The Niskanen Center is a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that advocates environmentalism, immigration reform, civil liberties, and a national defense policy based on market principles. The center is named after William A. Niskanen, an economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan. The Center states that its “main audience is Washington insiders,”. It is generally considered a right of center moderate organization.
It is composed primarily of former members of the libertarian Cato Institute who left that organization when the Koch brothers organization obtained control of the Cato Institute.
Recently the Niskanen Center published an article arguing the best investment of time, energy, and money for those who want a more deliberative, entrepreneurial, and productive political system is to build moderate factions within the two major parties.
I’ve generally agreed with that strategy, arguing that joining a major party is one realistic strategy to moderate the two major parties.
As to third parties, the Niskanen Authors say:
” [some] disenchanted moderates have fallen under the sway of one of the great chimeras of American politics: the exciting but ultimately Pollyannaish hope of creating a centrist third party to take on the two-party oligopoly. If we lived in a different country, a third party might be well worth exploring. But because the two-party system is baked into the cake of the American political system, the pursuit of a third party is guaranteed to be a sinkhole for money and energy.
They also dismiss the possibility of changing the rules of elections, such as requiring ranked choice / instant runoff voting, that would boost the chances of third parties.
What the Niskanen Center authors may have overlooked is different elections laws and opportunities in different states.
In Oregon, our fusion voting law could help boost the power of a third party and support the growth of moderate factions within the two major parties.
Fusion voting allows a candidate to accept the nomination of more than one party. In Oregon partisan candidates can list themselves on the ballot as the nominee of up to three parties. That’s why you will see on a ballot under a candidates names “Democrat, Working Families, Progressive” or “Republican, Libertarian”. This multiple nomination system is often referred to as cross nomination.
Oregon has an Independent Party, of which I’m a co-chair. The Independent Party of Oregon has over 124,000 members and makes up almost 5% of all voters. It continues to grow as the Oregon Republican Party continues to lose in share of voters. Its cross nomination is the most sought after and used cross nomination by major party candidates. Its especially valued in legislative swing districts where a few percentage points make a difference.
Both Republicans and Democrats in swing districts have won the Independent nomination but have made a mistake in how to best use the cross nomination. They continue to list their nominations using their major party nomination first and Independent second. While that makes sense where the Independent nominee belongs to the dominant party in their district, in races where the less dominant party has received the Independent cross nomination, the candidates should be listing the Independent nomination first.
A small difference? I don’t believe so. How would moderate Democrats and unaffiliated independent voters feel about these candidates.
Using Independent first creates a stronger ID with that word and a weaker bond with what moderates may believe to be a radical party. Yet it still signals the tribal voters that the candidate leans right and gives permission to those tribal voters to cast a vote for the Independent Republican.
I’ve advised Republican candidates to not only use that on their ballot line, but also in their mailers and ads. With negative partisanship growing, self identifying primarily as a Republican will immediately turn off many voters. However introducing yourself to voters as an Independent Republican, or Independent Democrat, will identify you as someone who is holding their party at arms length, or merely identifying as the right of center candidate.
If in fact this small change in word order alters the perception of voters towards a candidate even by 5% the Independent nomination becomes extremely important in building moderate bases within the major parties. Candidates in the Democratic and Republican closed primaries will need to be aware that they not only have to respond to the needs of their partisan bases, but at some point may need to work for the nomination of the more moderate Independent Party, lest their major party opponent get that nomination.
So in response to the Niskanen Center, while I largely agree with the analysis regarding third parties and election reforms being inferior to moderates working within a major as a modes of political transformation, consideration has to be given to conditions and opportunities within states. In Oregon, fusion voting could have an election changing impact in swing district legislative races, which could in turn empower moderate elements within the major parties.