Third Party Time?
- The Presidency
- The Assignment
- Ground Rules
- Campaign scenarios
- The Memo
- Finding the Information You Need
- Quote Quiz
ON MARCH 28, 1996, Bob Dole clinched his hard-fought bid for the Republican nomination with primary victories in California and two other Western states. That day, the names of both the major-party contenders on the November ballot were set, with incumbent Bill Clinton having long been the only choice on the Democratic side.
With the primary season effectively finished only seven weeks after it began and the outcome of the summer party conventions preordained, the electorate appeared to greet the prospect of a Dole-Clinton match with little enthusiasm. Polls showed that a majority of voters of both parties yearned for more choice in the process of selecting a President. Seemingly in response to such widespread sentiment, third party rumblings from right, left and center grew particularly loud in late March, rivaling the talk of a "third party tide" that had swept the country in the early Fall of 1995 with speculation about retired general Colin Powell's potential candidacy.
Following the same Western primaries that buoyed Dole, rumors swirled that Republican opponent Pat Buchanan was set to lead his followers from the GOP fold. Ross Perot was back on the airwaves touting the Reform Party and leaving commentators to speculate whether the party he had helped create could ever out-do the double-digit achievements of Perot's solo 1992 campaign. Moreover, consumer advocate Ralph Nader had answered the call of the California Green Party, allowing himself to be put on that state's presidential primary ballot and garnering enough attention to rattle Democratic strategists who held a Clinton sweep in California as essential to national victory. Finally, Lowell Weicker, former independent governor of Connecticut, was also pondering whether the time had come to fulfill his own presidential aspirations.
Although the movements of Buchanan, Weicker, Nader and Perot were followed most closely in the national press, more than a dozen lesser-known, but no less determined, presidential aspirants had been on the road for months, rallying audiences behind a panoply of banners. Grassroots organizers for parties ranging from the Libertarians to the Socialist Equality Party were all hard at work throughout the country, going from door-to-door in the hope of turning local interest into national momentum. Each had to consider the kind of strategy to pursue either to realize the long-shot prospect of victory or, more likely, to exert some influence on the issues before the electorate and, possibly, to shape the outcome of the election.
The focus of independent and third party efforts has long centered on the presidency, with that office offering an unparalleled opportunity for a new party or an emerging coalition to garner attention and organize on a national scale. Nonetheless, Perot's 1992 bid, as well as the recent efforts of his newly-formed party and the experience of other, long-established alternative parties demonstrate that presidential candidacies outside of the mainstream face enormous logistical hurdles. Not only must the organizers of such efforts carefully consider the ideological positioning of their candidates and strategically identify state-by-state targets of electoral opportunity, but unlike their major party counterparts, they must also surmount considerable financial and legal barriers.
These are the sorts of questions which you are to consider in approaching the following assignment.
You are to assume the role of a chief political strategist for a potential third party campaign. The date is March 31, 1996. Your first task is to identify the candidate or party for whom you will be working and to articulate a campaign strategy that reaps the greatest rewards in votes and/or influence for your candidate or party. You will lay out the main thrusts of your campaign in a master strategy memo. This memo should not exceed three single-spaced pages in length. The materials available to you herein have been chosen to help you craft that strategy memo.
You should consider yourself working on behalf of one of the following:
- an actual or imagined nominee of an existing third party or coalition
- the nominee of an imagined new party with a compelling message not currently
addressed by existing parties; or
- an existing person whom you believe has the potential for a viable candidacy
either as an independent or in affiliation with an imagined or existing
Strong Advisory #1: Define your overall approach
In the process of collecting information to buttress your strategy, you may find that your research does not support your initial assumptions about your campaign. Don't be discouraged: You'll find you can browse the Web far more efficiently having first thought through an initial strategy, even if the assumptions underlying that strategy prove invalid, than if you were to go on-line without first narrowing your campaign goals. Remember, you do not need to view all of the information,
just that which will help meet the campaign objectives you establish.
Identify your candidate and develop a sense of the
goals of your campaign as quickly as possible, preferably even before you go
online; then use the available information to seek support for a particular
Strong Advisory #2: Consider the "non-virtual" library
You will find a wealth of information through various links to the web herein, but you won't find all the information you might need nor will you find that information in the most efficient manner. The time it takes to walk to the "non-virtual" library might be far less than time consumed by hopping from one link to the next in the hope of finding a particular piece of information to bolster your strategy.
You're encouraged to identify a party and/or candidate on your own as well as establish your own goals. However, you may wish to choose among the scenarios presented below or at least use a scenario as an entry-point for your exploration. More detailed information about each is available by clicking on the highlighted text.
- You plan to throw the election into the House of Representatives;
- Your campaign intends to capture the so-called "radical middle" vote, the bloc of independent voters roused by Ross Perot in 1992; or
- Your newly-formed party targets the presidential campaign as a vehicle to establish national visibility and as a means of laying the foundation for Congressional candidacies in future elections.
The end-product of your analysis will be a three-page executive summary of your candidate's campaign, which clearly defines the terms of your candidate's (and party's) success and addresses the three major components of campaign strategy: candidate positioning (your message), voter segmentation (your market), and the means you employ to implement your campaign (mechanics). In brief, your memo should address the following:
To see an example of the kind of memo that sketches such a grand plan, go to the memo James Rowe wrote to Harry Truman in 1948 laying out a master strategy that guided Truman to victory. (Click here to go to the Rowe Memo now.)
