The heart of winning an election is getting the votes, and this does not always have anything to do with the candidate, but rather with the messy, somewhat corrupt political system - especially now when Obama's first term elections has galvanized so many on the Right to suppress the vote any way they can. It certainly isn't for any lack of candidates. There were literally hundreds in 2012!
I thought a bit about this when I - probably naively - proposed creating a local political party in NY in 2009: click here
Here is a list of registered parties just in New York State as of 2009:
- America First Party
- Communist Party
- Conservative Party
- Constitution Party
- Democratic Party
- Freedom Party 1994-1998
- Green Party
- Independence Party
- Integrity Party
- Liberal Party
- Libertarian Party
- Marijuana Reform Party
- Natural Law Party
- New Party
- New York State Right to Life Party
- New York State Taxpayers Party
- Republican Party
- Save Jobs Party (2004-2006)
- Socialist Party
- Socialist Workers Party
- The Rent is Too Damn High Party*
- Working Families Party
The obstacles to getting on the ballot are huge, and vary hugely from state to state. That's why even the well-established Green Party cannot get on the ballot in all 50 states, and none of the other third parties even get beyond the mathematical amount of states necessary to win a national election (well, I think the Libertarian Party did meet that criteria in the last Presidential election, but just barely, and anyway, they have to start all over again, under major-party favorable state rules). The way things are structured, only the two major parties are guaranteed ballot placement on election day, plus, of course, they pretty much have the primary system locked up - all the third parties have to pick their candidates out-of-sight of the general electorate (to be fair, some of the major party primaries are far from democratic either; Iowa, I'm looking at you and your straw poll).
The good news is, it is mathematically possible for Sanders to win by tapping into the great un-voting public, plus picking up some of the regular voters. Even in the Obama first term election - which saw an almost historic high voter turnout of over 60%, using more sophisticated than usual analysis that excludes the great, and increasing, number of people who have been made ineligible to vote (the green line in the chart below), even though they are over 18 (including felons, non-citizens), though since this chart was done, we would have to realistically exclude many minorities and students, or at least put them in a hard-to-vote category because of the registration hurdles the GOP has enacted. This alone may make it impossible for Sanders to garner the required numbers of voters.
Sanders cannot do this alone. He will need organized coalitions, maybe of several progressive third parties willing to put aside what, to the rest of the country, look like minor differences, in order to work on getting the vote out for him, and just as importantly, to get him on the ballot in as many states as possible, but especially the blue states.
Of course then, as Sanders points out himself, he may just turn out as a spoiler, a larger version of Ralph Nader, who, together with a corrupt Supreme Court, tossed the election to the popular-vote-losing candidate, George Bush, in 2000.
However, Gore v. Bush aside, would modern presidential results have been worse with McCain/Palin or Romney/Ryan? It's tempting to say "of course!" but consider how the traditional Left has been hobbled by feeling forced to support the faux-Left Obama Administration all these years. If either of these other two Republican choices had won, we'd have had a square enemy to unleash our anger upon, no holds barred. We might have even been more effective that way, and not have had to watch in dismay as Obama tilted to the Right of even Ronald Reagan.
Perhaps Sanders is right, and today there is enough dissatisfaction for a viable third party to rise. It may even be that the Republican Party is headed the way of the Whigs, but not just yet, I fear. They keep winning.