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Could third party candidates take White House?

Diego Cambiaso

Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are dominating the presidential campaign, but in many states, other names also will be on the November ballot.

Former GOP congressional aide Evan McMullin announced his candidacy last week. He joins third party and independent candidates Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein with the Green Party as long-shot candidates.

Political science professor John Clark at Western Michigan University explains the nation's long two party system tradition makes it nearly impossible for anyone other than major party candidates to win the presidency.

"Unless you count maybe Ross Perot's run in 1992, there hasn't been a minor party candidate or an independent candidate that's had close to 20 percent of the national vote," he points out. "And it's been a long time since one has won any Electoral College votes."

The electoral system is based on plurality rule, with the win going to the candidate who gets the most votes. Clark says the result is a two party system that would take a constitutional amendment to change.

But Clark notes third party and independent candidates do serve a purpose by shaping election outcomes in the short term, or major political parties in the long run.

This year, Clark expects minor parties to play the role of spoiler, and cites the best example as Ralph Nader's Green Party campaign in 2000. While Nader didn't receive a lot of votes, Clark says it was a close election, where even 200 votes in a state such as Florida could have changed the outcome to swing in Al Gore's favor instead of President George W. Bush.

"This may or may not be that kind of super close election, but there's every reason to think that it's not going to be a huge landslide," he points out. "And if that's the case, then siphoning off votes from one of the major party candidates could mean that one of these minor party candidates is a spoiler."

A poll last week showed in a four-candidate race, Clinton was ahead of Trump, 44 to 38 percent, Johnson had 10 percent of the vote and Stein got 4 percent.

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