Third Way (United States)

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Third Way
Founded2005; 14 years ago (2005)
FoundersJonathan Cowan
Matt Bennett
Nancy Hale
Jim Kessler
Legal status501(c)(4)[1]
HeadquartersWashington, D.C., United States
Coordinates38°54′12″N 77°02′22″W / 38.903358°N 77.039347°W / 38.903358; -77.039347Coordinates: 38°54′12″N 77°02′22″W / 38.903358°N 77.039347°W / 38.903358; -77.039347
Jonathan Cowan[2]
John L. Vogelstein[2]
SubsidiariesThird Way Institute
Revenue (2016)
Expenses (2016)$8,704,498[1]
Employees (2016)
Volunteers (2016)

Third Way is a Washington, D.C.–based public policy think tank founded in 2005.[3] The think tank develops political and policy ideas, conducts public opinion research and hosts an array of public events, issues briefings, etc. The organization has four policy divisions: Economics, National Security, Clean Energy and Social Policy & Politics. Third Way develops and advocates for policies that it says represent the "modern center-left ideas".[4]

Third Way was honored as 2013 North American Think Tank of the Year by Prospect, a British monthly current affairs magazine, for its "original, influential, and rigorous work on the most pressing challenges facing people, governments, and businesses".[5] The think tank's supporters and advocates include Democratic politicians, other center-left think tanks and individual donors.[6] Third Way's funding also partially comes from philanthropies, foundations and personal donations. In the past decade, Third Way has been directly involved in policy issues such as the benefits of energy innovation, student accountability measures under the Every Student Succeeds Act, deficit reduction, proposals to reform Medicare and Medicaid, the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell" and new trade accords with Korea, Colombia and Panama.[5]


Third Way grew out of the nonprofit group Americans for Gun Safety (AGS), which was formed in 2000 with the goal of resetting the gun control movement and advancing gun safety laws by using moderate ideas that appealed to both sides of the debate.[7] AGS' primary political project was around closing the gun show loophole in the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, through which people could purchase guns at gun shows without needing a background check. It helped pass two 2000 state-level ballot initiatives in Colorado and Oregon to close the gun show loophole there and championed federal legislation carried by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT), which failed to pass. AGS was folded into Third Way in 2005 in the wake of the 2004 presidential election as a policy, messaging and strategy idea center and think tank. Third Way was cofounded by Jonathan Cowan, Matt Bennett,[8] Jim Kessler[9] and Nancy Hale.[10]

Areas of interest[edit]

Third Way has four major policy programs. The Economic Program focuses on helping the American middle class succeed in the midst of growing global competition.[11]

The National Security Program focuses on issues of security, foreign policy, surveillance and technology, public opinion and the United States military.[12]

Third Way has also houses a clean energy program that promotes a range of zero-emissions technologies, like carbon capture and advanced nuclear reactors as well as renewable energy, all in an effort to address the climate crisis.[13] Finally, it has a Social Policy and Politics Program to advocate for change on progressive issues including marriage equality, education, marijuana, immigration and gun control.[14]

Policy work[edit]

In 2010, Third Way sponsored a report written by William Galston of the Brookings Institution and Elaine Kamarck[15] of Harvard University's Kennedy School entitled Change You Can Believe In Needs a Government You Can Trust.[16] The report analyzed Americans' trust in government and reported it was in serious decline and could present significant challenges to the Obama administration's agenda. Third Way's other economic work has included rural reinvestment efforts, a plan to make opportunity more widely available to American middle class and defending the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

As an example of Third Way's rural reinvestment program, Third Way developed the policies framed in Spurring Weatherization Investments in Rural America, which was introduced by Representative Jim Clyburn (D-South Carolina) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) as the Rural Energy Savings Program.[17] Third Way argued for members of opposing parties to sit together at the President's annual address in 2011 and 2012.[18]

Third Way has recently worked on a campaign to evaluate the Democratic Party connection with voters after the 2016 presidential election.[19] Along those lines, Third Way hosted consultations and meetings with politicians and strategists from around the country to develop a Democratic strategy for winning 2018 and 2020 elections.[20] As of 2017, Third Way's economic program is undertaking a campaign to highlight the scarcity of opportunity as a root cause of income inequality.[20]

In March 2018, Third Way released a report outlining a new cause for the Democratic Party and several policy ideas that the organization says "redefines government's role in expanding the opportunity to earn".[21] The Washington Post's coverage of the report considered it "an opening bid in the 2020 'ideas primary'".[22] Other parts of Third Way's work are also related to politics. The organization has studied the battleground states and districts that will determine congressional majorities in 2018.[23]

For example, their public opinion research and focus groups revealed that persuadable voters who backed Barack Obama and then Donald Trump saw Trump as focused on creating jobs and Democrats as "working for someone else".[24] In its report on the findings, Third Way called for the Democratic Party to focus on becoming the Jobs Party to voters.

