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date: 05 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Since the 1830s the American two-party system has included other minor parties. This essay describes eleven of them, beginning with the Anti-Masonic Party and ending with Ross Perot’s Reform Party. The most noteworthy of the group include the American (Know-Nothing), Free Soil, People’s (Populist), Progressive, American Independent, and Reform parties. Third parties in America have always suffered from structural arrangements that included single-member legislative districts and “winner take all” election rules, and yet they have persisted. Between the 1830s and 1890s most parties grew out of populistic movements that espoused an egalitarian ethos and railed against entrenched elites. Around 1900, movement-based parties began to give way to “interest group” organizations, but in the twentieth century three third parties led by strong individuals (Theodore Roosevelt [1912], George C. Wallace [1968], and H. Ross Perot [1992]) received 27, 13, and 19 percent of the popular vote for president, respectively.

Keywords: movement-based parties, interest groups, “winner take all” elections, anti-elitism, American (Know-Nothing) Party, Free Soil Party, People’s (Populist) Party, Progressive Party, American Independent Party, Reform Party

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