Third-party presidential election candidates as your research topic

For your political science class, consider writing a term paper on independent and third-party candidates who run in the presidential election. Third parties usually don’t win, but they influence the policy debate in the country.

Find out more about third-party candidates here. (Credit: Bruce Plante)

Find out more about third-party candidates here. (Credit: Bruce Plante)

You can write interesting research paper topics on the history of third parties and their influence on the presidential campaign.

Who runs as a third-party candidate?

Recently, Democratic presidential candidate Jim Webb announced that he will drop out of the Democratic race and consider running as an independent. Republican candidate Donald Trump had considered an independent run if he does not win the Republican primary, but later said he would support whatever GOP candidate did win. Every presidential election has many candidates running in third parties, such as the Libertarian, Green Party and Reform Party, as well as fringe groups like the Socialist, Communist, Cyber Party and Transhumanist Party.

Independent candidates for President

For your term paper, you can write about how independent candidates have fared in a presidential race. Some of the more well-known candidates were John B. Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 2000. These candidates took millions of votes away from the traditional parties and were often blamed for affecting the election’s outcome.

In the case of Ross Perot in 1992, some analysts and reporters claimed that with the sizeable 19% of the popular vote he attracted, he drew votes away from Republican presidential incumbent George H.W. Bush, which allowed Democrat Bill Clinton to win the presidency. Some said Perot was an anti-Bush choice and was more in line with Clinton. However, according to Tim Hibbits in “The Man Who Supposedly Cost George H.W. Bush the Presidency,” posted in PollingReport.com, 2012: “Perot directed his fire at the political system and Washington, D.C., climate more than at Bush, and he found a responsive national audience for that anti-status quo message.” Whatever the reason, the traditional Democratic and Republican parties are terrified of third-party and independent candidates stealing votes from their traditional party voters.

Can a third-party candidate win today?

This is a good debate for a term paper topic. Congress’ approval rating has hit a low of 10%, and voters are becoming fed up with both the Democrats and Republicans. People claim that an independent candidate, one who is not beholden to either party, would be a welcome change from the rhetoric and do-nothing attitude so entrenched in Washington politics.

“As both major political parties find themselves in the doghouse with the American people, the thought of a third-party making noise in the upcoming election is, if nothing, intriguing. The first and major obstacle a third-party candidate would have to endure is the most obvious, money,” observed Robert Sobel in “Could a third-party presidential candidate actually have a chance in 2016?” posted in Orlando Liberal Examiner October 3, 2013. Now that the Supreme Court in its 2010 Citizens United ruling allows corporations to have “free speech” in donating unlimited amounts of money to election campaigns, third-party candidates can easily find funding.

Independents influence policy debate

Another term paper topic is to discuss the ways independent and third-party candidates influence the presidential election and policy debates, even though they don’t win the election themselves. They inject important topics into the national debate that gains attention from more mainstream candidates. Historically, women’s suffrage, anti-slavery, Social Security, unemployment insurance and the minimum wage were all topics once considered controversial that were embraced by third-party candidates.

In “The Mollification of Donald Trump GOP Leaders Want Most of All to Keep Him from Running as an independent,” posted in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette August 2, 2015, David M. Shribman reported: “Historically, the argument is overwhelming,” says Ralph Nader. “Again and again, third parties have pioneered transformations of the political economy that the major parties took up belatedly. There’s an enormous heritage there that we now take for granted.”

For more information, check out Questia’s library on Politics and Government. 

Do you think there is value in a presidential candidate running as a third-party?

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