List of third party performances in United States elections

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In the United States, it is rare for third party and independent candidates to take large shares of the vote in elections, and even rarer for such candidates to actually win elections. This article covers any federal or gubernatorial U.S. election in which a candidate that was not a Republican, Democrat, Whig, or Federalist obtained at least 5.0% of the vote.

Since 1990, candidates in 32 (8%) of the 380 Senate elections have won at least five percent of the vote, 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 have won at least five percent of the vote 49 times (16%), while six candidates have won election (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.

Statistics[edit]

Note: Prior to the passage of the 17th Amendment, most states did not hold direct elections to the Senate.

Legend:   1st 2nd 3rd
Elections with Notable Third Party Electoral Performances (1900–Present)[1]
Gubernatorial Elections Senatorial Elections Total Elections
State Threshold Reached Threshold Candidates Third Party Victory Threshold Reached Threshold Candidates Third Party Victory Threshold Reached Threshold Candidates Third Party Victory
Alabama 5 6 0 4 4 0 9 10 0
Alaska 9 10 2 5 5 1 14 15 3
Arizona 5 5 0 7 11 0 12 16 0
Arkansas 10 11 0 5 5 1 15 16 1
California 8 10 1 9 11 0 17 21 1
Colorado 4 6 0 4 5 0 8 11 0
Connecticut 7 9 1 4 4 1 11 13 2
Delaware 2 2 0 1 1 0 3 3 0
Florida 3 3 1 3 3 0 6 6 1
Georgia 4 4 0 2 2 0 6 6 0
Hawaii 3 3 0 2 2 0 5 5 0
Idaho 13 16 0 4 5 0 17 21 0
Illinois 4 5 0 2 2 0 6 7 0
Indiana 1 2 0 4 4 0 5 6 0
Iowa 1 1 0 1 1 0 2 2 0
Kansas 6 7 0 5 6 0 11 13 0
Kentucky 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
Louisiana 3 3 0 2 2 0 5 5 0
Maine 12 17 3 4 4 1 16 21 4
Maryland 1 1 0 3 3 0 4 4 0
Massachusetts 10 10 0 4 4 0 14 14 0
Michigan 2 2 0 0 0 0 2 2 0
Minnesota 21 25 5 18 21 5 39 46 10
Mississippi 2 2 0 4 4 0 6 6 0
Missouri 1 1 0 1 1 0 2 2 0
Nebraska 10 10 1 3 3 1 13 13 2
Nevada 6 7 2 7 8 0 13 15 2
New Hampshire 4 4 0 1 1 0 5 5 0
New Jersey 2 2 0 0 0 0 2 2 0
New Mexico 2 2 0 0 0 0 2 2 0
New York 11 12 0 8 8 1 19 20 1
North Carolina 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
North Dakota 7 8 1 9 11 1 16 19 2
Ohio 3 4 0 3 4 0 6 8 0
Oklahoma 7 7 0 3 3 0 10 10 0
Oregon 6 7 1 9 14 0 15 20 1
Pennsylvania 3 3 0 4 5 0 7 8 0
Rhode Island 7 9 0 1 1 0 8 10 0
South Carolina 0 0 0 2 2 1 2 2 1
South Dakota 7 9 0 5 7 0 12 16 0
Tennessee 7 8 0 4 4 0 11 12 0
Texas 9 12 0 1 1 0 10 13 0
Utah 6 7 0 3 3 0 9 10 0
Vermont 10 10 0 3 3 2 13 13 2
Virginia 4 4 0 14 18 2 18 22 2
Washington 7 8 0 5 6 0 12 14 0
West Virginia 3 3 0 0 0 0 3 3 0
Wisconsin 18 21 3 12 15 2 30 36 5
Wyoming 2 2 0 1 1 0 3 3 0
Total 280 322 21 196 228 19 476 550 40

Gubernatorial[edit]

Listed below are gubernatorial elections since 1900 in which an independent or third party candidate won greater than 5% of the vote. Elections in which a third party candidate won are marked with bold typeface.

Senatorial[edit]

Listed below are Senate elections since 1990 in which an independent or third party candidate won greater than 5% of the vote. Elections in which a third party candidate won are marked with bold typeface.

Presidential[edit]

Listed below is any election since 1856. Elections where a candidate won electoral votes (excepting faithless electors) are marked with an asterisk (*).

1852*[edit]

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.

1860*[edit]

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 Breckinridge 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.

1872[edit]

In the 1872 election, newspaper publisher and former Congressman Horace Greeley was nominated by the Liberal Republicans to oppose incumbent Republican President Ulysses S. Grant. The Liberal Republicans were a breakaway faction of the Republican Party that was dissatisfied with Grant's presidency. Determined to defeat Grant, the Democratic Party also nominated Greeley, making Greeley both a third party nominee and a major party nominee. Greeley won six states and 43.8% of the popular vote, but died shortly after election day, so most of the electoral votes that were pledged to Greeley instead went to Democrat Thomas Hendricks or Greeley's running mate, Liberal Republican Benjamin Gratz Brown.

