Uncovered Politics: Will 2014 Be Remembered as a Breakout Year?

Greg Orman

By Austin Cassidy at Uncovered Politics:

October 29, 2014 5:54 pm

As recently as a few weeks ago it looked like we were heading for a record year for third party and independent candidates in the modern era. Independents in South Dakota, Kansas, Maine and Alaska all seemed like they had victory within their grasp.

Alternative candidates were surging into double-digits all over the country.

Now, with less than a week to go before Election Day, the expectations have come back down to Earth in a big way.

Larry Pressler is struggling in South Dakota. Greg Orman is holding a razor thin lead in his Kansas U.S. Senate race. Bill Walker still seems like he has a good chance at winning the governorship in Alaska, but it’s far from a sure thing.

Yesterday, Tom Ervin dropped out of the gubernatorial race in South Carolina after spending millions of his own money on his independent campaign. Today, Eliot Cutler essentially threw in the towel in Maine. It’s tough out there.

COMPARING 2014 WITH THE RECENT PAST

Measuring success or failure is difficult for third parties and independents, who rarely win actual elections. I think each minor party has their own set of victory conditions that could be applied to this campaign cycle. For the Libertarians, electing even a single candidate (like Chad Monnin) to a state legislature would be an enormous win. For the Minnesota Independence Party, polling 5% in any statewide race has major implications for their party’s future survival. In Vermont, the Progressive Party has a real shot at electing a Lt. Governor.

But looking wider than that, and trying to measure the mood of voters on a national scale, I decided to focus only on candidates for Governor and U.S. Senate who surpassed 10% of the vote. And then I went back through the election results from every major election since 1990 and attempted to count up the number of candidates who surpassed that mark and the number who were actually elected.

Is 2014 an unusually active year, or are we about in line with past performances?

It turns out that for Governor and Senator combined, the most wins in any cycle during the last 25 years was two. It was a four-way tie between 1990, 1998, 2006 and 2012. The best we could hope for at this point, I think, is to match that with wins in Alaska (Walker) and Kansas (Orman).

In terms of 10%+ showings, the best year was 1994 with 8. Note that I only included candidates who firmly passed 10%, so for example an independent’s 9.93% showing for governor of Oklahoma in 1990 didn’t make the cut.

I’m thinking in 2014 we’ll see one or two victories and 4 to 6 candidates in double digits — Orman, Walker, and Pressler seem like the only sure things. With Hannemann, Cutler, Hawkins, Ravenel, Visconti, Healey and the rest of the field producing maybe one or two more.

I hope that I’m underestimating, but it seems almost certain at this point that 2014 will not be the breakout year many of us had hoped. It will, however, represent one of the stronger years for non-major party candidates in recent memory. With two independents already in the U.S. Senate, a few key victories in 2014 could set the table for something really special to happen in 2016.

Share your predictions in the comments. And if you know of any gubernatorial or senatorial candidates who topped 10% and aren’t on the list below, please post and let me know who I missed.

Looking through these past results, you’ll note that single state parties and independent candidates have dominated the list. It’s also clear that midterm elections generally produce the better showings, but that is partly a result of a higher number of gubernatorial races appearing on the ballot during non-presidential years.

YEAR: 1990

3 Single State Parties
– Lowell Weicker, A Connecticut Party (40%)*
– Walter Hickel, Alaska Independence (39%)*
– Herbert London, New York Conservative (20%)

1 Independent
– Al Mobley, Oregon (13%)

>>> Senate

1 Independent
– Nancy Spannaus, Virginia (18%)

>>> TOTAL: 5 (2 wins)

YEAR: 1992

>>> Governor

1 Independent
– Merrill Cook, Utah (33%)

>>> Senate

1 Independent
– Evan Mecham, Arizona (10%)

1 Green Party
– Linda Martin, Hawaii (14%)

>>> TOTAL: 3

YEAR: 1994

>>> Governor

2 Independents
– Angus King, Maine (35%)*
– Wes Watkins, Oklahoma (23%)

4 Single State Parties
– Jack Coghill, Alaska Independence (13%)
– Eunice Groark, A Connecticut Party (19%)
– Tom Scott, Connecticut Independence Party (11%)
– Frank Fasi, Best Party of Hawaii (31%)

1 Constitution Party
– Peg Luksik, Pennsylvania (13%)

>>> Senate

1 Independent
– Marshall Coleman, Virginia (11%)

TOTAL: 8 (1 win)

YEAR: 1996

>>> Governor

None

>>> Senate

1 Green
– Jed Whittaker, Alaska (13%)

TOTAL: 1

YEAR: 1998

>>> Governor

1 Constitution Party
– Peg Luksik, Pennsylvania (10%)

1 Reform Party
– Jesse Ventura, Minnesota (37%)*

1 Independent
– Angus King, Maine (59%)*

>>> Senate

None

TOTAL: 3 (2 wins)