Specific topics[edit]

Third Way has worked on the following policy issues:

  1. The economic benefits of green energy. Since 2010, Third Way is lobbying the creation of an alternative clean energy and climate agenda. Part of this effort has included highlighting and advocating the work of advanced nuclear technology start-ups.[25] The organization has recently partnered with the Department of Energy's Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear (GAIN) to connect advanced nuclear developers with federal laboratories.[26]
  2. Marriage equality. Third Way launched the Commitment Campaign in 2011 with the aim of finding common ground between the LGBT and religious community that culminated in reframing the marriage equality debate to focus on "love and commitment" instead of "rights and benefits".[27] The group also worked on the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act.
  3. Trade agreements. Third Way advocated for new trade accords with Korea, Colombia and Panama and advocated for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
  4. Gun safety. Third Way has continued to work on similar issues to those addressed by Americans for Gun Safety, which include universal background checks.[28]


Invalid research[edit]

In 2017, the Third Way think tank conducted a listening tour in rural Wisconsin as part of a political research effort to understand the results of the 2016 presidential election.[29] This tour was the feature of an article in The Atlantic magazine, where reporter Molly Ball observed many focus group participants expressing strongly politically partisan views that challenged Third Way's ideology that political partisanship was not most people’s primary concern. Ball recounts hearing focus group participants blame things like government bureaucracy, changes in society and the family, young people, welfare recipients, Muslims, Republicans, Democrats, income inequality, gerrymandering and union rights for their problems. Despite this, Ball writes that Third Way summarized its findings in a short report that ignored all the sentiments heard on the tour which challenged Third Way's ideology and instead selectively highlighted sentiments which adhered to Third Way's ideology:

The report surprised me when I read it. Despite the great variety of views the researchers and I had heard on our tour, the report had somehow reached the conclusion that Wisconsinites wanted consensus, moderation, and pragmatism—just like Third Way. We had heard people blame each other for their own difficulties, take refuge in tribalism, and appeal to extremes. But the report mentioned little of that. Instead it described the prevailing attitude as "an intense work ethic that binds the community together and helps it adapt to change.[30]

— Molly Ball

As a result of Ball's account, the validity of Third Way's research has come into question.[31] However, Third Way strongly disputed Ball's claim in a public post. Third Way's Matt Bennett wrote in response: "We are dismayed that in the story, Molly writes that we omitted information that is actually in the report[32] we drafted about the WI visit. And she indicates that we have drawn conclusions that we do not reach and do not share".[33] He also stated:

Yes, in the last page of the report, we provide some evidence that people believe they can still work together. But nowhere in the report do we even imply that means they think politicians should support a centrist policy agenda. [...] Moreover, this research is by its very nature anecdotal. It is about impressions, which can vary widely, not quantitative data, which can be extrapolated. We make that very clear in our description of the project and in each of the reports on the visits we’ve done, each of which have been quite different from the rest.[34]

Special interests[edit]

