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Challenges to the American Two-Party System: Evidence from the 1968, 1980, 1992, and 1996 Presidential Elections Author(s): Paul R. Abramson, John H. Aldrich, Philip Paolino, David W. Rohde Source: Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 3 (Sep., 2000), pp. 495-522 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. on behalf of the University of Utah Stable URL: . Accessed: 13/01/2011 21:49
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Two-PartySystem: Evidence from the 1968, 1980, 1992, and 1996 Presidential Elections
PAUL R. ABRAMSON, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY UNIVERSITY JOHN H. ALDRICH, DUKE PHILIP PAOLINO, UNIVERSITY TEXAS AUSTIN OF AT DAVID W ROHDE, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY Recentsuccesses by independentpresidentialcandidatesraise questions about the stabilityof the Americantwo-partysystem. Studentsof electoralbehaviorpoint to partydecline,whereasanalystsof partyorganization see growth and transformation. Analyses of the 1968, 1980, 1992, and 1996 NationalElectionStudy surveys are used to determine whether support for Wallace,Anderson,and Perotresultedfrom dissatisfactionwith the currenttwo-partysystem. We find that there has been little erosion of supportfor the majorpoliticalpartiesbetween 1968 and 1996. Americanswith low levels of support for the majorpolitical parties were more likely to supportWallacein 1968 and Perotin 1992 and 1996. But to a large extent, support for Wallace,Anderson, and Perot with the major-party candidates.Supportfor resultedfromdissatisfaction the major parties themselves has not eroded enough to provide a systemic opportunityfor an independent candidateor for a new political partyto end the Republicanand Democraticduopoly. Are American political parties growing weaker, or are they being revitalized? Students of electoral behavior see decline (Dalton and Wattenberg 1993; Ladd

An of NOTE: earlier version thisarticle presented theannual of was at Politmeeting theAmerican icalScience Association, MA, 3-6, Boston, September 1998.A copyof thisstudyis available In addition web-site informahas at that electronically in that themusing tionnecessary replicate results thisarticle, to the withtables present along that listwise deletion. results instead theresults employ of imputed
Political Research Vol. Quarterly, 53, No. 3 (September2000): pp. 495-522


Political Research Quarterly

1993; Wattenberg1991, 1998),' but analystsof party organizationsee growth and transformation (Aldrich1995; Rohde 1991; Schlesinger1991). Thereis also some evidence of a slight resurgence the party-in-the-electorate the last two of in election surveys(see Abramson, Aldrich,and Rohde 1999; Aldrich1999; Bartels 2000; and below). These differingviews of the politicalworld are fueled by dramaticchangesin Americanelectoralpolitics. H. Ross Perot's1992 candidacywas the most successful challenge to major-party dominancesince TeddyRoosevelt's Progressive his Partycampaignin 1912. Perot initially resisted transforming organization, United We Stand America,into a political party.Then, in September1995, he reversedhis position and announced that he would form a new political party, wanted one. This new because,he argued,more than threeout of fiveAmericans and party,Perotpredicted,would be "thelargestpartyin the country" would displace either the Democraticor RepublicanParty.2 The two major parties have grown weaker among the electorate. In the twenty-six presidentialelections between 1864, when AbrahamLincoln was landslideelection, only four reelected,and 1964, the yearof LyndonB.Johnson's candidates(and no independentcandidate)won more than 5 perminor-party cent of the vote. In the eight presidentialelections between 1968 and 1996, GeorgeC. Wallace,John B. Anderson,and H. Ross Perot(twice) each exceeded this level.3Moreover, Ceaserand Busch (1997) point out, the 1992 and 1996 as electionswere the firstpresidential contests since the CivilWarin which the two major parties failed to win 90 percent or more of the vote in two consecutive presidential elections. In addition to this behavioral change, party loyalties among the Americanelectoratehave been eroded, a decline that began between 1964 and 1965 (Converse 1976), and which continued through 1978. Since 1980 therehas been a reboundin partyloyalties,but partyloyaltiesare substantiallyweakerthan they were during the yearsbetween 1952 and 1964 (Abramson, Aldrich,and Rohde 1999).4 Despitethese changes,the majorpoliticalpartiescontinue to dominateAmercandidatein ican elections. Since the Republican Partyfirstfieldeda presidential 1856, either a Republicanor a Democrathas been elected President.The two major parties dominate congressional elections, and partisanship became increasingly importantwithin Congressafterthe 1970s (Rohde 1991), especially afterthe 1994 midtermelections (Aldrichand Rohde 1997-98).

1 For two exceptions,see Keithet al. 1992 and Shaferand Claggett1995. "Themouse that roared," Economist, The September30, 1995: 32. 3 Basedupon resultsin Congressional 1997. Quarterly 4 In fact, the 1994 NationalElectionStudy registered small increasein partisanloyalties,mainly a because of a 5 point increase in the percentage of strong Republicans,and this resurgence increasedin the 1996 NES (see Abramsonet al. 1999).


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The plurality-votewin system used in the United States, GreatBritain,and Canadafacilitatestwo-partydominance(Duverger1963, 1986; Riker1982; but also see Cox 1997), but even in these democraciesmajorpartieshave been displaced.5Yet temporarysuccess by a new political party does not necessarily presage the demise of establishedpolitical parties, as the failure of the Social DemocraticPartyin Britainillustrates(see Creweand King 1995). Do the shortcandidaciesin the United Statessince termsuccessesof independentpresidential The answerdependsupon dominance? 1968 pose a seriousthreatto major-party voters' reasons for supporting third-partyand independent candidates. For example, if Perot's appeal in 1992 was due primarilyto public disenchantment with GeorgeBushand Bill Clinton,he may simply have capitalizedon a transient If, supportwas drivenby forces openingin the two-partysystem.6 instead,Perot's underminingthe supportof the two majorpartiesthemselves,the currentmajorpartyduopoly may be seriouslythreatened. In this paper, we examine attitudes among the electorate toward the two majorpartiesin the 1968, 1980, 1992, and 1996 presidentialelections. Our primary concern is whether support for Wallace,Anderson, and Perot reflectsan on-goingtrendof partydecline amongthe electorate.Our analysistakesplace on two levels. First, we examine the changing support for the two major parties between attitudestoward acrossthese four electionsand analyzethe relationship the major parties and support for Wallace,Anderson, and Perot. Second, we develop and test a multivariatemodel to examine the stability of support for Perotoverhis two elections.At both levels, we attemptto determinewhat changing attitudestowardthe majorpartiesimply for the growth of third parties.We find that there has been little erosion of support for the major political parties between 1968 and 1996. Americanswith low levels of support for the major politicalpartieswere more likely to supportWallacein 1968 and Perotin 1992 and 1996, but to a largeextentsupportforWallace,Anderson,and Perotresulted candidates. with the major-party fromdissatisfaction

division of partyfunctionsprovidesa useful tool V O. Key's(1965) tripartite for analyzingchanginglevels of party support. Key arguedthat partieshelp to govern,organizepoliticalleaders,and compete forvotes amongthe electorate.In this study,we are interestedin the electoralimpact of parties.Thus, Key'spartyIt may be too early to say that the ReformPartyin Canadahas permanentlydisplaced the Probut gressiveConservatives, they have outpolled and won more seats than the PCs in the last two elections. 6 We arenot attempting comprehensive a support.For the best analyanalysisof the basis of Perot's sis to date of the sources of his support, see Alvarezand Nagler (1995). For a thoroughanalysis of the fluctuationsin Perot's supportover the 1992 campaign,see Zallerand Hunt (1994, 1995).


