At the beginning of this election season, I tried to do something crazy: I tried to remain undecided until I got to the voting booth. The thing that really made me decide to do this was my anger at the Democratic Party activists who blamed Ralph Nader for the "loss" of Al Gore in 2000, and decided to challenge Nader's right to be on the ballots in many states. The 2.88 million people, or 2.7% who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, they figured, would have voted for Tipper Gore's husband if Nader was not on the ballot. What they failed to understand is that maybe these 2.88 million people- and, if you include the 1.03 million, or 1% who voted for the other third party candidates, which makes 3.91 million or 3.7% of the country, voted because they refused to vote for either Bush, Jr. or Al Whore. This bloc of voters tipped the election, and the Democrats can't stand it.
There are a huge number of people, in fact the majority of people in the United States, who are eligible to vote but abstain because they do not want to endorse either major party candidate. When presented with a credible alternative who is allowed to participate in the debates, like Ross Perot was in 1992, people will come out to vote. Perot got 19.74 million votes, or 18.9% in 1992 when he was new on the scene, and 8.08 million votes, or 8.4% in 1996. If Perot hadn't mysteriously quit the race for a few days because Bush, Sr. was "messing with his daughter's wedding," he might have won a la Jesse Ventura in 1998. I believe that almost all of the Nader voters were mostly young liberals who grew up during the PMRC's reign of terror and who could not stand to bring themselves to vote for Al Gore.
These older hippie Democrats chased away my vote by claiming that the world was going to end just because Bush, Jr. is reelected so I needed to vote for Kerry otherwise I was either some sort of non-liberal caveman (i.e. a Republican) or a fool for throwing away my vote in "the most important election of our lives." No, sorry folks, I voted in 2000, and Bush, Jr. still won. Their sky-is-falling tactics spooked enough people into not voting for third parties so much so that the Reform Party is no more, and the Green and Libertarian Parties might not make the ballot in statewide races.
The two parties in power make it very hard for third party candidates to get on the ballot by a whole host of methods, including but not limited to ballot-access laws and the Commission on Presidential Debates. The Commission on Presidential Debates decides who will be included in the debates, and only included Perot because he was a billionaire who had at least 10% support in polls. In 2004, David Cobb and Michael Badnarik were both arrested for civil disobedience for protesting their exclusion from all of the Presidential Debates. The media barely reported it because they were more interested in reporting this election as an either/or choice instead of doing articles about widespread voter discontent, particularly among the youth.
In the end, Nader only got 400,000 votes this time around. Third parties have been laid low from one of their high points 12 years ago. Third parties are the places where new issues get injected into the political discourse. Much of early 20th century Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs' platform was adopted by FDR in the 1930s as the New Deal. What ideas will come out of the third party candidates of the early 21st century?