Andrew Yang’s Third Party Is Going Nowhere

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Remember Andrew Yang? The one-time Democratic candidate for president is back with a new venture whose goal is nothing less than the transformation of American politics. Dissatisfied with the Democratic Party and alienated by the right, Yang finds himself in a position many Americans could understand. His solution to this predicament, though, is unlikely to appeal to almost anyone.

Yang has started a third party, called Forward, with David Jolly, a former Republican congressman, and Christine Todd Whitman, once the Republican governor of New Jersey.

In a joint editorial for the Washington Post, the trio depict a nation in crisis. “Americans have lost faith in government,” they write, citing a New York Times/Siena poll which found that voters overwhelmingly believed the country is heading in the wrong direction. “Shockingly, roughly 30 million Americans believe violence against the current government is justified. The same number want to forcibly return former president Donald Trump to the White House,” they continue. “This is what happens when democracies fail: People feel their voices are not heard and radicalize to take up arms, leading to mainstream talk about ‘civil war.’”

I am not here to argue for the health of American democracy; there’s no doubt that a period of instability is already upon us. But Yang and his compatriots just don’t understand how or why we’ve ended up here. Their new party, they theorized, will appeal to a “moderate, common-sense majority,” and as proof, they cite yet another poll, this one showing that “roughly half” of Americans would call themselves independents.

But a true American “independent,” as Yang defines it, is an elusive creature. Labels often mean one thing to pundits and politicians, and quite another to the people who adopt them. Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, is an independent, though the democratic socialist wouldn’t find a home in Yang’s avowedly centrist party. Sanders’s partisan inclinations aren’t unusual for an American independent, either. In 2019, the Pew Research Center found that 81 percent of self-described independents “continue to ‘lean’ toward either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party,” and “majorities” of these so-called leaners “have a favorable opinion of their own party.” What appears to distinguish them is their lack of political engagement. Support for a third party is indeed at a high, according to Gallup, but that doesn’t mean that many people will actually join one.

The very polarization that Yang decries likely prevents a third party from gaining much ground. He can’t count on “independents.” What about moderate Republicans? They exist, but are a vanishing breed. Most Republicans want Donald Trump to run for a second term in 2024, despite everything. Most still believe Trump’s election fraud lies: According to one poll from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and YouGov, “only 21 percent of Republicans say Joe Biden’s victory was legitimate.” Forward could peel off a few stragglers, but there isn’t a national groundswell in evidence.

As for Democratic voters, centrists have few reasons to disaffiliate themselves from the national party. Yang may despise the Squad, but as leftist voters themselves could tell him, the Squad does not own the party. Rather, the party seems intent on curbing the left’s influence wherever possible. For proof, look no further than the party’s support for the anti-abortion congressman Henry Cuellar in Texas, whose candidacy they backed over a young pro-choice woman. Democratic voters aren’t sold on Biden 2024, but that doesn’t mean they’d line up to join a party connected to Yang, who failed to persuade most of them in 2020.

A third party isn’t a bad idea, by itself. But for one to succeed, there must be substantive changes to the voting process, as Yang et al. do acknowledge in their piece, in which they promise to “passionately advocate electoral changes such as ranked-choice voting and open primaries,” among other things. A third party must also possess a serious theory of change, though, and that’s what’s glaringly absent from Forward so far. What distinguishes it, really, from the options already on offer? It’s a question without a good answer.

Forward will almost certainly cede more ground to the right than to the left. That’s good news for business interests — see the editorial’s language of “choice” and “competition” — but it doesn’t promise much change for the average American. Much like Yang’s candidacy for president, the Forward Party is doomed to fail.

Andrew Yang’s Third Party Is Going Nowhere