When people think about U.S. politics they often think of a two party system. On one side you have conservatives that make up the Republican Party and on the other, liberals who make up the Democratic Party.
While third parties used to be the norm in political races, the modern age has been made up almost exclusively of the two main parties. Some exceptions have existed and the push to bring back third parties is continuing to grow.
The most successful third-party run in recent history was that of Independent Ross Perot who in 1992 garnished 18.6 percent of the popular vote when he ran against incumbent President George H.W. Bush and then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. Of course, Clinton went on to win the presidency but was challenged again in 1996 by Perot, who fell out of favor and dropped to only 8 percent. Though Perot lost in 1992, many blamed him for Bush’s loss, as Perot was a conservative leaning candidate and was said to have syphoned a good number of Bush voters away.
One of the reasons Perot was able to be successful was that he was a billionaire and was able to fund his own campaign. Something most third-party candidates are unable to do.
Third-party candidates become highly controversial in 2000 when Green Party candidate Ralph Nader ran against George W. Bush and the Vice President Al Gore. While Nader only walked away with 2.74 percent of the vote, many blamed him for Gore’s loss in Florida, in which he lost the vote by 560 votes.
In reality, Nader took exactly 1 percent of votes from the Democrats and Republicans, while 13 percent of Democrats actually voted for Bush and an astonishing 50 percent of Democrats didn’t even show up to the polls. Nader’s campaign was considered a success for the Green Party, but he quickly became a scapegoat for the Democrats who were upset by the loss.
The 2012 election saw a new rise in third-party candidates when former Republican and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson ran for the Libertarian Party, a conservative-leaning party. The Green Party also put up their own candidate, Dr. Jill Stein.
Johnson made the biggest splash, walking away with 0.99 percent of the popular vote and Stein seeing 0.36 percent. However, Stein’s run made her the most successful female president run in United States history. Though that could likely be short-lived with Hillary Clinton currently in a position to be the 2016 Democratic Candidate.
Neither candidate in the 2012 race made a significant enough impact to be blamed for either major party candidate outcome. Both parties also failed to reach the 5 percent national popular vote that would have made their respected parties eligible to receive approximately $9.5 million from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. The kind of financial boost that would make either party’s next presidential run much more viable.
Now, in the midst of the 2016 election cycle, Gary Johnson is once again seeking the nomination of the Libertarian Party, though the party seems to be less popular with the conservative base as it was in 2012. Stein is also seeking the Green Party nomination and is currently getting a bit more media coverage as she is being seen as an alternative to Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders who is falling behind to Hillary Clinton in the delegate count for the nomination.
While neither candidate is likely to win the presidential race and is likely well aware of this fact, they are seen as real alternatives to the establishment two-party system that has controlled U.S. politics for so long.
Johnson offers fiscal conservatives a candidate who is slightly more socially liberal, not opposing drug legalization, and arguing for state’s rights on most issues. While Stein offers voters a far-left candidate that almost makes a democratic socialist like Bernie Sanders seem like a moderate.
With Donald Trump, a billionaire businessman currently leading the Republican race, many conservatives may start searching for a new option, and Johnson could be their man. Likewise, if Hillary Clinton, a much more moderate Democratic, often described as center-right, wins the nomination many Bernie supports, who are described as “Bernie of Bust” may start to seek an alternative candidate who can offer them the political revolution that Sanders promised them.
Either way, the 2016 election is more than likely to end with a major party candidate but may be the year third-parties see a real peak in interest and begin to shape a new future for U.S. politics.
What do you think? Have your say in the comments below, or see other articles in our US Election series here.