The filing deadline for candidates running for public office in 2018 in Texas was Dec 11, the day before the special election for US Senator from Alabama created such a stir. I believe there are some important lessons from Alabama that independent and alternative party candidates might consider.
In 2016, even though he lost the national popular vote, Trump beat Clinton by nearly 28 percentage points in Alabama. Until the other day, the state had not elected a Democratic Senator since 1992. It is clearly a very red state. Yet a Democrat won on Tuesday.
There are many reasons for this dramatic swing in election results, not the least of which was the flawed candidate that Republican voters chose to run under their party banner. Whatever the reasons for the Republican loss, though, it is clear that even in a deeply one-party state, there are still a large number of voters willing to move their vote when significantly motivated.
But the takeaway for independent and alternative party candidates is these swing voters remain extremely reluctant to disavow the duopoly. Fewer than 2% of the votes were for write-in candidates, and many of these appear to have gone to the University of Alabama football coach! Republican-leaning swing voters in Alabama preferred to vote Democrat than for alternative candidates who might have a message that resonated more closely with their personal governance issues.
The road to political relevancy remains a difficult one for non-duopoly voices. Like it or not, we seem stuck in world of binary choices. So, what is one to do to attempt to get significant numbers of voters to step outside their comfort zone and consider voting for someone without an R or D behind their name? A few suggestions to think about:
- Target swing voters. Voters deeply wedded to their respective duopoly parties are unlikely to jump ship, even when they agree with your policy prescriptions. Swing voters are at least open to changing their mind.
- Promote candidates that the media and voters can’t ignore – serious candidates with serious positions on issues that voters care about.
- Don’t talk about issues as if they are left-right or conservative-liberal or statist-libertarian. This sort of talk only heightens binary thinking.
- Embrace political diversity by treating political “enemies” as friends with whom you wish to engage in respectful discourse. Without being openly receptive to the concerns of others, the dialog never gets started – a dialog that’s essential for influencing hearts and minds.
- Be prepared to explain why a vote outside the duopoly is not “wasted”.