Third-Parties Court Catholic Voters
The Libertarian, Green and American Solidarity parties promote themselves as significant alternatives to the two major political parties.
Although the presidential election has been dominated by the contest between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, there are also third-party candidates courting the votes of Catholics who don’t support either of the major-party candidates.
America’s third parties are small, but they are not insignificant. In the 2016 election, approximately 5.5 million Americans voted for one of the two major third parties, the Libertarians and the Greens. Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson ended with 3% of the popular , the most of any third party since Ross Perot two decades before. The Green candidate, Jill Stein, got 1%.
Both those parties are contesting the presidential race again, and their candidates are on the ballots in enough states that they could theoretically win the election. Several other third parties — including the American Solidarity Party, which has attracted the support of some prominent Catholics — are on the ballot in at least five states.
For many Catholics, the reasons to vote against Biden are clear: Biden’s support for abortion clearly transgresses Church teaching that it is an intrinsic moral evil. Moreover, the kinds of judges that Biden would appoint to the Supreme Court are less likely to rule in favor of protecting religious freedom, conscience rights and non-public educational opportunities, among other issues.
However, a number of Catholics also find Trump objectionable, due to the ways his immigration and capital punishment policies conflict with Catholic teaching and his frequently inflammatory rhetoric, particularly on race, among other issues.
Libertarians: Religious Freedom and Lower Taxes
In statements to the Register, both the Libertarian and Green presidential campaigns argued why Catholics should vote for them as the third option.
Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen, a psychology professor at Clemson University in South Carolina, told the Register that “many Catholics have found a home” in her party. She cited the party’s commitment to the First Amendment’s right to religious freedom.
“This amendment also protects ‘the right of the people peaceably to assemble,’ which means that every church — and every organization, and every private business — must be set free to follow their own rules and operate in whatever manner they wish, according to their religion, values, and conscience, without government interference,” Jorgensen said.
She said Libertarians’ opposition to high taxation is also consistent with Church practice.
“Parishioners are asked to tithe 10% of their income to the church. This is far less than what our various levels of government take in taxes from the American people, which averages almost 50%. If it’s good enough for God, it should be good enough for the government,” Jorgensen said.
Her platform calls for ending the federal income tax, which she said will allow Catholics to “better care for their families and help their fellow man.”
In a previous media interview, Jorgensen said she opposed all government restrictions on abortion. However, she is also against any government funding of abortion. And, when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat opened up on the Supreme Court, Jorgensen released a list of nominees she would appoint that included a number of well-known libertarians and conservatives, such as Judge Andrew Napolitano, a former Fox Business News host.
The Greens: Care for the Poor and Environment
Voting Green is a “sound moral choice,” according to Andrea Merida, the campaign manager for Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and his running mate Angela Walker. Merida is also a parishioner of St. Ignatius Loyola in Denver.
Asked about the party’s pro-choice stance, she suggested that its economic policies would reduce the demand for abortion. “Every day, working-class people are faced with reproductive decisions that are made under duress from the economic injustice they face daily,” Merida said.
She said voting for the Green Party, which she also described as “socialist,” allows one to live the “entire Gospel of Life” through “responsible stewardship of creation, to justice through reparations for descendants of enslaved people and indigenous nations, to a solid pandemic relief plan that includes Medicare for all, to peace and an end to the new nuclear arms race, to upholding the dignity and worth of each human life at work and in society.”
She linked this platform with St. Teresa of Avila’s call to Catholics that theirs “are the eyes with which [Christ] looks compassion on this world.”
“For Catholics that are concerned with the entire spectrum of human life, the Hawkins/Walker campaign provides the avenue through which we can work in concert with others of good will for a more just and compassionate society,” Merida added.
American Solidarity Party: Embracing Catholic Social Thought
The American Solidarity Party embraces many key principles of Catholic social thought, opposing abortion while supporting the right to health care, racial reconciliation, religious freedom, and welcoming of immigrants and refugees. This year’s presidential candidate is Brian Carroll, a teacher and former California congressional candidate.
While the party has garnered very limited national attention, it has attracted some prominent supporters including Christian commentator and author Rod Dreher and Fordham University moral theologian Charles Camosy, a former board member of Democrats for Life who left the Democratic Party during this year’s primary campaign because of the party’s extreme support for abortion.
