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Third Party Candidates Poised for Marginal Success for First Time in Years

It could be the greatest performance by non-Republican or Democratic candidates in over two decades.
Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson and running mate William Weld wave to supporters on Sept. 10 in New York.BRYAN R. SMITH / AFP - Getty Images

Unpopularity among both major party presidential candidates could lead to marginal success by third party candidates in some states in 2016, which would be the greatest performance by non-Republican or Democratic candidates in over two decades.

A Deseret News presidential poll Tuesday showed Republican Donald Trump tied with Democrat Hillary Clinton with 26% percent support, closely trailed by Independent candidate Evan McMullin with 22%. Libertarian Gary Johnson was also in double-digits, polling at 14%.

McMullin was a relatively unknown political operative before this presidential cycle, but has longtime ties to The Beehive State: he was born in Provo, attended Brigham Young University, and is a practicing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Over the weekend, an Alaska Dispatch News poll had Johnson polling at 18% in Alaska, trailing Trump and Clinton at 36% and 31% respectively.

Third Party candidates get hyped up almost every presidential cycle, but rarely come close to notching electoral votes.

In fact, the last Independent candidate to come in second place in a state presidential contest was Texas billionaire Ross Perot in 1992. Perot outpaced President George H.W. Bush in Maine, and the election’s ultimate winner, President Bill Clinton, in Utah.

Former Alabama Governor George Wallace was the last person to capture an electoral vote without being a member of the Democratic or Republican Parties. In 1968, he won 46 electoral votes in the Deep South running under the American Independent Party label.

The only Third Party candidate to finish as runner up in a presidential election was former President Theodore Roosevelt in his bid for a third term in 1912. Roosevelt challenged his former protege, sitting President William Howard Taft, for the Republican presidential nomination, but was denied at the party convention in Chicago. Roosevelt and his supporters formed the Progressive Party, which captured six states and 88 electoral votes--putting Roosevelt in second place, behind Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

A Third Party candidate has never won a presidential election since the advent of the Two Party System in 1828. Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson incorrectly tweeted that Abraham Lincoln won the presidency as a Third Party candidate in 1860, but Lincoln’s Republican Party had already run a presidential candidate, General John Frémont, as a major party in 1856.

Contemporary Third Party candidates are often accused of being spoilers to a more dominant major party candidate--especially Green Party nominee Ralph Nader in 2000.

Former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, the Libertarian Party’s Vice Presidential nominee, shot down spoiler talk in an interview on MSNBC’s MTP Daily Wednesday as “not really very substantive.”

Weld, whose ticket consistently polls in high single digits in national polls, said, “voters have to think for themselves and shouldn’t necessarily take it from the R’s and the D’s in Washington.”

The Libertarian ticket greatly trails Clinton and Trump in national polls--Weld characterized chances of catching the the frontrunning Democrat Clinton as, “a long putt.”

Clinton hosted a campaign rally with former Vice President Al Gore in Florida Tuesday, a state that some say cost him the presidency in 2000 due to contested vote counting and the presence of a Third Party challenger, Nader.

Gore, warning voters against staying home or voting for a Third Party candidate, said, “elections have consequences. Your vote counts. Your vote has consequences.”