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How Have Third Party Candidates Fared Throughout The US Elections? Who Has Come Closest To Winning?


Washington DC: The United States is all set for Presidential elections this year. This year it will be a rematch of US President Joe Biden and Former President Donald Trump both of whom have won Democratic and Republican nominations for fighting the elections.

But this year, many third-party candidates are in the mix this election season. Firstly, Robert F Kennedy Jr. is a member of the Kennedy Family and nephew of former US President John F. Kennedy. This year’s elections will involve many third-party and independent candidates.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist and scion of the storied Democratic dynasty. The other third-party candidate is Cornel West who is a philosopher and a black social leader. Lastly, a new political party by the name of New Labels is yet to announce their candidate.

No independent third-party candidate has won an electoral vote since George Wallace in 196, never mind the 270 needed to claim the Presidency. Nevertheless, third-party candidates have been affecting election outcomes in US history for decades.

Now let us look at some of the most notable and successful runs:

1) Gary Johnson and Jill Stein (2016)
Despite not receiving nearly enough votes to receive any electoral votes in the 2016 election, commentators nevertheless take note of the presence of Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party member Jill Stein.

Even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, Donald Trump defeated her to win the presidency that year. Democrats specifically claimed that Stein’s campaign diverted votes from Clinton and aided Trump’s victory, especially in areas like Wisconsin and Michigan. Together, Johnson and Stein received around 6 million votes or more than 4% of the total.

2) Ralph Nader (2000)
Similar to the 2016 election, third-party candidate Ralph Nader is considered to have influenced the results of the 2000 election even though he did not receive any electoral votes. In that year, the consumer advocate and first-time presidential contender faced off against George W. Bush and Al Gore.

A chaotic recount and an unexpected Supreme Court ruling resulted from the close race. Gore lost the Florida contest by a mere 537 votes, despite winning the popular vote by almost half a million. According to the American Presidency Project, a nonpartisan, non-profit online repository of presidential documents housed at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Nader received over 97,000 votes in Florida. Many have claimed that to tilt the election in favour of Bush, Nader’s campaign stole votes from Gore. Nader garnered a mere 3% of the total 2.8 million votes cast in the popular vote.

3) Ross Perot (1992)
H. Ross Perot was a self-made billionaire from Texas who ran two unsuccessful outsider presidential runs after emerging from poverty during the Great Depression. The most prominent one came in 1992 when he faced up against Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. Perot was leading his major-party competitors in a June Gallup survey that year, but he withdrew from the race in July and then re-entered it less than five weeks before the election.

With over 19 million votes, he received 19% of the total, the highest percentage of any independent candidate in the last 100 years. Republicans attributed Bush’s defeat to Perot.

4) George Wallace (1968)
As previously noted, Wallace is the third-party candidate with the best performance to date, having garnered 45 electoral votes in 1968.

According to The American Presidency Project, he won the deep south states of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. Because it was against Alabama law for governors to replace themselves in office at the time, he had previously served as governor of Alabama during a tenure marked by growing tension over desegregation. His wife was also serving as governor during his presidential campaign. Wallace received 13.5% of the vote in his contest against Hubert Humphrey (D) and Richard Nixon (R) that year. Following a constitutional amendment, he was elected to two further terms as governor of Alabama.

5) Theodore Roosevelt (1912)
The title for the highest share of votes ever earned by a third-party candidate in American history dates back to 1912 when former President Theodore Roosevelt gave it another go as an independent candidate.
He disrupted the election between main party candidates William Taft (R) and Woodrow Wilson (D) by starting his affiliation to reportedly challenge and express discontent over Taft’s failure to support progressive policies.

According to the American Presidency Project, Roosevelt, who went by the moniker “Bull Moose” and campaigned under the Progressive Party, received more than 27% of the popular vote (about 3.5 million votes at the time). Washington, California, South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, and Pennsylvania gave him 88 electoral votes. Taft received just 8 electoral votes while receiving 23% of the popular vote. Wilson received 435 electoral votes and around 42% of the popular vote to win that year.

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