List of third party performances in United States elections
In the United States, it is rare for a third party (or independent) candidate to perform well in a U.S. election, and rare for one to actually win the election. Below are any elections where a candidate that wasn't a Republican or Democrat obtained at least 5.0% of the vote.
Since 1990, candidates in 32 (8%) of the 380 Senate elections have met this criterion, and two (0.5%) have won, both in 2006. In six of the 32 races, one or the other of the major parties failed to nominate any candidate, allowing third-party candidates to perform better than usual.
In the 302 gubernatorial elections since 1990 the criterion has been met 49 times (16%) and six candidates have won (2%). Until Lincoln Chafee's victory in 2010, no third-party or independent governor had been elected since the 1990s. In the 38 presidential elections since 1856, the criterion has been met in eleven (29%) elections, with no third-party or independent candidate being elected president.
Elections since 1990
|State||# of Gubernatorial||# of Senatorial||Total#|
Listed below is any election since 1990. Elections in which a third party candidate won are marked with bold typeface.
- Alaska 1990: Alaskan Independence Party Wally Hickel: Won: 38.9%
- Connecticut 1990: A Connecticut Party Lowell Weicker: Won: 40.4%
- Kansas 1990: Independent Christina Campbell-Cline: 8.8%
- Maine 1990: Independent Andrew Adam: 9.3%
- New York 1990: Conservative Party of New York State: Herbert London: 20.4%
- Oklahoma 1990: Reform Party Thomas D. Ledgerwood: 9.9%
- Oregon 1990: Independent Al Mobley: 13%
- Utah 1992: Independent Merrill Cook: 33.6%: second place
- West Virginia 1992: Charlotte Pritt: 8%: (Write-in)
- Alaska 1994: Alaskan Independence Party Jack Coghill: 13%
- Connecticut 1994: A Connecticut party: Eunice Groark: 18.9%
- Hawaii 1994: Best Party of Hawaii: Frank Fasi: 30.7%: second place
- Maine 1994: Independent Angus King: Won: 35.4% // Green Party Jonathan Carter: 6.4%: fourth place
- New Mexico 1994: Green Party Roberto Mondragon: 10.3%
- Oklahoma 1994: Independent Wes Watkins: 23.5%
- Pennsylvania 1994: Constitution Party Peg Luksik: 12.8%
- Rhode Island 1994: Independent Robert J. Healey: 9.1%
- Vermont 1994: Independent Thomas J. Morse: 7.1%
- Alaska 1998: Republican Moderate Party Ray Metcalfe: 6.2%
- Maine 1998: Independent Angus King: Re-elected 58.6% // Green Party Pat LaMarche: 6.8%: fourth place
- Minnesota 1998: Reform Party Jesse Ventura: Won: 37%
- New York 1998: Independence Party Tom Golisano: 7.7%
- Pennsylvania 1998: Constitution Party Peg Luksik: 10.4%
- Rhode Island 1998: Cool Moose Party Robert J. Healey: 6.3%
- Kentucky 1999: Reform Party Gatewood Galbraith: 15.3%
- New Hampshire 2000: Independent Mary Brown: 6.4%
- Vermont 2000: Progressive Party of Vermont: Anthony Pollina: 9.5%
- Arizona 2002: Independent Richard Mahoney: 6.9%
- California 2002: Green Party Peter Camejo: 5.3%
- Maine 2002: Green Party Jonathan Carter: 9.3%
- Minnesota 2002: Independence Party of Minnesota: Tim Penny: 16.2%
- New Mexico 2002: Green Party David Bacon: 5.5%
- New York 2002: Independence Party Tom Golisano: 13.9%
- Oklahoma 2002: Independent Gary Richardson: 14.1%
- Wisconsin 2002: Libertarian Party Ed Thompson: 10.5%
- Alaska 2006: Independent Andrew Halcro: 9.5%
- Illinois 2006: Green Party Rich Whitney: 10.4%
- Maine 2006: Independent Barbara Merrill: 21.5%: third place // Green Party Pat LaMarche: 9.6%: fourth place
- Massachusetts 2006: Independent Christy Mihos: 7%: third place
- Minnesota 2006: Independence Party Peter Hutchinson: 6.4%
- Texas 2006: Independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn: 18.1%: third place // Independent Kinky Friedman: 12.4%: fourth place
- Louisiana 2007: Independent John Georges: 14.4%
- Vermont 2008: Independent Anthony Pollina: 21.8%: second place
- New Jersey 2009: Independent Chris Daggett: 5.8%
- Colorado 2010: American Constitution Party Tom Tancredo: 36.8%: second place
- Idaho 2010: Independent Jana Kemp: 5.9%
- Maine 2010: Independent Eliot Cutler: 36.5%: second place // Independent Shawn Moody: 5.1%: fourth place
- Massachusetts 2010: Independent Tim Cahill: 8.0%
- Minnesota 2010: Independence Party Tom Horner: 12.0%
- Rhode Island 2010: Independent Lincoln Chafee Won 36.1% // Moderate Party of Rhode Island Ken Block: 6.5%: fourth place
- Virginia 2013: Libertarian Robert Sarvis: 6.6%: Third Place
Recent U.S. Senate
Listed below is any election since 1990. Elections in which a third party candidate won are marked with bold typeface.
