Dole Institute to explore roles of third parties

One-third of Americans refuse to identify themselves as either Republicans or Democrats, according to one recent poll.

The Dole Institute of Politics at Kansas University is hoping to reach out to that one-third, or perhaps members of the other two-thirds, with two programs Thursday that will explore why third parties often fail in American politics and whether now might be a time for one to take hold.

“I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and ask why don’t we do something on (third parties),” said Dole Institute interim director Jonathan Earle. “Both Bill Lacy and I have been hesitant to do this because we’re partisan. We both love our parties.”

Lacy is the Dole Institute’s director but is on an indefinite leave to work on the presidential campaign of Republican candidate Fred Thompson.

Earle said he understands that the Democrats and the Republicans are increasingly unable to accommodate many American voters. On Thursday, the Dole Institute will bring in a group of academics and another group of third party operatives to discuss the status of third parties in America as well as why they have historically found little success in America.

Currently, in the U.S. Congress, there are just two individuals not registered as Republicans or Democrats and one, Sen. Joe Lieberman, of Connecticut, was a Democrat until he lost in a primary election and wanted to pursue office as an independent. The other independent is Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont.

Earle said he deliberately did not invite any active candidates to participate in the evening forum because he didn’t want it to turn into a third-party campaign event.

Historically, Earle said, the most third parties have been able to do is peel off enough liberals in Florida from Al Gore for George W. Bush to win the 2000 election, and convince enough conservatives around the country to abandon the first President Bush in 1992 in favor of Ross Perot. Bill Clinton won that election.

Bill Kurtis, host of several TV programs on the A&E network and a KU graduate, will moderate the evening operatives program, which begins at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Earle will moderate the academics program, which runs from 3 to 5 p.m.