A Guide to Third Party Candidates

Devin Conway

Remember, Remember the 8th of November

After nearly a year of entertaining debates, heated personal exchanges and shocking discoveries, the 2016 U.S. presidential race is finally coming to an end. 

In just two weeks from today, our next president will be selected by the American people. 

Although this may seem like a frightening prospect to many voters, the choice comes down to just two candidates: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. 

Of course there are always third party options, but in the entire history of American politics, a third party candidate has never come close to winning the general election. 

2016 Third Party Candidates

Many state ballots will include Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate and Evan McMullin, an Independent candidate who didn’t actually enter the race until August. 

Gary Johnson has made headlines with his lack of knowledge in regard to the most basic aspects of U.S. foreign policy. 

When asked during an interview how he would handle the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo, Syria, he then asked the interviewer, “What’s Aleppo?”

A few weeks later, during another interview, Johnson was asked to name a foreign leader that he respects, and he couldn’t come up with a single name.

He laughed it off before saying that he was having another Aleppo moment. 

Johnson was later asked about this lack of knowledge, and he actually tried to spin his ignorance into a positive thing for his campaign, saying he would be unable to attack a foreign country that he couldn’t find on a map. 

Jill Stein, on the other hand, is running a campaign that essentially combines the rhetoric of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

She heavily emphasizes the impact of income inequality, the importance of developing alternative forms of energy, replacing NAFTA and other trade deals that she believes are harmful to the American people and ending the two-party system that has dominated our political process for centuries.

She has made headlines with her bipartisan attacks on both Trump and Clinton, but it seems as though she has shifted her focus to Clinton, presumably because there’s a lot of potential overlap in their respective voter bases. 

The Curious Case of Evan McMullin 

Most voters are at least aware of Johnson and Stein’s campaigns, although they may not know where they stand on the issues.

Evan McMullin is in an entirely different situation. He is relatively unknown to the majority of the American electorate, but in one of the most interesting developments in this election cycle, he is actually polling at a higher percentage for an individual state than either Johnson or Stein. 

According to a recent Rasmussen poll, Evan McMullin is polling at an astounding 29 percent in Utah. Donald Trump still leads Utah polls with 30 percent, and Hillary Clinton is in a close third at 28 percent. 

The only rational explanation for McMullin’s success in Utah, considering the national polls that place him at only one to two percent support across the entire country, is his Mormon faith. 

According to a 2008 Pew Research poll, nearly 60 percent of the Utah population are practicing members of the Church of the Latter-day Saints, which is a Christian denomination that practices what is informally referred to as Mormonism. 

Much like Evangelical conservatives, the Mormon voter base is committed to finding a candidate that directly represents their religious values, which helps to explain why Mitt Romney, who also practices the Mormon faith, was able to dominate the state of Utah in the 2012 U.S. presidential election.

Coming Up Short

McMullin represents nothing more than an opportunity to spoil a major party’s chances at winning a single state, and in reality, pretty much shows the furthest extent to which a third party candidate can actually affect an election. 

The best third party performance in a presidential election came from Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, when he left the Republican Party and still managed to get 27.4% of the vote.

Third party candidates offer frustrated voters a chance to rebel against the traditional two-party system and the candidates that represent them, but, as history has shown, they rarely if ever have a legitimate chance at winning the presidency.