Skip to main content

Tom Campbell—centrist former congressman, former state senator and former Republican—presciently aimed to launch a third party in California, predicting that legislative candidates might run under a new banner as soon as the upcoming 2020 election cycle.

California state politics now allow votes primarily from only two party members: Democrat or Republican. This notwithstanding that 28% of California voters are independent or declare no party affiliation, according to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC):

"The share of the 19.9 million registered voters who are Democrats (43.1%) is similar (43.2% in 2015), while the share of Republicans (23.6%) has declined (from 28.0%). The share who say they are independent (also known as “decline to state” or “no party preference” voters) has been increasing and is now 28.3%, up from 23.6% in 2015."

More specifically, California demographics are as follows, according to the PPIC:

  • Democratic voters are more likely to be women (61%) than men (39%). 
  • Independents (55% men, 45% women).
  • Republicans (52% men, 48% women) are more evenly divided. 
  • Independents (44%) and Democrats (43%) are more likely to be college graduates than Republicans are (34%). 
  • Three in ten Democrats (30%) have household incomes under $40,000, compared to one in four independents (25%) and two in ten Republicans (21%). 
  • Democrats (23%) and independents (23%) are more likely to be young adults (ages 18 to 34) than are Republicans (12%).
  • Republicans are more likely to be ages 55 and older (60%) than are Democrats (46%) or independents (39%).

In 2018, CaFWD teamed up with California Target Book to find out whether political insiders around the capitol think a viable third party might emerge onto the California political scene by 2025. Not a single respondent in the Target Book Insider Track Survey said that it was “very likely.” Roughly two-thirds said the opposite.

But Tom Campbell—Chapman University law professor, former congressman, former state senator and former Republican—said they were wrong. In 2018, he launched a new third party with the hope of breaking the Republican-Democratic lock on political power in Sacramento. Campbell predicted candidates could be running for the Legislature under the new banner as soon as 2020.

Under California law, a new political party can get on the ballot in one of two ways. One option is to gather roughly 700,000 signatures.

But there’s an alternative, which Campbell characterized as the easier way: convince a little over 60,000 already registered voters to either go online or contact their county registrar and switch their registration to the new, still unnamed, party. With the right targeted email pitch, it could be pulled off under $100,000, he said. Revolutionize the state political system for less than a legislator’s annual salary.

Who might want to join the new party? 

Take the millions of voters who register with “no party preference.” There are now more of those non-committed voters than registered Republicans; in 2018, Campbell said we would need to convince only 1 percent to join him.

Around half-million Californians in 2018 were registered with the American Independent party—despite the fact that an LA Times survey from 2016 found that a majority of them believed that makes them politically unaffiliated—not members of a party founded by segregationist George Wallace.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended for You

“If we reached 83,000 of them, three quarters would realize they had mis-registered, and might join the Center Party,” said Campbell.

Among other ideas, Campbell envisioned creating a platform-free organization that would simply let candidates run untethered from any major party.

Such candidates are currently barred from labeling themselves “independents,” since voters might confuse "independents" with Wallace’s old party. Instead, they have to use to the cumbersome “no party preference.” 

But the “NPP” brand, to Campbell, implied apathy or indecisiveness.

“No Party Preference is a pejorative,” he said. A new party would allow a candidate to run outside the current party structure, “but without the scarlet letter of NPP,” he said.

According to a bipartisan Democracy Fund Voter Study Group poll, two-thirds of Americans would welcome a third electoral choice. There was much less agreement over what this new party would stand for, with respondents split between the far-left, far-right, and the center.

“I think there are a whole number of logistical challenges to create a third party,” said Democratic Assemblyman Adam Gray from Merced. As former leader of the Assembly’s “mod caucus,” he regularly departed from his party on environmental issues, gun control, and business regulation. He championed more moderation in state politics, but said it’s easier to do that through the existing parties:

“Maybe the silent majority of moderate Republicans and Democrats ought to take back our own parties from the fringe.”

To take politics back from the fringes, irrespective of parties, In This Together strives to create awareness among millions of supporters of like-minded organizations nationwide that a solutions-oriented approach to voting would yield better results. In This Together aspires to ameliorate the divisiveness in this country, and globally, that creates such dissatisfaction with our elected representatives.

A huge leap forward for voters comes from In This Together's "Predictive Voter" model that gets to the heart of issues that matter most to voters. This model was created in 2016 by Charles Munger Jr. and Martin Wilson to enable voters to come together around these issues. The Predictive Voter model identifies the calmer center that so many of us seek.

Photo: David McNew, Getty Images, 2009.