Political Research Ouarterlv

is in-the-electorate most directlyat issue, while his two othercomponentsarerelevant to this analysisinsofaras they affectthe electoralparty. Threeaspects of the partiesare most relevantto the public. First, partiesare the most importantpoliticalreferencegroupwith which voters can identify and to which they develop loyalty (Campbellet al. 1960). In addition to this priand marilyaffectivebond, parties-as-organization in-governmentexpress prinand advocate policies that establish the agenda for the current political ciples dialogue (Sundquist 1983). As parties are more unified, they more nearly approximateDowns' (1957) account of parties as unified teams of office seekers that present ideologies that, in turn, provide relatively inexpensive and as useful informationto the public. Similarly, partiesare more unified in organization and in office and the more clearlythere arerelevantpartycleavages,parname"to the public. This ties are more importantfor providinga useful "brand brandname becomes even more valuableas more unified partiesaremore effective in using office for passing legislation and taking other action on pressing have long served as the public concerns. Third, the parties-as-organization of contact between voters and elected governance, via registrationand point turnout drives, persuading the uncertain to support them and generating greaterenthusiasmamong partyloyalists. The growthof independenceand the weakeningof partyloyaltiessuggestthat the major political parties have become less relevant as reference groups. Althoughthe vast majorityof successfulcandidatesare partynominees, they are less likely to emphasizetheir partisanties. This fragmentation candidateand by office hardlypresentsthe partyas a unified team. The DemocraticPartyhas had deep divisionssince the Civil RightsMovementand the VietnamWar(see Mayer 1996). In 1992 divisions among the Republicans were highlighted in Pat Buchanan's struggleagainstGeorgeH. W Bush. The 1992 presidentialcampaignillustratedand heightenedthis lack of unity in each party,reducingthe value of its "brand name"to the electorate.For exameven after his nomination, Clinton presented himself as a "new kind of ple, Democrat," makingit more difficultfor votersto ascertainthe value of the party's brandname. In 1968, 1980, and 1992 the partyholding the White House had unusuallydivisivenominationcampaignsfor an incumbentparty.The abilityof parties to use the federalgovernmenteffectivelyto achieve desirableends has long been under question, and in 1992, this issue formed an importantpart of Perot's campaign(Ceaserand Busch 1993). Finally,the declininguse of personal contactsby partyorganizations the growingexpenditureson the mass media and have weakened the electoralrelevanceof the party-as-organization (Rosenstone and Hansen 1993). Therefore, each of the electorallyrelevantaspectsof the parsuccess may ties may have been weakened, and Wallace,Anderson,and Perot's be due to these changes.Of course, therewere election-specificfactorsthat conall tributedto supportfor Wallace,Anderson,and Perot.Most importantly, three 498

to Two-Party System Challenges theAmerican

faced politicallyweakened incumbents.7Our multivariate analyseswill include factors. election-specific


Thereis little to suggest that Perot's successes in 1992 and 1996 were related therewas to his filling a void that the majorpartieswere failingto fill. Certainly, little upon which voters could base an enduring self-referenceas "Perotistas." Likewise,it is hardto arguethat Perotofferedvotersa coherentplatformin 1996, or even in 1992, apartfrom his heavy emphasis upon the budget deficit, from neitherPerotnor Andersonran which they could cast a prospective vote.8Finally, in coalitionwith any other candidateswith whom he could govern if elected. AlthoughWallaceran as the candidateof the AmericanIndependentParty,9 his supportersfielded a congressionalslate only in his home state, where the NationalDemocraticPartyof Alabamacontested six of the eight congressional districts,winning between 6.4 percent and 22.8 percent of the vote (Congressional Quarterly1994). In fact, even though he lacked a party label in 1992, Perot built more of a national organizationthan Wallace,and Andersonnever mounted a nationally effectivecampaign.During the spring of 1992, Perotbuilt a substantialorganizationof volunteersthatgatheredsignaturesto place him on the ballot in all fifty in states.Butalthoughhe had an organization 1992 and the trappingsof a political partyin 1996, Perotcould not compete with the majorpartiesfor voters for whom the partieswere fulfillingtheir three basic roles. At best, Wallace,Anderson, and Perot could benefit from attitudesthat the two-partysystem was not mechanismfor effectivegovernment. providingan essentialcoordinating

candidatesare more We begin by testing the proposition that major-party to attractsupport from Americansfor whom the major parties do serve likely our these purposes. Specifically, thesis predictsthat:

7 In 1968, LyndonB.Johnson did not seek reelection,but supportedhis vice-president,HubertH.

Until very late in the campaign,Humphreyhad a great deal of difficultydistancing Humphrey. himself fromJohnson'spolicies. 8 By 1995, both the RepublicanCongressand PresidentClinton were arguingthat balancingthe budget was a majorpoliticalpriorityThis illustratesan argumentthat Sundquist(1983) develops as a majorreasonit is difficultfor new politicalpartiesto succeed. Majorpartiescan defuse insurgent partiesor movementsby co-opting their issues. 9 As Rosenstone,Behr,and Lazarus (1984) point out, becauseof problemsof ballot access,Wallace actuallyran under six differentpartylabels. Andersonactuallyran not as an independent,but as the LiberalPartycandidatein New York.


Research Political Quarterly

For partiesas referencegroups who with one of the majorparties Hi: Respondents are morestrongly identified shouldbe morelikelyto support major-party the candidates less likelyto and candidates. support independent with H2: Respondents positiveevaluations the majorpartiesshouldbe more of the and candidates less likelyto support indelikelyto support major-party candidates. pendent For partiesas "brand names"on policy concerns who some important H3: Respondents perceivethe majorpartiesas representing should morelikelytosupport major-party be the candidates less and differences candidates. likelyto support independent H4: Respondents believethatoneof themajor who job partieswoulddo a better of the than be governing theother partyshould morelikelyto support major-party and candidates less likelyto support candidates. independent For partiesas organizations that tie the public to electoralinstitutions H5: Respondents havebeencontacted one of themajor-party who by organizations should morelikelyto support be candidates less likelyto supand major-party candidates. portindependent The basic logic behind these hypothesesis that Americanswho perceivesignificantbenefits from a two-partysystem are more likely to support the major parties. Conversely,Americansfor whom the value of the current two-party systemis negligible(as manifestedby the partiesnot fulfillingtheirthreeprimary roles) have less reason to support the established party system and are more likely to supportindependentcandidates.

