It can be difficult for many people in other countries to appreciate just how difficult it is to be a third-party candidate in the United States. The United Kingdom has three viable political parties, and many other countries have a similar situation. Some of their more minor political parties might get a few seats from time to time, but they at least have three solid political parties. America has a two-party system that is so thoroughly entrenched that people widely acknowledge that voting for a third-party candidate is tantamount to throwing a vote away entirely.
Most of the most successful third-party candidates in American history got ahead prior to the twentieth century entirely, which is arguably not even a fair comparison. American political parties as they are known today weren’t established until relatively recently. The situation was much messier prior to the twentieth century, and even then, it took some time for everything to fall into place. As an illustration, the Democratic Party was once the conservative party in the United States, and the Republican Party was the progressive party largely formed around anti-slavery. The Democratic Part of today and the Republican Party of today are unrecognizable now.
Many third parties in the United States run knowing full well that they have no intention of actually succeeding in the election. They do this in order to draw attention to the political causes that they represent. The party that’s all about promoting the cause of digital piracy is not expecting to have major government influence. This political party is simply trying to make the sort of splash that will allow their cause to have the influence that they probably will never have personally.
The main criticism of these sorts of third parties is the simple fact that many people argue that they take votes away from the main political parties. The people who vote for the socialist candidates would have voted Democratic otherwise, supposedly. The people who vote for the Libertarian party would have voted for the Republican party otherwise, once again, supposedly. Some people scoff at this argument, saying that many of the people who voted for these parties are the sorts of single-issue voters who just would have stayed home otherwise. This will certainly be the case for plenty of them. However, the question of whether staying home would have been better than voting for a third-party candidate is a question that is worth addressing.
Some people might say that it is more important to vote for a third-party candidate, because it gives politicians a sense of how the American people are thinking and how American thought is taking shape at any given time. In a year in which more Americans voted for the socialist candidate, it is more clear that society is becoming more left-wing, which is important for politicians to know in the first place. It is also important for the American people themselves to know, since some of the people with fringe beliefs may feel as if they are alone, even though many people voted for the same candidates that they favored.
There is still some value in voting for a third-party candidate, as long as you do it with the knowledge that you are changing the culture in a more overarching way rather than a specific way, and you should never decide on a third-party candidate when you were planning on going with the candidate that was more likely to actually win.