- Briefly profile the candidate or party for whom you are working.
- Articulate the goals of your campaign.
- Describe your candidate's positions on the essential issues you've identified. How do your candidate's positions relate to those of other candidates, both in terms of the issues your candidate will address as well as your choice of particular issues viz-a-viz those "taken" by other candidates? What has led you to believe that the "issue space" you have carved out for your candidate is, indeed, available to you?
- Using the resources of the World-Wide Web, identify the segments of the population most likely to respond to the issues of importance to your candidate.
- Determine the states likely to have an effect on the outcome of your candidate's campaign.
- Pinpoint those states that will form the core of your campaign.
- Articulate your strategy for getting your candidate and/or your
party on the ballot in those states.
- Estimate the impact of your campaign in terms of the popular vote as well as electoral votes.
- The best memos will also address:
- the means by which you intend to raise funds for your campaign;
- potential "allies" (e.g., officeholders, interest groups, celebrities...) that you will recruit to support your campaign;
- your methods of establishing your candidate's presence in the targeted states.
Finding the Information You Need
The information made available to you here is like a specialized library devoted to Presidential campaigns and third-party/independent politics. Some sections delve into broad historical background; others provide you with a snapshot of Campaign '96 as of the end of March of that year.
We've provided you with two ways of viewing this information. One section, called Sources, gives you a snapshot of the types of information available in different parts of this library. Looking at the list of Sources, you'll find one body of information collected from knowledgeable people, another from newspapers and magazines, a third from resources available over the World Wide Web, and finally, a reference section.
While some may choose to walk around this library looking at different types of information, others might go first to the card catalogue (on-line, of course). This is what the section Themes offers - a breakdown of the same body of information listed in Sources but by theme rather than type. The four major thematic areas follow the outline of the memo described in the previous section: Basics, Message, Market, and Mechanics. Each area holds the following sub-categories:
Each sub-category contains information drawn from several different types of sources.
- Public Opinion
- Electoral Process
- Ballot Access
Many of the pages of information available to you also have links within them to other, related pages. Thus, you may begin your journey by selecting a conversation listed under Issues and end up following a thread that leads you to an understanding of the electoral process or campaign financing. Each page also has clickable words at the top and bottom that act as signposts, helping to steer you in a desired direction. (For more information on using these navigational aids, click here to go to the help section on page conventions used for this assignment.)
To begin, you should first familiarize yourself with the format and tone of the Rowe Memo mentioned above. Then, use the Basics section of the Themes page or the Scenarios page to decide on the candidate or party for whom you are working and to help clarify goals for your campaign. To test the validity of the assumptions underlying your campaign goals, go to either Sources or Themes for an overview of the information available to you.
Before you begin, be sure you understand
how to use bookmarks and how
to save text to a file to help with the preparation of your memo.
Click on the text or image to jump to the desired location.
|Henry Wallace, Truman's secretary of commerce, broke with the President over his Cold War policies and announced he would run for President on a third-party ticket in December of 1947. He received about the same percentage of the popular vote as Strom Thurmond (2.38 percent) but no electoral votes.|
You can view footage of Wallace's 1948 announcement and the Progressive Party convention. If you are on the KSG INTRANET CLICK HERE. If you are accessing this page outside of KSG, CLICK HERE .
|Among the most famous newspaper headlines in American history, the Chicago Daily Tribune, November 3, 1948.||
The States' Rights Party, the party of the Dixiecrats, became the fourth party to run in the election of 1948. States' Rights was headed by South Carolina governor J. Strom Thurmond and carried four southern states, winning a total of 39 electoral votes with only 2.4 percent of the national popular vote. |
To hear an audio file of Thurmond's acceptance speech, click here.
For a long while before the appointed time has come, the [presidential] election becomes the important and, so to speak, the all engrossing topic of discussion. Factional ardor is redoubled, and all the artificial passions which the imagination can create in a happy and peaceful land are agitated and brought to light. The President, moreover, is absorbed by the cares of self-defense. He no longer governs for the interest of the state, but for that of his re-election; he does homage to the majority, and instead of checking its passions, as his duty commands, he frequently courts its worst caprices.
As the election draws near, the activity of intrigue and the agitation of the populace increase; the citizens are divided into hostile camps, each of which assumes the name of its favorite candidate; the whole nation glows with feverish excitement; the election is the daily theme of the press, the subject of private conversation, the end of every thought and every action, the sole interest of the present. It is true that as soon as the choice is determined, this ardor is dispelled, calm returns, and the river, which had nearly broken its banks, sinks to its usual level; but who can refrain from astonishment that such a storm should have arisen?
Who wrote the above?
- Alexis de Tocqueville
- Samuel Clemens
- Will Rogers
- Gunnar Myrdal
Last Modified on 14-Mar-97
Created and maintained by The Case Program, Kennedy School of Government,
| CREDITS |
Please send corrections or suggestions to The
For technical questions related to this site, please contact the KSG webmaster.
Copyright ©1997 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College