Third-party candidates: Worthy of respect and impossible to elect

Tea partiers came roaring out of the gate last spring determined to shake up the political system. In Colorado, tea party groups invited candidates of all stripes and affiliations and non-affiliations to forums. Yet tea partiers now appear to be settling on the most mainstream of GOP candidates– lawyer-career politician types like six-term congressman Scott McInnis, state lawmaker Cory Gardner and, perhaps, lobbyist-career politician Jane Norton. The candidacy of tea party regular guy Dean Madere, who is running against Gardner in the Fourth District, has sputtered. Turns out, tea partiers, like many Americans, love the idea of ending the unsatisfying two-party system but hate the idea of tossing away their votes on third-party candidates.

As the National Institute on Money in State Politics points out, despite the fact that a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found 31 percent of citizens think the two-party system is broken, only 2 percent of third-party candidates have won races in the last decade. As failed independent presidential candidate Ross Perot might say: “That’s just sad.”

No third-party candidates fare well but Libertarian and Green Party candidates have been the least successful in the last decade.

For a report published Tuesday titled “Third-Party Candidates Face Long Odds,” Money in State Politics authors looked at 6,181 third-party candidates who ran for state offices from 2000 to 2009:

Dean Madere

About 100 political parties fielded more than 6,000 candidates to run for state offices, representing 8 percent of the total candidates… Those who identified themselves as members of the Independent and Progressive Parties were most successful at the polls, while Libertarian and Green Party candidates were the least successful. Third-party candidates fared the best in Vermont, where 14 percent of the 236 third-party candidates who sought office were successful. They fared worst in California, where not one of the 392 third-party candidates won.

Third-party candidates also didn’t accrue the traditional advantages that benefit Republican and Democratic candidates. Only 23 percent of the third-party candidates who were the top fundraisers in their race were successful—far below the 82 percent win-rate for top fundraisers from the two major parties. The benefits of incumbency were also muted for third-party candidates: only 54 percent of incumbent third-party candidates were re-elected, compared to the 92 percent success rate of major party candidates.

Who is John Galt? He’s a libertarian with a small L who votes for Republicans and Democrats.

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