Three's a Crowd

The Dynamic of Third Parties, Ross Perot, and Republican Resurgence
Ronald B. Rapoport and Walter J. Stone
Reveals how the "dynamic of third parties" fuels the continuing evolution of our political system


Three's a Crowd begins with the simple insight that third parties are creatures of the American two-party system, and derive their support from the failures of the Democratic and Republican parties.

While third parties flash briefly in the gaps left by those failures, they nevertheless follow a familiar pattern: a sensation in one election, a disappointment in the next. Rapoport and Stone conclude that this steep arc results from one or both major parties successfully absorbing the third party's constituency. In the first election, the third party raises new issues and defines new constituencies; in the second, the major parties move in on the new territory. But in appropriating the third party's constituents, the major parties open themselves up to change. This is what the authors call the "dynamic of third parties."

The Perot campaign exemplified this effect in 1992 and 1996. Political observers of contemporary electoral politics missed the significance of Perot's independent campaign for the presidency in 1992. Rapoport and Stone, who had unfettered—and unparalleled—access to the Perot political machine, show how his run perfectly embodies the third-party dynamic. Yet until now no one has considered the aftermath of the Perot movement through that lens.

For anyone who seeks to understand the workings of our stubbornly two-party structure, this eagerly awaited and definitive analysis will shed new light on the role of third parties in the American political system.

"For much of our nation's history, we have enjoyed the political stability that comes from a two party system. Three's a Crowd probes how third-party candidates can alter party coalitions and spur the two major parties to embrace new policies. It's a fascinating read for anyone with an interest in politics." —Bill Clinton, President of the United States, 1993-2001

Cover photo © Joe Angeles / WUSTL Photo Services

Ronald B. Rapoport is John Marshall Professor and Chair, Department of Government, College of William & Mary.

Walter J. Stone is Professor and Chair, Department of Political Science, University of California, Davis.

Praise / Awards

  • "Powerfully persuasive in its exhaustive research, Three's a Crowd may surprise many by revealing the long- ignored but pivotal impact of Perot voters on every national election since 1992."
    —Clay Mulford, Jones Day and General Counsel to the 1992 Perot Presidential Campaign and to the Reform Party

  • "Rapoport and Stone have written an engaging and important book. They bring fresh perspectives, interesting data, and much good sense to this project. Three's a Crowd is fundamentally about political change, which will, in turn, change how scholars and pundits think of Ross Perot in particular, and third parties in general."
    —John G. Geer, Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University and Editor of The Journal of Politics

  • "A significant contribution to our understanding of minor parties and party system change. The authors develop a new theory and provide strong empirical evidence in support of it. They show that the Perot's candidacy has had a strong and lasting impact on partisan competition in elections.
    —Paul Herrnson, Director, Center for American Politics and Citizenship Professor, Department of Government and Politics, University of Maryland

  • "The definitive analysis of the Perot movement, its role in the 1994 GOP victory, and the emergence of an enduring governing majority."
    —L. Sandy Maisel, Director, Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs, Colby College

  • ". . . a stimulating and consequential study by two political scientists who are rare in that they work from both statistics and a deep (even intellectual) grasp of the party system. . . . "
    New Republic Online

  • "The definitive account of the Perot movement and an insightful and convincing analysis of how third parties and independent presidential candidates can influence election outcomes and alter the coalitional bases of the two major parties. With speculation rampant about a possible independent or third party presidential candidacy, Rapoport and Stone's Three's a Crowd offers a rich and rewarding guide for thinking about the 2008 election."
    —Thomas E. Mann, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution, and co-author of The Broken Branch

  • "I am sending my copy of this book by messenger over to Mayor Bloomberg with a note: "Run, Mike, Run!" If the Mayor wants to shape American politics over the next decade, he has to read Three's a Crowd. He'll see that his billions will be far less influential as a private citizen than his ideas as a candidate in a presidential campaign; you can't buy with big bucks the excitement that comes from big ideas shaking the ground beneath the feet of the status quo. That for me is the message of this superb account by Rapoport and Stone of Ross Perot's campaign in l992 and of third parties in particular. We're stuck; our two-part system is polarized and paralyzed. Without a third party candidate to excite new constituencies and raise new issues, in another couple of decades we're all going to be reading Gibbons Decline and Fall to figure out what happened to this glorious experiment in self-government.  But hold off on Gibbons. Start with Three's a Crowd and pray, "Run, Mike, run!""
    —Bill Moyers

Look Inside

Copyright © 2005, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Ronald Rapoport and Walter Stone quoted in Salon | 11/13/2016

Article The Texas Observer | 3/9/2006

Listen to Ron Rapoport's interview with Lewis Lapham on Bloomberg Radio

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 312pp.
  • 31 Tables, 58 Figures.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2008
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03099-6

Add to Cart
  • $28.95 U.S.

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