Third party (politics)
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In a two-party system of politics, the term third party is sometimes applied to a party other than the two dominant ones. While technically the term is limited to the third largest party or third oldest party, it is common shorthand for any smaller party.
For instance, in the United Kingdom a third party is a national political party other than the Conservatives and Labour which has a member(s) in the House of Commons. It is currently generally used for the Liberal Democrats. While in Scotland the dominant parliamentary party is currently the Scottish National Party with the Labour party the next largest party and the Conservative party third. So it would follow that in different countries within the UK there are many different third parties.
Countries using proportional representation give little advantage to the largest two parties, so they tend to elect many parties. Therefore, in those countries, three, four, or more political parties are usually elected to legislatures. Consequently, coalitions, including some smaller parties, are common in the legislatures of such countries. The public in those countries tends to see all parties as being in the same category, as opposed to the idea in two-party countries that there are major parties, which are "serious", and there are other parties, which are to be ignored, scorned, or blamed.
In some categorizations, a party needs to have a certain level of success to be considered a third party. Smaller parties that win only a very small share of the vote and no seats in the legislature often are termed minor or fringe parties.
United States 
In U.S. politics, a third party is a political party other than the Democrats or Republicans, such as the Libertarians. The term "minor party" is also used in a similar manner. Such political parties rarely win legislative elections, in large part, because proportional representation is rarely used except in a few local elections in some states.
A similar situation occurs with the presidential Electoral College, where Electoral College votes are often given the candidate who receives a plurality of the vote, thus bringing up accusations that certain third party presidential candidates are "spoiling" the election or splitting up segments of voters.
Among the other challenges that third parties face in the United States, is the frequent exclusion from major debates and media coverage, denial of ballot access and the difficulty in raising campaign contributions large enough to compete with the two major political parties. Thus, minority governments almost never occur in the United States; the last one was formed in the US House of Representatives in 1916 and in the US Senate in 2006.
Parliamentary two-party systems 
Third parties usually have little chance of forming a government or winning the position of head of government. Nevertheless, there are many reasons for third parties to compete. The opportunity of a national election means that attention will be paid to the positions of third parties. The larger parties might be forced to respond and adapt to their challenges, and often the larger parties copy ideas from them. Most third parties try to build their support to become one of the dominant parties, as the Labour Party in Britain did.
In the Westminster system there is also the possibility of minority governments, which can give smaller parties strength disproportional to their support. Examples include the Irish Parliamentary Party which pushed for Home Rule in Ireland in the late Nineteenth Century.
Challenging parties also usually appeal for votes on the basis that they will try to change the voting system to make it more competitive for all parties.
See also 
- Third party (Canada)
- Third party (United States)
- Green party
- Libertarian Party (disambiguation)
- Constitution Party
- Ballot access
- Nomination rules
- Electoral College (United States)
- Proportional representation
- Voting rights
Grass Roots Organizations
- McGaughey, William (2003). The Independence Party and the Future of Third-Party Politics. Minneapolis: Thistlerose Publications. ISBN 0-9605630-5-9. Personal odyssey of unsuccessful candidate for U.S. Senate in Minnesota's 2000 Independence Party primary.
- Epstein, David A. (2012). Left, Right, Out: The History of Third Parties in America. Arts and Letters Imperium Publications. ISBN 978-0-578-10654-0.