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Third Party U.S. House Candidates Spike to Largest Midterm Election Mark Since 1934

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With an average of more than one candidate per district, it has been over 75 years since this many independent and third party U.S. House candidates appeared on midterm general election ballots

With most analysts projecting GOP gains in the U.S. House around 50 or more seats, comparisons continue between the 2010 election and the Republican Revolution of 1994.

And comparisons between the two cycles should be made. Both were midterm election years in which Republicans responded to a Democratic takeover of the presidency with large gains - taking back the House in 1994, and poised to do so again next Tuesday.

However, there is at least one big difference between the U.S. House contests of 1994 and 2010 that has largely gone unnoticed.

While self-identified Republicans may enjoy an enthusiasm gap over Democrats, another defining moment of the 2010 election cycle is the large uptick in third party candidacies.

A Smart Politics analysis of more than 17,000 general election U.S. House contests since 1932 finds there are more third party and independent candidacies in the 2010 election cycle than in any midterm election since 1934.

In total, there are 443 such candidates on ballots across the nation, up 42.4 percent from 2008 and 56.5 percent from the last midterm election in 2006.

In 1994, only 260 independents and third party candidates ran for the U.S. House.

That means there is a 70.4 percent increase in the number of alternatives from which voters may choose the candidate that best represents their policy preferences (or expresses their anger and dissatisfaction with the political process) as compared to 1994.

With an average of slightly more than one third party or independent candidate per U.S. House district, this November will see the largest number of non-major party candidates in a midterm election in 76 years, when 513 such candidates appeared on the ballot during the Election of 1934.

During that cycle, Socialist, Communist, and Prohibition Party candidates populated the ballot.

In 2010, the Libertarian Party leads the way with 153 candidates across the nation, or 35.2 percent of all U.S. House seats (1 candidate for every 2.8 districts).

In 2008, Libertarians fielded 125 candidates, for an increase of 22.4 percent this year.

The Green Party has fielded the second most candidates in 2010 with 58, followed by the Constitution Party with 39.

Independent, unaffiliated, non-partisan candidates, or those nominated by petition tally 108.

(Note: This analysis does not include the more than 50 officially registered write-in candidacies that have been launched this cycle).

The surge in the number of prominent third party candidacies has already been observed at the top of the ticket in gubernatorial contests, with at least one positioned to be victorious next Tuesday in Rhode Island's independent candidate Lincoln Chafee.

This surge has also taken root among candidates bidding for federal offices, with the number of third party candidacies for the U.S. House in 2010 up 56.6 percent from 2006, and eclipsing 400 candidates for only the second time in a midterm election since the Great Depression.

The previous high water mark for third parties in a midterm cycle since then was 1998, when 398 candidates were on the general election ballot.

Third Party and Independent U.S. House Candidacies by Election Cycle, 1932-2010

Midterm
Total
 
Presidential
Total
2010
443
 
2008
311
2006
283
 
2004
317
2002
381
 
2000
559
1998
398
 
1996
527
1994
260
 
1992
444
1990
161
 
1988
186
1986
154
 
1984
183
1982
293
 
1980
264
1978
172
 
1976
337
1974
248
 
1972
188
1970
175
 
1968
182
1966
87
 
1964
66
1962
48
 
1960
87
1958
82
 
1956
52
1954
79
 
1952
151
1950
149
 
1948
212
1946
129
 
1944
132
1942
117
 
1940
242
1938
243
 
1936
479
1934
513
 
1932
448
Average
220.8
 
Average
268.4
Note: Table compiled by Smart Politics. Historical data culled from the Office of the Clerk of U.S. House of Representatives. 2010 data culled from each state's respective governing elections office or administrative body.

When presidential election cycles are included in the analysis, 2010 ranks as having the seventh most third party and independent U.S. House candidates since 1932, behind the presidential election years of 2000 (559 candidates), 1996 (527), 1936 (479), 1932 (448), and 1992 (444), and the midterm election of 1934 (513).

Just as there is much greater voter interest and turnout during presidential election years, so too has there generally been a historical boost in the number of third party candidates.

There have been 5,367 third party and independent U.S. House candidates across the 20 presidential election cycles since 1932, or 268.4 candidates per cycle. In midterm elections, those numbers fall to 4,415 candidacies and 220.8 per cycle, or approximately 48 fewer candidates per cycle.

