Our chapter on political parties discusses the potentially pivotal role of third-party and independent candidates. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports:
"The votes that Ralph Nader received in several states in 2000 would have been enough to give Al Gore an electoral college victory," said Adam Schiffer, a political science professor at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. "Had even one-fifth of Nader's voters voted for Gore instead, Florida would not have needed a recount."
Nader earlier this year said that third-party candidates play an important role in the electoral process.
"I think it's competition," he told MSNBC earlier this year. "I think it's new agendas, new ideas, that are supported by a large number by the American people.
"And I think, above all, it respects the voters by raising their expectation level," he said. "That's the history of small parties."
Texas billionaire Ross Perot, running as an independent, affected the 1992 presidential race -- which pitted then incumbent Republican President George H.W. Bush and Democratic then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton.
Clinton won with nearly 45 million votes to Bush's more than 39 million votes. Perot picked up more than 19 million votes in that race.
"Many observers credit Ross Perot with tipping the 1992 election to Clinton, but the best scholarly analyses of polling data dispute that conclusion," Schiffer said.What of 2012? The New York Times reports:
There is one factor in the campaign that has yet to get much attention but could influence the outcome: third-party candidacies in many states, most notably that of former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee.
Mr. Johnson, who argued for free markets, fewer wars and the legalization of marijuana during his brief run for the 2012 Republican nomination, hardly shows up in polls. But he is on the ballot in more than three dozen states and is trying for more.
Mr. Johnson shares some of the cross-party appeal of Representative Ron Paul of Texas, who complimented him publicly last week. Advisers said Mr. Johnson’s potential for cutting into Mr. Romney’s support was greatest in Florida, where Mr. Romney is basically tied with Mr. Obama, but could also have an impact in Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire and North Carolina.
They said Mr. Johnson’s potential to eat into Mr. Obama’s support was greatest in Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin.
Republican officials have already tried to challenge Mr. Johnson’s place on the ballot or are trying to in states including Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Many of the challenges have failed — courts recently rejected efforts to throw him off the ballot in Virginia — and Roger Stone, a Republican Party veteran who is advising Mr. Johnson, said he was optimistic that Mr. Johnson would qualify in all 50 states.
The Republican Party of Virginia also failed in a bid last week to remove former Representative Virgil Goode from the presidential ballot there. He is the nominee for the Constitution Party and could draw disaffected Tea Party adherents away from the Republican Party.