CNN  — 

The headline is eye-catching: “Support for Third U.S. Political Party at High Point.”

Intriguing, right? And once you read into the story on the new Gallup poll, things get even more interesting!

More than 6 in 10 Americans (62%) agreed with the statement that “parties do such a poor job representing the American people that a third party is needed.” That’s the highest ever measured by Gallup in the nearly two decades it has been asking questions about third parties.

Like I said: intriguing. But also deeply misleading – for a few reasons.

1. The question wording seems very likely to produce a response in favor of a third party. Asking, “Do you think there should be a third party in this country?” is very different from asking, “Do the Republican and Democratic parties do an adequate job of representing the American people or do the parties do such a poor job representing the American people that a third party is needed?” Like, WAY different.

2. What sort of third party are we talking about here? When you ask people if they’d like an alternative to the two major parties in this country, they tell you “yes.” But that “yes” covers a whole lot of ground. Some people want a libertarian party. Some want a more liberal Democratic party. Or a more conservative Republican party. Or a centrist party. The point is that just because lots of people want a third party doesn’t mean they want the same third party.

3. Parties are HARD to build. There’s a reason that we’ve had the same two major parties for the last 150 years (or so): Building a party from scratch is incredibly challenging and massively expensive. While the two major parties have systems in place to ensure their candidates appear on the ballot, non-major parties have to scratch and claw to stay on the ballot year after year, whether by performance in races or signature-gathering. The logistical heavy lifting managed by the party apparatus is extremely hard to re-create – quickly or at all.

The Point: People like the idea, generally speaking, of third parties. The reality of forming a viable third party is a whole heck of a lot tougher to do.

– Chris