That is what makes the vibrant third party presence down the ballot in U.S. House races across the country so remarkable this year - the 2010 tally of 443 candidates is more than twice the 20-cycle midterm election average over the past 75 years.

Third Party and Independent U.S. House Candidacies in Presidential vs. Midterm Election Cycles, 1932-2010

Election type
# Candidates
Per cycle
Presidential
5,367
268.4
Midterm
4,415
220.8
Note: Table compiled by Smart Politics.

Overall, there has been a renaissance in candidacies outside the two-party system over the last two decades that has not been seen since the political upheaval during the Great Depression era.

From 1992 through 2000, there were 2,188 third party and independent U.S. House candidates - the most for any redistricting cycle since at least the 1930s, when 1,925 appeared on the ballot from 1932 through 1940.

The current redistricting period, 2002 through 2010, has been witness to the third largest number of third party and independent candidacies, with 1,735.

Third Party and Independent U.S. House Candidacies by Redistricting Period

Decade
# Candidates
Per cycle
1932-1940
1,925
385.0
1942-1950
739
147.8
1952-1960
451
90.2
1962-1970
558
111.6
1972-1980
1,209
241.8
1982-1990
977
195.4
1992-2000
2,188
437.6
2002-2010
1,735
347.0
Note: Table compiled by Smart Politics.

Third Parties in the States

While the rules by which non-major party candidates can gain ballot access vary greatly from state-to-state, third parties and independent candidacies have built up a particularly rich tradition in U.S. House elections in a handful of states.

Historically, six states have averaged more than one candidate per U.S. House district contest over the 40 election cycles conducted since 1932: New Jersey, Vermont, Michigan, Delaware, Nevada, and Utah.

New Jersey leads the way with 1.71 candidates per race - or 958 candidates across 560 U.S. House contests since 1932. That is more than three times the national average of 0.56 such candidates per House election.

The Garden State has 25 independent and third party candidates on the ballot for its 13 U.S. House seats this year including candidates running under the "Action No Talk," "Defend American Constitution," and "Gravity Buoyancy Solution" banners.

Next comes Vermont, which has averaged 1.63 candidates for its 40 at-large general election matchups that have been held since 1932. Vermont has one Socialist and one independent hopeful running for its lone House seat on Tuesday.

The third most fertile state for third parties is Michigan at 1.35 candidates per U.S. House contests conducted over the last 76 years. Coming in with 40 candidates running outside the two-party system in 2010, only California (43) has more third party and independents on the ballot in House races this November.

This is a particularly impressive feat for the Wolverine State, considering it ranks only seventh in the nation with its 15 congressional districts. The Libertarian Party is running a candidate in each district in Michigan this year (as it did in 2008), with 11 candidates from the Green party and nine from the U.S. Taxpayers (Constitution) Party.

Delaware (1.30), Nevada (1.23), and Utah (1.12) are the other three states averaging more than one candidate per U.S. House race since the Great Depression.

Rounding out the Top 10 are New York (0.88), Hawaii (0.86), Connecticut (0.83), and Colorado (0.77).

