Using Minor Political Parties To Advocate For Animals
Animal advocates frequently engage in traditional politics through lobbying and legislative efforts to advance the interests of non-human animals. This can be a sound strategy, as shown by the successes of groups like Crustacean Compassion and Aquatic Life Institute. Still, given the relatively low percentage of people who lead veg*n lifestyles, a politician-seeking election based on animal welfare is extremely unlikely to actually win, and by extension, to meaningfully advance the cause.
Similarly, there are few formal lobbying groups dedicated specifically to animal welfare. Moreover, the power and influence of those groups that do exist pale in comparison to that of organizations lobbying for the consumption and exploitation of non-human animals. An alternative to these dilemmas is forming or joining a minor/niche political party focused exclusively on representing animals. In a recent article on the Effective Altruism Forum, one author makes the case for this approach as a complement to existing political advocacy.
An important question, the author highlights, is whether to form an interest group or a political party. While broad institutional and social settings ultimately answer this, advocates should choose the option which will make the biggest impact with current politicians. Whereas the incentive for mainstream politicians is to win and keep their office, animal advocates are typically motivated by policy that advances their particular goals. Thus, winning concessions from more major players without winning elections per se can be an effective (and desirable) goal for advocates. This is an important point due to the previously mentioned difficulty of getting animal welfare-focused politicians elected. As the author notes, human interests universally take precedence over those of animals, and in light of pandemics, wars, inflation, and other current concerns, animal welfare parties are unlikely to have much independent success. Put simply, in democracies where public opinion dictates electoral outcomes, there’s unlikely to be much room for animal interests.
Despite this, advocates can have major impacts by simply running for election. In an Australian election that the author was heavily involved in, the preferential voting system (i.e., “rank-choice,” where voters rank the candidates from most to least desirable rather than merely choosing one) allowed Australia’s Animal Justice Party (AJP) to win concessions. Specifically, by negotiating with major parties to have mainstream candidates placed higher in the ranking on AJP’s voting guide, AJP procured an amendment to South Australia’s Animal Welfare Act, greater transparency of reporting and monitoring slaughterhouses, an investment of $500,000 AUD ($375,000 USD) towards research and development for plant-based proteins, additional funding for the RSPCA (an organization similar to the ASPCA), a ban on puppy farming, a review of duck hunting, and greater transparency on animals used in experiments.
Beyond electoral and policy successes, another upside to advocating through minor political parties is the awareness raised of animal issues and shifting of public discussion. These may fuel more long-term trends and encourage others to join the cause of protecting the lives of non-human animals. Moreover, to date, most of the political and legislative successes of minor animal parties have been in continental Europe and Australia. This leaves ample opportunity for advocates elsewhere, particularly in the United States and United Kingdom. Depending on political conditions, other countries that are major consumers of meat (e.g., Brazil) may also be fertile ground for this strategy.
There are, of course, limits to the effectiveness of minor political parties that must be considered strategically. Advocates need to have a clear understanding of the political context they are working within and how to best leverage their position. Similarly, the multiple layers of politics (i.e., local, state, federal) in many democracies may have unique demands, and may not all be equally worthwhile to pursue. Finally, funding is an obvious concern here. Established parties and interest groups are invariably going to have greater resources to draw from, imposing an uphill battle on advocates. With limited resources, advocates should try their best to understand how and where their time and money will be most effectively spent.
In sum, in exploring the range of effective strategies for protecting animals, advocates would do well to consider incorporating minor political parties as a complement to other existing tools. While such parties do exist (e.g., the Humane Party in the U.S.), they seem to be relatively underused. Given the potential of such groups to win concessions—and maybe, at some point, elected office—greater effort and attention should be directed towards them.