I ask this because third party candidates are often blamed for stealing votes from another candidate who otherwise has a viable chance of winning.

An example of this could be seen in Is Gary Johnson Taking More Support From Clinton Or Trump?

The majority of pollsters (12) have Clinton’s margin over Trump shrinking when at least one third-party candidate is included. The difference in margins, however, varies among pollsters, and a few, such as Ipsos, have Clinton’s lead rising by the tiniest of bits when at least Johnson is included.

I would argue that non-democrat and non-republican parties should focus on winning seats/district before running for president. Is there a problem with this argument?


3 Answers 3


Not only is it legal, it happens.

Currently, there are two non-party Senators (one socialist, one centrist). Go back to 2002, and you'll find one Independence Party of Minnesota senator and one socialist representative. 1971 had a Conservative Party of New York senator and an independent. In the 1940s, the American Labor Party had some success in Congress without running a presidential candidate of its own; in the 1920s and 1930s, the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party did the same.

As the examples show, this generally happens when a regional third party manages to locally displace one of the major parties, but neither has nor wants a national presence. These parties usually endorse another party's presidential candidate.


Whether this is a realistic and viable strategy is another matter, but yes, from a legal perspective it is possible.

Every state has its own ballot access laws, but I'm not aware of any particular state in which running a presidential candidate is required. In some states (NY is one I'm familiar with) third party ballot lines frequently run their own candidates for some offices but cross-list major party candidates for others, including President and Vice-President.

In a few states, it is legally necessary to run a unique gubernatorial candidate for a party to appear on the ballot as such. See FairVote for details.


When Ross Perot ran in 1992, it allowed the United We Stand party to get automatic ballot access in some states. Without that, they have to collect signatures separately for each race. That's the biggest advantage of a President-first strategy.

Smaller races have the same problem as larger races in terms of blocking more legitimate candidates. Unless a party wasn't running a candidate anyway, the third party candidate will take some of their support. A stronger method might be to concentrate on electoral reform such that people could vote for their preferred candidates and their safety candidates.

Another issue is that many of the third parties don't have support that is concentrated enough to win in any one district either. They are spread over the entire country. So serious politicians who might prefer a third party instead choose to run as either Democrats or Republicans.

This isn't to say that a third party couldn't be regionally successful. It's just to say that the leading third parties currently aren't formed in such a way as to be significantly more successful regionally than nationally. It would take a new third party with a different approach to succeed regionally.

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