Third Party and Independent U.S. House Candidacies by State, 1932-2010

Rank
State
#
Races
Per race
1
New Jersey
958
560
1.71
2
Vermont
65
40
1.63
3
Michigan
940
695
1.35
4
Delaware
52
40
1.30
5
Nevada
74
60
1.23
6
Utah
106
95
1.12
7
New York
1,353
1,535
0.88
8
Hawaii
44
51
0.86
9
Connecticut
196
235
0.83
10
Colorado
154
200
0.77
11
California
1,137
1,520
0.75
12
Tennessee
267
360
0.74
12
Arizona
114
155
0.74
14
Alaska
19
27
0.70
15
Oregon
112
170
0.66
16
Wisconsin
236
375
0.63
17
North Dakota
36
60
0.60
17
Missouri
251
420
0.60
19
New Hampshire
47
80
0.59
19
Minnesota
196
335
0.59
21
Iowa
154
270
0.57
22
Wyoming
22
40
0.55
23
Rhode Island
42
80
0.53
24
Virginia
206
400
0.52
25
Indiana
218
425
0.51
26
Montana
35
70
0.50
27
Pennsylvania
523
1,060
0.49
28
Washington
130
295
0.44
28
Mississippi
96
220
0.44
30
South Carolina
103
240
0.43
31
Texas
422
1,000
0.42
32
Alabama
129
315
0.41
33
Oklahoma
105
260
0.40
33
Kansas
84
210
0.40
35
Nebraska
55
140
0.39
36
Idaho
30
80
0.38
37
Kentucky
103
295
0.35
38
Massachusetts
162
490
0.33
39
New Mexico
28
90
0.31
40
Ohio
235
875
0.27
41
South Dakota
17
65
0.26
42
Maine
24
95
0.25
42
North Carolina
114
465
0.25
44
Maryland
70
295
0.24
45
Illinois
151
935
0.16
46
Louisiana
46
310
0.15
47
West Virginia
21
185
0.11
47
Florida
61
565
0.11
49
Arkansas
19
200
0.10
50
Georgia
20
420
0.05
 
Total
9,782
17,403
0.56
Note: Table compiled by Smart Politics. Historical data culled from the Office of the Clerk of U.S. House of Representatives. 2010 data culled from each state's respective governing elections office or administrative body.

The states in which third parties have faced the most difficulties in either gaining ballot access or attracting a following and fielding candidates (or both) are all located in the South, where the Democratic Party dominated at the ballot box for decades.

Georgia has had the lowest rate of non-Democrats and Republicans on the ballot, at just 20 such candidates out of 420 contests conducted since 1932, or 0.05 per race.

Ranked #49 is Arkansas at 0.10 candidates, followed by Florida and West Virginia at #47 with 0.11 and Louisiana at #46 with 0.15.

In 2010, all but five states have at least one non-major party U.S. House candidate on the ballot - all but Alaska, Georgia, Maine, New Mexico, and North Dakota.

Third Party Impact on 2010 U.S. House Races

And what will be the impact of this surge in third party candidates on U.S. House races next Tuesday?

Political observers will quickly remember how the strong third party showing of Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in the special election for New York's 23rd CD in 2009 helped to elect Democrat Bill Owens (while the candidacy of Republican Dede Scozzafava imploded) on a day in which the GOP took back the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey.

While it is unlikely November 2nd will see third party candidates approach the 40 percent mark as Hoffman did in NY-23, it is worth noting that the majority of third party candidates in 2010 identify with the more conservative wing of the ideological spectrum - Libertarians, Constitutionalists etc.

In short, in an election cycle in which many competitive Democratic-held districts are ripe for the picking, Republicans stand the least to gain by the strong presence of all these conservative-leaning third party candidates.

With alternatives available at the ballot box in many congressional districts for those moderate to conservative voters who are disenchanted with the GOP as well as the Democratic Party, the percentage of the vote received by third party candidates will likely be more than the margin of victory in several races this election cycle.

One thing to watch on election night and beyond: if third parties, particularly the Libertarians, can secure five percent or more of the vote in many U.S. House districts on Tuesday, look for even more momentum as the 'revolution' continues into 2012.

And one more thing: aren't you a little bit curious as to how many votes former Democratic congressman and convicted felon Jim Traficant will receive as he tries to reclaim his 17th CD seat as an independent candidate?

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2 Comments


  • The comparison with the last time this many alternative party candidates ran for office, in 1934, is definitely cause for hope and optimism.

    At that time, the leading alternatives were Communists, Socialists, and Prohibitionists -- all parties with highly statist philosophies.

    Today the leading alternative party is the Libertarian Party -- a party whose philosophy is just the opposite, being about maximizing freedom rather than increasing government control. The next largest alternative parties, the Green Party and Constitution Party, are also more libertarian than their 1934 counterparts.

    So even though it may sometimes seem like things are getting worse and worse, there is some indication that more and more of the public in the U.S. are looking in the direction of freedom.

  • Hey Eric, great little blog post about an important topic. As a NJ resident I was surprised that Jersey lead the way with 1.71 candidates per race

    "That is more than three times the national average of 0.56 such candidates per House election."...wow

    thanks for the data, hope to have similar figures for the 2012 election

  • Leave a comment


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