To test these hypotheses, we use questions from the 1968, 1980, 1992, and 1996 NationalElectionStudy (NES) surveysto createmeasuresof the degree to which respondentsbelieve that the majorpartiesare performingthe functionsof and the party-in-the-electorate, party-in-government, party-as-organization. The first variablereflectingthe role of the party as a referencegroup is the respondents'strength of partisanship.This variableis simply the folded party identificationscale (Campbellet al. 1960). Clearly,respondentswho strongly identify with either the Democraticor the RepublicanParty should be more candidatesand less likely to support independent likely to supportmajor-party candidates. The second variablemeasuresgeneralattitudestowardthe majorpoliticalparties. The NES gives respondentsa chance to list freelywhat they like and dislike about the Democratic and Republican Parties.Fromthese four questions,we followed Rosenstone,Behr,and Lazarus (1984) and constructeda twenty-one-point 500

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measure,rescaledto a 0,1 interval,of pro-partyevaluations.10 Respondentswith positive evaluationsof the majorpartiesare expected to be more likely to supcandidatesand less likely to supportindependentcandidates. port major-party The thirdand fourthvariablesaremeasuresof respondents' perceptionof the partiesas providing"brandnames"for policy concerns. The third is a dummy variableconcerningthe role of the partyin the electorateas a focal point for the current political agenda. It is coded 1 for those who respond that there are in and importantdifferences what the Republicans Democratsstand for and 0 for those who perceiveno difference.Respondentsfor whom the majorparties do providea majordifferencein public policy are more likely to perceivea benefit from choosing one majorpartyinstead of the other.As a result, they should be more concernedabout which majorparty's candidatewins the election. The fourthvariablerelatesto Americans' perceptionsof the majorparties'abilThis variableis coded 1 for respondentswho do think ity to govern effectively. that there is a differencebetween which party "wouldbe most likely to get the governmentto do a betterjob in dealingwith"the issue that the respondentfeels is most important.It is scored0 if they think thatneitherpartywould do a better job, 1 otherwise. Again, respondentswho believe that one party can perform better than the other should be more concernedabout which majorpartycontrols the government. A fifthand finalvariableconcernsthe abilityof partiesto performone of their most importantfunctions as an organization: mobilizing their supporters.One advantagethat parties have over non-partychallenges is that permanentcamhave previouslyidentifiedpotentialsupporterswho can be paign organizations candidate.The variableis coded 1 repeatedlycalled upon to vote for the party's for people reportingbeing contacted by either of the major parties and 0 for those who have not been contacted. Beforetesting these hypotheses,we examine the degree to which these measures of major-party support are relatedto support for the two-partysystem as it standsin the United States.To do this, we run a multinomiallogit analysisof our measuresto the responsesto the 1994 NES questions about preferencefor the currenttwo-partysystem, for a non-partisan system, or for a partysystemwhere anotherpartychallengedthe Democratic-Republican duopoly.This questionwas also asked in 1996, but we use the 1994 surveybecausewe want to see the relationshipbetweenthis questionand our measuresof partysupportat a time when attitudes toward an independent candidate are less likely to be reflected in a measureof party-system support. The independentvariablesfor this model are our measuresof major-party supportand controlsfor respondents'race, region, and "external" politicalefficacy age,
10 This measureis simply the total of likes the respondenthas for the Democraticand Republican partiesminus the total number of dislikes.


Political Research Quarterly The resultsin Table1 show thatthreeof our five measuresof major-party support are significantlyrelated to expressed support for the current two-party system. Respondents' strengthof identificationwith the majorpartiesis significantly relatedto support for the two-partysystem againstboth a non-partisan system and a system where a thirdpartychallengesthe Democratsand Republicans. Respondents with positive evaluationsof the partiesresistthe introduction of any new parties,but there is no statisticallydiscerniblerelationshipbetween elections.Conpartysupportersand partyopponentsto a systemof non-partisan betweenwhat the parversely,respondentswho believe that thereare differences electoralsystem, possibly ties stand for areopposed to the idea of a non-partisan because they do not want to lose the informationthat party labels provide. even though respondents' beliefsabouthow the two majorpartieswould Finally, handle the most importantissue and party contact were not relatedto support for the currenttwo-partysystemin 1994, we will continue to use these variables in our analysesof support for independentcandidatesas a means of examining of how the parties'performance these two functionshave affectedtheir abilityto retainsupportagainstindependentcandidates.

We turn now to the distributionof support for the majorpartiesacrossthese four elections. If people were less supportiveof the majorpartiesin 1996 than in 1968, we might be concernedthat theirbase has shrunk,makinga successful independentcandidacyor the emergenceof a new politicalpartymore likely.The data, however,suggest that there has been relativelylittle change between 1968 and 1996. The distributionof strengthof partisanshiphas changed somewhat over the four elections, but the only shift has been fromweak partisansto independents who lean towarda party.The evidence that leanersand weak partisansbehave somewhat similarly(Keith et al. 1992; Petrocik 1974), however, suggests that this shift provides little advantageto new political parties. The percentageof strongpartisans,the one group that providesa relativelyreliablebasis of support candidates(Abramson,Aldrich,and Rohde 1999), changes for the major-party little, fallingfrom 30 percentin 1968 to 27 percentin 1980, and returning very affect to 30 percentin 1992 and 1996. We find very little changein respondents' for the parties. The mean scores for our measure of pro-partyevaluationsare 0.49 for 1968, 0.51 for 1980, 0.49 for 1992, and 0.50 for 1996. Thus, the role of the majorpartiesas referencegroups for the electoratehas not changed very much between 1968 and 1996. attitudes of We also find littlechangein the distribution the next set of partisan in the electoratefrom 1968 to 1996. The proportionof the electoratebelieving that the major parties have fundamentaldifferenceshas actuallyincreased.In 1968, 45 percentrespondedthat there were significantdifferencesbetween the 502

Challengesto the AmericanTwo-Party System

TABLE 1 PARTY AND RELEVANCE SUPPORT THE FOR TWO-PARTY SYSTEM IndependentVariable Strengthof PartyID Pro-PartyEvaluation Partieson Most ImportantProblem Differences Betweenthe Parties Contactedby Parties ExternalEfficacy African-American South Age Constant
N = 1297

Supportfor Non-partisanSystem -0.686** (0.077) -0.240 (0.691) -0.108 (0.187) -0.313* (0.147) 0.121 (0.153) -0.186* (0.089) -0.612* (0.228) -0.371* (0.145) -0.030** (0.004) 3.600** (0.480)

Supportfor Challengeto Dem/Rep -0.485** (0.085) -1.990* (0.761) 0.001 (0.210) -0.065 (0.166) 0.220 (0.169) -0.222* (0.100) -0.164 (0.238) -0.159 (0.159) -0.021** (0.004) 2.860** (0.527)

Source: 1994National Election Study. Notes: Based a multinomial analysis. baseline The is for logit upon category thepreference thecurrenttwo-party in Results obtained v4. errors parenthesystem. usingtheweighted sample, Standard ses.Thesignificance arebasedupontwo-tailed levels tests.
*p < .05

**p<. 01

parties,63 percentsaid so in 1980 and 1992, and 64 percentin 1996. Similarly, in the percentage believingthatthereis a difference how the partieswould govern little.In 1968, 57 percentof the respondents believedthattherewas changedvery in a difference how the majorpartieswould handlethe problemtheybelievedwas the most important.In 1980 and 1992, the proportionfell to 54 percentand 52 beforerisingback to 56 percentin 1996. percent,respectively,


thereis evidencethatthe majorpartieswere more effectivein attemptFinally, to mobilize the electoratein 1968 and 1980 than they were in 1992, but the ing differencesare small and are not sustainedin 1996. In 1968, 26 percent of the respondentsreportedbeing contactedby one of the majorparties.In 1980, the comparablefigurewas 24 percent,but in 1992 only 19 percent reportedbeing contactedby one of the majorparties.By 1996 contacthad returnedto previous levels, with 27 percent of the respondents reportingcontact with one of the majorparties. In all, there does not appearto be much evidence that the political parties were perceivedas more negligent in performingtheir basic roles in the 1990s than they were in 1968. It is possible, of course, that even while the distribution of perceptionsamongthe electorateremainsstable,those perceptionscould have in To had a greatereffectupon electoralpreference 1990s than previously. examine this possibility, will test our hypothesesby examiningthe zero-orderrelawe tionshipbetween each of these five partysupportmeasuresand the relativelevel of supportfor the independentcandidatesin each of these elections.

