Poll after poll, talk shows and political pundits are focusing in on the growing unhappiness of the American public with their leaders. A CNN/Opinion Research poll released yesterday indicates 38% of people would consider voting for a third party candidate for president under any circumstances. 64% were in favor of having a third political party run candidates for President, Congress and state offices. Can a third party candidate win the presidency? Will there be a Tea Party presidential candidate? While there may be a hunger amongst the public for alternatives to the two major parties the chances are slim.
Any third party candidate needs to overcome the built in advantages both parties have in getting on the ballot. Third party candidates need to incur the expense of gathering thousands and in some states tens of thousands of signatures many months in advance to get on the ballot. The two main party candidates don’t have to collect any signatures to be on the ballot in November.
What’s more likely to occur in 2012 is third party candidates getting on the ballot in select states and perhaps deciding the election. Remember what happened in Florida in 2000, an election George Bush won by less than a 1,000 votes, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader received 97,488 votes in Florida, far more than the combined 40,000 votes of the other third party candidates in Florida. In 1992, Ross Perot received 19% of the vote nationwide, in some states that number was 25-30%.
While there is clearly dissatisfaction today with Washington and incumbents from both political parties, translating that anger into viable third party campaign in 2012 is very remote. Given our current political system, the only chance a third party candidate could win the presidential election in 2012 or in the near future is if they can self finance and even then, they would need to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to overcome the built in advantages enjoyed by the two main parties.