Are Third-Party Candidates for President Possible in 2016?

Could there be four candidates for president on your ballot in November, 2016? It has been more than 20 years since Ross Perot ran as an independent candidate in 1992, and even longer since John Anderson challenged Ronald Reagan, but Atlanta lawyer and Republican National Committeeman Randy Evans floats the possibility of a four way race in a recent opinion piece he wrote for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

His choices for third party candidates are Bernie Sanders on the left, and Rand Paul on the right.

In the Democratic Party, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders challenges the Democratic nomination frontrunner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Notably, although elected as an Independent, Senator Sanders caucuses in the U.S. Senate with the Democrats and is running for the Democratic nomination for president.

Senator Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist. Previously, he was a member of the Liberty Union Party. But the most significant fact about him is his ability to rely on a steady number of similarly politically situated Americans. In the race for the Democratic nomination, his polling numbers are consistently high enough to make a difference.

In the Republican Party, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul challenges a Republican nomination field which has no clear frontrunner. Although elected as a Republican, Senator Paul is often also identified with the Libertarian Party — standing strong on issues like the Patriot Act that put him at odds with mainstream Republicans.

And so, an interesting possibility emerges. What if Senator Sanders decides to nonetheless seek the presidency as the nominee for the Liberty Union Party and Senator Paul decides to seek the presidency as the nominee of the Libertarian Party? Such a combination could capture a sizable share of the votes cast in the general election.

According to Evans, third party candidacies are more likely in 2016 than in other presidential years because of a combination of factionalism and increased visibility via social media and the Internet. Indeed, on the left, we’ve seen Sanders supporters pushing a very progressive agenda that can make presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton look like a centrist. On the right, we’ve heard threats by conservatives to sit out the presidential election if an establishment or moderate candidate ends up being the GOP nominee.

Is Evans’s theory possible? And if we did end up with four candidates as he postulates, who would be most likely to emerge the winner on November 9th, 2016?


  1. xdog says:

    One big difference is the libertarians are a national party, albeit without much electoral success, and the LU party is Vermont specific, where they’ve had their ups and downs.

    Both Rand and Sanders will have to scrap for dollars to get through the primaries. I don’t see either making it very far. Probably not as far as Gingrich or Cain in 2012, since they aren’t in it for the money.

  2. gcp says:

    I could easily see Sanders going third party but Paul is not a libertarian. If your main issues are phone numbers, droning and mass incarceration you are more “liberalatarian” rather than ” libertarian”.

    And where does he stand on military spending? Still can’t figure that one out. Paul’s absence of talk on fiscal issues is disappointing. His campaign is stagnant and will likely remain stagnant.

      • Baker says:

        It could go either way I feel like. I’m beginning to think Sanders will really do well in Iowa and New Hampshire. They’re both small and some committed fringies can have big impact there which isn’t possible in other states. After they go, Sanders will really be exposed for a socialist nut (I like the guy actually and appreciate that he’s honest, like my guy Kucinich who I really liked, but they’re both nuts) and the country will reel back and settle on Hillary as the adult in the room. If Republicans fart around with Trump and Huckabee for too long and taint the other candidates with whiffs of clown car gas, Hillary wins somewhat handily as the Electoral Map of Doom for Republicans only gets worse.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        Interesting perspective—we’ll have to see how it plays out. Are you suggesting that that is more the reason Sanders’ choose to run, or will it more be a result of his running?

    • gcp says:

      Hilly is not worried about Sanders in a primary; she does worry about him as a third party. Much as Perot did to Bush in ’92, Sanders could the same to her in 2016, although on a lesser scale. Her strategy is to ignore him and hope he just goes away.

  3. With Obama sitting at close to 50% approval nationally in what is a much more polarized/hardened partisan electorate than 1992, I really don’t see the opening for someone on the left. Even in 1992, Clinton’s 370 votes probably worst case scenario go down to around 330 without Ross Perot (Bush probably carries Ga and a few other small states, but Clinton maybe carries Florida which almost cancels it all out).

    The Republicans however have amped up expectations so high for a candidate in the primary (they’ll need to have a ridiculously out of the mainstream opinion about what to do about Obamacare, for example) that it should be a lot easier for a prominent right leaning third party candidate like Rand Paul to cleave enough votes to make a Republican general election win basically impossible.

    I have a hard time believing Paul would actually do that, as I think he’s playing a long game and wouldn’t want to destroy his chances of being the nominee in 2020. Someone like him could basically have a Reagan in 1976 style effect on the election, but I doubt he’d go third party.

    Perot clearly appealed to both Northern liberal Republicans who hadn’t realized they were really Democrats and Southern conservative Democrats who hadn’t realized they were really Republican. The only demographic group I can really think of who don’t have a home are upper middle class social liberals who aren’t really on board with liberal economic policies, but they have major problems with Republican social positions and there just aren’t that many of them who actually vote.

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