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Third party

In the context of the United States' political system, a third party is any political party other than the two current leading parties, which since the time of the American Civil War have always been the Democratic and the Republican parties.

Though often able to win election to local or state office, third parties rarely win more than a tiny percentage of the vote in national elections. One reason for this is that third parties usually come into being to promote a specific issue, one which either or both of the major parties eventually end up co-opting. Two other reasons are structural: In the United States' "winner take all" electoral system, a party must win a plurality of votes in order to take a Congressional seat or win a state's electoral votes in the Presidential election. This is in contrast to the parliamentary election systems of other countries, where seats are apportioned based on a party's share of the overall vote. Also, many states use ballot access laws to keep third parties off the ballot or force them to spend all their resources just to get on the ballot.

The last third party to win electoral votes in a Presidential election was the Dixiecrat Party in 1948. The last third party candidate to win a signficant portion of the popular vote was the Reform Party's Ross Perot, who won 18.87% of the vote in the 1992 Presidential election.



Abraham Lincoln is elected president, causing the formerly third party Republicans to supplant the Whigs as one of the nation's two major parties.


Strom Thurmond runs on the segregationist Dixiecrat Party ticket in the Presidential election, splitting the Democratic vote and winning 39 (all Southern) votes in the electoral college. Despite this Truman still defeats Dewey.


Ross Perot wins almost 19% of the popular vote (though no electoral votes), causing Bill Clinton to win the Presidential election with only a 43% plurality of votes.


In the 2000 Presidential election, George W. Bush wins the deciding state of Florida with less than 600 votes. Some Democrats accuse Green Party candidate Ralph Nader of having cost them the election, and in discussion of strategies for the U.S. presidential election, 2004 both parties weigh the costs to the Democrats of another Green presidential run.

Current U.S. Third Parties

Various other minor parties are given in the list of political parties in the United States.