Third Party Candidates
The institutional characteristics of the U.S. party system place enormous obstacles to the emergence of successful third party or independent candidates. As a result, our primary focus in this study has been on support for major party presidential candidates. However, and in spite of their extremely low probability of success, third party candidacies are a periodic feature of U.S. presidential elections. The two most recent presidential elections ( 1992 and 1996) have seen H. Ross Perot receive a significant share (19% and 9%, respectively) of the popular vote. It is thus likely that significant third party candidates will appear in some future elections.
In this chapter, then, we consider the interrelationship between social cleavages and support for third party candidates. More specifically, we examine the candidacies of George Wallace ( 1968) and Ross Perot ( 1992 and 1996). These represent the three most successful third party efforts in the postwar era. (The only other independent campaign of note in this period was the 1980 bid of John Anderson, but Anderson received just 6.5% of the popular vote.) The 1992 and 1996 elections also provide us with a unique opportunity to observe changes in the social bases of support for an independent candidate ( Perot) over two different elections. Since 1840, virtually all third party candidates or minor parties before Perot won significant votes in only one election given that they were unable to mobilize significant support a second time 1.
The institutional barriers faced by third party presidential candidates are well-known and require only brief explication. Indeed, the more interesting question is why third party candidates 2 sometimes perform as well as they do in the face of these obstacles. The 'wasted vote' problem plagues all such campaigns, especially campaigns that start