Another supporter is Daniel Philpott, a political scientist at University of Notre Dame who told the Register both major party candidates “violate human dignity” in different ways.
Philpott credits Trump for his positive accomplishments in the area of protecting the unborn and defending religious liberty, but he faults the president for “demeaning Muslims and immigrants, acquiescing in racism, sharply constricting the admission of asylum seekers.”
And while Biden would reverse Trump’s immigration policies, he backs abortion rights.
“Biden not only supports this regime ardently but also he promises to entrench and expand it,” Philpott said. “Catholics also cannot be indifferent to his promise to resume the aggressive curtailment of the religious liberty of Christian and other traditional religious institutions that the Obama administration pursued.”
Philpott notes that the American Solidarity Party calls for a balance between government welfare programs and the role of private organizations. As an alternative to capitalism and socialism, the American Solidarity Party embraces distributist economics based on the encyclicals of Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI and championed by G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc.
“Human dignity is central, as are solidarity, the common good, and subsidiarity,” Philpott said, referring to the party’s core values.
Third Parties Face Uphill Battle
Third parties benefitted from widespread dislike of both Trump and Hilary Clinton in 2016, according to John White, a Catholic University of America political scientist who is one of the co-chairs of Catholics for Biden. While Trump trails in the polls, Biden’s favorability ratings have been significantly higher than Clinton’s. According to RealClearPolitics, as of this writing, Biden has an average favorability rating of 50.4% over Trump’s 41.9%. In 2016, 41.8% had a favorable view of Clinton while 37.5% said they liked Trump.
While third parties did well in the 2016 election they face an uphill battle this time because it’s a different kind of an election, according to White. He said this election is a “referendum” election in which voters are making decisions based on their view of Trump’s record, as opposed to 2016, which he describes as a “choice” election in which there is a choice between two candidates in which neither one is the incumbent.
However, there are exceptions. In 1992, third-party candidate Ross Perot won 18.9% of the vote in election in which there was an incumbent candidate, George Bush. Perot also performed well in a second “referendum” election four years late, with 8% percent of the vote, when Bill Clinton was the incumbent.
In any year, third parties face a number of challenges: fundraising and getting their message out are tough. They face a number of specific obstacles: In order to receive federal funding, a third party must receive 5% of the vote.
To get a seat at one of the presidential debates, a third-party candidate must be polling at 15%. Perot passed both those benchmarks in his first run, but even he didn’t clear perhaps the biggest hurdle of all — getting an electoral vote.
The intensity of this year’s presidential campaign also weighs against third parties, according to White.
“It doesn’t matter if you listen to Biden or to Trump. Both of them agree on only one thing — that it’s the most important election of our lifetimes and one of the things that really mitigates against third parties is people do not want to waste their vote. They know that one or the other is going to win and they’re forced into that fulcrum if you will,” White said.
An additional reason third parties may be struggling this year is Trump’s performance as president, which has assuaged the concerns of many skeptical conservatives, according to Joshua Mercer, the political director for CatholicVote.org, which is backing Trump.
He said people in the Republican Party worried whether Trump, a New York billionaire with a cavalier lifestyle, could really represent them.
“Well, the proof’s in the pudding,” Mercer said, referencing Trump’s record of delivering on his promises on pro-life issues and in other areas. He added, “Republican Party voters are extremely satisfied with Donald Trump. His approval rating amongst Republican voters is sky high. He got more people to come out for him to vote in [the] New Hampshire primary than the Democratic side, so he’s doing very well. He’s really got his base united.”
As a result, Mercer predicted third parties will have a limited impact, only drawing some support from Never Trumpers who oppose his “crass” style and who favor more U.S. intervention in the Middle East.
“All we’re seeing here in 2020 on a third-party scale is a protest vote,” Mercer said.
But Philpott rejects arguments that third party votes are a waste.
“I have been told that I am wasting my vote on ASP. In fact, though, voting for ASP is a way to express a will for the renewal of our common political life and a weariness of choosing lesser evils, holding one’s nose while voting, and being politically homeless. Now, we have a home,” Philpott said. “Indeed, were more Catholics to vote for this party, which stands for the principles of the Church, it would no longer be the small and obscure party on which one can be accused of wasting one’s vote.”