As we get closer to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, the general public of the United States faces an excruciating choice. As things stand right now, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are cruising toward victory in their respective parties’ primaries. And the public opinion about them is, well, bad.
According to CNN, both the Democratic and Republican frontrunners have net negative ratings in double digits. While Trump has a net negative of -33 percent (with 24 percent favorable and 57 percent unfavorable), Clinton has a score of -21 percent (31 percent favorable and 52 percent unfavorable). The ratings are by far worse than those of the 2012 and 2008 candidates. The previous highest unfavorable rating was of President Bill Clinton in 1992, with the net rating being -17 percent.
Basically, for the majority of Americans, this situation feels like being trapped between the Devil and the deep blue sea. This is where the option of voting for a third party comes in.
Historically, the American voting system has remained bipartisan. Third party candidates rarely do well and when they do, they rarely even pass double digits in voting percentage. Strom Thurmond, George Wallace, John B. Anderson, Ross Perot and Ralph Nader are some of the names who did well as third party candidates in recent history.
Thurmond, a senator from South Carolina, was a staunch segregationist who rebelled against President Harry Truman’s decision to instill Civil Rights in the army and formed his own party named the States’ Rights Democratic Party. Thurmond was supported by all 11 Democratic Governors from Deep South and fought the 1948 election as a third party candidate. He came third in the race to the incumbent President Truman and the Republican candidate Thomas Dewey. Thurmond managed to win Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi and Louisiana and got about 3 percent of the vote.
Wallace was strikingly similar to Thurmond. He had gained notoriety in 1963 for trying to stop the enrollment of two black students in the University of Alabama, despite orders from President John F. Kennedy. Wallace went to the 1968 elections on a segregationist platform, with a majority of his stances echoing those of Thurmond. Wallace carried five states in the Deep South and won over nine million votes. Thus Wallace, a former Democrat, helped Richard Nixon to defeat Hubert Humphrey in the election, as the margin between the two was less than a million votes.
Anderson was a moderate Republican who, after finishing third to conservatives Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush in the primaries, decided to run as an independent candidate. Despite having high-profile endorsements from author Gore Vidal and former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Anderson received only 6.6 percent of the votes, which was far less than the 22 percent that was expected at the start of his campaign.
Perot is a Texan businessman who ran as an American Independent Party candidate in 1992 and as a Reform Party candidate in 1996. Perot’s campaigns were mainly focused on anti-establishment rhetoric and financial reform. In 1992, he got over 19 million votes and is still the most successful third party candidate in post-war American history. Buoyed by this, Perot ran again in 1996, but his informal speech style and behavior in debates lost him a lot of voters. In the end, Perot received 8 percent of the vote, which was about 10 million votes less than what he had received four years earlier.
Nader, an activist, ran as a candidate for the Green Party in 2000. An environmentalist, Nader was seen as a redundant candidate, as the Democrats had nominated Vice President Al Gore, an outspoken environmentalist, as their candidate. Nader eventually got over 2.5 million votes or 2.7 percent. Democrats accused Nader for spoiling the election as Gore lost narrowly to George W. Bush on electoral votes. Nader himself vehemently denies the claim.
After looking at all these third party candidates, we come back to the present.Even if independent voters prefer Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Bernie Sanders, they have an arduous and unlikely chance of getting the nomination. It’s also difficult to see staunch, establishment Republican voters supporting Donald Trump, just like it is almost impossible that the vociferous Sanders supporters will ever consider voting for Clinton.
Here’s where the third party candidates come in:
For Republicans, there’s the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. Johnson is the favorite to win the Libertarian nomination, and a lot of Republican voters will be overjoyed. Johnson, a former Republican, was a two-time governor of New Mexico. He’s a firm believer of small government and has faith in laissez-faire policies. On the other hand, his belief in individual liberty puts him at odds with the establishment. His pro-weed and pro-choice stances have made him a darling among some Sanders supporters, who are seriously considering voting for him in the election.
Johnson’s own persona is quite goofy and affable, which makes him popular among younger voters. And he just loves to talk about his conquest of Everest. He’s like an outsider (which is the flavor of this election season) with experience. Johnson ran as a candidate in 2012 and got over 1.2 million votes. That was the best result in the history of the Libertarian Party. With the popularity of both Clinton and Trump being much lower than that of Obama and Romney, Johnson will be hoping that he manages to challenge for the top spot this time.
For the progressives, there’s Jill Stein. A physician and a staunch environmentalist, Stein will be the Green Party candidate. Last time around, she got around 400,000 votes, making her the most successful female candidate. She has campaigned hard against the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that Clinton once supported. A lot of Sanders supporters might go for Stein if Sanders doesn’t get the nomination. The major disadvantage Stein faces is that she has lost both of her major elections. She is able to call her campaign a success because she got over a million votes.
So while the Democratic and Republican candidates fight it out, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein will be quietly hoping that things remain as they are. And who knows? In this crazy election cycle, U.S. might get its first third party president in recent history.
Varun Gajendragadkar is the author of the Opinionated Moderate blog.
CORRECTION: The original version of this article said that Gary Johnson was the governor of Arizona and that he garnered 2 million votes in 2012. This information has since been corrected.