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List of third party performances in United States elections


List of third party performances in United States elections

In the United States, it is rare for a third party (or independent) candidate to perform well in a U.S. election, and rare for one to actually win the election. Below are any elections where a candidate that wasn't a Republican or Democrat obtained at least 5.0% of the vote.

Since 1990, candidates in 32 (8%) of the 380 Senate elections have met this criterion, and two (0.5%) have won, both in 2006. In six of the 32 races, one or the other of the major parties failed to nominate any candidate, allowing third-party candidates to perform better than usual.

In the 302 gubernatorial elections since 1990 the criterion has been met 49 times (16%) and six candidates have won (2%). Until Lincoln Chafee's victory in 2010, no third-party or independent governor had been elected since the 1990s. In the 38 presidential elections since 1856, the criterion has been met in eleven (29%) elections, with no third-party or independent candidate being elected president.


  • Statistics 1
  • Recent gubernatorial 2
    • 1990s 2.1
    • 2000s 2.2
    • 2010s 2.3
  • Recent U.S. Senate 3
    • 1990s 3.1
    • 2000s 3.2
    • 2010s 3.3
  • Presidential 4
    • 1856* 4.1
    • 1860* 4.2
    • 1892* 4.3
    • 1912* 4.4
    • 1924* 4.5
    • 1948* 4.6
    • 1968* 4.7
    • 1980 4.8
    • 1992 4.9
    • 1996 4.10
  • Others 5
  • References 6


Elections since 1990

State # of Gubernatorial # of Senatorial Total#
Alaska 5 3 8
Arizona 1 2 3
Arkansas 0 1 1
Colorado 1 0 1
Connecticut 2 1 3
Florida 0 1 1
Hawaii 1 0 1
Idaho 1 0 1
Illinois 1 0 1
Indiana 0 2 2
Kansas 1 2 3
Kentucky 1 0 1
Louisiana 1 0 1
Maine 6 1 7
Massachusetts 2 2 4
Minnesota 4 4 8
Mississippi 0 1 1
New Hampshire 1 0 1
New Jersey 1 0 1
New Mexico 2 0 2
New York 2 0 2
Ohio 0 2 2
Oklahoma 3 2 5
Oregon 1 1 2
Pennsylvania 2 0 2
Rhode Island 3 0 3
South Carolina 0 1 1
Texas 1 0 1
Utah 1 1 2
Vermont 3 2 5
Virginia 0 2 2
West Virginia 1 0 1
Wisconsin 1 0 1

Recent gubernatorial

Listed below is any election since 1990. Elections in which a third party candidate won are marked with bold typeface.




Recent U.S. Senate

Listed below is any election since 1990. Elections in which a third party candidate won are marked with bold typeface.





Listed below is any election since 1856. Elections where a candidate won electoral votes (excepting faithless electors) are marked with an asterisk (*).


In 1856 the two-party system of Democrats and Whigs collapsed. The Whigs, who had been one-half of the two-party system since 1832 and had won the presidency in 1840 and 1848, disintegrated. Southern Whigs and a minority of northern Whigs coalesced around the anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic American Party, better known as the "Know Nothing" movement. Their candidate was former President Millard Fillmore, who won 22% but carried only one state, Maryland, thus winning 8 electoral votes. Many Northern Whigs, such as Abraham Lincoln, joined the newly formed Republican Party. The Republicans ran John C. Frémont, who finished second with 33.1% and 114 electoral votes. Democrat James Buchanan won the election.


John C. Breckinridge, the third party candidate of southern Democrats, got 18.2% of the popular vote and won 72 electoral votes from several south states. John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party finished with 12.6% of the popular vote, but only won 39 electoral votes from three states. Though both Bell and Breckenridge were unable to capture as many popular votes as the two main presidential candidates (Republican Abraham Lincoln and Democrat Stephen A. Douglas), this election would mark the first time any third party received more electoral votes than one of the major candidates in a US presidential election. Douglas finished with 29.5% of the popular vote, but only won 12 electoral votes from two states.


James B. Weaver, the Greenback Labor nominee in 1880, ran as presidential candidate for the Populist Party. The Populist Party won 22 electoral votes and 8.51 percent of the popular vote [1]. Weaver became the first third-party candidate to win a state since John Bell in the transitional election of 1860. The Democratic Party eventually adopted many Populist Party positions after this election, notably the Populist call for the free coinage of silver, making this contest a prominent example of a delayed vote for change.


Republican Theodore Roosevelt ran as the "Bull Moose Party" (Progressive Party) nominee in the 1912 election. Roosevelt won 27.4% of the popular vote and carried six states totaling 88 electoral votes. Overall, Roosevelt's effort was the most successful third-party candidacy in American history. It was also the only third-party effort to finish higher than third in the popular votes and only the second to do so in electoral votes. Instead incumbent Republican President William Howard Taft finished third, taking only 23% of the popular vote and 8 electoral votes. The split in the Republican vote gave Democrat Woodrow Wilson victory with 42% of the popular vote, but 435 electoral votes.

Eugene V. Debs, running in his fourth consecutive Presidential election as the Socialist Party candidate, won 6% of the vote, an all-time high for the Socialists. The elections of 1860 and 1912 are the only two times that four candidates each cleared 5% of the popular vote in a Presidential election.


Erstwhile Republican Robert M. La Follette ran as a Progressive. After the Democrats nominated conservative John W. Davis, many liberal Democrats turned to La Follette. He received 4,831,706 votes for 16.6% of the popular vote and won his home state of Wisconsin receiving 13 electoral votes. With the Democrats split, incumbent President Calvin Coolidge won election by a wide margin.


Democrat Strom Thurmond ran on the segregationist States' Rights ("Dixiecrat") ticket. Former Vice President Henry A. Wallace ran on the liberal left as the candidate of a new Progressive Party. Thus the Democratic vote was split three ways, between Thurmond on the right, Wallace on the left, and incumbent President Harry S. Truman in the center. Thurmond received 1,175,930 votes (2.4%) and 39 votes in the electoral college from Southern states. Wallace earned 1,157,328 votes for an identical 2.4% of the popular vote, but no votes in the Electoral College due to his support being mostly concentrated in the more populous states of New York and California.


Former Democratic Governor of American Independent Party line. Wallace received 9,901,118 votes for 13.5% of the popular vote, receiving 45 electoral votes in the South and many votes in the North. Wallace remains the only third party candidate since 1948 to win a state.


Congressman John B. Anderson received 5,719,850 votes, for 6.6% of the vote, as an independent candidate for President. Libertarian Party candidate Ed Clark won 921,128 votes, or 1.1% of the total. No other Libertarian candidate has ever gotten more than 0.5% in a presidential election until Gary Johnson won 1% in 2012.


George H. W. Bush.


Ross Perot ran for president again, this time as the candidate of the newly formed Reform Party. He won 8% of the popular vote.



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