The primarydependent variablein our analysis employs the "feelingtherin mometers" which respondentsare asked to rate the political candidatesand thermometer score for the otherpoliticalleaders.We begin with the respondent's score for his or her candidateand then subtractthe respondent's independent more highly rated major-partycandidate. Our index therefore measures the support for the independentcandidaterelativeto the respondent's respondent's candidate."Respondentswho highly for his or her favoritemajor-party support candidatewill therefore evaluatethe independentcandidateover the major-party have high scores on our measure.12Scoreson our measurecan rangefrom 100 to
11 In 1968, therewas no preelectionthermometer measuringaffecttowardthe candidates.In 1980, were employedin both the pre- and postelectionsurveys.We 1992, and 1996 feelingthermometers for reportthe resultsfor the preelectionthermometers these years to reducesampleattritionand, effects.We have also analyzedthe resultsfor more importantly, eliminatepostelectionprojection to Theseresultsarevery similarto 1980, 1992, and 1996 using the postelectionfeelingthermometers. versionsof Tables2-5 in which we use the postelection those we reportin this paper.Alternative on for feelingthermometers 1980, 1992, and 1996 will be available the WorldWide Web. 12 We employ the feeling thermometers ratherthan the respondent's reportedvote because employallows us to develop a continuous measure.Using a continuous measure ing the thermometers model (Rahnet al. 1990; Pageand greatlysimplifiesour taskwhen we developa multiple-equation ratherthan the Jones 1979). In addition,thereis an advantageto using the feeling thermometers respondent's reportedvote when studyingsupportfor independentcandidates,since a substantial candidatevote for one than eithermajor-party minorityof voters who rank them more favorably considerations Abramsonet al. becauseof strategic of the major-party (see candidates,presumably 1995). Of course,most voters do vote for the candidatethey ratehighest on the candidatefeeling thermometers. Since no vote validationstudy was conductedin 1968, 1992, or 1996, we cannot


Two-Party System to Challenges theAmerican

can-100, but in all fourelectionsmost respondentsrateat least one major-party didate higher than they rate the independentcandidate.

in We beganby examiningthe bivariate effectof each of thesevariables explainrelativesupportfor the independentcandidate,examiningthe mean score on ing et each of our five independentvariables(Abramson al. 1998, Table2). In every most respondentsare relatively towardthe independentcandielection, negative candidate.And they were date as comparedwith their more favoredmajor-party much morenegativetowardWallacethan towardeitherAndersonor Perot. Despite the relativelynegative bias againstindependent candidates,there is consistent support for all five basic hypotheses for the 1968 election, for three out of five hypothesesfor the 1980 election, and for four out of five hypotheses for the 1992 and 1996 elections. In all four elections, respondentswith strong party loyaltiesclearlyhave the lowest support for independent candidates,and the negativerelationship between partisanstrengthand supportfor independent candidatesis statisticallysignificantin all four contests. In all four elections, respondentswith high scores on the pro-partyevaluationsmeasuretend to be less supportiveof the independentcandidate,and, once again the relationships are significantin all four contests. In 1968, 1992, and 1996, respondentswho saw a differencein what the partiesstand for were relativelyless supportiveof but Wallaceand Perot, respectively, the differenceson this measurewere small and insignificantin 1980. In all four elections, respondentswho saw a major partyas betterable to govern on the issue they consideredto be most important were relativelyless supportiveof the independentpresidentialcandidate. Amongour fivehypotheses,only the partycontacthypothesisreceivesrelatively little support.Beingcontactedby a politicalpartymobilizesvoters,as Rosenstone but and Hansen(1993) have clearlydemonstrated, it appearsto have littleimpact candidates. affecttowardindependentpresidential on decreasing respondents'

These zero-order relationships suggestthatlow levels of supportfor the major partiescontributeto supportfor independentcandidates,but a bettertest of our hypothesesis one that includes controlsfor othervariablesrelatedto supportfor independent candidates. Although we make some minor modifications, our

effectivelyremove nonvoters from the analysisand thereforewe reportthe results for the entire electorate.However,we have also conducted analyses for the subset of reportedvoters. Those results are similar to those we present in this article and will be availableon the World Wide Web.


PoliticalResearch Quarterly

multivariatemodel is based upon the recursive-systemmodel developed by Rosenstone,Behr,and Lazarus(1984). The model is as follows:13 of the Issue= oa + P1*Strength PartyID + PartyBetterHandling MostImportant (1980GovernmentFeelingThermometer P2*Exteral Efficacy+ 33*Federal on on 1992) + P4*Proximity Urban Issues (1968) + P5*Proximity Vietnam + (1968) + P4*IdeologicalProximity(1980-1992) + 36*Black P7*South+ + Contact+ 310*Age ul P8*Presidential Approval+ 39*Party
= of Between Parties a2 + P1 *Strength PartyID + P12*ExteralEffithe Differences + P13*FederalGovernment Feeling Thermometer (1980-1992) + cacy on on P14*Proximity UrbanIssues (1968) + P15*Proximity Vietnam(1968) + + + (1980-1992) + 316*Black P17*South P18*PresProximity 114*Ideological + identialApproval+ P19*Party Contact+ 320*Age u2

= of Efficacy+ Major PartyEvaluation a3 + P,21*Strength PartyID + ,22*External (1980-1992) + p24*Proximity Government P23*Federal FeelingThermometer of on UrbanIssues (1968) + P,25*Proximity Vietnam(1968) + P24*Ideological + + Approval Proximity(1980-1992) + P26*Black P27*South P28*Presidential + + ,29*Party Contact+ P30*Age ly,*PartyHandlingMost ImportantIssue + Differences+ U3 -y2*Party = of Evaluations a4 + P31*Strength PartyID + P32*ExterMajorPartyCandidate nal Efficacy+ P33*Federal GovernmentFeelingThermometer (1980-1992) + of on UrbanIssues (1968) + P35*Proximity Vietnam(1968) + P34*Proximity + + p34*Ideological Proximity(1980-1992) + p36*Black P37*South P38*Pres+ identialApproval+ P39*Party Contact+ P4o*Age Y3*Party HandlingMost Evaluation+ U4 Issue + y4*PartyDifferences+ y5*Major Party Important
13 In ouranalyses, employ we listwise deletion. (1998)haveargued Gary Kingandhis colleagues
that political scientists should not use listwise deletion and have developed a program that imputes values for respondentsfor whom there is missing data (Honakeret al. 1999). We used all this programto reestimate the resultsin Table2 through5, and the tableswith these estimates are availableat the website listed in the authors'note. For the most part, the results using these imputationproceduresdo not differvery much from those we presenthere. In some cases, relationshipsthat fall short of statisticalsignificanceare significantwhen the imputationprocedureis used, mainly because the number of cases increases.Thereis one systematicdifferencebetween the results using the imputation proceduresand those employing listwise deletion. With the imputationproceduresthe effectsof long-termpartisanloyaltiesare stronger,mainlybecause the imputationprocedurestend to add respondentswho areless well educated,less interestedin politics, and less informedabout politics, and these less politicized respondentsare more likely to rely upon long-termpartisanloyalties.The low Ns in 1996 result from the NESs decision to ask the question about which partyis more likely to solve the nation'smost importantproblemto a split-half of the sample. As the observationsin these models are biased as a result of purely are randomconsiderations,there is little reasonto believe that these parameters biased (see King et al. 1998).


