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Is the Revolution Over? 3rd Party US House Candidacies Fall 22% from 2010

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There are 97 fewer third party and independent candidates on the general election ballots for the nation's 435 congressional district races this cycle compared to two years ago

libertarianparty10.jpgThe official candidate listings have been churned out in most states and while redistricting may have generated the early headlines in congressional races this year - with many incumbent-on-incumbent primary and general election matchups - there is another big development in U.S. House contests this November.

The 2010 cycle found the largest number of third party and independent candidates on the ballot in U.S. House races in any midterm election since 1934, with an average of more than one per contest and 443 in total.

A struggling economy and low congressional approval ratings spurred many alternative party candidates to put their hat in the ring and name on the ballot.

But even though economic uncertainty remains and the national debt and political disaffection with the major parties in D.C. have increased from two years ago, the number of non-major party candidates running for Congress in 2012 has decreased substantially.

So, is the revolution over?

A Smart Politics analysis finds there are 97 fewer third party and independent candidates on the general election ballot in U.S. House contests in 2012 (346) compared to 2010 (443), or a decrease of 21.9 percent from the previous cycle.

The decline in alternative party candidates has occurred across many states throughout the country.

There has been a decrease in the number of third party and independent candidates from 2010's numbers in 29 states, with an increase in 17 states, and the same number in the remaining four.

The state with the most noticeable decline is, of course, California, due entirely to the debut of its non-partisan primary system in which only the top two candidates move on to the general election.

This new electoral system has led to the disappearance of nearly all non-major party candidates at the general election phase, with just four independents making the ballot this year compared to 43 non-major party candidates in 2010.

Also experiencing a noticeable decline in alternative party candidates from the previous cycle are Tennessee (-15), Minnesota (-11), Michigan (-10), South Carolina (-9), Illinois (-8), Ohio (-8), Massachusetts (-7), and Virginia (-5).

The state with the largest uptick in third party candidates this year is Texas - from 36 in 2010 to 48 this cycle, with the bump mostly coming from a rise in Green Party candidates (rising from two in 2010 to 13 in 2012).

Other states experiencing an uptick in minor party candidates include New York (+5), New Jersey (+4), Arkansas (+4, doubling to eight), Oklahoma (+3, doubling to six), Colorado (+3), Kentucky (+3), Louisiana (+3), and Wyoming (+2, tripling to three).

Nine states will only have Democrats and Republicans on the ballot in their congressional races this cycle: Alabama, Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, Washington, and West Virginia.

In 2010, only five states failed to generate an alternative party or independent candidate: Alaska, Georgia, Maine, New Mexico, and North Dakota.

The 97-candidate decline in the number of minor party and independent candidates from 2010 to 2012 is the eighth largest cycle-to-cycle drop during the last 80 years behind 1938 (-236), 1994 (-184), 2002 (-178), 1978 (-165), 1998 (-129), 1942 (-125), and 1984 (-110).

Overall, however, the 346 third party and independent candidates on the ballot in 2012 still ranks far above the 80-year trend line, in which an average of just 247 such candidates have received ballot access across the last 41 cycles since 1932 (and 272 in presidential election years).

Third Party and Independent U.S. House Candidacies in Presidential vs. Midterm Election Cycles, 1932-2012

Cycle
# Candidates
Average
Presidential
5,713
272.0
Midterm
4,415
220.8
Note: Table compiled by Smart Politics.

The Libertarian Party, the third largest party in the nation, again leads the way with 133 candidates running in U.S. House contests this fall.

The party has a seen a modest drop of 14 percent for the number of its candidates on the general election ballot from two years ago when 155 received ballot access.

However, that drop off can largely be attributed to California, which had 21 Libertarian candidates on the fall ballot two years ago, but has largely seen the disappearance of all candidates from outside the two-party system on the general election ballot due to the state's new non-partisan primary system.

The party that has suffered a much greater loss in candidate recruitment and ballot access is the Constitution Party.