1892*[edit]

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 [1]. 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.

1912*[edit]

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.

1924*[edit]

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.

1948*[edit]

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.

1968*[edit]

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.

1980[edit]

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.

1992[edit]

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.

1996[edit]

Ross Perot ran for president again, this time as the candidate of the newly founded Reform Party. He won 8% of the popular vote.

Tables[edit]

Notable Third Party Presidential Performances (1832–Present)
Captured at least 1 electoral vote or more than (or reasonably close to) 5% of the popular vote.
Year Party Nominee Running-Mate # Votes % Votes % Votes
Where Balloted
Electoral Votes Place Notes
1832 Nullifier John Floyd Henry Lee 0[31]
0 / 100
N/A[32]
11 / 286
3rd of 4
Anti-Masonic William Wirt Amos Ellmaker 99,817
7.78 / 100
15.93 / 100
7 / 286
4th of 4
1848 Free Soil Martin Van Buren Charles F. Adams 291,475
10.13 / 100
13.79 / 100
0 / 290
3rd of 4
1852 Free Soil John P. Hale George W. Julian 155,799
4.93 / 100
6.15 / 100
0 / 296
3rd of 6
1856 American Millard Fillmore Andrew J. Donelson 872,703
21.54 / 100
21.54 / 100
8 / 296
3rd of 3
1860 Constitutional Democratic John C. Breckinridge Joseph Lane 851,844
18.20 / 100
22.04 / 100
72 / 303
2nd of 4
Constitutional Union John Bell Edward Everett 590,946
12.62 / 100
15.43 / 100
39 / 303
3rd of 4
1892 People's James B. Weaver James G. Field 1,026,595
8.51 / 100
8.62 / 100
22 / 444
3rd of 5
1912 Progressive Theodore Roosevelt Hiram Johnson 4,120,609
27.39 / 100
27.86 / 100
88 / 531
2nd of 6
Socialist Eugene V. Debs Emil Seidel 900,742
5.99 / 100
5.99 / 100
0 / 531
4th of 6
1924 Progressive Robert M. La Follette Burton K. Wheeler 4,833,821
16.62 / 100
16.69 / 100
13 / 531
3rd of 8
1948 States' Rights Democratic Strom Thurmond Fielding L. Wright 1,175,946
2.41 / 100
17.70 / 100
39 / 531
3rd of 8
1968 American Independent George Wallace Curtis LeMay 9,901,118
13.53 / 100
13.56 / 100
46 / 538
3rd of 12
1980 Independent John B. Anderson Patrick Lucey 5,719,850
6.61 / 100
6.61 / 100
0 / 538
3rd of 19
1992 Independent Ross Perot James Stockdale 19,743,821
18.91 / 100
18.91 / 100
0 / 538
3rd of 23
1996 Reform Ross Perot Pat Choate 8,085,402
8.40 / 100
8.40 / 100
0 / 538
3rd of 21
Other Third Party Presidential Candidacies (1832–Present)
Captured less than 5% but more than (or reasonably close to) 1% of the popular vote.
Year Party Nominee Running-Mate # Votes % Votes % Votes
Where Balloted
Place Note
1844 Liberty Party James G. Birney Thomas Morris 62,300
2.31 / 100
3.28 / 100
3rd [33]
1876 Greenback Peter Cooper Thomas Morris 81,737
0.97 / 100
1.24 / 100
3rd [34]
1880 Greenback James B. Weaver Benjamin J. Chambers 308,578
3.35 / 100
3.45 / 100
3rd [35]
1884 Greenback Benajamin F. Butler Absolom M. West 175,370
1.74 / 100
2.16 / 100
3rd [36]
Prohibition John St. John William Daniel 150,369
1.50 / 100
1.57 / 100
4th [37]
1888 Prohibition Clinton Fisk John A. Brooks 249,506
2.19 / 100
2.21 / 100
3rd [38]
Union Labor Alson Streeter Charles E. Cunningham 146,935
1.29 / 100
1.54 / 100
4th [39]
1892 Prohibition John Bidwell James Cranfill 255,841
2.12 / 100
2.17 / 100
4th [40]
1896 National Democratic John M. Palmer Simon Bolivar Buckner 134,645
0.97 / 100
0.99 / 100
3rd [41]
Prohibition Joshua Levering Hale Johnson 131,312
0.94 / 100
0.96 / 100
4th [42]
1900 Prohibition John G. Woolley Henry B. Metcalf 209,157
1.50 / 100
1.52 / 100
3rd [43]
1904 Socialist Eugene V. Debs Benjamin Hanford 402,895
2.98 / 100
2.98 / 100
3rd [44]
Prohibition Silas C. Swallow George W. Carroll 258,950
1.91 / 100
1.96 / 100
4th [45]
1908 Socialist Eugene V. Debs Benjamin Hanford 420,890
2.83 / 100
2.84 / 100
3rd [46]
Prohibition Eugene W. Chafin Aaron S. Watkins 252,511
1.70 / 100
1.80 / 100
4th [47]
1912 Prohibition Eugene W. Chafin Aaron S. Watkins 207,828
1.38 / 100
1.46 / 100
5th [48]
1916 Socialist Allan L. Benson George R. Kirkpatrick 585,113
3.17 / 100
3.19 / 100
3rd [49]
Prohibition Frank Hanly Ira Landrith 220,506
1.19 / 100
1.24 / 100
4th [50]
1920 Socialist Eugene V. Debs Seymour Stedman 919,799
3.44 / 100
3.53 / 100
3rd [51]
Farmer–Labor Parley P. Christensen Max S. Hayes 265,411
0.99 / 100
1.77 / 100
4th [52]
1932 Socialist Norman Thomas James H. Maurer 884,781
2.22 / 100
2.28 / 100
3rd [53]
1936 Union William Lemke Thomas O'Brien 882,479
1.93 / 100
2.88 / 100
3rd [54]
1948 Progressive Henry A. Wallace Glen H. Taylor 1,157,172
2.37 / 100
2.65 / 100
4th [55]
1972 American Independent John G. Schmitz Thomas J. Anderson 1,100,868
1.42 / 100
1.79 / 100
3rd
1976 Independent Eugene McCarthy Various 740,640
0.91 / 100
1.20 / 100
3rd
1980 Libertarian Ed Clark David H. Koch 921,128
1.06 / 100
1.06 / 100
4th
2000 Green Ralph Nader Winona LaDuke 2,882,955
2.74 / 100
2.86 / 100
3rd
2012 Libertarian Gary Johnson James P. Gray 1,275,971
0.99 / 100
1.03 / 100
3rd