to Challenges theAmerican Two-Party System

= Candidate of Independent Support o5 + 141*Strength PartyID + P42*External Efficacy + 143*FederalGovernmentFeeling Thermometer(1980-1992) + on of P44*Proximity UrbanIssues (1968) + P45*Proximity Vietnam(1968) + + P44*Ideological Proximity(1980-1992) + 146*Black 147*South+ p48*PresidentialApproval+ P49*Party + P50*Party ID ID*Presidential Approval+ 351* Party Contact + P52*Age + -y6*Party Handling Most Important Issue + + Differences CandidateParty /y7*Party +/y8*Major PartyEvaluation yg*Major Evaluation+ U5

In the Rosenstone,Behr,and Lazarus variable model, the evaluation-of-parties affects both the respondent'spolitical disaffection and the evaluation of the candidates. In our model, feelings of "external" major-party political efficacy affectthe evaluationof the parties,14which combined with retrospective evaluations of incumbentperformanceaffectthe evaluationof the major-party candiaffectsthe respondent's evaluationof the independentcandates, which, finally, didate. We also include variables to capture election-specific reasons for supporting independent candidates,such as attitudes toward the incumbent's in performance office, attitudestowardpublic policy,and evaluationsof the canrace and region are also included as dummy variables didates.The respondent's and age is an additionalcontrol. A majortheme of all independentcandidates' campaignsis that the incumbent Presidenthas failed to provideleadership.Rosenstoneand his colleagues(1984) approvaland arguethat nationaleconomic conditionsdirectlyaffectpresidential But affectvoting forindependentcandidates. in 1968, urbanunrestand indirectly the Vietnamconflictwere important issues, and in 1980 the Iranian hostagecrisis affectedvoters'preferand Carter's to the Sovietinvasionof Afghanistan response as ences. We therefore performance the key variemploy approvalof presidential able affectingsupportfor the majorparties.With this variable,we also test for an The hypothinteraction between presidential approvaland partyidentification.5 who disapprove his perof of esis is thatpartisans the incumbentPresident's party without defectingto the formancein office may seek to expressthat displeasure candidates may providean outlet for these voters.'6 Independent oppositionparty. attitudestoward the federalgovernmentwere measured Similarly, respondents'

14 As Abramson(1983) demonstrates, respondentswith high feelings of political effectivenessare 15 This variablehas a high score for partisansof the incumbent Presidentwho disapproveof the

more likely to supportthe partycontrollingthe presidency.

and a low score for partisansof the opposite partywho approveof incumbent's performance job his job performance. 16 For a similar argumentabout the role of the Liberal partyin Britain,see Butlerand Stokes(1974).


Political Research Quarterly using the 100-point feelingthermometer.'7 Respondents' feelingsof externaleffiwere measuredusing a 0-2 scale based upon theiragreement with the statecacy like ments, "People me don'thave any say about what the governmentdoes"and "Idon'tthinkpublic officialscaremuch what people like me think." have also We included dummy variablesfor southernersand African-Americans because of theirstrongpreferences and againstWallace. for The final variableis the candidateanalogueto the party evaluationvariable, based upon the four open-ended questions about reasons respondentswould either vote for or vote againsteach of the major-party candidates.'8 Clearly,an to alternative the party-decline is that Americanssupportindependhypotheses ent partycandidatesbecause they are dissatisfiedwith their choice between the candidates,not because they are generallydissatisfiedwith the twomajor-party partysystem.If dislike for the candidates,but not for the parties,is the dominant source of independent candidates'support, then the implicationsfor the twoparty system are not as dire because this phenomenon is ultimatelyrooted in causes that the partiesshould be able to correctmore easily.Althoughwe estimated the full model, allowing for correlatederror terms, for simplicity,the resultswe presentbelow are based upon simple OLSestimates,as estimationof the full model indicateda lack of correlation between the errors.19

Table2 presentsthe relationship betweeneach of our five separate measuresof party support and our dependent variable,controllingfor all of the additional variablesintroducedin our multivariate model. The resultspresentedin Table2 differin severalimportant In ways fromthe zero-order relationships. 1968, 1992, and 1996 respondentswith strong partisanloyalties are relativelyless likely to between partisupportthe independentcandidate,but the negativerelationship san strength and support for Anderson is no longer statisticallysignificant. between pro-party evaluAlthoughnegativein all fourelections,the relationship ationsand relativesupportfor the independentcandidateattainsstatistical significance only in 1968. In 1968, 1992, and 1996, respondentswho see a difference in what the majorpartiesstand for are relativelyless likely to support the independent candidate,although this relationshipis significantonly in 1968 and

17 The feeling thermometermeasuringaffect for the federal governmentwas not included in the 1968 NES. 18 This measureis based upon the four standardopen-ended questions asking respondentswhat they liked and dislikedabout each of the majorpartycandidates.Scoringfor this measurefollows the same proceduresdescribedin note 10. The mean score for the electorateon our measureof pro-candidateevaluationswas 0.371 in 1968, -0.632 in 1980, -0.192 in 1992, and -0.047 in 1996. 19 These resultsare availablefrom the authorsupon request.


Challenges theAmerican to Two-Party System


Dependent Variable
RelativeSupport for Independent Candidate Candidate

Independent Variable
Strengthof Partisanship Pro-Party Evaluation See Difference between Major Parties

-3.179** (1.202) -22.750* (10.624) -5.399* (2.124)

Election Year 1980 1992

0.080 (1.201) -1.624 (11.396) 2.477 (2.460) -4.909* (2.305) 1.348 (2.276) 573 -7.733** (0.975)

-7.468** (1.865)

-1.079 -16.750 (9.918) (12.326) -2.981 (2.083) -6.854** (1.917) -2.078 (1.997) 932 -9.162** (3.042) 0.423 (2.720) 1.238 (2.733) 791

A MajorParty -0.502 Betteron Most (2.151) ImportantProblem Contactedby a MajorParty N -0.574 (2.212) 859

National Election Source: Studies surveys The candidate based is Notes: measure relative of for upontherespondent's support theindependent score from the thermometer fortheindependent score candidate whichwe subtract respondent's for Standard errors in parentheses. are his or her morehighlyratedmajor-party candidate. Weighted The v7000andv960005b, for variables respectively. sigsamples 1992and 1996,usingtheweight nificance levelsarebasedupontwo-tailed tests,*p < .05, **p< .01. In 1996,random half-samples and between major the aboutparty differences werenot askedthe questions likes/dislikes, parties, better to dealwiththemostimportant able theparty problem.

