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