The Corner

The Electoral College and Third Parties, Ctd.

My post yesterday–expressing doubt about the claim that moving from the Electoral College to a national popular vote would help third parties–has gotten a few responses. Most argue that the Electoral College discourages third parties because they are likely to get a lower percentage of electoral votes than of popular votes. This is a good point, but I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes–and has to be set against the way the Electoral College frees up voters in states that are safe for one candidate or the other to vote for a third party.

Here’s a different response: “The Electoral College discourages third parties because without a realistic chance to win any electors they can not affect the election outcome (other than by acting as spoilers in some states – which is not exactly the best way to attract votes). However, in a direct election (assuming a runoff if nobody gets 50%) if you form a third party, get 10% of the popular vote (just half of what Perot got) and force two other candidates into a runoff,

then you can negotiate a nice cabinet position for yourself (probably State

Sec. if you have enough votes AND hold enough sway over your own voters) as

well as considerable influence on federal policy in exchange for endorsing one of the candidates. Just look at Israel where very-very proportionate representation encourages not just third, but seventh, eigth and ninth parties and where mere 2% of the popular vote may give you tremendous power (if neither major party can form a coalition without your two Knesset seats).”

This would make sense to me, if we had runoffs or a parliamentary system of government.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.