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Three's A Crowd

The Dynamic of Third Parties, Ross Perot, and Republican Resurgence

Ronald B. Rapoport and Walter J. Stone

Publication Year: 2005

A significant contribution to our understanding of minor parties and party system change. The authors develop a new theory and provide strong empirical evidence in support of it. They show that the Perot's candidacy has had a strong and lasting impact on partisan competition in elections. ---Paul Herrnson, Director, Center for American Politics and Citizenship Professor, Department of Government and Politics, University of Maryland Powerfully persuasive in its exhaustive research, Three's a Crowd may surprise many by revealing the long- ignored but pivotal impact of Perot voters on every national election since 1992." ---Clay Mulford, Jones Day and General Counsel to the 1992 Perot Presidential Campaign and to the Reform Party. "Rapaport and Stone have written an engaging and important book. They bring fresh perspectives, interesting data, and much good sense to this project. Three's a Crowd is fundamentally about political change, which will, in turn, change how scholars and pundits think of Ross Perot in particular, and third parties in general." ---John G. Geer, Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University and Editor of The Journal of Politics "The definitive analysis of the Perot movement, its role in the 1994 GOP victory, and the emergence of an enduring governing majority." ---L. Sandy Maisel, Director, Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs, Colby College Three's a Crowd begins with the simple insight that third parties are creatures of the American two-party system, and derive their support from the failures of the Democratic and Republican parties. While third parties flash briefly in the gaps left by those failures, they nevertheless follow a familiar pattern: a sensation in one election, a disappointment in the next. Rapoport and Stone conclude that this steep arc results from one or both major parties successfully absorbing the third party's constituency. In the first election, the third party raises new issues and defines new constituencies; in the second, the major parties move in on the new territory. But in appropriating the third party's constituents, the major parties open themselves up to change. This is what the authors call the "dynamic of third parties." The Perot campaign exemplified this effect in 1992 and 1996. Political observers of contemporary electoral politics missed the significance of Perot's independent campaign for the presidency in 1992. Rapoport and Stone, who had unfettered-and unparalleled-access to the Perot political machine, show how his run perfectly embodies the third-party dynamic. Yet until now no one has considered the aftermath of the Perot movement through that lens. For anyone who seeks to understand the workings of our stubbornly two-party structure, this eagerly awaited and definitive analysis will shed new light on the role of third parties in the American political system.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

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pp. ix-xii

ACKNOWLEDGING THE MANY DEBTS we have acculllulated during the years we have worked on this project is a pleasure, not only because writing these words of thanks means we no longer have to endure questions about when the "Perot book" will be finished. This project has taken lllany twists and turns since we began in the summer of 1992 with a national survey of potential volunteers in the emerging Perot movement....

I. The Perot Movement & Third-Party Politics in America

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1. Introduction: The Dynamic of Third Parties

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pp. 3-22

AMERICANS ARE AMBIVALENT ABOUT political parties. Better than 85 percent of American citizens identify more or less strongly with one of the two major parties, most vote consistently with their party identification, and most people think the American two-party system is a good thing. At the same time, however, dissatisfaction with the parties' nominees in presidential elections is common, as many wish they had more ...

II. Understanding the Support for Perot

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2. A Theory of Third-Party Support & Major-Party Change

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pp. 25-46

IN THIS CHAPTER, WE FRAME OUR analysis of the particulars associated with the Perot movement in I992 and the ensuing period through the 2000 election in a broader understanding of how third parties relate to the two-party system. There are many aspects of the Perot phenomenon that are undoubtedly unique, but our goal in this chapter is to state our theoretical expectations as broadly and as generally as we can....

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3. The Rise & Fall of Ross Perot & the Reform Party, 1992-2000

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pp. 47-77

ROSS PEROT'S 1992 POPULAR-VOTE share represented a major success in the annals of American third parties. Furthermore, it set in motion a series of events that eventually changed the political landscape ill far-reaching and long-lasting ways. Although the ingredients for thirdparty success and the dynamics of major-party response reflect in this case the broad theory outlined in chapter 2, it is important that we situate our...

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4. Was There an Issue Constituency for Perot?

