Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Weak Third Party Hype

Via Political Wire, the folks at USA Today are engaging in one of the staples of hack political journalism: hyping third parties.  The article is by Susan Page:
But this year there are three credible independent contenders for governor — a record.  If the "Tea Party" movement represents an uprising against the political status quo by the right, the independent campaigns and plausible prospects for gubernatorial candidates in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine reflect a rebellion from the middle. 
I really have no idea whether this is a "record" or not (define three credible contenders, please), but going way back to, oh, 2006, here's what Wikipedia has:

Andrew Halco, AK, Independent, 9.5% of the vote
Rich Whitney, IL, Green, 10.4%
Barbara Merrill, ME, Independent, 21.5%
Pat LaMarche, ME, Green, 9.6%
Christy Mihos, MA, Independent, 7.0%
Peter Hutchinson, MN, Independent, 6.4%
Carol Strayhorn, TX, Independent, 18.1%
Kinky Friedman, TX, Independent, 12.4%

Are the three candidates in Page's story going to do better than these Indies (and Greens) did in 2006?  I have no idea; it's very early, and it's not at all rare for Indies to poll well early and then fade. I'm reluctant, however, to say that Halco, Merrill, Mihos, Strayhorn, and Friedman were not "credible" candidates.  Well, maybe not Kinky Friedman, but the rest?  I'm not convinced that Tim Cahill in Massachusetts is in a different category, or will get very different results, than Mihos did four years ago; Page reports that he's around 10% in the polls right now. 

Indeed, it's not as if Indies never win.  Page says that if any of the Indies win this year it'll be the first time since Jesse Ventura was elected in 1998, but she doesn't add that Angus King of Maine, and independent, was re-elected in the same year.  King was first elected in 1994, a year in which two Indies cleared 30%, a year in which the fifth-strongest Indie reached 18%.  Two Indies (Lowell Weicker in CT and Wally Hickel in AK) also won in 1990, a year in which NY Indie Herbert London reached 20% (not as credible as this year's crop.  If so, that ties Page's "record" three).  So the last ten years have been lean ones for Indies winning, but there were a total of five in the 1990s. 

As for Page's interpretation of the Indie revival (and assuming that it exists in the first place), is she correct that it represents a "rebellion from the middle"?  I don't know...what it probably shows, more than anything, is the low cost of entry into gubernatorial elections, yielding lots of Indie candidates, most of whom will fizzle out long before November.  Of course, "independent" doesn't necessarily mean "centrist," and Page's article doesn't really explain why we should believe that interpretation.  The only actual issue position that we get from the article is that one of the candidates wants to raise taxes (is that centrist?  I don't know).  Beyond that, we learn that these Indie candidates think that rhetoric attacking extremism is good politics -- which, one shouldn't have to point out, doesn't mean that they are actually in "the middle," only that they think that people don't like extremists. 

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