A.  Major Parties and Minor Parties


Political parties whether major or minor, act as a link between the public and the government.  Since the Civil War ended in 1865, it brought about a change in the political system.  The U.S. has had a two party system consisting of Democrats and Republicans ever since. This means Democrats and Republicans have been the only parties winning almost all national, state and local elections. There have been two major parties because usually Democrats and Republicans are the only candidates who have an opportunity to be elected.  No minor party candidate in any twentieth century American presidential election received a majority or plurality of the popular vote.  A majority is more than half the votes.  A plurality is less than a majority, but the most votes.


A1.  What two groups are linked by political parties?


A2.  What ended in 1865?


A2.  In what year did the Civil War end?


A3.  What major parties make up the two party system? (G 164 middle)


A4.  What major parties win almost all national, state, and local elections? (G 164)


A6.  What three levels of government hold elections?


A7.  Which three levels of government do major parties dominate?    (G 168 bottom)


A8.  How many minor party U.S. presidential candidates received a majority of the popular vote in the 20th century?


A9.   What is a majority?


A10.  What is a plurality?



Even though minor parties do nominate candidates who will run in elections, they usually do not pose a threat to the election of major party candidates. Because the two major parties (Democrats and Republicans) usually win elections, minor parties are often referred to as third parties. The six most recent minor parties in the state of California are:                      

                   101.  American Independent Party


                   102.  Peace and Freedom Party


                   103.  Libertarian Party


                   104.  Natural Law Party


                   105.  Green Party


                   106.  Reform Party


A11.     Do minor parties nominate candidates?


A12.     At the federal level, do minor parties pose a threat to major parties?


A13.     What is another name for minor parties?                                                                             


A14.     How many minor parties have recently existed in California?


A15.     What are the minor parties recently existing in California?






Some minor parties develop because of dynamic leaders. Three examples of parties built around strong leaders are:


Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive (Bull Moose) Party:

  101.  Formed during the presidential election won by Democrat Woodrow Wilson about 100

                                               years ago.

102.    In 1912 the Progressive Party received the largest popular vote that any minor party ever received in a U.S. presidential election.


George Wallace’s American Independent Party:

103.  Formed to oppose the Civil Rights movement to win the Vietnam War; opposes all


104.  Formed during the presidential election in which Republican Richard Nixon first won.


Ross Perot’s Reform Party:

 105.  Created when Ross Perot received almost 1 out of 5 votes as an independent in the

                                               Presidential race.  Democrat Bill Clinton won both the 1992 and 1996 elections.

                                      106.  Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota under Reform Party at the end of                                                    the twentieth century.


Other minor parties developed around issues.  Two examples of parties build around issues are:


The Green Party

107.   The party nominating Ralph Nader for president in 1996 and 2000

108.   Stresses environmental protection and social justice.                       


       The Libertarian Party

                    109.   Favors maximum individual liberty and minimum government involvement in economics.                                 110.   Has nominated candidates in recent presidential elections.


B1.    Give three examples of minor parties founded by dynamic leaders? (G 168 middle)


B2.    Whose followers formed the Bull Moose Party? (G 168 middle)


     B3.    What is the name of the minor party candidate who led the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party in 1912? (G 168 middle)


B4.    Who was the founder of the Progressive Party? (G 168 middle)


B5.    About 100 years ago, which minor party received the largest popular vote in any Presidential election?

  (G 168 middle)


B6.    Who was the founder of the American Independent Party (AIP)? (G 168 middle)


B7.    Who was the founder of the Reform Party? (G 168 middle)


B8.    Who was the founder the Reform Party twice defeated by Clinton in 1992 and 1996? (G 168 middle)


B9.    Give two examples of parties based on issues? (G 171 col 2)


B10.  Under what party did Ralph Nader run for president against the second George Bush and Al Gore?