Others[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The threshold is >5% of the vote.
  2. ^ While Caffery is listed as running on a Fusion Ticket, the nature of the electoral alliance is not yet determined.
  3. ^ A Fusion of the state Democratic and Peoples' Parties
  4. ^ An Electoral Alliance between the state Democratic and Peoples' Parties
  5. ^ An Electoral Alliance between the state Democratic and Peoples' Parties
  6. ^ An Electoral Alliance between the state Democratic and Peoples' Parties
  7. ^ An Electoral Alliance between the state Democratic and Peoples' Parties
  8. ^ A Fusion of the state Democratic and Silver Parties
  9. ^ A short-lived party formed by Anti-Prohibition Republicans which desired to see Prohibition legislated at the local level rather than at the state level.
  10. ^ An Electoral Alliance between the state Democratic and Peoples' Parties
  11. ^ The State Affiliate of the Socialist Party
  12. ^ An Electoral Alliance between the state Democratic and Peoples' Parties
  13. ^ A Fusion of the state Democratic and Silver Parties
  14. ^ An Electoral Alliance between the state Democratic and Peoples' Parties
  15. ^ The State Affiliate of the Socialist Party
  16. ^ The State Affiliate of the Socialist Party
  17. ^ State Affiliate of the Socialist Party
  18. ^ The State Affiliate of the Socialist Party
  19. ^ On Ballot as "Independent Progressive"
  20. ^ The State Affiliate of the Socialist Party
  21. ^ On Ballot as "Negro Independent"
  22. ^ Affiliated with the Farmer–Labor Party
  23. ^ State Affiliate of the Prohibition Party
  24. ^ An Electoral Alliance Between Lewis Pope and the Republican Party
  25. ^ On the Ballot as "Good Government, Good Elections"
  26. ^ Affiliated with the Libertarian Party
  27. ^ On Ballot as an Independent Democrat
  28. ^ Was on Ballot as "Reform"
  29. ^ Affiliated with the Workers World Party
  30. ^ Affiliated with the Libertarian Party
  31. ^ All of John Floyd's electoral votes came from South Carolina where the Electors were chosen by the state legislatures rather than by popular vote
  32. ^ All of John Floyd's electoral votes came from South Carolina where the Electors were chosen by the state legislatures rather than by popular vote
  33. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume I 1789-1844, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 861
  34. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume II 1848-1896, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 1487
  35. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume II 1848-1896, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 1558
  36. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume II 1848-1896, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 1611
  37. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume II 1848-1896, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 1611
  38. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume II 1848-1896, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 1700
  39. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume II 1848-1896, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 1700
  40. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume II 1848-1896, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 1784
  41. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume II 1848-1896, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 1874
  42. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume II 1848-1896, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 1874
  43. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume III 1900-1936, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 1962
  44. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume III 1900-1936, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 2046
  45. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume III 1900-1936, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 2046
  46. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume III 1900-1936, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 2131
  47. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume III 1900-1936, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 2131
  48. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume III 1900-1936, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 2242
  49. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume III 1900-1936, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 2345
  50. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume III 1900-1936, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 2345
  51. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume III 1900-1936, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 2456
  52. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume III 1900-1936, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 2456
  53. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume III 1900-1936, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 2806
  54. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume III 1900-1936, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 2914
  55. ^ "History of American Presidential Elections, Volume IV 1940-1968, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Pg 3211