1996. In 1980 and 1992, respondentswho see one majorpartyas betterable to solve the most importantproblemfacingthe countryare relativelyless likely to support the independentcandidateand this relationshipis clearlysignificantin the 1992 election. And althoughthe relationshipbetween being contactedby a major party and relativesupport for an independent party is negative in both 1968 and 1992, it fails to attainstatistical significancein eitherelection. In presentingthe detailed resultsof our multivariate model, we simplify our by presentation using only two basic measuresof partysupport.We retainparty as variablefor threebasic reasons.First,the partyidentiidentification a separate ficationquestionsareself-referential Campbellet al. 1960), whereasthe other (see assessmentof the political parties and four variablesmeasurethe respondent's their activities.Second, party identificationis the most widely used attitudinal 509

Political Research Quarterly in variable the studyof American votingbehaviorand it is importantto shed additionallight on its electoralimpact.Last,we have alreadyestablishedthat the negative relationship between partisanstrengthand supportfor independentcandidatesis strongin 1968, 1992, and 1996. We combinethe four otherpartisanship variables a singlesummarymeasure,which we labelpartysuccess.20 move into We to this summary measurebecausealthoughit is interesting know which of these to distinct variablesis relatedto support for independentcandidates,our primary questionis whetherthe failureby the majorpartiesto provideimportantservices for the electoratecontributesto supportfor independentcandidates.

The detailedestimatesfor our multivariate model are presentedin Table3.21 Rememberthat a negative relationshipindicates the extent to which pro-party attitudescontributeto supportfor the independentcandidate. We saw earlierthat dissatisfaction with the majorpoliticalpartiescontributed to supportfor Wallace.This is underscoredin Table3, whereboth weak feelings of party identificationand low scores on our overall measure of party success contributedto support for his candidacy ConfirmingConverse et al.'s (1969) conclusions, there was a strong policy component to Wallace'ssupport, for respondents who wanted to suppress urban unrest and to increase military involvement in Vietnam were relatively supportive of Wallace. In addition, more likely were relatively respondentswith low feelingsof politicaleffectiveness to supportWallace.Overall,these resultsare consistentwith the idea that Wallace receivedsupportfrompeople who believed that the federalgovernmentwas not responsive to their concerns and that neither major party was likely to addressthem. Table3 demonstrates that to a largeextent supportforAndersonderivedfrom with negative candidates.Respondents attitudestowardthe major-party negative candidateswere significantlymore likely to supevaluationsof the major-party port Anderson.Resultspresentedelsewheredemonstratethat to the extent that attitudeshad any effectupon supportfor Anderson,these effectswere anti-party With the exception that southmediated through anti-candidateevaluations.22 candidates ernerswere much more likely to feel warmlyto one of the major-party than to Anderson,few of the other variablesare significantlyrelatedto support
20 We createthis measureby summing the scores on the pro-partyevaluationsvariable,the variable measuringwhether respondentssee a differencebetween the majorparties,the variablemeasuring whetherthey see one majorpartyas betteron the most importantproblem,and the partycontact variable.Our measurethus rangesfroma 0 to 4. 21 The details that will allow readersto replicateour multivariatemodel will be availableon the WorldWide Web. 22 A table this demonstrating relationshipwill be availableon the WorldWide Web.


Challengesto the AmericanTwo-Party System


Dependent Variable RelativeSupport for Independent Candidate

Independent Variable Strengthof Partisanship PartySuccess ExternalEfficacy

ElectionYear 1968 -3.322** (1.197) -2.597* (1.110) -4.550** (1.217) 1980 0.296 (1.193) -0.564 (1.207) 0.158 (1.340) 8.855** (0.678) 1992 -7.389** (0.969) -4.157* (1.052) -0.834 (1.067) 6.773** (0.566) 1996 -7.274** (1.174) -0.059 (0.718) -0.593 (1.138) 5.048** (0.675)

IdeologicalProximity to the MajorParty Candidates

Suppress Urban


Increase Military


Involvementin Vietnam FederalGovernment Thermometer

(0.535) -0.068 (0.058) -3.797 (4.233) 0.052 (0.051) -3.551 (3.402) 3.117 (1.918) -0.177** (0.057)

African-American -8.930* (3.749) South Age Presidential Approval ID Approval*Party PartyID Pro-Major Party Candidate Evaluations

-6.450 -11.400** (3.293) (4.512) -1.490 (1.918) -0.151** (0.054)

8.179** -5.402* (2.207) (2.227) -0.092 (0.068) -1.537 (1.931) 0.396 (0.481) -0.242 (1.488) -1.587** (0.388) -0.087 (0.062) -3.566 (1.838)

2.440** -2.580* (1.220) (0.827) 1.509** (0.376) 3.533** (1.091) -1.481** (0.400)

1.234** 3.043* (0.912) (0.427) 4.067* (1.742) -3.075** (0.473) -1.740* (0.795) -1.173** (0.373)


PoliticalResearch Quarterly

TABLE (continued) 3. Dependent Variable Independent Variable Constant N Standard Error of Regression AdjustedR2 Source:NationalElectionStudiessurveys for Notes: measure relative The of candidate based is support theindependent upontherespondent's thermometer fortheindependent score candidate whichwe subtract respondent's for from the score hisorhermore Urban and rated candidate. Unrest Vietnam scales issue wereused highly major-party in 1968andarebased on to perceived upontherespondent's proximity Wallace's position theseissues relative therespondent's to to A candidate's measproximity thecloser major-party position. similar ureof ideological for in was errors parentheses. proximity created 1980, 1992,and 1996.Standard for variables v7000andv960005b, Weighted samples 1992and1996,usingtheweight respectively Thesignificance arebased levels tests. upontwo-tailed *p < .05 **p<.01 ElectionYear 1968 1980 1992 1996

-0.762 -17.505* (15.292) (7.135) 859 28.69 .45 573 24.00 .39

10.019 -20.900** (6.096) (6.141) 932 26.07 .30 791 24.29 .25

for him, perhaps because Anderson was unable to run even a reasonably competitive campaign, whereas Wallace ran a credible campaign in the South. The relatively weak impact of party success variables may partly result from the type of campaign Anderson ran. He was not as negative about the major political parties as Wallace had been in 1968 or as Perot was in 1992 or 1996, and earlier during the year he had sought the Republican party presidential nomination. Table 3 also underscores the importance of perceptions of party failure to account for Perot's support. Strength of partisanship is greatly related to support for Perot. Although our overall measure of major-party success is significantly related to support for both Wallace and Perot in 1992, the relationship to support for Perot is stronger. Perot, however, did not benefit from voters disaffected from the parties in 1996. Perot also benefited from negative evaluations of Bush and Clinton in 1992 and, to a lesser extent, Clinton and Dole in 1996. The significant relationships between the variable measuring the interaction between presidential approval and party identification in 1980, 1992, and 1996 demonstrate that both Anderson and Perot were able to attract support from partisans of the incumbent party who were disaffected from the incumbent president. But there is little reason to think that partisans of the out-party would be 512

