Third parties are vessels for ideas, values and policy proposals that are being rejected by a nation’s reigning party duopoly. Most of us think of third party supporters as people who are drawn to a platform that substantively represents their political views, which otherwise get no oxygen. Yet the collapse of the Liberal Democrats in the UK suggests that part of support for third parties has a less rational foundation.

After winning 23% of the vote in the 2010 election, the LibDems are now polling at only 8% nationally. If you assume support for third parties were substantively rational, it would follow that LibDem supporters disillusioned with the Tory-LibDem coalition have sought a new leftish alternative for their progressive policy views.

This seems to be the case for a plurality of them: 39% of 2010 LibDem voters now intend to vote Labour, and 6% intend to vote Green. Yet 14% now intend to vote Conservative. Even more striking, 7% intend to vote either for the UK Independence Party or the British Nationalist Party, which substantively disagree virulently with the LibDems on pretty much everything.

Some third party support thus seems to emerge from pure alienation, i.e., I’m against whoever is in power, even if I voted for them. And I am for whoever is out of power, even if they have nothing in common with the people I supported last time around.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

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Keith Humphreys is a Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and served as Senior Policy Advisor in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in the Obama Administration. @KeithNHumphreys