The rise of third-party support in the 2016 U.S. election

By Andrew Seal, Sean Yoon, Kirthana Sasitharan, Seher Asaf, and Cathy Miyagi

This election marks the first time an independent candidate has the potential to win a state in 48 years.

U.S. voters are turning to third parties in part due to the unpopularity of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

  • Trump’s unfavourability rating is at 58 per cent (Real Clear Politics). Major concerns for voters include: racist and sexist rhetoric, foreign policy oversight, failure to disclose his tax returns.
  • Clinton’s unfavourability rating is at 55 per cent (Real Clear Politics). Major concerns for voters include: the Clinton Foundation scandal, email controversy, and her association with Bill Clinton.

How the third-party vote changed between 2012 and 2016

States to keep an eye on:

  • Utah – Despite only launching his campaign on Aug. 8, independent candidate Evan McMullin is polling only a few points behind Trump in this Republican stronghold state.
  • New Mexico – In the state where he served as governor, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson is projected to garner 15.8 per cent of the vote, his best in any state.
  • Alaska – Libertarians will likely exceed 10 per cent of the popular vote in the only state governed by an independent.

Why is it more difficult for third parties to get votes in the U.S. than in Canada?

  • Electoral College – To win a presidential election in the U.S., you need a nationwide majority of electoral college votes. Only the Republican and Democratic parties are realistically able to achieve this.
    • Canadian third parties do not need nationwide support to win seats and have influence in the House of Commons, where they have previously formed the Official Opposition.
  • Debate access – Third parties in the U.S. are challenged in getting media coverage as they must meet a 15 per cent national polling average requirement to participate in the presidential debates.
  • High costs – Compared to Canada, it is more expensive to run for public office in the U.S.
    • Trudeau’s expenditures in the last Canadian election: $43,118,967.
    • Clinton’s campaign expenditures as of Oct. 19: $450,565,633.
    • The largest U.S. third party, the Libertarians, have spent as of Oct. 19: $10,339,308.
  • Ballot access – It is expensive and difficult for third parties to get on every ballot in all 50 states in the U.S., whereas third parties in Canada do not face this challenge.

How third parties have performed in U.S. elections