- Virginia 1990: Independent Nancy B. Spannaus: 18.2%: two-way race
- Alaska 1992: Green Party Mary Jordan: 8.4%
- Arizona 1992: Independent Evan Mecham: 10.5%
- Hawaii 1992: Green Party Linda Martin: 13.7%
- Ohio 1992: Independent Martha Grevatt: 6.9%
- Arizona 1994: Libertarian Party Scott Grainger: 6.8%
- Minnesota 1994: Reform Party Dean Barkley: 5.4%
- Ohio 1994: Independent Joseph Slovenec: 7.3%
- Vermont 1994: Independent Gavin T. Mills: 5.9%
- Virginia 1994: Independent J. Marshall Coleman: 11.4%
- Alaska 1996: Green Party Jeff Whittaker: 12.5%: second ahead of the Democrat
- Minnesota 1996: Reform Party Dean Barkley: 7%
- Arizona 2000: Independent Bill Toel: 7.8%: second // Green Party Vance Hansen: 7.8% third // Libertarian Party Barry Hess: 5.1%: fourth
- Massachusetts 2000: Libertarian Party Carla Howell: 11.9%
- Minnesota 2000: Independence Party James Gibson: 5.8%
- Alaska 2002: Green Party Jim Sykes: 7.2%
- Kansas 2002: Libertarian Party Steven Rosile: 9.1% second // Reform Party George Cook: 8.4%: third. There was not a Democrat in the race
- Massachusetts 2002: Libertarian Party Michael Cloud: 19%: second
- Mississippi 2002: Reform Party Shawn O'Hara: 15.4%. second in a two candidate field
- Oklahoma 2002: Independent James Germalic: 6.4%
- Virginia 2002: Independent Nancy Spannaus: 9.7%, Libertarian Jacob Hornberger: 7.1% No Democrat in the race
- Oklahoma 2004: Independent Sheila Bilyeu: 6%
- Connecticut 2006: Connecticut for Lieberman Party Joe Lieberman Re-elected 49.7%
- Indiana 2006: Libertarian Steve Osborn: 12.6%. second in a two candidate race
- Maine 2006: Independent Bill Slavick: 5.4%: third
- Vermont 2006 : Independent Bernie Sanders Won 65.4%
- Arkansas 2008: Green Party Rebekah Kennedy: 20.5%: a two candidate race
- Minnesota 2008: Independence Party and former U.S. senator Dean Barkley: 15.2%
- Oregon 2008: Constitution Party David Brownlow: 5.2%
- Florida 2010: Independent Charlie Crist: 29.7%: second
- Indiana 2010: Libertarian Party Rebecca Sink-Burris: 5.4%
- South Carolina 2010: Green Party Tom Clements: 9.2%
- Utah 2010: Constitution Party Scott Bradley: 5.7%
- Indiana 2012: Libertarian Party Andy Horning: 5.8%
- Maine 2012: Independent Angus King: Won 53.0%
- Maryland 2012: Independent Rob Sobhani: 18.3%
- Missouri 2012: Libertarian Party Jonathan Dine: 6.1%
- Montana 2012: Libertarian Party Dan Cox: 6.5%
- Vermont 2012: Independent Bernie Sanders: Reelected 71.1%
Listed below is any election since 1856. Elections where a candidate won electoral votes (excepting faithless electors) are marked with an asterisk (*).
