List of third party performances in United States elections

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This is a list of third party performances in United States elections.

In the United States it is rare for third party and independent candidates, other than those of the six parties which have succeeded as major parties (Federalist Party, Democratic-Republican Party, National Republican Party, Democratic Party, Whig Party, Republican Party), to take large shares of the vote in elections.

In the 58 presidential elections since 1788, third party or independent candidates have won at least 5.0% of the vote or garnered electoral votes 12 times (21%); this does not count George Washington, who was elected as an independent in 1788–1789 and 1792, but who largerly supported Federalist policies and was supported by Federalists. Occasionally, a third party becomes one of the two major parties through a presidential election (the last time it happened was in 1856, when the Republicans supplanted the Whigs, who had withered and endorsed the ticket of the American Party): such an election is called a realigning election, as it causes a realignment in the party system; according to scholars, there have been six party systems so far. Only once one of the two major parties came third in an election, but that did not cause a realignment (in 1912 the Progressive Party surpassed the Republicans, but the party quickly disappeared and the Republicans re-gained their major party status). The last third party candidate to win one or more states was George Wallace of the American Independent Party in 1968, while the most recent third party candidate to win more than 5.0% of the vote was Ross Perot, who ran as an independent and as the standard-bearer of the Reform Party in 1992 and 1996, respectively.

In the 302 gubernatorial elections since 1990, third party or independent candidates have won at least 5.0% of the vote 49 times (16%), while six candidates have won election (2%). The most recent third party or independent governor to win was Alaska's Bill Walker, a Republican turned independent, in 2014.

In the 380 Senate elections since 1990, third party or independent candidates have won at least 5.0% of the vote 32 times (8%); two of those candidates (0.5%) have won, both in 2012 (Bernie Sanders and Angus King, who both decided to caucus with the Democrats; Sanders received Democratic support during his 2006 and 2012 electoral campaigns). In 6 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.

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 Senate 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

Presidential elections[edit]

Gubernatorial elections[edit]

Listed below are gubernatorial elections since the 1820s in which a third party or independent candidate won or were reasonably close to receiving 5.0% of the vote. Winners are shown in bold.

Senate elections[edit]

Listed below are Senate elections since 1905 in which a third party or independent candidate won or were reasonably close to receiving 5.0% of the vote. Winners are shown in bold.

Senate elections (By Legislature)[edit]

Prior to the passage of the 17th Amendment, most states did not hold direct elections to the Senate, with Senators instead being elected by the state legislatures. The results listed below are cases in which a third party candidate won or was reasonably close to receiving 5.0% of the legislative vote. Winners are shown in bold.

Mayoral elections[edit]

Listed below are Mayoral elections in which a third party or independent candidate won or were reasonably close to receiving 5.0% of the vote. Winners are shown in bold. These lists do not however include Non-Partisan Elections, where party affiliations are more difficult to determine.

House elections[edit]

Listed below are sets of House elections in which a third party or independent candidate won or were reasonably close to receiving 5.0% of the vote. Winners are shown in bold.