As I understand it a person does not actually have to be either the Democrat or the Republican nominee to run for president in the US, why then are independent candidates, at least for that position so rare? I think the US could do with a couple more independent nominees.

  • For the record, it is not rare to have independent candidates to POTUS; for the record in the 2020 elections WP lists 17 candidates who got more than 2000 votes, with the most voted among them getting close to 2 million votes. Of course, inertia and Duverger's law makes very unlikely to those candidates to get elected, which in turns leads to lower media coverage which in turns hurts their chances more.
    – SJuan76
    Dec 9, 2020 at 18:40

1 Answer 1


It’s really quite simple: Duverger’s Law.

In short, when you have elections that are based on electing a single candidate with the plurality winner taking the election, the political system devolves to a two-party system.

Even the rare “independents” in American politics are functionally Democrats or Republicans because in Congress, unless a member joins either the Democratic or Republican caucus, they have close to zero power. A centrist independent could have increased power in a near-50/50 alignment by asking for additional concessions to join one caucus or the other, but someone further out in the wings does not have that as a credible option.

At the presidential level, it's rare for a third-party candidate to get a significant number of votes and in many cases, if they do, it’s indicative of a split within the party which is often a sign of waning power by the party (e.g., George Wallace’s segregationist run for president in 1968 which presaged the re-alignment of Southern and blue-color white voters to the Republican party, largely on racial issues).

  • Canada and many European countries have more than two main political parties running. But both the Republican and the Democratic parties of the US are the political arms of the corporate class, a system that is more akin to a corporatocracy than a democracy, where big money controls the political arena. Citizens United ensured there would be no challenges to corporate rule in the US. Dec 10, 2020 at 1:01

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