Independents: Might 2012 be the Year of the 3rd Party Candidate?

Two-Party System— Dr. Daniel E. Loeb

The current winner take all system for U.S. Presidential elections certainly encourages a two-party system. Candidate from smaller parties do run, along with independent candidates, but their vote totals are usually a small footnote in the records of history.

Might this coming election be one of the occasions where a third-party candidate or independent candidate can make a major splash, affect the election or even win? According to Politico:

The public has had it with Washington and conventional politics. It has lost trust and respect in the conventional governing class. There is mounting evidence voters don’t see President Barack Obama or the current crop of GOP candidates as the clear and easy solution. As Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg argues, it seems likely if not inevitable an atmosphere this toxic and destabilized will produce an independent presidential candidate who could shake the political system.

Polito suggests six possible independent candidates and invites readers to nominate their own.

I see three kinds of candidates who might be motivated to run for President:

  • Far Left,
  • Right, and
  • Far Right.

Right

Their is a heated battle for the soul of the Republican party between establishment Republicans like Mitt Romney and Jon Hunstman which represent its corporate base, and Tea party candidates with a lot of grassroots momentum behind them.

If a tea party candidate like Rick Perry,  Michelle Bachmann or Herman Cain wins the Republican Nomination and the economy continues to show weakness, many experts would see an opportunity for a third-party to seize the center. One possibility is Mayor Michael Bloomberg (NY). He was a registered Democrat until he ran for Mayor of New York City in 2001 as a Republican, and has been an independent since 2007. He has a net worth of over $18 billion, so he could easily get in late and still run a self-finance (Perot-style) campaign.

Former Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-UT) has had a peculiar performance at the Republican Presidential debates often criticizing the Republican party as a whole for its backwards stands on issues from global warming, evolution and homosexuality. This does not sound like a good strategy for winning the Republican nomination, but it does lay the ground for a possible third-party bid next year.

Similarly, more “moderate” candidates like Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Mayor Rudy Giulliani (R-NY), and Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) refused to run in a race in which they would be more moderate than the majority of Republican primary and caucus goers. Similarly, Gov. Tim Pawlenty performed anemically and had to drop out. However, they may be willing to try their luck to pick up a plurality of the vote against President Obama and a tea party candidate especially if the economy continues to show weakness.

Far Right

Mitt Romney is the current leader in the Republican primary. He is polling around 25%, has considerable money behind him and the prediction market inTrade gives him a 55.8% chance of getting the nomination. However, most Tea Party supporters can not tolerate moderate positions which Romney holds (or at least once held when he was Governor of Massachusetts). For example, some of them equate abortion to murder and consider Romney to be insufficiently pro-Life. They would consider opposing Romney to be a moral imperative and could jump behind a third-party candidate on the extreme right.

Perhaps Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) is waiting for just such an opportunity. We could also see current Republican party candidates such as Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) or Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) willing to jump ship and run as an independent against Romney. Other people mentioned in the past like Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Donald Trump could or have considered running as an independent.

With all these possible candidates being discussed, how much of an impact will they make. Will they pass by unnoticed? Will they be kingmakers? Do they have any chance to win? Prediction market inTrade shows a 2.7% chance of a successful Presidential bid by a third-party or independent candidate, so I guess “the market has spoken”. A win by a third-party or independent candidate is not totally out of the question.

Keep your eyes and ears open. This may be an election which will make history yet again.

More after the jump.
Far Left

Some supporters of Obama in 2008 are unhappy Obama’s willingness to compromise with Republicans, but getting nothing in return. They are upset that the Defense of Marriage Act has not been repealed, the Bush tax cuts were extended, no cap has been placed on carbon emissions, we did not get a single payer health care system, and we have not pulled out of Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanimo.

Perennial candidate Ralph Nader will surely run again. Perhaps he will be joined by film-maker Michael Moore, or Democracy for America founder, former DNC Chairman Gov. Howard Dean (D-VT), or Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). Already, Nader is planning “to run a slate of six primary “challengers” to the president, with each focusing on issues of ideological concern. The point of this initiative is not so much to displace the president as it is to move Obama and the party toward the left — an in so doing to provide the themes and the energy to excite the Democratic base and draw new voters to the polls in 2012.”

Even candidates with small amounts of support can affect to overall result of the election. For example, the “official result” of the 2000 race between Al Gore, Jr. and George W. Bush hinged on a 537 vote margin in the State of Florida. This margin was dwarfed not only by the vote count of the 3rd party candidate Ralph Nader (Green Party, 97,488 votes) but also by

  • 4th place Pat Buchanan (Reform Party, 17,484 votes),
  • 5th place Harry Browne (Libertarian, 16,415 votes),
  • 6th place John Hagelin (Natural Law/Reform Party, 2,281 votes)
  • 7th place Monica Moorehead (Workers World Party, 1,804 votes),
  • 8th place Howard Phillips (Constitution Party, 1,371 votes),
  • 9th place David McReynolds (Socialist Party USA 622 votes),
  • and even 10th place James E. Harris, Jr. (Florida Socialist Workers Party, 562 votes).

History of Third-Party and Independent Presidential Campaigns

Sometimes third-party candidates achieve stronger results. These are the candidates since the Civil War which gathered double-digit support on election day:

  • 1992: Businessman Ross Perot ran as an independent. He got 18.9% of popular vote, and came in second place in Maine (ahead of George H. W. Bush) and Utah (ahead of Bill Clinton).

  • 1968: Former Gov. George Wallace ran on the American Independent Party line. He got 13.5% of the popular vote, winning 5 states totally 46 electoral votes (AR, LA, MS, AL, GA).

  • 1924: Sen. Robert M. La Follette (WI) ran as a progressive, splitting the Democratic vote, leading to the reelection of Republican incumbant President Calvin Coolidge. He got 16.6% of the popular vote and won his home state of Wisconsin (13 electoral votes).

  • 1912: Theodore Roosevelt ran as the Bull Moose Party candidate hoping to return to the White House. He finished with 27.4% of the popular vote (winning 6 states totaling 88 EV). He bettered the incumbent William Howard Tart (23.0% of popular vote, 8 EV) but in the end he lost of the Democrat Woodrow Wilson (42.0% of popular vote, 435 EV).

  • 1860: Abraham Lincoln (R-IL) won in a 4-way race with 39.8% of the popular vote, carrying 18 states which gave him a majority in the Electoral College (180 electoral votes). John C. Breckinridge (Southern Democrat-KY) took 18.1% of the popular vote during 11 southern states (72 electoral votes). John Bell (Constitutional Union-TN) took 12.6% of the popular vote carrying his home state of Tennessee as well as Virginia and Kentucky (39 electoral votes). Finally, Stephen Douglas (D-IL) took 29.5% of the popular vote but only carried Missouri (and splitting New Jersey with Lincoln).

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