Third parties face many obstacles in the United States. In all states, the Democratic and Republican candidates automatically get on the ballot, whereas third-party candidates usually have to get thousands of signatures on petitions just to be listed on the ballot. The state and federal governments, which make rules governing elections, are composed of elected Democratic and Republican officials, who have a strong incentive to protect the existing duopoly. Also, third-party candidates often face financial difficulties because a party must have received at least 5 percent of the vote in the previous election in order to qualify for federal funds.
|Anti-Masonic Party||1828–1832||First party to hold a convention to nominate candidates|
|Prohibition Party||1867–present||Has nominated a candidate for president in every election since 1872|
|Progressive Party||1912||Elected a number of candidates to state legislatures, Congress, and even the U.S. Senate. Deflected enough votes from Republican William Howard Taft to hand the presidency to Democrat Woodrow Wilson in 1912.|
|American Independent Party||1968–present||Won electoral votes (for George Wallace)|
|Libertarian Party||1971–present||Some members have won local elections.|
|Green Party||1984–present||Some members have won local elections.|
Third parties appeal to people for a number of reasons:
Example: The Greenback Party focused on the monetary system, and the Prohibition Party sought to ban the consumption of alcohol. The Populist Party, meanwhile, grew out of the Populist movement, and the Republican Party developed primarily out of the abolitionist movement.
Example: In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt led a group of dissidents out of the Republican Party to form the splinter Progressive Party.
Despite their lack of success in the polls, third parties can affect American politics in a number of ways:
Example: The Populist Party introduced ideas that influenced some economic policies of the New Deal, whereas the Anti-Masonic Party was the first party to use a convention to nominate its candidates, in the mid-nineteenth century.
Example: In 1992, neither Bill Clinton nor George H. W. Bush talked much about the budget deficit until independent candidate Ross Perot emphasized it in his campaign.
Example: Some pundits argued that Ralph Nader’s bid in the 2000 presidential election may have cost Al Gore the presidency by siphoning away votes in key states such as Florida.