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With Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both viewed negatively by a majority of Americans, why have no third-party candidates emerged as alternatives? Part of it certainly goes to the poor quality of the candidates on offer, but there are also deeper structural reasons.
U.S. Greens have won only a handful of state-level races, and have never won a congressional seat. Their greatest success came in 2000, when Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke won 2.7 percent of the popular vote in the presidential election. In contrast, West German Greens formed a national political party in 1980 and gained support in local, state and federal competitions. Joschka Fischer, one of the first Greens elected to Germany's Bundestag, served as the nation's foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998-2005.
There is no easy way for the U.S. Green Party to emulate its German counterparts. Because the American political system makes it difficult for third parties to participate, Green Party candidates do not have opportunities to learn the trade of politics. They have remained activists who are true to their base instead of developing policy positions that would appeal to a broader audience. By doing so, they weaken their chances of winning major races even in liberal strongholds.
As a result, green ideas enter American political debates only when Democrats and Republicans take up these issues. It is telling that major U.S. environmental groups started endorsing Clinton even before she had clinched the Democratic presidential nomination over Bernie Sanders, who took more aggressive positions on some environmental and energy issues during their primary contest. And although Sanders identifies as an environmentalist, he sought the Democratic Party nomination instead of running as the Green Party candidate.
This suggests that running on a third-party ticket in the United States is still not a winning route to shaping a message aimed at a broad electorate. Instead, climate change, dwindling energy resources and growing human and economic costs from natural disasters will do more to promote ecological consciousness and political change in mainstream America than the radical rhetoric of the U.S. Green Party.