At the presidential level, if more than two candidates seriously contend the general election, the chance of anyone winning a majority in the Electoral College narrows. And strong third-party candidates are often considered "spoilers." Many Democrats still grumble over Ralph Nader "stealing" the 2000 election from Al Gore, while many Republicans complain about Ross Perot helping Bill Clinton in 1992.
In this primary season, the grass-roots group Americans Elect attempted to make a way for a nonpartisan presidential candidate. It failed miserably. No candidate earned enough support to cross the threshold to nomination.
What are the options for independent candidates, if not a third party? Our system is stacked against them, too. Ballot-access requirements, major fundraising networks, and winner-take-all elections offer significant advantages to candidates with party backing. Primaries in most states exclude independent voters or force them to choose sides.
Independent and third-party candidates made it onto the ballot in only 18 percent of state contests between 2000 and 2009, winning about 2 percent of the races they entered.