US election word of the week: third-party candidate

Posted by on August 17, 2016

 © PhotoDiscIn this series we are looking at some of the language and terminology associated with the US electoral process in the run-up to the Presidential election in late 2016. This week’s term is third-party candidate.

American politics is dominated by the two behemoths, the Democrats and the Republicans, with other parties garnering very little support at elections. There are a large number of these parties, from the relatively high profile Green and Libertarian parties to tiny parties limited to single issues or individual states.

The other option for those with political aspirations who don’t feel at home in either of the main parties is to stand as an Independent. Bernie Sanders, the senator for Vermont who gave Hillary Clinton a run for her money, is one of two Independents in the Senate. The fact that the electoral system is stacked against any candidate who does not belong to one of the two main parties makes it unlikely that any of them will follow the first President of the United States, George Washington, who served his two terms as an Independent.

The last third-party candidate to have a significant impact was Texan businessman Ross Perot, who in 1992 took votes from Republican incumbent George HW Bush, helping Bill Clinton to victory. Consumer champion Ralph Nader, standing for the Greens, took less than 3% of the vote in 2000. Green candidate Jill Stein is one of three in the current election who have managed to achieve a certain degree of public recognition, the other two being Libertarian Gary Johnson and former Republican Evan McMullin, who is running as an Independent. In this volatile election it is just possible that one of these may affect the outcome by taking a significant chunk of votes from one of the main contenders.

Look out for the next post in this series. You can find past posts on the language of American politics here and here, or search for other posts in this series using the tag US politics.

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