         (G 168 middle, 171 col 1)


B11.  Which party advocates minimal government involvement in economic affairs?



c. minor party successes in local and state governments


Most exceptions to the major party domination of U.S. election occur at the state and local levels. Minnesota  Governor Jesse Ventura, representing the Reform Party, recently won at the state level by defeating a popular and well respected Republican and a popular and well-respected Democrat.


Most minor party victories are found at the local levels of government--county, city and special districts.  

Green Party candidates have elected members in several city council seats and on county boards of supervisors.  Libertarians have local office holders, plus one of the 120 State Representatives and the Reform Party has been particularly active at the state level.


C1.  What two levels of government are the exceptions to the general rule that major parties dominate? (G 168)


C2. What are the three levels of local government that minor parties do best in? (G 171, col 2)


C3. Former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura was elected by what party? (G 171, col 1)


C4.  Who was the minor party candidate who recently served as governor of Minnesota? (G 171, col 1)


C5.  Which party has a member on a County Board of Supervisors? (G 171 col 2)


C6.  How many representatives are in the State Legislature? (p.838)


C7.  Which party has a state representative in the state legislature? (G 171 col 2)


D. Obstacles to minor party success


There is no mention of political parties in the U.S. Constitution.  States make many laws governing their political parties.  State laws often require a minor party to overcome many obstacles to succeed.  Dominated by the two major parties, state legislatures have complicated electoral regulations. Numbers of registered voters or petition requirements can make it hard for a minor party to get its candidate on a ballot. Most importantly, the winner-take-all, single-member district electoral system throughout the U.S. has worked against the development of minor parties, because it allows only two large parties to accumulate a plurality, that is, the most votes, or to receive a majority, that is, more than fifty percent of the vote.


D1.  How many parties are mentioned in The U.S. Constitution? (G 155 top, 163 bottom)


D2.  Why do major parties dominate elections? (G 168 top)


D3.  What are two state regulations to get a candidate on a ballot? (G 168 bottom)


D4. What works against minor parties? (G 166 bottom, 168 bottom)


D5.  Define Plurality. (G 166 bottom)




Chart of Democratic Political Party Systems ( G154, 166-167)



Types of Systems    Districts & Decision Rule           Nature of Winning Parties                 Small Parties                        Results    



Two Party                 Single member districts             Two large                                                Little power,                           D=6         R=4

System                      with plurality rule,                      non-ideological                                        but influential                          G=0         L=0

Example: U.S.           also called winner-take-all           middle of the road                                   gamers                                     Ref=0      NL=0

                                                                                          parties with broad appeal                      great publicity                        AIP=0




Multi-Party           Multi member districts                  Many small                                              Frequently win                      D=3          R=2

System                  with proportional                            ideological parties                                                                                   G=1           L=1    

 Examples: Italy,     represention (PR)                           with narrow appeal                                                                                 Ref=1        NL=1

Japan, Isreal                                                                                                                                                                                      AIP=1                  




E. Roles of Minor Parties in a Two Party System


Minor parties have been more useful in increasing attention to certain issues, than in having any serious chance of winning a national election. Besides advertising a particular issue as interest groups do. Despite lack of success at winning most offices, third parties do have an impact on American politics. Minor parties bring new issues to the political agenda, issues that major parties may overlook. They serve as a safety valve for the expression of protest with those dissatisfied with the two major parties.  Third parties ideas have many times been an important source of ideas for platforms, statement of the party's goals and specific policy agendas for major parties during state and federal conventions.



Question E


E1.  What do minor parties gain, even if they have no chance of winning? (G 169)


E2.  In what ways do minor parties help major parties? (G 169)


E3.  What do major parties use from minor parties? (G 169)


E4.  What is the definition for platform? (G 159 m)


The candidates of minor parties have frequently have sufficient votes to act as a spoiler, preventing majority party from winning an election when results are close. Minor parties and Independents make up an important part of the voting population, especially in a presidential election.



