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Third Parties in the Race for the White House in History

Let’s have some fun this year since we have two strong third party candidates.

What are the highest percentage of the vote for a third party since 1868 (hat tip for Wikipedia for both lists):

  1. Former President Theodore Roosevelt of the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party earned 27.38 percent in 1912. (Roosevelt came in second actually over an incumbent President [Taft] and garnered 88 electoral votes – the third party electoral vote record.  These records are not likely to be beat ever.)
  2. Businessman and entrepreneur Ross Perot (1992 – he ran also in 1996) 18.91 percent as a true independent.  No electoral votes.
  3. Former Wisconsin governor Robert “Battling Bob” LaFollette in 1924 – Progressive Party – 16.62 percent.  LaFollette won his home state of Wisconsin – 13 EVs
  4. Former Alabama Governor George C. Wallace – American Independent Party – 13.53 percent in 1968.  (I actually met Wallace at a function in 1982 when he ran for Governor of Alabama for the last time.  Yes he won.)  Wallace won 46 EVs.
  5. Former Iowa Congressman James B. Weaver (with Virginian James G. Field as his running mate) in 1892 – he received 8.51 percent on the People’s or Populist Party).  Field has the record for the most votes won by a Virginian for President or VP since 1840 (1,026,525) but will lose that record to Senator Kaine this year absent a catastrophic collapse in Democrat turnout!  The Weaver/Field ticket got 22 electoral votes.

Now let’s look at votes won – which due to population changes and widening suffrage ability will favor candidates closer to 2016 (I am skipping electoral votes because it is highly unlikely either Johnson or Stein will win an electoral vote in a state on the ballot unless a “faithless” elector decides to cast a protest vote.); and here we go:

  1. Ross Perot in 1992 received over 19 million (19,743,821) votes.
  2. George Wallace got nearly ten million (I won a $5.00 bet with my dad that he would not get 10 million votes!  It was painfully close as five dollars was REAL money in 1968!  The tally was 9,901,118) votes in 1968.
  3. Perot in 1996 came in third on this list with 8,085, 402.  (No, contrary to some’s belief I never voted for Perot either time.)
  4. Former Illinois Congressman John B. Anderson in 1980 won 5,719,850 votes.  (That was good for just over six percent.)
  5. Finally to round out the top five, we have Bob LaFollette with 4,833,721 votes.

So what does Johnson or Stein need to break into the top five?  Either over 8.5% or about 5 million votes.  Could it happen? Yes it can and it probably will some year.  But not very probable this year.

Actually for Johnson it is possible.  (Now Joe Enroughty won’t be mad at me!)  Governor Johnson has the record for most votes won by a Libertarian ever when in 2012 he got 1,275,971 votes (.99%).  Johnson ran with former California judge James P. Gray (who, frankly, the former NM Governor should have picked again) that year.

But not likely at all for Dr. Stein.  Ironically, Stein has a greater mountain to climb in her own party.  The Green Party in 2000 with Ralph Nader and Winona (not Ryder but LaDuke!) garnered nearly three million votes (2,882,955) for just under 2.75%.  That is amazing considering we had a tight race that year between Bush and Gore.

What do I think will happen?  It is not clear but I would say perhaps 3-4% for Johnson/Weld and just under 1% (maybe a million votes maybe not) for Stein/Baraka; a LP record for Johnson/Weld but not a Green record for Stein/Baraka.

If you want to vote third party without fear of actually affecting the election, then this is how you do it:  If you live in a state where one candidate is definitely going to win (California for Clinton for example) then you can vote Johnson (or Stein or another candidate – see below) without worrying that you could actually cause Trump or Clinton to win.  But in a battleground state, you will have a tough choice.  Watch the final polls.  Complicating the issue in 2016 is there are not as many runaway states this year – about 30 states usually are set before the conventions as to who wins.

Anybody else running?  The Constitution Party has longtime party activist Darrell Castle and his running mate Scott Bradley who are probably not on enough ballots to theoretically win the election.  Others can be found here.

 

About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

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Tom White Says:

Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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