Can third party candidates win?
Even if your name is Michael Bloomberg or Howard Schultz, regardless of the race or district, mounting a third party candidate challenge is always an uphill battle. Candidates from the two dominant parties tend to have deeper pockets thanks to sophisticated party fundraising infrastructure. They also have an easier time conveying the details of their platform, as the general Democratic and Republican stances tend to be well-known.
But in 2019, candidates are no longer fighting for a finite amount of space on television or radio. Social media offers a boundless opportunity for third party candidates to get their name out there, articulate their platform and engage with voters in an easy, cost-efficient way. But how exactly does the internet give third party candidates more of a chance?
Overcoming the financial disadvantage
Third party candidates on average are dramatically outspent in elections. Given their less powerful party fundraising apparatus, third-party candidates have a clear disadvantage when it comes to advertising their campaign. Luckily, advertising on social media is much cheaper than buying television spots, so it’s no wonder social media is often the first choice for third-party candidates. In fact social media isn’t just for third-party candidates: $1.8 billion was spent overall on digital political ads in 2018. It’s clear that politicians of all stripes are finding value online.
On average, the cost-per-click for an ad on Facebook is $1.86. This is minimal in comparison to the cost of one 30-second television spot, which can cost as much as $1500 in a local market. Even more traditional advertising options like billboards or radio are similarly expensive. Social advertising also tends to be where your potential voters are — particularly young voters. In terms of reaching a wide audience affordably, advertising on social channels is a true game-changer for lesser known candidates.
Connecting with voters in a personal way
As discussed, third party candidates are often unknown commodities. While they tend to have less name recognition than major party candidates, they also have an uphill battle in terms of defining the platform of their party. It’s no wonder there’s a third party called the “Legal Marijuana Now Party” — it gets the point across! Part of the reason the two major parties remain the “only game in town” for many races is because of their recognizable platforms. A 30-second television ad is — as discussed — financially prohibitive. It’s also a short amount of time to clearly explain a platform. A third-party candidate needs space to outline the alternative their platform offers compared to the major parties and explain why this alternative is important and worth voting for. Streaming a Q&A on Facebook or Instagram Live for an hour or two is a cost-efficient way to go in detail on a political platform, answer questions, and clear up any misconceptions. Furthermore, it helps create a personal relationship with voters. Because social media is more interactive than a one-sided ad, potential voters get a chance to make their voices heard and speak directly with the candidate.
Social media as an equalizer
According to a Gallup poll, 61% of Americans feel there needs to be a viable third party in the United States. And as we’ve seen in recent elections, more and more Americans are gravitating toward third-party candidacies that market themselves as an alternative to establishment politics. For instance, in the 2016 President election, Independent Evan McMullin garnered 21% of the popular vote in his home state of Utah thanks to a powerful social media following.
Oftentimes a successful third party challenge requires a “perfect storm” situation, such as dissatisfaction with the two major party candidates in a state. Taking advantage of this perfect storm is easier and more affordable than ever. Sure, it still isn’t exactly easy for third-party candidacies to find traction. But social media and its role as an equalizing force makes it easier than ever for third party candidates to garner a significant following and open up a conversation with voters.