Third-party candidates may spoil, swing election

October 1, 2012 | 11 a.m.

Virgil Goode and Gary Johnson won't win the election, but they may shape it

News | Jon Westmark

Third-party candidates may spoil, swing election

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson will be on the ballot in 47 states this election. | Courtesy of MCT

No third-party or independent candidate has won an electoral vote in a presidential election since George Wallace garnered 46 in 1968. That is not likely to change in this year’s election, but third-party and independent nominees may swing or even decide the results on Nov. 6, 2012.

In the 2000 election, the decision came down to who would win Florida’s 25 electoral votes. The state margin ended up being 537 votes. Green Party liberal Ralph Nader took 2.7 percent of Florida’s popular vote with 97,488. Without Nader in the race, some speculate many of his supporters would have voted for Gore, changing the result of the election.

Political science professor Christopher Moore says that if a third-party candidate is going to affect this coming election, they need to do what Nader did in 2000—draw a considerable amount of votes and do so in a state that is significant. 

Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode may achieve both of these things. He served as a congressman of Virginia for six terms. According to Moore, last election was a “tipping point” for Virginia, which hadn’t been won by a Democrat in 48 years. 

It is now considered a “battleground state” with an average of recent polls showing a 4.5 percent lead for Democrat Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney. Goode’s numbers came out around 2 percent and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson took about 4 percent. 

Many experts speculate that the considerable pull of Goode and Johnson could hurt Republican candidate Mitt Romney, due to their more conservative agendas. 

Johnson also looks to gather votes from supporters of Republican Ron Paul, which could further split the Republican vote. 

Johnson is not apologetic about the possibility of taking votes away from Romney. "I can't imagine a Ron Paul supporter who is going to support Romney," he said during a visit to Washington in June.

Regardless of if the election comes down to a “swing” state like Virginia, Moore sees other ways in which the third-party and independent candidates can affect the course of the election. 

“There’s been a tradition of third-party candidates swinging the focus of the debate,” he said. To attract votes that may go to third-party candidates with similar agendas, Democrats and Republicans may be forced to focus on issues that third-party candidates feel strongly about. 

With smaller budgets, rules prohibiting them from taking part in debates and state ballot access laws, it can be difficult to project a platform as a third party. Some candidates may run for president to give their central issues publicity, according to Moore. 

In 1992, Independent candidate Ross Perot not only bolstered his numbers by taking part in debates with George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, but he also brought his opposition to the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the forefront of the discussion. 

This election season, though no third-party or independent candidates meet the requirements to take part in debates, they may still shape the landscape of discourse in the election. Moore cites Paul’s focus on fiscal issues common in the Tea Party movement as one example.

At this point, Goode is on the ballot in 27 states. Johnson’s name will appear in 47. Both of them are on the ballot in Virginia, Ohio, Florida and Colorado, which are all thought to be close races.

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