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pp. 78-96

UNDER THE LOGIC OF THE DYNAMIC of third parties, the emergence of a successful third party carries the possibility of change primarily because it presents a target to one or both major parties, enabling them to bid for the third party's constituency in subsequent elections. The issues that define the third party's constituency provide the basis for the major-party bid. In the absence of an identifiable issue constituency,...

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5. Explaining Support for Perot

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pp. 97-123

WHILE MAJOR PARTIES HAVE THE advantages of continuous sources of support from interest groups, long-term identifiers, and party institutions, an independent electoral movement, such as Ross Perot's in 1992, must start de novo. It must recruit a cadre of activists, raise money, get on the ballot, and mobilize voters-all in a very short period of time. The Perot movement in 1992 had a particularly short timetable since he...

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6. The Decline in Support for Perot

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pp. 124-142

BY RUNNING A SECOND TIME, IN 1996, and attracting over 8 percent of the popular vote, Ross Perot broke from the pattern of previous successful third parties. According to the dynamic of third parties, third-party movements, such as Perot's, should immediately die after the sting of their success. By attracting so many votes in 1992 and by signaling the issue concerns of his constituency to the major parties, Perot's...

III. The Major Party Bid

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7. The Major Party Bid for the Perot Constituency

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pp. 145-168

ALTHOUGH THE MAJOR PARTIES ARE generally oblivious to thirdparty activity, when a third party or independent candidate attracts a large share of the presidential vote, the signal is unmistakable. If the dynamic of third parties is to work, one or both major parties must make a serious attempt to attract supporters of the third-party movement. This chapter examines the bids made by both parties-especially by the Republicans- to attract the Perot constituency after the 1992 election....

IV. The Perot Constituency's Response & the Republican Resurgence

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8. Perot & the Republican Resurgence, 1994-2000

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pp. 171-189

WE HAVE SHOWN THAT THE Republican Party made an aggressive bid for Perot backers' support in the 1994 election, but can we show that Republicans were successful in attracting Perot voters to their cause? In this chapter, we demonstrate that the Perot vote was responsible for producing historic Republican victories in the 1994 House elections and in the 2000 presidential election. Ross Perot's success as an independent ...

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9. The Mobilization Effects of Perot Activity

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pp. 190-205

ELECTORAL RETURNS SINCE 1994 demonstrate a link between the 1992 Perot vote and the subsequent strength and success of Republican candidates. Our argument is that in response to a bid made by the Republican Party, significant numbers of Perot supporters switched their votes to Republican candidates in 1994 and in the ensuing elections. Furthermore, to account for the gain in Republican fortunes, the movement...

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10. The Impact of Perot on the Republican Party's Issue Positions

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pp. 206-222

SO FAR, WE HAVE LINKED major-party change to the Perot movement by showing that Republican electoral fortunes improved because of the party's successful bid for the Perot constituency. However, there is more to party change than increased vote share and winning elections. The dynamic of third parties implies change in the composition of the bidding party's supporting coalition. By attracting former third-party...

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11. Conclusion: Third Parties & Political Change in America

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pp. 223-240

THE AMERICAN POLITY, IMPLICITLY or explicitly, has chosen a two-party over a multiparty system. Apart from the wisdom of that choice, one consequence is that "successful" third parties in presidential politics are rare. Throughout the twentieth century, the number of third-party presidential calididates has been small-Theodore Roosevelt and Eugene Debs in I912, Robert LaFollette in 1924, George Wallace in...

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12. Afterword: The Dynamic of Third Parties and the Future of the Perot Constituency

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pp. 241-254

THROUGHOUT THIS BOOK, WE have argued that the Perot constituency played a pivotal role in U.S. national politics in the elections after Perot first ran for president in 1992. The "dynamic of third parties" describes the process whereby Perot's or any third-party movement might have a lasting impact on the electoral system: the third-party candidate emerges to attract a significant electoral constituency animated by ...


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pp. 255-276


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pp. 279-286


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pp. 287-295

E-ISBN-13: 9780472026159
E-ISBN-10: 0472026151
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472030996
Print-ISBN-10: 047203099X

Page Count: 312
Illustrations: 31 Tables, 58 Figures
Publication Year: 2005