In 1856 the two-party system of Democrats and Whigs collapsed. The Whigs, who had been one-half of the two-party system since 1832 and had won the presidency in 1840 and 1848, disintegrated. Southern Whigs and a minority of northern Whigs coalesced around the anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic American Party, better known as the "Know Nothing" movement. Their candidate was former President Millard Fillmore, who won 22% but carried only one state, Maryland, thus winning 8 electoral votes. Many Northern Whigs, such as Abraham Lincoln, joined the newly formed Republican Party. The Republicans ran John C. Frémont, who finished second with 33.1% and 114 electoral votes. Democrat James Buchanan won the election.
John C. Breckinridge, the third party candidate of southern Democrats, got 18.2% of the popular vote and won 72 electoral votes from several south states. John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party finished with 12.6% of the popular vote, but only won 39 electoral votes from three states. Though both Bell and Breckenridge were unable to capture as many popular votes as the two main presidential candidates (Republican Abraham Lincoln and Democrat Stephen A. Douglas), this election would mark the first time any third party received more electoral votes than one of the major candidates in a US presidential election. Douglas finished with 29.5% of the popular vote, but only won 12 electoral votes from two states.
James B. Weaver, the Greenback Labor nominee in 1880, ran as presidential candidate for the Populist Party. The Populist Party won 22 electoral votes and 8.51 percent of the popular vote . Weaver became the first third-party candidate to win a state since John Bell in the transitional election of 1860. The Democratic Party eventually adopted many Populist Party positions after this election, notably the Populist call for the free coinage of silver, making this contest a prominent example of a delayed vote for change.
Republican Theodore Roosevelt ran as the "Bull Moose Party" (Progressive Party) nominee in the 1912 election. Roosevelt won 27.4% of the popular vote and carried six states totaling 88 electoral votes. Overall, Roosevelt's effort was the most successful third-party candidacy in American history. It was also the only third-party effort to finish higher than third in the popular votes and only the second to do so in electoral votes. Instead incumbent Republican President William Howard Taft finished third, taking only 23% of the popular vote and 8 electoral votes. The split in the Republican vote gave Democrat Woodrow Wilson victory with 42% of the popular vote, but 435 electoral votes.
Eugene V. Debs, running in his fourth consecutive Presidential election as the Socialist Party candidate, won 6% of the vote, an all-time high for the Socialists. The elections of 1860 and 1912 are the only two times that four candidates each cleared 5% of the popular vote in a Presidential election.
Erstwhile Republican Robert M. La Follette ran as a Progressive. After the Democrats nominated conservative John W. Davis, many liberal Democrats turned to La Follette. He received 4,831,706 votes for 16.6% of the popular vote and won his home state of Wisconsin receiving 13 electoral votes. With the Democrats split, incumbent President Calvin Coolidge won election by a wide margin.
Democrat Strom Thurmond ran on the segregationist States' Rights ("Dixiecrat") ticket. Former Vice President Henry A. Wallace ran on the liberal left as the candidate of a new Progressive Party. Thus the Democratic vote was split three ways, between Thurmond on the right, Wallace on the left, and incumbent President Harry S. Truman in the center. Thurmond received 1,175,930 votes (2.4%) and 39 votes in the electoral college from Southern states. Wallace earned 1,157,328 votes for an identical 2.4% of the popular vote, but no votes in the Electoral College due to his support being mostly concentrated in the more populous states of New York and California.
Former Democratic Governor of Alabama George Wallace ran on the American Independent Party line. Wallace received 9,901,118 votes for 13.5% of the popular vote, receiving 45 electoral votes in the South and many votes in the North. Wallace remains the only third party candidate since 1948 to win a state.
Congressman John B. Anderson received 5,719,850 votes, for 6.6% of the vote, as an independent candidate for President. Libertarian Party candidate Ed Clark won 921,128 votes, or 1.1% of the total. No other Libertarian candidate has ever gotten more than 0.5% in a presidential election until Gary Johnson won 1% in 2012.
Ross Perot, an independent, won 18.9% of the popular vote (but no electoral votes). His was the best popular vote showing ever for an independent candidate who stood alone on no third party ticket. Not until four years later would Perot seek to run for the first time on a third party ticket. As an independent, however, Perot finished second in two states: in Utah ahead of election winner Bill Clinton, and in Maine ahead of incumbent President George H. W. Bush.
- Maine Green Party State Representative John Eder, 2002
- San Francisco mayoral election, 2003
- Richmond, California municipal elections, 2006
- Burlington, Vermont mayoral election, 2009
- New York City mayoral election, 2009