Can third parties be anything but spoilers?

third partyCan third parties play a positive role in American Government?  The Green Party has recently been used fraudulently right here in NY-23 (and elsewhere) as a spoiler. Reportedly, the Working Families Party which often supports Democrats, miffed by Governor Cuomo, may run an independent candidate for NYS Governor this year possibly cutting into Cuomo’s total.  Let’s take a look at third party efforts in the past.

    • Republicans (Lincoln, 1860)
    • Progressive Party aka Bull Moose (TR, 1912)
    • American Independent Party (George Wallace, 1968)
    • Independent later Reform Party, then Independence Party (Ross Perot, 1992)
    • Green Party (Nader, 2000)

Lincoln won over three others in 1860 with 39% of the popular vote.

Woodrow Wilson won over Roosevelt and Taft in 1912 with 41% of the popular vote. Roosevelt outpolled the Republican Taft.  In this case there is little doubt that Roosevelt’s candidacy helped defeat Taft (or Taft’s helped defeat Roosevelt). Socialist, Eugene Debs, polled 6% in 1912.

George Wallace who won five states in 1968 hoped to have the election decided in the House, but as it turned out Nixon won over Humphrey and Wallace with 43% of the popular vote. Had Wallace done better, he might have taken enough votes from Nixon to have made Humphrey the winner.

Bill Clinton defeated G. Bush and Ross Perot in 1992. Clinton won with 43% of the popular vote; Perot polled 18%. Perot failed to run an effective campaign; but for that, he might have done better. As it was, Perot’s candidacy is said to have had little effect on the outcome of the election.

George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in 2000 with 47% of the popular vote, slightly less than Al Gore. Nader won 2.74 percent of the popular vote.  The Republican Leadership Council reportedly ran pro-Nader ads in a few states in an effort to split the liberal vote. Gore supporters claimed that Nader acted as a spoiler in the election, that enough Nader votes would have been cast for Gore to have changed the outcome.

The current tea party movement has scrupulously avoided backing third party candidates preferring to compete in Republican primaries instead.  It will be interesting to see if tea party candidates continue this practice in 2016 when the GOP, anxious to regain the Presidency, may nominate a moderate candidate.

© William Hungerford – May 2014


About whungerford

* Contributor at where we discuss the politics, economics, and events of the New New York 23rd Congressional District (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, (Eastern) Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben,Tioga, Tompkins, and Yates Counties) Please visit and comment on whatever strikes your fancy.
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3 Responses to Can third parties be anything but spoilers?

  1. josephurban says:

    I think it is difficult to say what the effect of 3rd party candidates are. The Dems and GOP like to claim that the third parties are “taking away” their votes. One of the reasons why they have fixed the POTUS debates to make sure no third party candidate can participate. We will never see another Ross Perot. But another point of view is that folks who vote for third party candidates are folks who would not have voted otherwise. In that case these parties are simply reflecting the divisions in society. I don’t think the Dems or GOP have the “right” to any vote. And I welcome third parties into the political arena. In the end , most third party ideas, if popular enough, get co-opted by the Dems or GOP. So, bring ’em on…let the ideas flow.


  2. phadde2 says:

    I agree with Joe here, slow clap…lol?, The Democrats or the GOP have no inherent right to the voters.


  3. whungerford says:

    I like the idea of third parties too, but I can’t think of an example of a third party candidate making a significant difference except by influencing a major party position or by splitting the vote.

    Fighting Bob LaFollette got more than 16% of the popular vote for President in 1924, but carried only his home state: Wisconsin.

    Interestingly, in 1924 both major candidates, Coolidge and Davis, campaigned for limited government, reduced taxes, and less regulation. LaFollette took the opposite position.


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