The majority of the think tank's funding comes from individuals with close ties to the banking industry and its board of trustees consists mostly of investment bankers. Political commentator David Sirota suggested that the think tank's initiatives to combat Social Security expansion despite popular sentiment is because it would cause trustees of the think tank to pay higher taxes.[35][36] Hunter of Daily Kos has suggested Third Way's ties to the banking industry is the reason for its opposition to Senator Elizabeth Warren's platform of Wall Street reform.[37] Investigative journalist Lee Fang of The Nation alleges the think tank's ties to the Democratic Party are "tenuous" and that it exists to serve as a vehicle for corporate and right-wing interests to shape the economic policies of the party.[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Form 990: Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax" (PDF). Third Way. December 31, 2016. Retrieved November 10, 2018.
  2. ^ a b "About". Third Way. Retrieved November 10, 2018.
  3. ^ Shear, Michael D. (February 9, 2011). "Political Groups Compete to Represent the Center". The New York Times. Retrieved November 9, 2014.
  4. ^ "Third Way - About Us". Retrieved November 9, 2014.
  5. ^ a b "The 50 Most Influential Think Tanks in the United States". The Best Schools. 2013. Retrieved March 14, 2018.
  6. ^ James, Hohmann (February 15, 2011). "Third Way picks up 3 new Senate co-chairs". Politico. Retrieved November 10, 2018.
  7. ^ Ball, Molly. "How the Gun-Control Movement Got Smart". The Atlantic. Retrieved 7 February 2013.
  8. ^ Bennett, Matt. "Matt Bennett, Senior Vice President for Public Affairs". Third Way Staff. Third Way. Retrieved November 9, 2014.
  9. ^ Kessler, Jim. "Jim Kessler, Senior Vice President for Policy". Third Way. Retrieved November 9, 2014.
  10. ^ Hale, Nancy. "Nancy Hale, Senior Vice President for Strategy & Leadership Development". Third Way. Retrieved November 9, 2014.
  11. ^ Gerwin, Ed. "Programs - Economic Program". Third Way. Retrieved 2014-11-09.
  12. ^ Way, Third. "Programs - National Security Program". Third Way. Retrieved 2014-11-09.
  13. ^ McCraw, Kimble. "Programs - Clean Energy Program". Third Way. Retrieved 2014-11-09.
  14. ^ "Social Policy and Politics Program". Third Way. Archived from the original on November 23, 2014.
  15. ^ "The Arena: - Elaine C. Kamarck Bio". 2010-10-21. Retrieved 2012-11-07.
  16. ^ "Change You Can Believe In Needs a Government You Can Trust" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-11-09.
  17. ^ "Jeff Merkley - Fighting for Oregon in the U.S. Senate: Home". 2010-03-10. Retrieved 2012-11-07.
  18. ^ McDuffee, Allen (January 23, 2012). "State of the Union: Will Republicans and Democrats sit together?". Washington Post. Retrieved March 20, 2012.
  19. ^ Karni, Annie. "Democratic Party rethink gets $20 million injection". Politico. Retrieved 17 January 2017.
  20. ^ a b "The Democratic Dilemma". The Economist. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  21. ^ "A New Generation of Ideas: A Social Contract for the Digital Age". Third Way. Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  22. ^ James, Hohmann. "The Daily 202: Third Way makes an opening bid in the 2020 'ideas primary'". Washington Post. Retrieved 15 March 2018.
  23. ^ Hohmann, James. "The Daily 202: Even sweeping the suburbs would not be enough for Democrats to win the House majority". The Washington Post. Retrieved 29 June 2017.
  24. ^ Debenedetti, Gabriel. "Third Way study warns Democrats: Avoid far-left populism". Politico. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  25. ^ Plumer, Brad. "Nuclear power is dying. Can radical innovation save it?". Vox. Retrieved 27 March 2017.
  26. ^ Yurman, Dan. "Advanced Nuclear Designs Imagined in Third Way Exhibit". The Energy Collective.
  27. ^ Madhani, Aamer. "Bipartisan group reframes case for legalizing gay marriage". USA Today.
  28. ^ Ball, Molly. "How the Gun-Control Movement Got Smart". The Atlantic.
  29. ^ Ball, Molly (3 October 2017). "On Safari in Trump's America". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on 28 February 2018. Retrieved 5 March 2018.
  30. ^ Ball, Molly (23 October 2017). "On Safari in Trump's America". The Atlantic. Retrieved 10 November 2018.
  31. ^ Atkins, David (28 October 2017). "Are Third Way's Focus Groups Valid Research?". Washington Monthly.
  32. ^ Nancy Hale and Luke Watson. "Wisconsin District Visit". Third Way. Retrieved 16 September 2017.
  33. ^ Bennett, Matt. "What The Atlantic Gets Wrong about Third Way". Medium.
  34. ^ Bennett, Matt. "What The Atlantic Gets Wrong about Third Way". Medium. Retrieved 2017-10-23.
  35. ^ Fang, Lee (11 December 2013). "Third Way: 'Majority of Our Financial Support' From Wall Street, Business Executives". The Nation. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  36. ^ Sirota, David (11 December 2013). "Disruption vs Intransigence: A tale of two political parties". PandoDaily.
  37. ^ Hunter (4 December 2013). "Why the Third Way hates Sen. Elizabeth Warren". Daily Kos.
  38. ^ Fang, Lee. "GOP Donors and K Street Fuel Third Way's Advice for the Democratic Party". The Nation.

External links[edit]