An Historical Rarity: A Four-Party Presidential Election

2016, 2016 Presidential Campaign, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton

Via Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball

Third parties, such as Ralph Nader’s Green Party candidacy in 2000, tend to affect presidential elections every decade or two. But not since Ross Perot’s campaigns in the 1990s has the third-party vote reached 10%, nor since 1948 have four parties (two majors plus two minors) won at least 2% of the popular vote. With Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein, both could happen again this year.

Polls show Johnson well above the 2% mark and Stein hovering right around it. Meanwhile, a fifth candidate, independent Evan McMullin started too late to be a factor in the nationwide popular vote, but is making a play for the electoral votes of his home state of Utah.

Map 1: Johnson, Stein, McMullin — who is running where in 2016

The Libertarians with Gary Johnson and the Green Party with Jill Stein are the third parties most likely to influence the 2016 presidential election. Johnson will appear on the ballot everywhere — in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Stein will be on the ballot in 44 states and the District, but not the battleground states of Georgia, Nevada, and North Carolina. Evan McMullin is probably the most notable independent in the race, but his late-starting candidacy (he did not announce until August) made it on only 11 state ballots. Map 1 lays out the states where they are on the ballot.


Maps 2 and 3: The last time out — Johnson and Stein at the ballot box in 2012

Both Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein are expected to draw far more votes next month than they did in 2012, which was the first time they were on the general election ballot for president. Neither had much impact on the presidential race four years ago, although Johnson received more total votes than any Libertarian presidential candidate ever had in the four decades of the party’s existence, and the second largest percentage. Johnson tended to run best in smaller states of the rural Midwest and the Mountain West, nearly all with a Republican orientation. Stein’s leading states (as they were) tended to be in the Northeast and the West, and were more politically eclectic.