I will give examples of how that works.
We all complain of the two party system. In the United States, that is the Democrats and the Republicans. You hear it all the time. What is the difference? They are all out for themselves and most, if not all, are bought and paid for. Wouldn't it be great if there was a 3rd option? Something that was for the people. As it should be. As it was intended to be when America was created in 1776 to get away from the oppressive British rule that came before it.
In Canada, we had a two party system for many years that became a three party system. But the 3rd party could rarely get power. Never at the federal level, and rarely at the provincial level. In spite of telling the population of Canada that they were being gamed by the Conservative and Liberal Parties, to this day The New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP) has never gained power at the Federal level.
"Because you see my friend, the trouble wasn't with the color of the cats. The trouble was that they were cats. And cats naturally look after other cats instead of mice."
-Tommy Douglas, founder and first leader of the NDP
Because of that, a 4th party sprang up in the mid 1980's. It was called The Reform Party of Canada. Sounds good right? Reform. How could that not be good, all things considered? But in reality, much of what they stood for was a slightly more liberal Conservatism on some issues and a very Conservative conservatism on most issues. They had great support in the West part of the country, but very little in the East, which is what really determines who gets the power in Ottawa (which for you Americans is our Washington).
Our current Prime Minister (equivalent to the President of the United States) is a man named Steven Harper.
Long before Steven Harper became leader of the Progressive Conservative party and then the Prime Minister of Canada, there was a man named Preston Manning and an old stoggy, button down, establishment party named the Conservative Party of Canada. While we already had 3 viable political parties in Canada, namely the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party and The New Democratic Party, the general feeling in much of the country was that these 3 did not really represent a large part of the populace and disenchantment was growing. Up sprung a party known as The Reform Party. Preston Manning was the founder and first leader of the Reform Party. In a matter of just a few short years, they were very viable and seemed like they might even gain control and elect a Prime Minister.
"If Chretien (the Prime Minister when Preston Manning was the leader of the Reform Party) has one idiological it's that the status quo is good enough....The public has to see and construct a principled alternative to the government in order to start shifting."
Alas, that didn't happen and shortly thereafter, the Reform Party began to fade. However, the disenchantment had not faded and in fact was growing. Canada has one of the highest taxation levels in the free world and in spite of that our level of services has been declining for a few decades. Now, we also have huge debt. There is a need for change. Or so it seems.
The Reform party started with great ideals and goals. But when they couldn't get elected (but got close) they morphed into something that became part of the system to get elected. That is what often times happens.
This went on for about 15 years, until the original leader, Preston Manning, was long gone. Along comes a young upstart, Stephan Harper. Anybody who knows anything about Canadian Politics knows this: Stephen Harper has one goal in life; Power and Control. He wants it and will find a way to get it. And make no mistake, he is very clever and book smart, and to some extent, very street smart and politically savvy.
When it became clear that the new leader of the Reform Party, Stephen Harper, could not get the party to power, he did what many in his position do who start out with idealistic goals. He changed teams and ditched his ideals so that he could get what he wants.
Although the Reform Party could not get elected, the merging party of the Reform and Conservatives could. And that is exactly what happened. Except when it did they weren't called the Reform Party anymore. They were called the Progressive Conservatives.
What is the lesson we can learn from this?
Before a third party (or in Canada's case a fourth party) can work, you must first eliminate all the existing ones. Because what happens is that the new upstart party just eventually gets power hungry and merges into the existing party..and then disappears. Therefore, I conclude that the problem is the party system, not the actual parties. The Tea Party and the 99% movement all have noble goals, just as the Reform Party did when they started. But if they have to fight against the two existing parties, eventually the only way they can make a dent is to mix with them. When that happens we won't be any farther ahead then as we are now.
We must first scrap the whole thing and start over with new ideas and without the barriers we have up now. Until that happens all organized change is noble in its goals but a waste of time in reality.
Canadians have learned that from the Stephan Harper example.