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How third parties are appealing to millennials

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

By Lauren Hennessee, Studio M staff // 

According to the Pew Research Center, millennials are anticipated to become the largest generation in the electorate by next year. And not only is the millennial generation outgrowing previous ones, millennials are also challenging traditional political thought.

Ezekiel Hall, a 20-year-old sophomore at Middle Tennessee State University, is one of many students who believes it’s time for something new in politics: a third party.

“A third party gives you another chance to vote on something you believe in,” says Hall, an Ashland City, Tennessee, native. “Right now, the two parties just don’t give you enough to go with. You either have one side or the other, and a third party will work in between the two.”

This opinion seems to be shared with a growing number of millennials. An NBC News/GenForward poll released in November 2017 found that 71 percent of millennials believe a third party is now necessary.

Ryan Miller, also a sophomore at MTSU, feels “the problem with Republicans and Democrats is everyone only hears what they want to hear. There’s no middle ground for anybody.”

Other millennials like Nashville musician Hal Longview want a third party option because of “the amount of hypocrisy between the two parties.”

One party gaining millennial attention is the Libertarian party. Both Miller and Longview identify themselves as aligning most closely with libertarianism, and Miller voted for the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, in the 2016 presidential election.

Cole Ebel, the chairman of the Libertarian Party of Tennessee, said, “The two major groups we draw to our party are millennials and veterans. I would say the majority of our party growth in the last three years has been from millennials.”

While third parties seem to be gaining momentum from millennials, rising from three percent of the total millennial vote in the 2012 presidential election to 8 percent of the total millennial vote in the 2016 presidential election, MTSU political science professor Kent Syler believes third parties still have hurdles to overcome.   

“The first thing a third party has got to do is demonstrate that they have a chance of winning,” Syler says. “There are a lot of things going against trying to get a third party off the ground. Tradition is a big deal, and there are state-by-state rules that favor the major parties.”

As far as why millennials have a growing interest in a third party, Syler credits the polarization between the two parties now.

“The two parties have moved very far apart, so they’ve left a lot of people in the middle with one party that’s too conservative or right wing and one party that’s too liberal or left wing.”

Syler also believes there is another reason third parties haven’t seen much success in politics.

“Third parties struggle because most people don’t give them any chance of winning, so most people don’t want to throw away their vote,” he says.

Even though third parties haven’t seen much success in leadership roles, they have still been able to stamp their place in history.

“What has typically happened with third party candidates is they have been spoilers to whichever of the two parties they take the most people from,” Syler said. “Ross Perot spoiled the race for George H.W. Bush and allowed Bill Clinton to win, Ralph Nader pretty well handed the election to George W. Bush… so third parties have generally been spoilers even back to Teddy Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party.”

Given the option, though, many millennials believe a party that better represents their views would encourage them to become more politically active and support alternative candidates.

Longview said, “If they aligned more with my ideals, then I would definitely be more inclined to support them.”

Hall added, “A lot of college students turn away from what’s going on, (but) if they had a party they could really get behind, they would pay more attention and lead someone like me to be more active in political campaigns to try to push those parties and get them more attention.”

Another thing millennials agree on is how difficult it is for third parties to get their messages out.

Hall also acknowledged the difficulties third parties face mentioning, “Third parties go into it at a disadvantage because it feels like people are so stuck on the idea that they have to have it one way or the other.” He went on to explain, “If enough people start talking about it, getting involved in their campaigns, and trying to spread their messages we could actually see a third party become a contender.

Given a third party option, Miller said, “I would be a whole lot more involved, and I think a fair number of other people would, too.”

Lauren Hennessee is a political science and journalism student at Middle Tennessee State University.

Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

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