When the Republican Party's candidate, Abraham Lincoln, won the presidency in 1860, his was a minor party. Now, of course, it's one of our two main parties. But there are and have been many "third parties". Anti-Masons, Free-Soilers, Know-Nothings, Prohibitionists, Populists, Socialists, Communists, States' Righters and Libertarians-- they've all nominated candidates for president in the past.
America currently have five nationally organised third parties; Reform, Libertarian, Green, Constitution (formerly the US Taxpayers), and Natural Law. Each of these five parties has received 100,000 votes or more for at least one of its candidates in the
past 20years. Technically, there's nothing to stop a third party from becoming a major party, and with this hope, third parties put up candidates for the presidency.
History shows third parties have had-- and continue to have-- significant effects on the political system, even when their candidates don't win elections. Mainstream politicians worry third party candidates will drain votes from major party candidates and alter the outcome of elections.
So they listen to, bargain with and sometimes even fear third parties.
Third parties have often succeeded in bringing specific issues into the public spotlight. For example, slavery, income taxes, prohibition, the national debt and term limits have all been championed by third parties.
These parties have also been a crucial factor in a number of elections. In 1856 the Republicans, then a minor party, got one-third of the popular vote and 11 states; four years later, they elected Abraham Lincoln. When Theodore Roosevelt ran in 1912 as the Bull Moose Party's candidate, he got 88 electoral votes and took enough votes from William Taft so that he lost to Woodrow Wilson. George Wallace in 1968, John Anderson in 1980 and Ross Perot in 1992 and '96 all won a significant share of the...