Challenges theAmerican to Two-Party System

more likely to support an independent because they disapproveof the other party'sPresident.In fact, as we saw, presidentialapprovalwas not significantly relatedto supportfor the independentcandidatein either 1968 or 1980, and in 1996 respondentswho approvedof Clinton's as performance President,controlling for these other factors,were actuallymore likely to supportPerot. These resultssuggest that independentcandidatesplay an importantrole by to allowingpartisanswho are disappointedwith their incumbent's performance defectwithoutvoting for the majoroppositionparty.This suggests,however,that the role of independentcandidatesmay be limited to short time periods as such behavior will make it more difficult for the incumbent to retain office-both Carterand Bush were defeated-and this leads to two possible outcomes. First, the successorcould proveto havejust as difficulta time as his predecessor, giving the defectorsto the independentcandidatea point for rallyingaroundtheirparty in the subsequentelection. Second,the new Presidentcould succeed, which may encouragethe defectorsfrom the incumbentto move closer to the new incumIn bent'sparty, perhapshappenedwith Reagan Democrats. eithercase, it is hard as of to imaginethat an independentcandidatewill be the beneficiary such support or unless he or she can providethe politicalorganizational governinginstitutional resourcesto attractthe defectorspermanently away fromthe majorparties. Overall, there is evidence that Perot drew support from people who have become disaffectedwith the majorparties,as seen with the substantialeffect of the variablesmeasuringpartisanstrengthand partysuccess. Perotmay also have benefited in 1992 somewhat more from the failureof parties to performtheir functions than Wallace did, and far more than Anderson. The differences between support for Wallaceand support for Perot,however,do not lead us to conclude that a successfulthirdpartyis likely to emergeand replaceone of the majorpartiesduring the next severalpresidentialelections, especiallygiven the vote in 1996. reductionin effect of partyevaluationsupon Perot's

The last part of examiningthe threatthat independentcandidatepose to the majorpartiesis to look at the durabilityof partyattitudesupon support across fromthe majorpartiesthat is conelections.If thereis a core of votersdisaffected to supportan independentcandidate,this gives that candidatea tinuallywilling On base upon which to build electoralsupportgradually. the otherhand, if a candidate's is relatedto short-termforces,and not to long-standingdisaffecsupport tion fromthe majorparties,then thereis little reasonto believe that an anti-party movementled by an independentcandidatewill have much chance of success. of The 1996 electionprovidesa unique opportunityto examinethe durability attitudes upon support for independent candidates because, first, the party NationalElectionStudy had a small panel of voters interviewedin 1992, 1994, and 1996 and, second,becausewe can observereactionsto the same candidatein 513

Political Research Quarterly of both elections.The datashow that the durability anti-party attitudesis not terribly strong,but in some cases, they are moving againstthe majorparties.More than 40 percentof the panel respondentschangedtheirviews aboutwhich party did a betterjob of addressingthe most importantproblem, with 25.7 percent changingto the view thatneitherpartywas betterat handlingthis most important problem. On the other hand, almost 60 percent of the respondentsin 1996 changed their beliefs about differencesbetween the parties, with 42 percent moving to the attitudethat the partiesdid representimportantdifferences,and only 18 percentmoving in the other direction.As we saw in Table2, the changes relatedto his supportin 1996, thatmighthavehelped Perotwerenot significantly and the party variable,differencesbetween the parties, that was significantly relatedto increasedsupportof Perotwas endorsedby fewermembersof the elecdirectionwerenot related torate.In short,the attitudesthatweremovingin Perot's to his support,and those that were relatedwere not moving in his direction. The results in Table4 indicate that the effect of party attitudesupon Perot's support was not stable across elections. Strengthof partisanship,the strongest predictorof independent candidatesupport in three of the four election years, measuredtwo and four years earlier,was not significantlyrelatedto support for Perotin 1996. The measureof party success for 1992 is significantlyrelatedto support for Perotin 1996, but curiously,the same measureobservedat a more proximatetime, 1994, has less of an effect,and one that does not reachconventhe tionallevels of statistical significance, upon supportfor Perotin 1996. Rather, most importantpredictorsof support for Perotare short-termfactors,relatedto supportfor the candidateevaluationsand presidentialapproval. These resultssuggest that independentcandidatesare able to arouseattitudes that arehostile to the majorpartiesto attractsupport,but that those attitudes,in isolation, do not providea strongenough impetus to supportindependentcanmovementto challengethe Democratsand Republicans. didatesor a third-party a The people supportingan independentcandidatearenot those harboring longdeveloped disaffectionfrom the majorparties,but ratherare those who can be views because, and probablyonly because, they are moved to expressanti-party election. This interpretadisaffectedfrom the parties'candidatesin a particular tion is supportedby a finalregressionof the changein supportfor Perotbetween 1992 and 1996. In Table5, we regressthe differencein relativesupportfor Perot in 1992 and 1996 upon changes in the independent variables.We see that changes in support for Perot are almost entirely tied to changes in attitudes towardtransienttargets,the majorparties'candidates,but not changes in attitudes to more enduringinstitutions,the majorparties.Changesin the strength have some effect,but thateffectdoes not quite reachconventional of partisanship evaluation levels of statistical significance,(p < .07), and changesin respondents' of the partieshave almost no effect on their relativesupport for Perot. Rather, changesin election-specificfactors,such as candidateevaluationand ideological 514

Challengesto the AmericanTwo-Party System


(OLS COEFFICIENTS) Dependent Variable RelativeSupport for Independent Candidate Independent Variable Strengthof Partisanship PartySuccess ExternalEfficacy IdeologicalProximityto the MajorPartyCandidates FederalGovernment Thermometer African-American South PartyAttitudesMeasuredin: 1992 -0.785 (1.692) -4.389* (1.757) -1.432 (1.757) 5.117** (1.111) -0.154 (0.090) -3.117 (5.256) 2.586 (3.115) 0.020 (0.096) -6.540** (1.747) 2.671** (0.627) 6.111** (1.659) -2.052** (0.657) -26.916** (10.556) 293 24.40 1994 -2.510 (1.311) -2.475 (1.503) -0.834 (1.354) 5.570** (0.806) -0.050 (0.061) 0.261 (4.221) 2.269 (2.275) -0.103 (0.072) -5.874** (1.338) 2.154** (0.422) 6.141** (1.225) -2.169** (0.455) -25.382** (7.580) 791 25.73

Age Presidential Approval ID Approval*Party PartyID Pro-Major PartyCandidate Evaluations Constant N Standard Errorof Regression


Political Research Quarterly

TABLE (continued) 4. Dependent Dependent


Independent Independent
Variable AdjustedR2

PartyAttitudesMeasuredin: 1992 .23 1994 .22

Source: National Election Studies surveys Notes: Entries OLS are coefficients of and Success scoresfrom usingtheStrength Partisanship Party 1992 and 1994,but all othervariables in measured 1996.Standard errors parentheses. in Results with1992variables unweighted, results are but with1994variables weighted are usingthe 1994-96 v960004.Thesignificance levelsarebased tests. panelweight, upontwo-tailed **p< .01

*p< .05

proximity,were more strongly related to the dependent variable.It is in these relative short-term,election-specificforceswhere the best explanationfor Perot's success in 1992, where the mean candidateevaluation,scaled from -10 to 10, was -.192, and his poorerperformance 1996, where the mean candidateevalin uation had increasedto -.047.

