Study Finds that Third Party Candidates “Face Long Odds”

Though its primary finding is comparable with something one might expect from The Onion, a new study by a non-profit group provides some interesting data points on third party candidates for office over the last decade. From the Executive Summary of the report by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, entitled “Third Party Candidates Face Long Odds,” via Poli-Tea:

Voters in the 2010 elections can again expect to see few third-party candidates who seek to provide alternatives to politics as usual. Those few candidates face long odds. Of the 6,181 third-party candidates registered in the last nine years, only 2 percent won their races. Moreover, the traditional advantages of money and incumbency don’t confer success onto third-party candidates to the same extent as they do mainstream party candidates.

In the last nine years, only 2 percent of third party candidates won their race
  • Third-party candidates financed their own campaigns more often, and lost more often, compared to self-financiers in the mainstream parties.
  • Candidates identifying themselves as Independent and Progressive Party candidates were most successful; candidates from the Libertarian and the Green parties were among the least.
  • Third-party candidates fared best in Vermont: 34 candidates out of 236 won seats, or 14 percent. Kentucky saw the fewest third-party candidates: only 15 filed for office during the study period 2000-2009. In California, 392 third-party candidates sought office—none won.

17 thoughts on “Study Finds that Third Party Candidates “Face Long Odds”

  1. Steven wilson

    When multiple choice ends, tyranny begins. The old way got us here. Greens, constitution, libertarian, and the rest are ready to work. But it is up to the people.

  2. Vaughn

    Each party needs more candidates. This cycle is pretty much over as far as filing to run goes. Next year it is mostly local elections, so third party candidates need to run for local office especially if there are two seats up and you vote for two.

    I ran for township trustee in 2009 and I was the only third party candidate I know of statewide for any township office. And there are over 4,000 township trustees. 25 signatures and $25…come on people. Get elected locally and make an impact!

  3. tiradefaction

    No surprise that Vermont is listed as the most successful for third parties. The VPP seems to be the only third party in the US with any tangible success.

  4. NewFederalist

    I would have been embarrassed to type the headline for this article. Of course “Third Parties” face long odds. Tell me something I don’t know. Duh!

  5. tiradefaction

    @ 6

    Most Americans probably don’t know that, so maybe it’s intended for a general audience?

  6. Green Party Conservative

    Thanks for the study and link.

    These are some interesting and helpful numbers to have.

    Please permit a suggestion regarding the use of verbs.

    People are elected on election day.

    Green Party candidates “WIN” by being on the ballot, and participating in the debate.

    Being in the debate helps define the debate, and only candidates on the ballot get in the debate.

    Winning is participated.

    People are “elected” on election day.

    Voters “win” by voting, and supporting candidates of their choice.

  7. d.eris

    New Fed,
    Well, I thought the headline was kinda funny as I was typing it, since it faithfully reflects the headline from the study itself. Even funnier, consider this statement from the report:

    “This publication was made possible by grants from: Ford Foundation, Foundation to Promote, Open Society, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Sunlight Foundation”

    Reading this, I thought, “You need six grants to figure out that third party candidates face long odds?!”

    There really are some interesting and informative details on the inside of the report though.

  8. Dale Sheldon-Hess


    So, if you can’t win, redefine “win”?

    Maybe that’s a mean thing to say, and I don’t want to come off as rude, but… I dunno, seems like giving up. And even then, often the Greens and others *are* kept out of the debate anyway, so even by your new definition, haven’t you lost anyway?

    The problem is systemic. Plurality voting can’t properly handle more than two choices. That’s why parties have primaries. That’s why we have a two-party system. And that’s why third parties “never” “win”.

    But approval voting (and score voting) can count to three.

  9. Vaughn

    So anyone else want to run and get elected for local office next year? About 10% of the local offices in my county are unfilled or have absences that go unfilled for way too long.

  10. Ross Levin

    I might run for a symbolic office in my township next year, if there is a position like that. I’m not sure if constable has any responsibilities or not where I am.

  11. paulie

    @12 Yeah, I do that all the…

    Oops, sorry, misread that, I thought you said running from officers 🙂

  12. Derek

    Third party ideas like a PLAS or FET are excellent. In terms of electoral system reform, I suggest we have voters vote for or vote against a candidate.

  13. Steve

    It’s too bad Minnesota hasn’t found a way for the IP’s strong showings in top of ticket races to trickle down to winning a bloc of seats in the legislature. Something is amiss if they can’t translate their relative success.

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