Voting Third Party: Is It Worth It?


Mia Hernandez, Reporter

In a polarized two-party system, the effect that third party candidates have on American elections is often overlooked. While historically a third party has never won the presidency, they have had significant impacts on the outcome of the race.

In this presidential election, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, Libertarian and Green Party candidates respectively, are the most viable third party challengers to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump. Johnson previously held the position of governor of New Mexico while Stein has never held an elected office.  (For more information about these third party candidates, see the article “Find Out Where Your Third Party Candidates Stand”)

According to the Wall Street Journal, the largest threat that third parties pose to the two major parties takes place in battleground states, which are states that are on the border of voting majority Democrat or Republican and could swing either way. This year, these states include Florida, Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina.

The votes that a third party might get in battleground states effectively take away votes from one of the major party candidates and makes it more likely that the opposing major party will win that key state.

The election of 2000 demonstrated this effect when third party candidate Ralph Nader gained votes in Florida that would would have gone to Democrat Al Gore. This resulted in Gore’s opponent, George Bush, winning the state and later on, the presidential election.

It is possible that this could occur in this presidential election as well. AP Government teacher Dr. Andrea Duwel described how Utah’s Mormon population, which is largely Republican, may refuse to vote for Trump and instead side with Johnson, which may result in a win for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Historically, third parties have also shaped presidential elections by splitting the vote of one of the major parties. According to Fortune Magazine, in the 1992 election third party presidential hopeful Ross Perot won 19 percent of the popular vote. His votes were mainly drawn from disenchanted Republicans, which pulled votes from George H.W. Bush and gave Democrat Bill Clinton the election.

And according to Politico, young voters are the bloc most likely to vote third party. A recent Fox News poll found that the Johnson received 19% of the vote from those younger than 35. While Libertarians tend to pull votes away from Republicans, young voters tend to pull from Democrats, so Johnson’s effect on either party remains to be seen.  

A total third party victory is well out of reach; either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. Still, while a third party presidential win is impossible this year, their efforts will will not necessarily have been in vain.

“Would they have an impact, yes, but a significant one, no,” Duwel said.