Our analyses demonstratethat independent presidentialcandidatesbenefit when Americans'ties with the establishedparties are weakened because they don't see parties as referencegroups or as organizationsthat provide a useful means of organizingtheir politicalattitudes.For two of the three candidateswe examined, attitudesabout the parties'ability to performtheir roles in the electorateand in the governmentaffectedtheirsupportamong the electorate,and in can1980 these attitudeswere mediatedthroughattitudesabout the major-party didates.We also found that Perotbenefitedmore fromnegativeattitudestoward the partiesthanWallaceor Andersondid. Butthe evidencepresentedin this artisuccess in 1992 did not reflecta significantupheavalin cle suggests that Perot's attitudestowardthe majorparties.Thathis actualvote was halved the electorate's between 1992 and 1996 supports this conclusion. Although there may been occasionalvictoriesby third-party candidates,such as Jesse Ventura's victory in the 1998 Minnesotagubernatorial election, we see little in the way of short-term prospectsfor a new politicalparty. What are the actualprospectsfor the emergenceof a thirdpartythat displaces one of the two majorparties? Sundquist(1983) identifiesa scenariounderwhich a third party can emerge to replace one of the existing parties. This scenario requires,however,that neithermajorpartyaddressa serious issue on the politiof cal agenda,which, consequently leadsto the emergence a thirdpartycomposed, 516

Challengesto the AmericanTwo-Party System


Dependent Variable Changein RelativeSupport for IndependentCandidate

Independent Variable Strengthof Partisanship PartySuccess ExternalEfficacy IdeologicalProximity FederalGovernmentThermometer Presidential Approval ID Approval*Party PartyID CandidateEvaluation Constant N Standard errorof estimate AdjustedR2

(2.588) -0.114

-2.268 (2.201) 5.131** (1.311) -0.041 (0.120) 1.402 (0.864) 0.533 (0.467) 1.905

-1.567* (0.699) -8.861 (6.643) 193 28.73


Source:NationalElectionStudies surveys.Entriesare OLScoefficientsusing the differencebetween

levelsarebased tests. in eachvariable measured 1992and1996.Thesignificance upontwo-tailed

Notes: The dependentmeasureis the relativesupport for Perotin 1992 subtractedfrom the relative value in 1992 subtracted are supportfor Perotin 1996. All of the independentvariables thatvariable's from the value in 1996. Standarderrorsare in parentheses.The significancelevels are based upon two-tailedtests

*p < .05
**p < .01


Political Research Quarterly

in part,of defectorsfromone of the majorpartieswho seek to resolvethis issue.23 In the currentpoliticalenvironment,this scenariois highly unlikely.To conclude thatthe prospectsof an emergentthird-party were good, our analysiswould have to show several things. First, the proportionof people holding anti-partyattitudes would have to increase. Our findings show that there has not been any such increasebetween 1968 and 1996. Second, absent any change in the distribution of attitudes,a strongerrelationship between the strengthof partisanidentification and attitudes toward the parties and evaluationsof an independent While thereis evicandidatemight presagethe emergenceof a viable thirdparty. for a thirdpartycandidatedid dence that the effectof partisanship upon support increasebetween 1968 and 1992-1996, attitudestowardthe partiesthemselves did not show any increasein effectbetween 1968 and 1996. Finally,we examined the stabilityof the causes of support for Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 to gaugewhetherpeople moving towardor awayfromPerotwere doing so based upon their attitudestowardenduringobjects, such as the major parties,or more transientones, like the nominees of those parties.If people who supportedPerotin 1996 did so because of previouslyfixed attitudesagainstthe majorparties or if the ebb and flow of support for Perot from the 1992 to the 1996 election were caused by enduring evaluations of the major parties, prospectsfor the emergenceof a thirdpartywould be enhancedbecause, to parvoters perceivedthe fault for the majorparties'problems aphraseShakespeare, to lie, not in their stars, but in themselves.The results presentedin this article show that voters' evaluationsof independent candidatesare affectedmore by while voters'attitudes defectivecandidatesthan defectiveparties.Furthermore, towardthe partiesin 1992 were relatedto their support for Perot in 1996, the effectof theiranimustowardpartiesis diminishedif you use theirattitudestaken while changesin theirparoutside of the heat of a presidential campaign.Finally, tisan self-identification were partlyresponsiblefor voters'movement towardor away fromPerotfrom 1992 to 1996, the resultsin Table5 indicatethat changes in attitudes toward the parties had no effect upon their decisions to either embraceor abandonPerot. The currentnominationprocess may or may not produce good presidential to candidates,but the openness of the system allows politicalentrepreneurs take issues thatvotersperceiveto be seriousproblemsin orderto win a major-party up nominationor to campaignon the issue, per se, much as GaryBauerand Alan nominationcampaign.And this is Keyesdid in the 2000 Republican presidential when partyleaderswould prefernot to addressthose issues. especiallyimportant


As Sundquistrecognizes,this correspondsto the realworld historicalexamplein which both the Democratsand the Whigs attemptedto preventslaveryfrom becoming a nationalpoliticalissue. For an analysisof this period, see Aldrich(1995).


to Challenges theAmerican Two-Party System

Given the incentive structurefor would-be third party founders, it is also more difficultfor a seriousthird-party forma politicalbase with which to take to control of the governmentto govern effectively. levels below the Presidency, At serious candidatesfor Congressand state legislaturesmight especiallypreferto attractresourcesfromthe majorparties,ratherthan tryingto build supportwithout them. Without such a base in Congress,any independentcandidateelected as presidentcould have a difficulttime governing. Consequently, support that the independent candidate attractedbecause of the shortcomings of the two major parties could quickly evaporate as those same shortcomings became apparentin the non-partyPresident. our Morefundamentally, empiricalfindingsunderscoreone basic fact.A clear majorityof the electoratesaw either Nixon or Humphreyas preferableto WaleitherReaganor Carter Anderson;in 1992 most preferred to lace;most preferred either Bush or Clinton to Perot;and in 1996 most preferredeither Clinton or Dole to Perot.24 Althoughmost Americansmay desire a hypotheticalthirdparty, for a third partyactuallyto win the Presidencyit must succeed with a real candidate and presumablywith some sort of real issue agenda. It seems likely that most candidatesactuallyattractiveenough to win the presidencywill seek the officeby attemptingto capturea major-party presidentialnomination. Thus, we might reasonablyconclude that the possibility of a third party depends not just on the failureof the emergingas a serious potentialalternative currenttwo parties to addressone or more majorissues, but also and perhaps more importantlyon the positive attractionof the thirdparty. is This attraction not just of the voters to the programof a thirdpartycandidate for residentor governor.It also must include the attractionof a broadarray of politicallyambitiouspoliticiansto this emergingparty.This is preciselywhat happened in the 1850s when the Republicanparty first emerged (see Aldrich 1995). For that to happen in today'spoliticalworld, the thirdpartymust also be able to attractthe resources-money, media attention,and activists-that would make it possible for the partynot just to win the occasionalelective officebut to win a largenumber of such officesat all levels of government. Perhaps,then, the most effectiveway to make emergenceof third partiesas long termforcesmost likelywould be to changethe electoralsystem fromone so dominatedby pluralitywinning rules to one in which more proportionalrules arecommon. With that, the thirdpartywould not need to replaceone of the two dominantpartiesin the system, but could survive as a major force in a multipartyenvironment.


This findingis consistentwith evidencepresentedby Abramsonet al. (1995) that Wallacewould that Andersonwould have lost have lost in a two-waycontest againsteitherNixon or Humphrey, and that Perotwould have lost to either Bush or Clinton. againsteitherReaganor Carter,


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