Friday, September 9, 2016

The Third Party Disadvantage

I was 8 years old during the 1992 election year, still 10 years away from being able to legally vote. As part of our social studies curriculum that year, our elementary school held its own "election" for president. I don't recall who I voted for. If I had to guess, I probably voted for H.W. simply because he was the candidate my parents liked. On the other hand, I might have voted for Clinton because it was the popular choice in the school. I can, however, tell you who I didn't vote for: Ross Perot.

I don't know if the two-party system was explicitly taught to us, or if it was just inferred through what information we were given, but the idea of someone who was neither Republican nor Democrat running for president was strange and confusing to eight-year-old me. The butt of many jokes, Mr. Perot was running as a third party candidate, a term that seemed to carry some kind of stigma. Maybe my memories are distorted (goodness knows that will happen after nearly 25 years), but I don't remember anyone ever saying something positive to me about Ross Perot. I just remember people laughing at his big ears (something all too relatable for me) and more or less suggesting that dodos would spontaneously reappear and rule the planet long before he had a shot at the presidency.

Whether or not it was intentional, what I took from that year's election was that third party candidates were a joke. They certainly weren't to be taken seriously and, in most cases, they weren't even worth mentioning. Think back to the 3rd party candidates you can recall (if any) and what you thought about them. Remember Ralph Nader?  Does the name Patrick Buchanan ring a bell? How about Bob Barr? You might be thinking that these guys sound familiar, but would you consider any of them a "serious" presidential candidate? Probably not.

Take a look at the maps available at There is some really interesting data to see, especially involving candidates not falling into one of the two major parties. For example, in the 1992 election, Ross Perot took almost 19% of the popular vote. That means approximately one of five people in this country voted for Perot that year, but he still didn't get a single electoral vote. When he tried again in 1996, he didn't even reach 10%. of the popular vote.

Ralph Nader was on the ticket in 1996, 2000, 2004, AND 2008. The highest number of votes he received was just shy of 3 million in 2000, gaining 2.74% of the popular vote while running under the Green Party. In 1980, the Independent candidate John Anderson got a whopping 6.61% of the popular vote. John Hospers, a Libertarian candidate, managed only 3,674 votes in the 1972 election (which shows up as 0.00%) but managed to get a single electoral vote, the most any 3rd party candidate has gotten in recent history.

Is it any wonder so many people have trouble considering a non-Republic, non-Democrat as a viable presidential candidate? For a country based on the principle that "all men are created equal," we certainly don't treat our candidates as such. Instead, we scoff at the thought of someone running for office who is not affiliated with a major party and rarely give them a second thought.

It's time that changed.

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