The Spoiler Effect

Third-party candidates may take key votes from Obama, McCain

Cynthia McKinney at all,” he says. “She’s not taken seriously.”

Walton agrees, pointing out that she’s lost the support of many of her former constituents in Georgia.

So why would voters want to cast their votes for candidates that most political watchers agree have no chance of winning the White House?

For some, it’s a desire to make a statement. Conservative Republicans, for example, who don’t believe that McCain has their best interests in mind, could vote for Barr in a symbolic protest of McCain being the presumptive Republican nominee.

Third-party candidates are also often popular with voters who are tired of partisan politics and who don’t identify with either Democrats or Republicans. Henry Ross Perot, the Texas businessman who ran for president in 1992 and 1996, largely appealed to voters who were frustrated with the political process, Thompson points out.

Another reason voters get on board with third-party candidates is their support of certain issues. “There are a lot of single-issue voters concerned about such areas as immigration, equity, justice, and the war,” Thompson says. A third-party candidate who champions the cause held by some of these voters can sway some who want to show the mainstream candidates how important those issues are to them.

Ultimately, the impact that third-party candidates will have on the election’s outcome won’t be known until after ballots are cast in November. The closer the contest between Obama and McCain gets, the greater the impact of the third-party candidates. “In a tight race like the one Gore was in, it came down to a state like Florida,” Walton says. In a repeat of that scenario, “anything can happen.”

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