Third-party candidates who have derailed past presidential campaigns

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Former Presidential candidates Ross Perot, Jill Stein, and Ralph Nader AP/Richard Drew/Tae-Gyun Kim/Jim Cole

Third-party candidates who have derailed past presidential campaigns

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The presidency is typically won by either the Democratic Party or Republican Party nominee, but third-party candidates running can sometimes take away enough votes from one of those candidates to be a spoiler.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West are both reportedly causing concern for some major party campaigns, as third-party runs may hurt major party candidates in a close 2024 election. Here is a look at times when third-party candidates have been blamed for hurting the campaigns of major party candidates.


1992: Ross Perot (Independent)

Then-President George H.W. Bush’s 1992 reelection campaign went down in defeat to then-Gov. Bill Clinton thanks in part to independent presidential candidate Ross Perot’s strong third-party run in the general election.

Perot ran his campaign on small government, balancing the budget, and disaffection regarding the two main political parties. The Texas billionaire is believed to have taken more votes away from Bush than Clinton, causing several states to have odd three-way divides.

Although Perot did not receive any electoral votes, he came closest in Maine, where he finished second behind Clinton, 38.8%-30.4%. In the national popular vote, Perot received more than 19.7 million votes compared to Clinton’s 44.9 million and Bush’s 39.1 million.

2000: Ralph Nader (Green Party)

Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader was blamed by some for then-Vice President Al Gore’s loss to then-Gov. George W. Bush (R-TX) in the state of Florida in 2000. Gore lost to Bush by just over 500 votes, and Nader received more than 97,000 votes in the Sunshine State. With the victory in Florida, Bush won the presidency.

Many Democrats, including now-President Joe Biden, blamed Nader for allowing Bush to win the state and the presidency.

“Ralph Nader is not going to be welcome anywhere near the corridors. Nader cost us the election,” Biden told the New York Times in 2000.

2016: Jill Stein (Green Party)

High unpopularity among the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees in 2016 saw the emergence of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein as alternatives to Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, respectively. While Johnson is believed to have taken away some votes from Trump, some blamed Stein for taking enough voters away from Clinton for her to lose.


Clinton, herself, partially blames Stein for her narrow loss to Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

“There were more than enough Stein voters to swing the result, just like Ralph Nader did in Florida and New Hampshire in 2000,” Clinton wrote in her 2017 book What Happened.

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