E6. What manner do minor parties affect an election results when they are close? (G 159 top)


E7.  What is a spoiler? (G 168 middle)


E8.  Do minor parties play an important part during an election? How? (G 159 top)


F. Independent Voters and Candidates and the decline of party loyalty


In the last three decades, major crises such as Watergate and the Clinton impeachment have decreased major party loyalty while increasing the number of independents.  Independents are individuals and candidates for office who do not register with any party. Approximately one third of the voters consider themselves independents. Independents make up an important part of the voting population, especially in a presidential election. Independents often claim their voting patterns are influenced by issues and leadership qualities, not by a party label.  Even in the two party system of Democrats and Republicans, the major parties have broad appeal in order to attract votes from people of many demographic groups.


The decline of  loyalty to major parties is illustrated by the large number of votes received by Ross Perot  ran against Bill Clinton twice, first as an independent, receiving a larger popular vote then when he ran four years later as the nominee of the Reform Party.


Few people are consistently independent in their choice of candidates.  Most independents identify themselves mainly with one of the two major parties.  Therefore, in spite of large and sometimes increasing numbers of independents, the votes of independents may often be predicted by major party labels.



Question F


F1. Why has major party loyalty decreased in the last three decades?


F2.  What is an independent? (G 158 bottom)


F3.  In what election does an independent voting population play an important part? (G 159 top)


F4.  Who ran against Clinton for president as an independent? (G 168 middle)


F5.  Ross Perot won a larger popular vote as independent or Reform party candidate? (G 168 middle)


F6.  Independents usually identify themselves with one of which two parties? (G 159 top)


F7.  What may allow the prediction of how independents vote? (G 159 top)




G. Minor parties, majority and minority parties in the elections of 1912 and 2000


Two, third party candidates for the 2000 presidential elections were consumer advocate Ralph Nader of the Green Party(G171) and Political Commentator Pat Buchanan nominated by the Reform Party . Naders' priorities during this 2000 election were to provide universal health care coverage from birth through nursing home, restore democracy with campaign finance reform, Election Day holidays, increased ballot access and strengthen laws on labor and environment. Buchananns' priorities included foreign policy that keeps America sovereign and secure, fair trade policies that protect U.S. workers and industries and government reform that gets big money out and the average citizens back into the political process. These and other issues of the third parties have often been used as party platforms for major parties such as the Democrats and Republicans. (OR Despite little success in the presidential arena, third parties have played an important role in American politics by bringing new political issues to national attention) In the recent 2000 election, after a majority of the precincts reported Gore and Bush with the same percentage. Nader having gathered a small, but number of votes, had sufficient strength to receive the blame for spoiling the victory for the candidate of the majority party, Gore.



Question G


G1.  Who was the presidential candidate representing the Green Party? (G171 col 1)


G2. Who was the presidential candidate representing the Reform Party?


G3. What three issues did the Green Party candidate stand for during the 2000 election?


G4. What three issues did the candidate for the Reform Party voice during the 2000 election?


G5. Which candidate had a small but sufficient number of votes, which could spoil the 2000 results? (G171 col 1)


G6.  Issues founded by minor parties are often used by major parties for? (G169)


G7. Who were the major party candidates in the 2000 election?



H.  Reference: Links to U.S. and California Minor Party Web Sites and Candidates


Green Party  U.S.                                                              www.greenpartyus.org

Green Party  California                                                    www.cagreens.org

Nader 2000                                                                        www.voternader.org


Reform Party U.S.                                                             www. reformparty.org

Reform Party California                                                   www.reformpartyof california.org

Perot/ Ventura                                                                   www.factmoster.com/spot/reformparty


American Independent Party U.S.                                    www.aipca.org        

American Independent party California                          www.usaip.org


George C. Wallace                                                            www.gi,grolier.com/presidents/aae/side/amerinde.html



Libertarian Party U.S.                                                       www.lp.org

Libertarian Party California                                             www.ca.lp.org


Natural Law Party U.S.                                                     www.natural-law.org

Natural Law Party California                                           www.naturallaw.org


Peace and Freedom Party California                               www.ippn.org