Parties and Platforms


Which third-party presidential bids have been noteworthy in the post–World War II era?

No third-party candidate has ever come close to winning the presidency, and only eight minor parties have managed to win a single state’s electoral votes. However, historians agree that there have been four noteworthy third-party presidential bids since World War II, when third-party or independent candidates have garnered more than 7 percent of the popular vote. In 1948, two independent candidates for president challenged the Republican candidate, Thomas E. Dewey, and the Democratic and then-President Harry S. Truman. On the right, Strom Thurmond—then a Democratic governor from South Carolina—ran as the nominee of the Dixiecrats or States’ Rights Party, a group of dissident Democrats in favor of racial segregation. On the left, Henry Wallace, a former vice president under Franklin D. Roosevelt, ran as the nominee of the Progressive Party. Thurmond won twenty-two percent of the vote in the South, the only area of the country in which he campaigned; Wallace garnered slightly more than 2 percent of the vote.

In 1968, George Wallace, the pro-segregation governor of Alabama, ran as the presidential nominee of the American Independent Party. Wallace, who won 13.8 percent of the vote, was thought to have taken votes away from both major-party candidates, Democrat Hubert Humphrey and Republican Richard Nixon. In 1980, U.S. representative John Anderson of Illinois ran as the presidential nominee of the National Unity Movement. It was assumed that Anderson, a moderate, would take votes away from both the Democratic nominee, President Jimmy Carter, and the Republican nominee, Ronald Reagan. In the end, Anderson won seven percent of the vote, which hardly dampened Reagan’s landslide victory. Recent examples of significant third-party candidates include H. Ross Perot, who in 1992 ran as the presidential nominee of United We Stand America, the precursor of the Reform Party. Political commentators argue that Perot’s strong garnering of nineteen percent of the vote probably hurt the Republican candidate, President George Bush, while helping elect Democratic nominee Bill Clinton. And some could argue that Ralph Nader’s presence in the 2000 presidential race—small as it was, with only a little under three percent of the popular vote—siphoned key votes from Democratic candidate Al Gore, who despite gaining the majority of popular votes lost the electoral vote to Republican George W. Bush.


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