America Asks About Politics

How did the third party candidates do in the election?

Nader hoped to get 5% of the vote and hence qualify for federal matching funds in 2004; he failed. Buchanan also did not live up to expectations, but that was unsurprising after the split in the Reform Party with John Hagelin. Browne and Phillips did better than expected.
Third Party candidatesPartyPercentVote countNumber of state ballots
Ralph NaderGreen Party2.7%(2,800,000 votes)44 states
Pat BuchananReform Party0.4%(450,000 votes)49 states
Harry BrowneLibertarian Party0.4%(390,000 votes)50 states
Howard PhillipsConstitution Party0.1%(101,000 votes)41 states
John HagelinNatural Law Party0.1%(83,000 votes)38 states

Was Nader the "spoiler"?

Not really. The only state where he succeeded as a "spoiler" was New Hampshire, where Nader got 4% of the vote and Bush won 48% to 47%. A "spoiler" implies that all of Nader's votes would have gone to Gore, and that those votes would have made a difference - Nader never got close enough in any other states that Gore lost (details by state below).

Buchanan acted as more of a "spoiler" than Nader - assuming all of Buchanan's votes would have gone to Bush, Buchanan "spoiled" both Iowa (Bush 28%, Gore 49%, Nader 2%, Buchanan 1%) and the sharply contested state of Wisconsin (Bush 47.7%, Gore 47.9%, Nader 3.6%, Buchanan 0.4%). Nationwide, Buchanan could be considered the "spoiler" for why Bush lost the popular vote to Gore: Had Buchanan's overall 0.4% been given to Bush, he would have beaten Gore in the popular vote.

Perhaps more significantly, Harry Browne, the Libertarian candidate, succeeded in achieving the title of "spoiler" in two highly contested states, New Mexico and Oregon, in both of which Bush considered demanding a recount. In both those states, Browne beat Buchanan, and Browne's vote count was greater than Bush's deficit below Gore. (Although in Browne's case, it is not likely at all that his votes would have all gone to Bush).

Every third party candidate on the ballot in Florida would have made the difference there, of course, since Gore and Bush were separated by under 1,000 votes. So Nader was no more the spoiler there than Buchanan was.

What are the third parties' prospects?

The prospects for the Green Party look good - but not as good as if they had gotten 5% of the vote and the $7 million that would have resulted. Nader came in a solid 3rd place in every state in which he was on the ballot (only 44 States). The Green Party could field candidates in House races in 2002 who will be viewed as serious contenders by the press.

The prospects for the Reform Party look bad. Their contentious convention, where Buchanan and Hagelin split the party into two competing halves, doomed both candidates. Buchanan barely beat Libertarian candidate Harry Browne overall, and Hagelin (Ross Perot's candidate of choice) lost to Constitution Party candidate Howard Phillips overall. The Reform Party has name recognition (Buchanan), money (Ross Perot), and political power (Jesse Ventura, governor of Minnesota), but those three men could not agree to create a party. In fact, they differ so much right now that they claim membership in THREE parties, not just two. Any hope for a future Reform Party lies with those three men getting together.

For the rest of the candidates, let's define "also-ran" as "the candidate who came in fourth after Nader, or who came in third if Nader was absent from the state." Buchanan was expected to be the first "also-ran" in every state - but in fact he succeeded in only 31. Harry Browne was the first "also-ran" in 18 states, and Howard Phillips in 2 (the total of 51 includes DC).

The prospects for the Libertarian Party look pretty good. Harry Browne beat Pat Buchanan in 16 states (not including two states where Browne was the first "also-ran" because Buchanan was not on the ballot). Those states where Browne beat Buchanan head-to-head include California, Texas, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Virginia - large states which can now be considered libertarian-leaning. And Browne showed in a clean 3rd place, in two states, Georgia and North Carolina (where Nader was not on the ballot). Perhaps most ironically, Browne beat Buchanan in New Hampshire, where Buchanan beat George Bush Sr. in the Republican primary in 1992.

The prospects for the Constitution Party also look pretty good. Howard Phillips was the first "also-ran" in two states (Connecticut and Mississippi), beating Buchanan (and Browne) in both states. Phillips only garnered 1/10th of 1% of the vote overall, but that was better than expected. Presumably we will hear from him again in 2004.

The prospects for the Natural Law Party, and especially for John Hagelin, look very bad. He and his party got entangled in the Reform Party debacle, and will suffer as a result. Hagelin's future, and his party's, depend on the Reform Party, and they are more disorganized than ever.

Return to list of FAQs