warren B. Mosler and Connecticut for Lieberman Party’s Dr. John Mertens for the first time. This represents a serious display of irresponsibility by the media. While Republican Linda McMahon and Democrat Richard Blumenthal spent almost $60 million on the race, an amount all the other candidates combined never even came close to, the press compounded their advantage by giving the major party candidates almost exclusive coverage in the news.
If the Republicans and Democrats represented a complete spectrum of political positions, we wouldn’t need third parties. But they don’t. The media is ignoring a growing interest among voters. In the past, third party candidates have usually represented a small, unconventional slice of the electorate, but that’s beginning to change. Record numbers of voters are expressing dissatisfaction with the major parties and a willingness to look outside the box. According to a Gallup poll in August 2012, only 10% of Americans approved of the job Congress was doing. There’s a stigma often associated with third party candidates that they’re “less legitimate” because of their limited support and the fact that they rarely hold office, however this poll shows that those norms have been reversed. If 90% of Americans are dissatisfied with Congress, it’s the major parties that comprise it who are are illegitimate. Americans clearly need something different. If third party candidates began winning national elections, they could tackle issues that the established politicians shy away from; it will take fresh voices to do what the two parties cannot after 230 years of near unimpeachable authority in America. Third party candidates have a chance to genuinely impact politics in this country – if they could just reach voters.
The first step to making third parties a major option is for the media to treat them the same way they treat the suits. If the mainstream press jumped on every word all the candidates in a race said, third parties would have a chance to reach voters outside their small support base. In order for a healthy democracy to function, the electorate needs to be well informed. The press wields incredible power in choosing what it does and does not want to write about, and not covering all the options voters have in an election is detrimental to the democratic process. The power Americans have in voting is choice, and that choice shouldn’t have to be between the lesser of two evils.