Choosing neither of the above: Millions of voters turn to third-party candidates in heated election

by Adrian Chu, Opinion Editor

In the 1968 election, George C. Wallace, an American Independent, won five Southern states with his platform of racial segregation. No third-party candidate since has won a state in the presidential election. The two-party system defines the U.S.’s modern democratic fabric.

“Third parties have been around for a hundred, two hundred years; very rarely do they get anywhere,” Gary Jacobson, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at UC San Diego, said.

“The last time a third party became a second party was in the 1850s, when the Republicans replaced the Whigs. Donald Trump has shown why, and that is if you want to mount an insurgency, it’s easier to take over an existing party than it is to start one on your own.”

Third parties gain support by advocating for a platform combining different Democratic and Republican viewpoints or by focusing on issues that the two main parties often neglect.

Polling collectively at approximately 11 percent at their peak and currently at six percent in 2016 according to New York Times’s aggregate polling data, third party politicians can garner enough support to affect the outcome in swing states by drawing voters away from the main two parties. In the 2012 election, the differences between candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were often within one percent and at most 4.2 percent.

“With Hillary, so many people feel like they know her and if they don’t like her, they already know that, they feel strongly about that,” Surya Yalamanchili, former contestant on The Apprentice and 2010 congressional candidate, said. “With Trump, it feels like every week, there’s another story or he’s saying something that gives a lot of people more ammunition to dislike him, and as a result of that third party candidates like Jill Stein are getting picked up [and] they’re getting a lot of support.”

Gary Johnson, nominee of the Libertarian Party, and Jill Stein, nominee of the Green Party, both competed in the 2012 presidential election. With less than 1.5 percent of the popular vote combined, their influence on the election result was negligible, but due to the increasing disapproval of the two main parties’ presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, more people seriously considered third parties at the polls.

In the 2016 election, Johnson garnered 3% of the popular vote and Stein 1%. In the contentious state of Pennsylvania, with its 20 electoral votes, Johnson earned 2% of the popular vote and Stein 0.9%, according to the Associated Press. Trump won Pennsylvania by a narrow margin of approximately 70 thousand votes, a smaller share of votes than the third party candidates earned.

Similarly, in Florida, which was also a closely-fought swing state, Johnson won 2% of the popular vote and Stein 0.7%, according to the Associated Press. The state’s 28 electoral votes went to Trump, who won 49% of the vote compared to Clinton’s 48%.

Johnson, former governor of New Mexico, advocates for the legalization of marijuana and is fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Peaking at a popularity of 9.8 percent in June, he lost support while gaining media coverage after asking “What is Aleppo?” in an MSNBC interview.

Stein advocates for the elimination of pesticides and genetically modified organisms in agriculture and shares many of the liberal views of the Democratic Party.

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on November 16, 2016.