YEAR: 2000

>>> Governor

None

>>> Senate

1 Libertarian
– Carla Howell, Massachusetts (12%)

TOTAL: 1

YEAR: 2002

>>> Governor

1 Libertarian Party
– Ed Thompson, Wisconsin (10%)

1 Independent
– Gary Richardson, Oklahoma (14%)

2 Single State Parties
– Tim Penny, MN Independence (16%)
– Tom Golisano, NY Independence (14%)

>>> Senate

1 Libertarian Party
– Michael Cloud, Massachusetts (18%)

1 Reform Party
– Shawn O’Hara, Mississippi (15%)

TOTAL: 6

YEAR: 2004

>>> Governor

None

>>> Senate

None

TOTAL: 0

YEAR: 2006

>>> Governor

3 Independents
– Carole Strayhorn, Texas (18%)
– Kinky Friedman, Texas (12%)
– Barbara Merrill, Maine (21%)

1 Green Party
– Rich Whitney, Illinois (10%)

>>> Senate

2 Independents
– Bernie Sanders, Vermont (65%)*
– Joe Lieberman, Connecticut (50%)*

1 Libertarian Party
– Steve Osborn, Indiana (13%)

TOTAL: 7 (2 wins)

YEAR: 2008

>>> Governor

1 Independent
– Anthony Pollina, Vermont (22%)

>>> Senate

1 Single State Party
– Dean Barkley, MN Independence (15%)

1 Green
– Rebekah Kennedy, Arkansas (20%)

TOTAL: 3

YEAR: 2010

>>> Governor

1 Constitution Party
– Tom Tancredo, Colorado (36%)

2 Independents
– Eliot Cutler, Maine (36%)
– Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island (36%)*

1 Single State Party
– Tom Horner, MN Independence (12%)

>>> Senate

1 Independent
– Charlie Crist, Florida (30%)

TOTAL: 5 (1 win)

YEAR: 2012

>>> Governor

None

>>> Senate

3 Independents
– Angus King, Maine (53%)*
– Bernie Sanders, Vermont (71%)*
– Rob Sobhani, Maryland (16%)

TOTAL: 3 (2 wins)

8 thoughts on “Uncovered Politics: Will 2014 Be Remembered as a Breakout Year?

  1. David Doonan

    Here in NY the poll numbers for Howie Hawkins 4 governor and matt fumiciello 4 congress on the green party line have gone up … we’re doing so well that the presidental speculation on Cuomo is that he’s now looking at 2020

  2. Deran

    I think now that Hawkins has passed 150k, I think it would be most positive if he stays over 5%. 5 just has a stronger look than 4.90. I think it’s psychological.

    Overall the independents are doing so well.

  3. Dave

    Disappointing for the Greens. I thought for sure Hawkins would get over 10%. There was massive resentment against Cuomo from progressives. Combined with this being widely seen as a non competitive race and I expected him to do much better. If this is the best they could do in a perfect storm I don’t really think they’ll ever overcome the hurdle, at least in New York. Though it seems NY is pretty third party unfriendly anyway, so maybe this was always going to be tough.

    As for the rest, the Libertarian in NC did get a lot of mentions on CNN, though everyone shoehorned int he words “Pizza Delivery Guy” and “possible spoiler”.A glitch did make it seem like the Libertarian was leading in one of the Indiana house races, so that was exciting briefly.

    Cutler underperformed in Maine, but the dem still lost. I’m sure he’ll be blamed anyway, despite all but telling people to vote Democratic in the final days.But Walker is still narrowly ahead in Alaska, so we might yet have one independent governor.

  4. Sean Scallon

    The interesting result from last evening was LP and other independent candidates did more to hurt the Democrats than they did the GOP, putting to rest the myth many and even I had that the LP’s emergence hurts only the GOP. If younger voters are disaffected from the Obama coalition, we know where their votes are going to.

  5. Jed Ziggler Post author

    Going by the article’s theme of looking at candidates for Governor & U.S. Senate who polled over 10%, we did have some strong performers. (Keep in mind I’m using The Green Papers’ numbers, which are slow to update but easier to find quickly, so some of these numbers may be a bit off)

    ALASKA: Bill Walker (Independent) for Governor: 47.97% (may have won)

    HAWAII: Mufi Hannemann (Hawaii Independent) for Governor: 11.89%

    KANSAS: Greg Orman (Independent) for Senate: 42.48%

    RHODE ISLAND: Bob Healey (Moderate) for Governor: 22.06%

    SOUTH DAKOTA: Larry Pressler (Independent) for Senate: 17.09%

  6. I am fed up with slavery!

    It seems when people see libertarian or green attached to a candidate they cringe from fear as long as its not democrat or republican, then they feel right at home safe and secure. Its the democrat and republican NAME BRAND that sells. Small parties are great in theory but lack marketing skills and campaign funds. MSM avoids them like the plague. Strangely independant candidates do really well.

  7. paulie

    Most independent candidates don’t, and some alt party candidates do. In any case, independent candidates do nothing to build a brand that works on issues in between elections or helps the next independent candidate in any way. And the more people vote for alt parties the more other people feel safe in doing so, so every little bit you do to help … helps, and every bit of naysaying, well, doesn’t.

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