In 2010, 39 candidates ran under that party's moniker (including its predecessor, the U.S. Taxpayers' Party in Michigan).

This year, just 19 such candidates are on the general election ballot.

The biggest voids are found in Ohio, South Carolina, and Utah where 11 Constitution Party candidates ran for Congress in 2010 and none this year.

On the left side of the third party spectrum, the number of Green Party affiliated candidates is approximately even this cycle (56) compared to two years ago (58).

Looking back at the nearly 18,000 general election U.S. House races that have been conducted since 1932, finds New Jersey with the largest average number of third party candidates per contest at 1.67.

New Jersey will have 29 alternative party candidates on the ballot across its 12 congressional districts this cycle - third most in the nation behind Michigan (30) and the much more heavily populated state of Texas (48). (New Jersey also has the third largest average number of such candidates per contest at 2.42 per district behind only the at-large states of Vermont and Wyoming at 3.00).

Only five other states have averaged at least one non-major party candidate per race during this 80-year stretch: Vermont (1.59 per contest), Michigan (1.33), Delaware (1.27), Nevada (1.16), and Utah (1.07).

Rounding out the Top 10 are New York at #7 (0.87 per contest), Hawaii at #8 (0.83), Connecticut at #9 (0.82), and Colorado at #10 (0.74).

The states at the bottom of this list are all from the south.

Georgia has been the least friendly to third party candidates with just 20 appearing on the ballot in 434 U.S. House races since 1932, or 0.05 per contest.

Arkansas ranks #49 (0.09 per contest) followed by Florida at #48 (0.10), West Virginia at #47 (0.11), and Louisiana at #46 (0.15).

Third Party and Independent U.S. House Candidacies by State, 1932-2012

Rank
State
Total
Races
Per race
1
New Jersey
958
572
1.67
2
Vermont
65
41
1.59
3
Michigan
940
709
1.33
4
Delaware
52
41
1.27
5
Nevada
74
64
1.16
6
Utah
106
99
1.07
7
New York
1353
1562
0.87
8
Hawaii
44
53
0.83
9
Connecticut
196
240
0.82
10
Colorado
154
207
0.74
11
Tennessee
267
369
0.72
11
California
1137
1573
0.72
13
Arizona
115
164
0.70
14
Alaska
19
28
0.68
15
Oregon
112
175
0.64
16
Wisconsin
236
383
0.62
17
North Dakota
36
61
0.59
17
Missouri
251
428
0.59
19
New Hampshire
47
82
0.57
19
Minnesota
196
343
0.57
21
Iowa
154
274
0.56
22
Wyoming
22
41
0.54
23
Rhode Island
42
82
0.51
24
Indiana
217
434
0.50
24
Virginia
206
411
0.50
26
Montana
35
71
0.49
26
Pennsylvania
523
1078
0.49
28
Mississippi
96
224
0.43
28
Washington
130
305
0.43
30
South Carolina
103
247
0.42
31
Texas
422
1036
0.41
32
Alabama
129
322
0.40
32
Oklahoma
105
265
0.40
34
Kansas
84
214
0.39
35
Nebraska
55
143
0.38
36
Idaho
30
82
0.37
37
Kentucky
103
301
0.34
38
Massachusetts
162
499
0.32
39
New Mexico
28
93
0.30
40
Ohio
235
891
0.26
40
South Dakota
17
66
0.26
42
Maine
24
97
0.25
43
North Carolina
114
478
0.24
44
Maryland
70
303
0.23
45
Illinois
151
953
0.16
46
Louisiana
46
316
0.15
47
West Virginia
21
188
0.11
48
Florida
61
592
0.10
49
Arkansas
19
204
0.09
50
Georgia
20
434
0.05
 
Total
9,782
17,838
0.55
Note: Table compiled by Smart Politics. Historical data culled from the Office of the Clerk of U.S. House of Representatives. 2012 data culled from each state's respective governing elections office or administrative body.

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